Back in the Dark Ages, the Texas-rigged plastic worm was the go-to bait for competitive and recreational anglers alike. And most “habitat projects” by bass clubs consisted of dropping bundles of Christmas trees, which attracted fish but did little to improve the fishery.
Departure from the former is evident. Check out the baits that tournament anglers use to win. Look in any serious fisherman’s tacklebox. Texas-rigged worms still are popular, but they’re not the go-to bait anymore.
And just as anglers adapted their tactics to keep catching bass, they recognized that habitat work needs to be more about enhancing fisheries than temporary fixes that congregate fish to make them easier to find. But projects that actually improve a lake long-term are more involved and consequently more expensive. To make them happen, conservation-minded fishermen need financial assistance.
Enter the Shimano/B.A.S.S. Youth Conservation Initiative, started early in 2014 and accepting grant applications through Jan. 15 for 2015. Both state chapters and B.A.S.S. Nation clubs can apply for assistance with conservation projects that will involve Junior clubs or high school and college fishing teams. One project in each of the six B.A.S.S. Nation divisions is eligible for assistance ranging from $500 to several thousand dollars.
Projects chosen for 2014 in New Mexico, Georgia, and Connecticut typify how habitat work has matured over the years, as they teach youth the importance of stewardship, help ensure the sustainability of habitat and ecosystem functions long-term, and enlist support by management agencies and other organizations.
“The New Mexico project really typifies what we hope to achieve with this program,” said Gene Gilliland, B.A.S.S. National Conservation Director.
“They’re thinking along the lines of improving an entire reservoir, not just putting in fish attractors. They’re using both plants and artificial habitat. They’re working with BOR (Bureau of Reclamation), Game and Fish, state parks, and other organizations.”
And this ambitious effort to make Elephant Butte a better fishery now has $40,000 in funding, thanks to Conservation Director Earl Conway, who also secured assistance from Audubon/Toyota TogetherGreen, and the Reservoir Fisheries Habitat Program.
“They hit some snags with permitting, which delayed things,” Gilliland explained. “But they’re buying materials, they’re doing a pilot study, and refining what they want to do next spring, so they will be ready.”
That work tentatively will include establishing shoreline vegetation, floating wetlands, suspended spawning beds, and submerged habitat, both permanent and portable. Additionally, Conway has enlisted nothing short of a small army of adult and youth volunteers to assist with the effort.
In Georgia, meanwhile, the B.A.S.S. Nation is using Shimano funds to help restore West Point Lake to its former glory.
“I hear people talking about how great the fishing was back in the 80s,” said Jake Mims, a member of the Chapel Hill High School fishing team. “Maybe this is the first step to making it great again.”
Thus far, volunteers from four B.A.S.S. Nation clubs, six high schools, and the University of West Georgia have planted 2,000 water willows. The Lake Oconee Bassmasters grew the willows from cuttings taken from plants that the club helped establish in Lake Oconee six years ago.
State Conservation Director Tony Beck said the habitat is needed to help largemouths survive predation from an expanding population of smaller, but more aggressive spotted bass.
Ideally, the plants will spread on their own, once they are established.
“We’re hoping that nature takes over to make the project much larger,” Gilliland explained. “It increases the return on investment.”
Up in Connecticut, the goal is not only to improve fisheries in community lakes, but, in doing so, get more people involved by increasing their chances for success.
Echo Lake was chosen as the first of several enhancement projects because of the town’s interest and because the Mohawk Valley Basscasters had worked previously with the Watertown Fishing Club. Volunteers assembled spiderblock structures and then placed them in eight areas accessible by shoreline anglers.
Additionally, the Connecticut B.A.S.S. Nation produced a video guide and installation plan for other clubs to follow.
Besides spawning long-term benefits, these Shimano-funded projects “give adult club members the opportunity to be mentors in more than just fishing,” Gilliland said. “And they get kids involved in conservation in a meaningful way to develop an appreciation for the resource.”
(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)
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Charles “Anthony” Tucker of Albany, Ga., established the first official Florida state record for a shoal bass just three days before his 57th birthday. Shoal bass are, pound-for-pound, one of the top fighters in the black bass family. His weighed 4 pounds, 2 ounces and was 20 inches long, with a 13.5-inch girth.
Tucker caught it using a Z-man Chatterbait with a Paca-Craw trailer, Shimano reel and Carrot-stick rod at about 2 in the afternoon on Dec. 6.
“Hooked on shoal bass,” is how Tucker described the outcome of his experience. “They are a unique fish that fights well.”
Tucker was having an early family birthday celebration in Florida and staying at Crippled Coon Lodge in Altha when he established the record. In making his plans, he checked out MyFWC.com and found out the shoal bass record was vacant and required a bass heavier than 4 pounds to establish the record. It was a slow day in northwest Florida but Tucker’s experience told him that often, when you aren’t catching lots of small bass, a real trophy will show up and make your day.
Shoal bass are similar in body shape to largemouth bass. Quick ways to tell them apart include the fact that the upper jaw extends beyond the back edge of the eye on largemouth bass and not on shoal bass or other black bass species. You can also look at the dorsal fins along the midline on top of the bass. In largemouth, the spiny first dorsal fin is separated from the soft dorsal fin, which does not have scales. On the shoal bass, there are scales on the base portion of the soft dorsal fin, which is connected to the spiny dorsal by a thin piece of skin.
Shoal bass have vertical stripes above the midline of the body; they resemble tiger stripes and help distinguish them from other black bass in Florida – the spotted and Suwannee basses. In addition, shoal bass do not have a tooth patch on the tongue, whereas spotted bass do.
Although historically found in the Apalachicola River, habitat degradation has all but eliminated shoal bass from the river proper. As their name implies, shoal bass favor “shoal" type habitats that include shallow, fast moving riffles and runs containing limestone.
“The best destination to catch shoal bass in Florida is the Chipola River, where Tucker caught his new state record,” said Chris Paxton, regional fisheries administrator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). “Since shoal habitats are limited, the FWC is considering various ways to protect that habitat and all of the black bass species in Florida,” he said.
Paxton met with Tucker to verify the identity of the fish, weigh it on certified scales, and ensure Tucker took it legally, with a valid fishing license or exemption. His application was notarized and approved as the Florida state-record shoal bass.
Tucker was impressed by Paxton.
“He was very knowledgeable and thorough in ensuring the catch was properly certified, and he came out on a Sunday morning to meet me.”
State records require a biologist to verify the species and certified weight. Other high-quality catches, from the same 33 freshwater species for which the FWC maintains records, are recognized online and with a certificate, if they exceed specified weights or lengths. Simply register online and upload a photo of your qualifying catch. There are even special youth, master and elite angler challenges.
There’s good news regarding the restrictive and unnecessary limitations placed on Cape Hatteras access by the National Park Service a few years ago. The Senate has included the “Preserving Public Access to Cape Hatteras Beaches Act” in the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2015.
I hate it that we have a federal government that puts public lands measures in a defense bill, but, hey, that’s the bureaucratic world that we live in.
Here’s what the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation says:
After almost three years of the National Park Service restricting off-road vehicles (ORVs) across extensive areas on the National Seashore, residents and visitors alike, especially sportfishing enthusiasts, should welcome the passage of this legislation and continue to engage in the process to ensure that a balanced science-based strategy with proper access is promoted moving forward.
One of the premier surf fishing locations in the country, Cape Hatteras attracts two million visitors each year who rely on ORV access to the park for surf fishing opportunities from the beaches as well as for general recreational activities. Unfortunately undue closures implemented in 2012 for ORVs to culturally significant and recreationally important areas have negatively impacted the local economy which depends upon recreation and tourism.
The Preserving Public Access to Cape Hatteras Beaches Act would begin the process of restoring access to these important areas by requiring the Secretary of the Interior to “review and modify wildlife buffers in the National Seashore.” The Act mandates modifications using peer-reviewed data to ensure that only the smallest areas and shortest duration for wildlife buffers are implemented and that closed areas utilize corridors to allow access to surrounding open areas. Specifically, the Secretary, through a public process, is required to consider lifting unreasonable night driving restrictions, extending seasonal ORV routes, modifying the size and location of vehicle-free areas, and constructing new vehicle access sites.
While the passage of the Act is certainly a major step in the right direction, the language leaves significant discretion to the Secretary of the Interior. Moving forward, the recreational angling community should remain diligent in monitoring and engaging in the process to ensure recreational pursuits and access are properly balanced with resource management.