June Restriction on Bass Tourneys Coming – if Council Agrees

Sturgeon Bay Common Council will weigh in on the recommendation this month

Effective next year, the use of City of Sturgeon Bay facilities for holding catch-and-release bass tournaments in June would be limited to only the weigh-on-the-water variety under a recommendation backed Feb. 22 by the city’s Joint Parks and Recreation Committee/Board.

The effort is intended to minimize the removal of bass from their nests, which can decrease the bass population. Locally, it has been declining.

The wording that the committee/board initially considered called for not issuing permits for bass tournaments prior to June 30, because of the timing of smallmouth bass spawning, unless the weigh-on-the-water format is used. 

That restriction was changed to only the month of June at the suggestion of municipal services director Mike Barker. He said he didn’t think a rule change should be based on what the water temperature is in a given year, which might cause the spawning period to begin in May instead of June.

“There’s enough questions floating out there about the month of May, the pre-spawn period, that I would like to limit this to the month of June,” he said.

If approved as amended, the change would not prohibit city facilities from being used in May for the Sturgeon Bay Open Bass Tournament (SBOBT), which weighs fish brought to shore before releasing them back into the water in spots where they may or may not have been caught.

JJ Malvitz, representing the Sturgeon Bay Open Bass Tournament, held annually in May, speaks Feb. 22 before the city’s Parks and Recreation Committee/Board in opposition to restricting tournaments during the spawning period from using the city’s facilities unless they have a weigh-on-the-water format. Photo by Kevin Boneske.

JJ Malvitz, who spoke before the committee/board representing the SBOBT, objected to the city not allowing the use of its facilities unless tournaments use a weigh-on-the-water format.

“There’s a lot of fishermen and a lot of dollars that get spent in the community because of this tournament, not to mention that the Sturgeon Bay Open Bass Tournament, along with the Rotary, helped build the pavilion, which is arguably the centerpiece at Sawyer Park,” he said.

The SBOBT, set for May 19-20, will be in its 33rd year as a two-day tournament headquartered at Sawyer Park. It also has a fall tournament scheduled Sept. 9 at the same location, and neither would be affected by the proposed rule changes.

Barker said there currently are no bass tournaments headquartered in Sturgeon Bay that use the city’s facilities in June. 

For bass tournaments headquartered outside the city limits, such as in Little Sturgeon or Egg Harbor, he said the proposed rule revisions would not prevent tournaments that don’t use a weigh-on-the-water format from fishing in the Bay of Sturgeon Bay.

The WISCO BASS series will have two tournaments this year – one May 12-13 and another Oct. 7-8 – headquartered in Little Sturgeon.

The committee/board’s recommendation, which is being forwarded to the common council for consideration during its March 21 meeting, also calls for – starting next year – not issuing permits prior to May 15 for walleye tournaments unless a weigh-on-the-water format is used.

Barker said there are currently no walleye tournaments headquartered in Sturgeon Bay that would be affected by that rule change. 

Mark Holey, who previously worked as a fish biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, urged the city to implement weigh-on-the-water tournament rules when bass are spawning.

Bringing bass on shore to be weighed at a central location, Holey said, can interrupt the fish-spawning behavior.

“If the water temperature has increased significantly by the time in May that [a tournament] occurs, there may be some activity where the males are building the nests and that kind of stuff,” he said. “But it’s not necessarily the peak time when fry and eggs are in the nest.”

When Barker asked whether it would be “more acceptable” to have a bass tournament in May than in June, Holey said he couldn’t give a definitive answer to that question because it would depend on water temperature.

District 5 alderman Gary Nault, who runs the weigh-on-the-water Sturgeon Bay Bass Tournament (SBBT) in May and operates a fishing guide service, said he was advised by the city attorney that he could speak on the proposed rule revisions but shouldn’t vote on them. 

He said he has “no monetary gain” running the SBBT, whose scales would be provided free of charge to other weigh-on-the-water tournaments. 

Nault said tournaments should use the best-management practices for the bass population to not interrupt the spawning process.

“The [bass] fishing is not as good as it was – it’s going downhill,” he said. “I think the confusion we have right now is that, yes, they spawn in June, but that interaction when they move out of deep water, where they are right now, and they move in the shallows, they are starting their spawning process, and that may happen in April.”

District 4 alderman Spencer Gustafson, who voted against the proposed rules changes, compared the recommended revisions to a school board considering a vote on mandating the use of face masks.

“It’s tough for me to make a decision on something like this, trying to judge which version of a tournament is better,” he said. “I don’t feel it’s my place.” 

Gustafson said he would like to see the Department of Natural Resources come forward with more guidance on fishing tournaments, rather than the city acting on environmental issues.

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