Fishery managers are in the business of providing the best fishing opportunities that are compatible with the wise conservation of the aquatic resources. They assess and, if needed, manipulate fish populations to achieve this goal.

Ensuring a healthy aquatic habitat is always the first choice for producing desirable fish populations. If the habitat is in good shape, harvest regulations often are implemented to increase the abundance or the size of the fish.

While working to conserve and manage the fish and the habitats that support them, smart and successful managers have learned the importance of understanding the third element in the fisheries-management equation - the anglers.

A lake can be full of fish, but if they aren't the species or size that anglers seek, or access is difficult, it's not a good recreational fishery.

A series of comprehensive surveys of more than 3,000 anglers conducted by Mississippi State University researchers provided a boat load of information about anglers that managers can use to create the kinds of fishing experiences Magnolia State anglers seek. The MSU researchers used some of this information to determine what anglers look for in a desirable fishing site.

A total of 21 questions were used to determine fishing site preferences. A little statistical wizardry grouped those site characteristics into four factors: clean environment, catch, cost and harvest, and amenities and safety.

Clean environment had the highest importance rating. This factor included no litter or debris on the water or at the access, good water quality, natural beauty of the surroundings and fish that are safe to eat. Although fish safe to eat seems like it should be associated with harvest, lack of consumption advisories is a good barometer for water quality.

The catch factor was a close second to clean environment in importance. The catch factor included catching preferred fish, knowing good-size fish are available to be caught and catching trophy fish.

The cost and harvest factor was considerably less important. This factor included catching a lot of fish, liberal harvest regulations and no access fees.

Least important was the amenities and safety factor. This factor included good access, safe boating conditions, clean restrooms and clean picnic areas.

Different angler groups assigned different importance scores to the different factors. For example, catfish anglers assigned more importance to cost and harvest than bass, crappie or sunfish anglers. Anglers who fished reservoir tailwaters assigned higher importance to clean environment and amenities and safety than anglers who fished reservoirs, rivers, streams or ponds. Anglers for whom catching fish to eat was important assigned higher importance to catch, cost and harvest, and amenities and safety than did anglers for whom catching fish to eat was less important.

Despite these differences, all angler groups rated a clean environment most important followed closely by catch. It is important to emphasize that the catch factor was not about catching fish, but rather knowing the good quantities and sizes of preferred fish are available to be caught.

Further, the importance of the site selection factors was not related to angler age, fishing frequency, expenditures for fishing equipment or cost of the fishing trip.

Fishery managers know that different anglers have different needs and preferences. It is this diversity that makes management to satisfy all anglers challenging. Certainly there are anglers who rank the importance of these four factors differently. For example, some harvest-oriented anglers rated harvest more important than clean environment. Anglers who included fishing in family outings rated amenities more important than catching preferred species.

Despite the difference among anglers, the results of this site-selection study clearly indicate that managing for a clean fishing environment and creating fish populations and fishing sites that offer the opportunity for good catches of good-size fish will satisfy most anglers regardless of where they fish, what species they fish for or whether they fish from shore, motorized boats or non-motorized craft.

This conclusion provides clear management guidance for Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks and other agencies that influence the management of Mississippi's fishery resources.

The importance of knowing fish are available to be caught clearly points out the need for good communication with anglers. This is a priority with MDWFP, but the need to communicate accurate and reliable information to anglers also emphasizes the importance of partnerships between fisheries managers and the media, so anglers can learn where, when and how to catch fish in Mississippi's good fishery resources.