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Monday
Sep152014

What's Ailing Susquehanna River Smallmouth Bass?

Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission photo

Despite its refusal to declare the Susquehanna River impaired last year, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) says that it will continue intensive sampling of what was once a world-class smallmouth fishery.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission asked for the designation, as fingerlings continue to die, adults carry ugly lesions, and eggs show up in the testes of male fish. Additionally, an estimated 80 percent of the bass seem to have disappeared from the central part of the state, where the North and West Branches meet, down to Conowingo Dam in Maryland.

The 2014 plan calls for analysis of fish tissue for pesticides, PCBs, and metals. Also biologists will look at insects, mussels, and other invertebrates, as well as sample the water for sediment, pollution, and pesticides.

At 464 miles, the Susquehanna is the largest river to drain into the Atlantic, and its massive watershed of 27,500 square miles includes portions of New York and Maryland, as well as nearly half of Pennsylvania.

“Over the last two years where we tremendously enhanced our examination efforts, DEP has learned a great deal about the health of the Susquehanna River,” said Secretary E. Christopher Abruzzo.

 “It is important to continue these efforts so that DEP can create policy and regulation based on facts and sound science.”

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation believes that a “perfect storm” of conditions have contributed to the sick and declining smallmouth population, with pollution from farms and sewage plants, low dissolved oxygen, rising water temperatures among the contributors. These stressors make the fish more susceptible to bacteria, parasites, and diseases that might not have affected them in the past.

(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)

Friday
Sep122014

Little Known Florida Fishery Revealed

Miami Herald photo

Have you heard about the clown knifefish fishery in Florida? Probably not.

The clown knifefish is one of 41 exotic species observed or established in the Sunshine State. Most are small specimens, but the clown knifefish, along with the butterfly peacock, is a notable exception.

Here’s what the News Observer reports about the predatory exotic fish now being targeted by anglers:

“Boynton Beach freshwater fishing guide captain Butch Moser, 66, started catching the Asian invaders for his clients in the Ida-Osborne chain of lakes in Palm Beach County not long after the first one was spotted during 1994, probably a discarded pet from someone’s home aquarium.

“Numbers of clown knifefish grew steadily over the next decade and a half, but their range never really expanded north of West Palm Beach or south of Boca Raton. They kept Moser and his customers busy for hours at a time, targeting them around grassy shorelines and beneath bridges.

“During December 2008, Nick Fusco caught a 13 1/2-pounder near Lake Clarke Shores that reigns as the International Game Fish Association all-tackle world record for the species.

"A chill in January 2010 knocked the fish way back; clown knifefish, like other tropical exotics, can’t tolerate water temperatures below 54 degrees for very long. But the back-pedaling jumpers have rebounded to the point that Moser and a few other guides and anglers target them again. Moser said he is far from the 50-fish days he enjoyed pre-freeze, but his clients recently have caught up to a dozen in a day, along with largemouth bass and other native species.”

Here’s the latest Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission  about the clown knifefish:

“Not only peacocks were slammed by the cold and are now recovering, said Moser. In late August, he said he had ‘never seen the fishing as good as the past few weeks.’ Several locks along the canal are open, and running water is attracting sunshine bass, peacock bass, clown knifefish -- the whole gamut.

“One of his favorites, the unique clown knifefish, is running from 3 to 10 pounds. The fish are often full of shad but aggressively take any 3- to 4-inch minnow. According to Moser, when hooked, they back up, then make a quick run and jump like a tarpon. They are tough to net since they back away and jump, so Moser’s tip is to get the net under them when they jump.

“He recommends watching for a round boil and bubbles on the surface. Cast directly to the disturbance or fish a float with a live bait 3- to 4-feet deep and kept down with light weights. In the heat of the day, shade around bridges or pilings is productive. Since clown knifefish are a relatively new (1994) introduction, with a limited range in the Osborne-Ida chain, they are not included in the Big Catch program. Catches should not be transported alive elsewhere.”

Go here to learn about all of Florida's nonnative fish.

Thursday
Sep112014

Recreational Fishing Losses From Deepwater Horizon Estimated at $585 Million

Recreational angling took a hit of up to $585 million from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. That’s the estimated value of lost fishing opportunities according to a new University of Florida study.

Researchers studied three types of anglers: those who fished from shore, those who piloted private or rental boats offshore, and those who paid for guide boats to take them fishing. They assigned an economic value for each of the three types of trips.

The researchers found that anglers fishing from shore and those that hire fishing guides lost the most, an average of $29.65 and $34.27 per trip, perhaps because they are less able to change their fishing conditions. Those who pilot their own boats lost the least at $2.23 per trip.

Researchers took data collected from interviews with saltwater anglers by NOAA’s Marine Recreational Information Program, which regularly surveys anglers on their catch. Each year approximately 40 million trips are taken in the U.S. Southeast.

They used about 70,000 fishing trips each year for five years, 2006 to 2010, to learn how each type of anglers changed fishing trips to avoid closures in federal fisheries following the oil spill. They arrived at the $585 million figure by multiplying the per-trip losses for each type of trip by the number of affected fishing trips, which was assumed to be for the year as if anglers could re-plan their trips to avoid closures, Larkin said.

The UF study is the first research study to estimate recreational fishing losses following such a large oil spill.

After a disaster such as an oil spill, trustees -- which could include federal, state or tribal authorities -- often attempt to secure financial compensation from those responsible.

In the Gulf oil spill, those monies would not go back to individual fishermen, but instead might fund ecosystem improvements or to stock more fish in the Gulf on the fishermen’s behalf, said UF food and resource economics professor Sherry Larkin.

In December 2012, BP agreed to pay $2.3 billion to commercial fishermen, seafood boat captains and crew, seafood vessel owners and oyster leaseholders, but trustees have yet to seek compensation on behalf of recreational fishermen.

“These are sizable losses borne by recreational users of publicly owned resources,” said Larkin, an Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences faculty member. Because the oil spill affected thousands of square miles of fisheries, trustees could try to compensate for everyone who uses the Gulf in the future, Larkin said.

The study covers fishing areas off the coasts of Louisiana to Florida and up to North Carolina.

In Florida, following the oil spill, fishermen who normally might have gone to Pensacola, for example, would either not fish or might instead head to the Atlantic Coast, Larkin said.

UF/IFAS researchers used an economic formula that uses the cost of accessing a recreational activity, primarily travel costs, to assess the activity’s value.

At 206 million gallons, the Deepwater Horizon was the largest marine oil spill in history. Under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, trustees can recover public losses from responsible parties. Larkin said she does not know if the UF study will ever be used in legal cases against BP, Deepwater Horizon or other potentially responsible parties.

The study authors emphasize their model only depicts losses for recreational fishermen, not commercial fishermen, hotels, restaurants, retail establishments that lost money after the BP oil spill. It also doesn’t measure ecosystem losses.

The study appeared online in July in the Journal of Environmental Management.

Wednesday
Sep102014

Can Nutritional Boost Help Big Bass Grow Even Bigger?

TPWD photo

The majority of bass produced by the Toyota ShareLunker program goes to stocking Texas public reservoirs for anglers to catch. Since the program began in 1986, that translates into more than one million fingerlings spawned in hatcheries from bass weighing 13 pounds or more and distributed into 62 reservoirs, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPW).

Since 2001, though, some have gone into both public and private waters solely to evaluate the benefits of crossing pure Florida ShareLunkers with male bass descended from previous ShareLunkers.

The most recent private stocking in Operation World Record (OWR) occurred this summer on a Webb County ranch owned by Gary Schwarz, best known for growing big whitetail deer. TPW provided 7,404 ShareLunker offspring for the recently renovated 60-acre lake to see if he can attain similarly impressive results with largemouth bass.

To provide the bass with optimum forage, Schwarz is not content with having just bluegill, minnows, and shad. He also will flush prawns, shrimp-like crustaceans, into the lake from surrounding brood ponds. The shellfish can grow as large as 12 inches and should provide a nutritional boost for the fast-growing future ShareLunkers.

Owners of these private “contract” lakes agree not to fish for the bass for a stipulated period, and TPW may remove them as needed.

The Webb County stocking was facilitated by 2008 Bassmaster Classic winner Alton Jones, who knows Schwarz, according to Allen Forshage, director of the Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens.

These likely will be the last OWR offspring stocked in a private lake, as previous research indicates that these fish do grow faster and bigger than normal Florida-strain bass. Four years after they were stocked in other waters, they had an average weight of about 7 ounces more than resident bass of equivalent age, according to biologist Michael Baird.

“Additionally, the largest bass collected were almost always Lunker offspring, while the smallest were resident offspring,” he said.

(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)

Monday
Sep082014

Anglers Register More Than 1,000 Bass in Florida's TrophyCatch

Mark Lemieux has caught at least 17 TrophyCatch bass since January, all of from an Ocklawaha area lake. This one weighed 11-9. FWC photo

More than 1,000 largemouth bass exceeding 8 pounds have been caught, documented, and released in Florida in less than two years. Want to know where and see photos? Simply go to TrophyCatchFlorida.com and select the “Gallery of Catches” or you can pick “Search Catches” to narrow your results.

“TrophyCatch has been exceptionally well-received by anglers, corporate partners, nonprofits and conservation agencies around the country that see this as an innovative win-win program,” said Tom Champeau, director of the Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

TrophyCatch is the result of a partnership effort between the FWC, Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration, the Wildlife Foundation of Florida. and corporate partners. It is an incentive-based conservation program designed for anglers who catch and release largemouth bass heavier than 8 pounds, in Florida. Program goals are as follows:

  • Collect valid information through citizen-science about trophy bass to help the FWC enhance, conserve and promote trophy bass fishing.
  • Encourage catch-and-release of the biggest, oldest, most valuable bass.
  • Excite anglers about Florida freshwater fishing, encouraging them to purchase licenses and to fish more, resulting in benefits to anglers, fishing-related businesses, local communities and the fisheries by having more support and funding for conservation.
  • Share information about fishing opportunities and destinations to make fishing more enjoyable.

Anglers are encouraged to follow catch-and-release guidelines for these big bass and to document the catch through a photograph of the entire bass on a scale with the weight clearly legible. By registering at TrophyCatchFlorida.com, anglers are eligible for an annual drawing for a Phoenix Bass Boat, powered by Mercury Marine and equipped with a Power-Pole shallow-water anchoring system. Then, when they follow the rules to document legally caught bass heavier than 8 pounds and release them alive in the same water system where caught, they earn  prizes (see website for detailed rules and prize information).