Bass fishing in America has undergone a number of transitions through its short history. Freshwater fishing, as a whole, started as a sustenance game, meaning catching fish for the table. That was the general theme around the World War II era – anything worth keeping had a purpose to lessen the grocery bills. Fisheries managers stocked fast-growing fish for put-and-take measures. Bass were a natural fit, along with crappie and catfish.

The evolution of American culture in the 1960s brought more focus to recreation. Anglers were beginning to fish just for the fun of it, still bringing back a few bass for dinner, but at times focusing on catching bigger fish for sport. Family vacations, previously foreign to most Americans through the 1940s, were becoming commonplace. Dad would pack a few rods to try his luck.

Organized bass fishing began as a way to get the guys together for a day of fun. The original focus matched the previous mentality – all fish were caught, killed and brought to the scales. The heaviest sack of fish won the pot. Creel limits matched that focus; while there had to be a limit to what a competitor could bring in, that number was often as high as 15 bass.

Interest in bass fishing continued to grow. Participants, though, became somewhat segregated. There were the old-timers, interested in fishing local waters and keeping all they could. There were the new-wave tournament junkies, trying hard to catch a limit of bass as fast as possible. And the destination-fishers, often traveling to catch big fish.

Today, the earliest group has mostly faded away. While there are still pockets of anglers interested in catching bass for the table, the vast majority of fishermen fit into the latter two groups. Tournament anglers far outnumber those interested in quality. Many anglers overlap into each category; fishing events around their hometown, but occasionally traveling to destination-fish.

Managing the resource accordingly takes adaptation. While a focus on tournament fishing drives most decisions, there are still a few places where resource managers are seeing value in trophy stock. Sure, many of the locales also overlap, sometimes taking into account fluctuations in creel limits and laws to allow tournaments to take place. Some, though, do not.

Orange Lake, the current big-bass holyland of Florida, where more 13-pound largemouths have been caught in recent years than anywhere else in the state, will be likely getting a break from tournament anglers this summer as part of a program to address delayed mortality in summer bass tournaments. For three months the Florida FWC will not be awarding tournament creel-limit exemptions there, in hopes of deterring bass tournaments from taking place on this special fishery, possibly curtailing unnecessary deaths of the lake’s stock. It’s a small step, but noticeable, and one of the few cases where it seems managers are equally concerned about all groups of anglers. It’s important to note: anglers can still hold tournaments on Orange Lake, this is not some type of restriction. Those anglers will just need to follow the state laws for bass harvest, which includes only one fish over 16 inches in the well at any time.

We’ve seen other trophy lakes where tournament exemptions are denied. Lake Fork is the best known example, and continues to be one of the best big-bass lakes in the world despite decades of relentless fishing pressure. Other lakes are managed strictly for big bass, often with impressive results. Virginia’s Lake Connor is included in the list, and produced the state record. A few lakes across the Deep South are managed closely for lunkers. And Florida’s modern creation in Fellsmere doesn’t allow tournament permits.

There seems to be a small, but growing list of places where managers aren’t that concerned about attracting tournament anglers, instead understanding that a contingent of fishermen would prefer to strictly target big fish. I guess that could be viewed two ways.

Are these restrictions an overstep? Should tournaments be allowed everywhere, at anytime?

I briefly touched on delayed mortality, and it’s something that should be considered. Part of the management plan in Florida was based on scientific studies where bass were monitored after being caught to determine impact on the resource. As many as 40 percent of the fish in the study died from delayed mortality after being held in a livewell. Quite an alarming statistic.

Recently, reports of tournament fish die-offs have been the subject of online posts, not surprisingly. These don’t even address delayed mortality. Even Northern fisheries are subject to problems – sometimes more so than others due to the increased oxygen demands of smallmouth bass. Sadly, it’s not uncommon to go to a summertime event up north and see dozens of floaters.

We can do better, and should. Resources are available to educate anglers on the best way to hold fish. Lower limits are a step in the right direction. Holding back on summertime events would be even better.

In a few places, managers are taking this step, convinced that the bass population is too valuable to jeopardize this time of year, in what’s advertised as catch and release. It’s a tough choice to make. Maybe it’s one we need help with.

(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)