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Lake Erie Smallmouth Fishery Remains Strong Despite Goby Invasion

 As the population of invasive round gobies exploded in the mid to late 1990s in Lake Erie, resource managers feared trouble ahead for the smallmouth bass population.

“Agencies (all around the lake) went into protective mode for smallmouth bass,” said Kevin Kayle, a biologist with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources at the Fairport Harbor Fisheries Research Station.

They did so by implementing restrictive harvest regulations during spring. By reducing angler effort, they hoped, aggressive male bass wouldn’t be as likely to be pulled off nests, leaving eggs vulnerable to goby predation.

Fortunately, those fears have proven unfounded. Gobies have not damaged the smallmouth population, and likely they wouldn’t have even without protective spring regulations. Instead, bass have benefitted, as the small, exotic fish is now a dietary staple.

“Where we see the change is in growth of young smallmouth,” said Kayle. “They still top out at about 20 inches. But for the first three years, we’re seeing advanced growth.”

Why is this happening?

Gobies spawn late, while smallmouths spawn early. Thus, young-of-the-year bass can eat nutrient-rich fish --- larval and juvenile gobies --- during their first summer and fall.

But the goby invasion has damaged forage species that bass traditionally depended upon. “We’ve seen a decline in sculpins and darters because of gobies,” Kayle said.

For bass, meanwhile, spring storms seem to be the biggest limiting factor for abundance, the biologist added. Especially with a northeast or northwest wind, waves up to 15 feet go crashing into the near-shore areas, where bass spawn in waters of 20 feet or less.

“That storm surge jostles around the eggs and can force adults to abandon their nests,” Kayle explained.

Upwellings in the Central Basin during late summer and early fall also can harm bass, as well as most other species. Several days of wind out of the north or south pushes the surface water in one direction, while bottom water moves in the other. This churning action forces oxygen-depleted water to the top.

“When this anoxic water comes close to shore, we can see fish kills,” the biologist said. “Some years, it’s drum. But in the worst years, we see smallmouth too.”

Blooms of blue-green algae that die and then decay in deeper water feed the problem. “Bacteria down there decomposes the dead algae and uses up oxygen,” he said. “And no oxygen can come in (from above) because of the thermocline.”

Despite these naturally limiting factors, though, the smallmouth population of Lake Erie is doing well. “Long-term catch rates are relatively good, while total effort has gone down to what we saw in the 1990s,” Kayle said. “We’ve had more young fish in the last few years, after a dry spell in the mid to late 2000s.”

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




Shimano Partners With B.A.S.S. for Catch and Release

Anyone who fishes for bass is familiar with Shimano, especially its rods and reels. And you’re going to be even more aware of it in the future, as the name appears on live-release boats at B.A.S.S. events.

For many, that likely will be the first association that they make between the company and conservation, and some might not make the connection even then. For them, Shimano will appear to be just another sponsor.

The truth, however, is that company is far more than that, and has been for years. Working quietly in the background, it has been a champion for fisheries conservation and angler access since 1986.

That, by the way, is when the first live-release boat was developed. And guess who was responsible.

“We were killing a lot of fish out of ignorance,” says Phil Morlock, long-time director of environmental affairs for Shimano and a behind-the-scenes guy who knows as much about angler and conservation issues in North America as anyone.

“These current boats are in their seventh or eighth iteration. We’ve continued to do research to find better ways.”

Shimano owned three live-release boats for awhile.  And it sent them, along with crew, all over the country. “Demand was so great that we couldn’t stay current,” Morlock says. “So we donated the boats to different tournament organizations. Today, a lot of organizations have boats based on our designs.”

In those early years, the company also played a critical role in a massive restoration project at Lake Havasu, where shoreline access for such work was minimal. The Bureau of Land Management and its partners constructed the habitat, and then a Shimano boat placed it. Together, they brought the fishery back.

Only within the past few years, however, has Shimano been on the radar as an angler’s champion.  Coincidentally, that’s when state and federal agencies with arguably anti-fishing allegiances and animal rights groups became emboldened and threats to the future of fishing began to multiply, mostly on the saltwater front.

Some of those who want to push us off the water didn’t like Shimano’s involvement, especially in opposing the Marine Life Protection Act, which has needlessly closed many of California’s coastal waters to recreational fishing. In a petulant snit, they initiated a “Shame on Shimano” campaign, accusing the company of lies and caring more about making money than protecting the oceans.

“It’s too bad that Shimano is the only fishing company that has seriously stepped up to the plate to fight some of the threats to angling,” Chris Horton said at the time. Now Midwestern States Director for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Horton is a former National Conservation Director for B.A.S.S.

“This is how they are rewarded,” he continued. “It makes an easy target for the enviros. If more companies would do what Shimano has done, they’d have a lot harder time beating the good guys.”

Doug Olander of Sport Fishing Magazine added, “This is an attack not only on Shimano, but on all businesses that make and sell tackle, and in fact on all men, women, and children in this country who enjoy the chance to spend time on the water hoping to catch a few fish.

“That's why what at first glance seems just plain goofy is no laughing matter.”

Morlock doesn’t think that any threat should be disqualified because it’s “goofy.” That’s why he monitors them all, as one of sport fishing’s most devoted advocates, and looks for the reality behind the curtain. A perfect example, he says, is the anti-lead campaign.

“If you can’t shut down fishing and hunting with one approach, try another, like ‘toxic substances harming wildlife,’ and soft peddle it,” he explains. “Same endpoint by a different means.”

Meanwhile, on the ground --- or, more accurately, on the water --- Shimano continues its efforts to improve care of fish. Its unique water weigh-in system for tournaments ranks right up there with the live-release boat in importance. The company worked with Dr. Bruce Tufts of Queen’s University, a fish physiologist, as well as B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott and others, to develop it.

“Shimano continues to be a key player in fisheries conservation,” said B.A.S.S. Conservation Director Noreen Clough. “It continues to sponsor scientific research and identify techniques to improve catch-and-release fishing. B.A.S.S. is fortunate to have Shimano and Phil Morlock as partners.”

(A version of this appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)


Anglers 'Connect' with Burmese Python

If you fish long enough, you’re going to catch something besides a fish. I guarantee it.

I first realized that when I was a kid and an owl grabbed my Jitterbug. Fortunately, separating bird from bait proved harmless--- but not easy---  for both of us.

The same was true when I snagged an alligator with a crankbait on Lake Okeechobee and when a seal decided to eat the striper that I had hooked on a jig up in Maine.

I’ve tangled with a few turtles as well, both snappers and soft shells.

But I’ve never hooked a snake, much less one that’s almost as long as my boat. That’s exactly what happened recently when Joe Holland and Brett Darmody were fishing a tournament in the Everglades.

One of the trebles on Holland’s crankbait snagged the back of a Burmese python, an invasive species that is gobbling up native wildlife and reproducing at an alarming rate.

Go here to find out what happened.


One More Time: Fish Do NOT Feel Pain

Illustration from

Some good anecdotal evidence that fish don’t feel “pain” as we know it --- and as animal rights groups would like us to believe --- is provided by John Kumiski in this article on the Anglers for Conservation website.

My experiences have been similar to his. Plus, I always remember the excellent point made by Phil Morlock, my good friend who is director of environmental affairs for Shimano.

“If fish did (feel pain), they would be unable to eat many of the spiny/prickly creatures like crawfish and other fish (because of dorsal spines) that they survive on,” Morlock said. “That’s a rather obvious point to those of us who fish or who have a background in science. But for those who do not, the media does a poor job of filling in the rather glaring gaps in information deficiency often inherent in animal rights campaigns.”

Want some scientific evidence? Check out this study by Dr. James D. Rose. Here's a quick summary: Fish dont' feel pain because their brains are too primitive. When hooked, they react instinctively, trying to flee a perceived threat.



Bassmaster Lists Best Bass Lakes


Bassmaster Magazine has released its list of the top 100 bass lakes.

Following are the top 10:

1. Lake St. Clair, Michigan

2. Sam Rayburn Reservoir, Texas

3. Clear Lake, California

4. Lake Guntersville, Alabama

5. Lake Erie, Michigan/Ohio/New York/Pennsylvania

6. Chickamauga Lake, Tennessee

7. Falcon Lake, Texas

8. Lake Okeechobee, Florida

9. San Joaquin Delta, California

10. Toledo Bend Reservoir, Texas/Louisiana

Click here to see the story.

Then click on “Photo Gallery," and you can see photos of the top 100, as well as the comments.

Oh, yes, the comments. If there’s anything that anglers don’t agree on, it’s the best place to go fishing.