Get Updates! and Search
No RSS feeds have been linked to this section.












Close Encounters of the Frightening Kind in Why We Fish

Close encounters with bears, wolves, and even mountain lions take a back seat to what I heard coming at us as we relaxed inside the screened porch of a cabin, following a day of fishing on a New Brunswick Lake. 

 That's an excerpt from one of the essays in my new book, Why We Fish. Please check it out at Amazon or the publisher's website. It's a great gift for the angler in your famiy. And if you are the angler, put it on your wish list for Santa.

It already has 24 five-star reviews at Amazon!


Round Goby Expansion Continues


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo of round goby.Since first discovered in 1990, the round goby has prospered in the Great Lakes, but that doesn’t mean the bottom-dwelling fish is content to stay there.

More and more in recent years, it has expanded its range. For example, it’s now established in about 170 miles of Wisconsin rivers and streams that feed Lake Michigan. The native of Eastern Europe also has moved into Ontario’s Trent River, Rice Lake, and Simcoe Lake, one of the province’s most famous smallmouth fisheries.

Most recently, it has been found in Cayuga Lake, the longest of New York’s Finger Lakes, and it also is suspected in Oneida. That expansion likely will be a mixed blessing, as it has been in the Great Lakes.

In Cayuga and Oneida, gobies may prey on eggs of lake trout, sculpin, and darters, according to the Cornell Cooperative Extension Invasive Species Program. Additionally, they make crowd out native species, including bass, from prime, nearshore spawning areas.

“The biggest concern for anglers is that when gobies get to high density, the prey fish will have plenty of food to eat, and it might be harder to catch fish,” said Cornell biologist Randy Jackson.

For smallmouth bass anglers, however, that hasn’t been the case in waters where gobies have long been established.

“They’ve been a huge plus in Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, where (zebra) mussels came in first and then gobies came in to eat the mussels,” said guide Dean Meckes, who fishes those waters, as well as Cayuga and Oneida.

“Smallmouths are getting way bigger now,” he added, pointing out that 11 pounds often won a one-day tournament in the 1990s.

“Now you need 20 to 24 pounds (five fish) to win,” he continued. “In a tournament last weekend, I had 21-4 on the first day and was in fourth place. First place had 26 pounds.”

Research on Lake Erie, meanwhile, shows that young smallmouths are growing faster. Ohio biologist Kevin Kayle theorizes that is because gobies spawn late into the summer, allowing young-of-the-year bass to move more quickly to a fish diet.

On the negative side, Kayle said, “We’ve seen a decline in sculpins and darters because of gobies.”

Another concern is that toxins bio-accumulate in gobies as they feed on zebra mussels. The exotic fish then are eaten by birds and larger fish. Researchers believe that loons and other fish-eating birds have died of botulism because of this. The invaders, which grow to 6 or 8 inches, also are considered a nuisance by some anglers because they are such proficient bait stealers.

And This Just in . . .

After I wrote the above article for B.A.S.S. Times, I received this additional information from Randy Jackson, a fisheries scientist at Cornell University Biological Field Station on the shores of Lake Oneida:

“In general, we hate to see any new invasives enter our inland lakes because impacts are never predictable.”

The major threat that the goby poses is to bass reproduction, he said.

“Most people focus on impacts on bass nests where guarding males have been removed. While no doubt individual nests would be at risk if males were removed, we certainly haven't seen any reduction in bass production in Lake Erie with the combination of spring fishing and gobies.

“I suspect it is the classic question of individual nest threats and lakewide production risk. I'm inclined to think that except under circumstances of extreme spring fishing pressure that we would not likely see any system wide reductions in bass production with gobies.

“Many of the other likely goby activities would very likely be positive to sport fish. Where they occur, both walleye and bass seem to make great use of them, so they would likely represent an additional prey resource that could result in faster growth rates.

“They spawn throughout the summer so there will potentially be a steady supply of small fish prey for young bass and walleye. We know in Oneida that young walleye have had some difficulty remaining piscivorous through the summer due to poor yellow perch production, so gobies might be a benefit to them.

“Double-crested cormorants also like gobies, so gobies could represent an additional buffer for sport fish to cormorant predation. And gobies eat zebra and quagga mussels, which we have plenty of.

“I suppose my primary concern is how gobies might impact angler catch rates. While we don't have great data for bass, we have seen that in Oneida, walleye catch rates are very tightly linked to the abundance of forage for adult walleye, not the numbers of adult walleye. In years when yellow perch produce large year classes, small perch are readily available to walleye and angler catch rates go down.

“In years when perch are rare, walleye catch rates are high. Gizzard shad play a similar role. When they are abundant, walleye can be hard to catch.

“If gobies establish at high densities, they could negatively impact angler catches. So adult game fish may grow faster but anglers won't have as much luck catching them. There is some irony in that gobies could potentially benefit many dynamics of our sport fish but at the same time create conditions where it is more difficult for anglers to benefit from that.”


Don't Be 'Dead Right' When It Comes to Public Access

Most of the time, anglers are in the right in confrontations with property owners over access to waterways.

But there’s little consolation in being dead right.

Such was the fate of Paul Dart Jr., who was floating Missouri’s Meramec River with friends with this summer. After stopping at a gravel bar, they were confronted by a property owner, who told them to leave.

Dart asserted that he had the legal right to be there. The property owner disagreed, and, according to witnesses, shot him dead.

In addition to being charged with second-degree murder, the shooter almost certainly was wrong regarding his property rights, according to Missouri case law. But Dart still is dead.

Most times, property owners are content to hurl obscenities and/or squirt water at those of us whom they believe are trespassing. But a confrontation regarding access can turn deadly just as suddenly as can an incident of road rage. Consequently, you are best advised to motor --- or paddle--- away promptly if you feel threatened. Far enough, at least, to be out of firearm range. Then call police, if you believe that you are in the right, and especially if you have been threatened with bodily harm.

But how do you know if you are in the right? On most lakes and reservoirs, the issue usually is clear-cut. Contrary to what they may think, property owners do not own the water that adjoins their land. Yes, local regulations may restrict how close you can get to a private dock or boat house. If you accessed the water legally, however, you have the right to fish most of it. Still, don’t assume anything. Be certain of the law before you challenge those who tell you to leave.

For flowing waters, and the oxbows associated with them, the access issue is far more complicated and rights vary from state to state. Generally, we have the right to fish navigable waters from a boat, no matter who owns the adjacent property.

One overarching constant in this muddled mess is the definition of navigable waters, according to the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations:

“Navigable waters of the United States are those waters that are subject to the ebb and flow of the tide and/or are presently used, or have been used in the past, or may be susceptible for use to transport interstate or foreign commerce. A determination of navigability, once made, applies laterally over the entire surface of the waterbody, and is not extinguished by later actions or events which impede or destroy navigable capacity.”

Still, a seemingly endless array of variables can play into the determination by states and courts of what flowing waters are “navigable” and public, as well as to what extent. For example, property owners in Virginia assert that anglers cannot wade a stretch of the Jackson River because they own the river bottom based on historical grants dating to the 18th century, before the colonies became a sovereign country.

In a case involving the Missouri River, meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that the state of Montana has the right to protect the public’s use and enjoyment of rivers, regardless of who owns the bottom.  At the same time, though, the court decided that a utility that operates hydroelectric dams does not have to pay “rent” to the state for the river bottom.

Under the “equal footing” provision of the Constitution, states have title to the beds of navigable rivers within their borders. But that ownership is dependent upon the navigability of the water at the time of statehood. The court agreed with the utility that this particular stretch of the Missouri was not navigable when Montana became a state in 1889 and so could be privately owned.

Down in Mississippi, where anglers like to fish oxbows, the public’s right to a waterway applies to water between the natural banks. “The public cannot legally step out of the boat and onto the dry bank or bed of a public waterway without landowner permission,” said the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Legal Program.

“If the water has flooded beyond the natural banks, that is not public water.”

In many states, the “ordinary high water mark” indicates the limit to which anglers can go. Consequently, they are in their rights to use gravel bars when rivers are low during summer, as long as they accessed the river legally.

That likely was the case for Paul Dart Jr. and his friends who were floating the Meramec River. But, sadly, an ill-advised confrontation made him dead right.


Legendary Fish

As anyone who has caught tuna knows, they are fast, hard-fighting fish that mostly stay deep. Suddenly, though, the one that I had hooked didn’t know its place, as it leaped from the water and greyhounded across the top. At first, I didn’t realize the contradictory behavior.

Then the captain started yelling from the tower, and I recognized what was going on. The tuna on the end of my line was not trying to get away from me; it was trying to avoid being eaten.

(This is an excerpt from “Legendary Fish,” an essay in my new book, Why We Fish. I was fishing off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica when I encountered the "legendary fish" chasing that tuna. The photo, meanwhile, is from an article that proves it is the exception that makes the rule. It is about fishing for leaping yellowfin tuna out of Venice Louisiana.)


A Fish Story From Bill Dance

"With the fish so well hooked, Dance understandably thought that he was about to land the biggest smallmouth bass of his young life, possibly even a world’s record. Based on mounts that he had seen at a taxidermist, he was certain that this bass weighed more than 10 pounds."

Did Bill Dance land that bass? Find out in my new book, Why We Fish.