Rock Bass: Panfish Supreme
for rock bass to catch and release.
The spawn is over when you no longer see male rock bass guarding nests, and the waters teem with the black fry of rock bass and their smallmouth cousins. Then it's time to catch and keep, if you wish.
You can use a smorgasbord of bait choices to catch rock bass. They'll take just about any live bait they can get in their mouth, including minnows, worms, crayfish, hellgrammites, crickets and grasshoppers. Small crayfish will catch rock bass in almost all situations. A 2-inch crayfish hooked through the tip of the tail with a No. 6 hook and poked into good cover will usually draw a strike.
The best artificial lures for rock bass include small jigs or grubs. Actually, almost any small- to medium-size lure will do, as long as it does not hang up often in heavy cover.
A stringerful of rock bass represents a panful of the finest eating fish to be had anywhere in the state, but it's important to handle them properly for best results. All fish flesh is delicate. Once fish die, their muscles quickly break down, affecting flavor and texture. Therefore, it's best to keep fish alive until you are ready to clean them. If a rock bass is hooked deeply in the throat, cut the line and leave the hook. Attempting to remove the hook will likely kill the fish. Float fishing anglers can kill the fish and put them on ice in a cooler to help preserve their flavor.
Despite their meaty flanks, rock bass yield small fillets compared to those of larger fish. Rock bass fillets fry quickly and, like any small fillets, if cooked too long become tough and hard. To avoid overcooking, it's advisable to deep fry all rock bass. This eliminates guess work. When the fillets float in hot oil-usually within minutes-they are done.
The Conservation Department is presently conducting research to determine if rock bass catch rates and size can be improved by tweaking regulations. Since Jan. 1, 1995, special regulations have been in place along a 10.6-mile stretch of the Big Piney River between Highway 17 Bridge and Sand Shoals Bridge (linking Routes E and AA). These regulations include a 9-inch minimum length limit and a creel limit of nine fish per day.
Michael Roell, an MDC fisheries biologist in charge of the rock bass project, said research data will not be complete for a few more years, but what we learn from the study will provide the basis for other rock bass regulations in the Missouri Ozarks.
Current statewide regulations allow anglers to keep 15 rock bass per day with no minimum length requirement.