A water crisis is looming, with sport fisheries and anglers as the likely losers, according to Jim Martin, conservation director for the Berkley Conservation Institute.
“It’s a problem that no one wants to talk about,” he said, pointing out that have of the continental U.S. now is under drought conditions.
“We have to start talking about it.”
Martin gave that message at a freshwater summit sponsored by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership during the recent Bassmaster Classic in Tulsa, Okla.
The country needs a plan to prioritize the use of water and to manage development, he said. And the sooner the discussion begins, the more influence that outdoor enthusiasts will have.
Once the crisis hits and recreational use of water is competing against agriculture, manufacturing and urban populations, the fishing industry won't have the votes to compete.
"A hundred million sportsmen are going to be lost in the shuffle," he said.
Read more in Tulsa World.
Anglers aren’t responsible for introducing aquatic nuisance species to our waters, even though they are going to be the ones who pay the highest price in terms of cost, inconvenience, and diminished access.
Certainly some have spread mussels and plants inadvertently via their trailers and boats. Even a few have moved illegally moved plants in ill-advised attempts to improve fisheries.
But the aquarium and plant nursery industries brought milfoil, water hyacinth, and other troublesome aquatic plants to our waters, while commercial ships introduced mussels in their ballast water, via the Great Lakes.
Still, fishermen, especially B.A.S.S. members, are showing that they can be the adults in the room for this battle.
“As anglers, we know about invasive species; others are not as educated,” says Ken Snow, conservation director for the Wisconsin B.A.S.S. Nation. “That’s why our members spend days at the ramps to help educate.”
New Mexico’s Earl Conway adds, “We have several members that volunteer to do boat inspections, and we are very close to being able to do our own inspections at club and state level tournaments. The state officers know that bass boats are clean and that we are educated and cooperating with them.”
In West Virginia, Jerod Harman has been training anglers to clean livewells and boats for two years. “We do this training at meetings and on our website,” he explains.
He’s also working with the state to create segments about aquatic nuisance species for the television program “West Virginia Outdoors.”
In Oregon, Lonnie Johnson has recommended that clubs hold their own inspections during tournaments, while Washington’s Mark Byrne says, “We’ve been talking about this for a long time.”
Anglers, he adds, are not complaining about doing what they can to help prevent the spread of aquatic nuisance species.
What can they do. What can you do?
“Clean, drain, dry.”
If you’re a bass angler, this phrase should become as familiar to you as “catch and release.”
It’s included in the new voluntary guidelines being developed for recreational activity by the Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force (ANSTF), an intergovernmental organization chaired by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The ANSTF also has recommendations for motor boaters (nonanglers), non-motorized boaters, scuba divers and snorkelers, and seaplane operators.
The hope is that this advice will help prevent the spread of problematic invasive species such as zebra and quagga mussels, Eurasian watermilfoil, Asian carp, golden alga, and didymo (also called “rock snot”).
Of course, many states , counties, and municipalities aren’t content with voluntary guidelines. Economies, water supplies, and recreational activities all could be devastated by these invaders. As a consequence, inspections, sticker programs, and other strategies designed to minimize risk are being initiated, with collateral damage taking shape as increased fees and more limited access.
For example, Colorado has implemented a mandatory boat inspections program, with funding provided by a hike in registration fees. In California, registration cost could go up as much as $10 in 2014 to finance a mussel monitoring, inspection, and eradication program. Concern is understandable, as Lake Tahoe could sustain economic losses of as much as $20 million annually if mussels are introduced, according to officials.
Attentions these days mostly are focused on the West, Great Plains, and Upper Midwest. Mussels and Asian carp are expanding north, threatening inland waters, while the shellfish have crossed the Continental Divide. But even southern waters are at risk, as evidenced by Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission making “permanent” last fall an emergency order for some of the state’s waters, after zebra mussels were found in Lake Ray Roberts. The order requires boaters leaving any of the listed waters to drain their boats completely.
“We see tougher inspection programs coming up more and more,” cautions Susan Shingledecker, director of environmental programs for the BoatUS Foundation.
She helped develop the ANSTF’s new proposed guidelines, and urges anglers and boaters to follow them, showing that “we are doing all we can.”
Concurrently, she hopes that states will bring consistency to their programs to reduce confusion and anxiety among anglers and other boaters. “State by state would be preferred to lake by lake,” she adds.
Here are the angler recommendations in more detail:
Inspect and clean off plants, animals, and mud from gear and equipment including waders, footwear, ropes, anchors, bait traps, dip nets, downrigger cables, fishing lines, and field gear before leaving water access. Scrub any visible material on footwear with a stiff brush.
Drain water from boat, motor, bilge, bladder tanks, livewell, and portable bait containers away from ramp.
Dry everything at least five days, unless otherwise required by local or state laws, when moving between waters to kill small species not easily seen OR wipe with a towel before reuse.
(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)
Here’s a “fish of a lifetime” certainly worthy of mention.
FWC’s Tom Champeau was fishing with Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris (right) and NASCAR champion Tony Stewart (left) when he caught this 11-pound, 8-ounce largemouth bass.
Capt. Mike Tipton was guiding them on the upper St. Johns River near Three Forks Conservation Area when the big fish struck.
“Catching and releasing a trophy bass while fishing with the founder of our major sponsor was an incredible experience,” said Champeau. “The only way I could have scripted it better would be for either Johnny or Tony to catch her.”
Bass Pro Shops is a major partner for Florida’s new TrophyCatch program.
Champeau’s catch will be entered. But as an FWC employee, he is not eligible for any rewards other than a handsome certificate commemorating his catch.
“Catching a bass of a lifetime, with Johnny Morris and a racing legend like Tony Stewart, was the best reward I could ever ask for,” said Champeau.
(The good folks at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission provide the following information about some of the state's smaller and lesser known bass waters --- waters well worth exploring.)
By Bob Wattendorf, Drew Dutterer and Bill Pouder
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) works hard to maintain our status as the “Fishing Capital of the World” by actively managing fishery resources to foster the best fishing opportunities possible.
For obvious reasons, the FWC focuses a large amount of effort on big, marquee water bodies, such as the Kissimee Chain of Lakes or Lake Okeechobee, that are widely known and heavily utilized by anglers. But, we don’t overlook smaller water bodies that have great fishing potential, and neither should you. In many instances, smaller lakes may have fisheries that parallel or exceed those of big lakes when it comes to catch rates and size structure of fish. Just check out some of the recent results on TrophyCatchFlorida.com for proof.
Small lakes offer an alternative experience, accomodate smaller boats and are less crowded. Here, we offer a sampling of five smaller, public lakes around the state (one from each FWC management region) that might be flying a bit under the radar but are well worth exploring with rod and reel.
Lake Gibson – Southwest Region
Location: Polk County (just north of Interstate 4 and Lakeland)
Surface area: 480 acres
Lake Gibson touts a productive bass fishery, which has been hot lately for anglers in the Lakeland area. Recent monitoring suggests the bass fishery excels in terms of both the number and size of bass. This has been evident through FWC’s current angler survey; anglers are reporting an average catch of one bass per hour, which is more than double the statewide average. Electrofishing surveys on Lake Gibson paint a similar picture. Sizes of these bass ranged from a few inches (a welcome sign of successful spawning) up to a respectable 9 pounds. Several bass over 8 pounds were tagged in the last year as part of an FWC study evaluating catch of trophy largemouth bass in Florida. A tagged bass (9.5 pounds) has already been caught and released by a local angler. Lake Gibson is also home to quality sunfish and catfish populations, offering an opportunity for a multispecies approach to fishing on smaller waters. Lake Gibson has a single, public boat ramp off Socrum Loop Road and Lake Gibson Drive.
Alligator Lake – North Central Region
Location: Columbia County (east of U.S. Highway 441 – inside city limits of Lake City)
Surface area: 300-800 acres
Fans of Alligator Lake have not had much to be excited about in recent years. As with many lakes in Florida’s North Central region, it has been plagued by low water issues during the last decade. However, now anglers have good reason to be optimistic, as Tropical Storm Debby refilled it last June. The FWC was quick to take advantage of the lake’s restored water levels by stocking redear sunfish and bluegill in September 2012, and a stocking of largemouth bass is planned for this spring. Despite persistent low water conditions, there were a handful of deep areas that held water throughout the drought. These holes likely sustained enough fish to renew the fishery, as fish will grow rapidly due to newly available habitat and resulting forage. In August 2012, Bernard Donnell Jr. provided compelling evidence that at least one bass not only survived but flourished: He caught a 17-pound, 1-ounce trophy bass from Alligator Lake. If rainfall keeps Alligator Lake full, look for this fishery to quickly re-establish itself as a winner.
Lake Baldwin – Northeast Region
Location: Orange County (just north of State Road 50 and the Orlando Executive Airport)
Surface area: 225 acres
Among the hubbub of sprawling Orlando, you’ll find that Orange County is peppered with scores of lakes. Some are more deserving of your attention than others, and Lake Baldwin is one you should try. There, bass anglers have been experiencing some of the highest catch rates in the area. Bass are averaging 2 pounds or less; however, high catch rates are great for developing an interest in bass fishing for younger anglers. FWC staff have planted eelgrass recently, and the city built two fishing piers. There is also bank fishing in Baldwin Park, but the best fishing is done by a boat. A public boat ramp is on the south shore, and boaters with motors greater than 10 horsepower have to abide by a “no wake” restriction.
Lake Osborne – South Region
Location: Palm Beach County (just west of Interstate 95 and Lake Worth)
Surface area: 356 acres
Amid canals and the urban backdrop of south Florida, Lake Osborne provides exceptional opportunities for freshwater fishing. Here, anglers can target a myriad of species (largemouth bass, sunshine bass, black crappie, bluegill, redear sunfish, catfish, and Mayan cichlids). Lake Osborne’s sunshine bass fishery is a favorite among locals and is a blast when the bite is on. Sunshine bass are hybrids (produced and stocked by FWC hatcheries) of striped bass and white bass and handle the warmer waters of Florida much better than their parents. Look for them in open-water portions of the lake or deep, constricted areas such as the 6th Avenue pass that can funnel migrating fish. A large stocking of hybrids last spring should have this fishery primed this spring. FWC installed nine fish attractors throughout the lake, which congregate other species. John Prince Park provides bank access, a fishing pier and a public boat ramp.
Merritt’s Mill Pond – Northwest Region
Location: Jackson County (east of Marianna and U.S. Highway 90)
Surface area: 202 acres
Merritt’s Mill Pond is a spring-filled impoundment characterized by crystal clear water and lots of submerged plants. The pond is known for having produced Florida’s state record (4.86 pounds) redear sunfish in 1986. The redear fishery has subsided somewhat but still produces quality redear, plus bluegill and spotted sunfish. The water clarity that makes Merritt’s Mill Pond a scenic gem makes sport fish exceptionally shy, which can present challenges to anglers and biologists. Despite the challenge, biologists routinely collect quality bass, and sampling over recent years indicates an increasing average weight of bass. With three access points and lots of protection from wind, Merritt’s Mill Pond is a small-craft-friendly lake, and paddlers may have an advantage in catching more and bigger fish.