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Don't Overlook Small Baits for Catching Big Bass

The Texas state record largemouth bass was caught by accident.

Chances are that you don't know the amazing story of that fish, which weighed 18.18 pounds and was caught in 1992.

I do. I talked to the angler who caught it and included his tale in my book, Better Bass Fishing, in a chapter about catching big bass with small baits.

St. Clair had been bass fishing on Lake Fork with two friends. They decided to stop and catch a few crappie for the table. St. Clair didn’t have light tackle with him, so he simply put 12-inches of 8-pound leader and a 1/0 gold Aberdeen hook onto his bass rod and reel, which was loaded with 14-pound line.

The strength of that line and the backbone of the rod played no small part in the battle that was about to occur.

“At first, I didn’t know what I had,” St. Clair told me. “But I never panicked. That’s what helped me get the fish in.

“I put pressure on it, and it started to move. Right away, I thought it might be a big catfish. But it didn’t act like a catfish.”

The fish ran three times, but stayed deep. “I took the time to wear her out,” St. Clair said. “Then I eased her toward the surface.

“When she came up, it was like an exploding buoy coming out of the water. We all were stunned. Then I screamed ‘Get the net!’ at my buddies.”

Once he had her in, St. Clair noted that the big bass “filled the bottom of the boat,” and he saw that the delicate wire hook was bent nearly into a circle. “Once more run and she would have been gone,” he said.

Since that memorable day, St. Clair has learned that his experience was not unique.

Secret: In other words, big bass will eat little baits, just as elephants will munch peanuts.

“I’ve run across numerous examples of others who were doing the same thing (crappie fishing) when they hooked something big,” he said. “A few got them in, and the fish were in the 13-pound range. Others couldn’t do it. I was lucky that I had tackle stout enough to handle the fish.”

Here’s another example of a big bass dining at the hors d’oeuvre tray instead of the buffet table: In April 2006, Randy Beaty Jr. used a 1/8-ounce Blakemore Roadrunner to catch a 15.68-pound bass at Florida’s Bienville Plantation.

And my personal favorite: I caught a 12-pound, 4-ounce largemouth bass on a 3/8-ounce Cordell Spot, while fishing in Mexico’s Lake Guerrero. In case you’re not familiar with it, that lipless crankbait is a mere 3 inches long, seemingly hardly an appetizer for a big bass.

Why do big bass sometimes eat little baits?

Find the answer in Better Bass Fishing. The book has been out for a few years, but most of the information  does not go out of date because it's about bass behavior and intelligence, seasonal patterns, weather, etc. In other words, it's about the "big picture" of bass fishing.


Angler Assistance Needed as Kentucky Starts First Full Season of Trophy Bass Propagation Program

Acknowledging that they're still ironing out the kinks, fisheries managers are optimistic heading into Kentucky's first full season of its new Trophy Bass Propagation Program, which runs Oct. 1 to May 31. Anglers contributed four bass of 8 pounds or better last spring, when the strategy was first announced.

"We really hope to see more participation from Kentucky's serious bass anglers," said Ron Brooks, fisheries chief for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR). "After all, this is one program where anglers can really make a difference in terms of potentially increasing the quality of bass fishing in the lakes they fish."

State fishermen have longed voiced their desire for Florida-strain bass to be stocked in Kentucky lakes, to improve genetics and, as a result, their chances of catching larger bass. They point to neighboring Tennessee, which has had some success with that method.

But Tennessee is to the south, and just a few miles can make a huge difference in whether Florida-strain bass thrive or don't even survive.

"If we had the same kind of year-round temperatures as Florida, then we would be stocking Florida-strain bass," Brooks explained.

Consequently, Brooks and the KDFWR are hoping to use some of the state's largest bass, 8 pounds and up for females and 6 pounds and up for males, to raise and stock native fish disposed to heavier weights. They hope that anglers will donate those big fish to be used for broodstock for a couple of years before being released into the fisheries where they were caught.

As a thank you, the agency will provide a replica mount of his catch  to the fisherman.

"Being that it was late in the season when we started (last spring), getting four fish was good," said Jeff Ross, assistant director of fisheries. "It allowed us to advertise those fish, which, in turn, allowed us to further advertise the program and show that it was successful in obtaining fish."

This year, Brooks is hopeful that more bait shops will assist as temporary holders for the bass. "Although the project does require some extra work on the part of our biologists and transportation truck drivers, we cannot envision an easier, more efficient system at this time," he said.

Getting state park marinas as participants is another objective this year, according to Ross. "That would create an excellent partnership, allowing them to promote the program and also have their marinas listed in our fish-holding sponsorship lists and advertisements," he said.

After the donated bass spawn, hatcheries will raise the offspring until they are 5 inches long. Then they will be stocked in fisheries around the state, including the lakes where their parents were caught.

"This won't mean that every largemouth bass spawning in Kentucky will have trophy bass genes," Brooks said. "That would be a long way off.  But in the immediate future, it will mean the fish we're stocking to augment the natural spawning will be a higher quality of fish as far as growth potential."

Anglers can find out more and see a list of participating bait shops by going here.


Georgia Record Shadow Bass Caught in Flint River

Famous for its shoal bass, Georgia's Flint River has just added to its notoriety by yielding a state record for another species--- the shadow bass.

If you haven't heard of this member of the sunfish family, you are not alone.  It's range is limited. It's frequency mistaken for close cousins, two species of rock bass found in Missouri and Arkansas. And all three are known collectively as "goggle-eye."

Kristen Brown caught the first Georgia state record shadow bass--- 10 ounces and 9 1/4 inches long--- while fishing with a plastic worm for shoal bass in the southwestern part of the state.

“We are excited to add the shadow bass to the many species of fish that are eligible as state records in Georgia,” says John Biagi, chief of fisheries for the Wildlife Resources Division. ”This is our second state record of 2016 and I hope it encourages all new and experienced anglers to get outdoors and go fish Georgia!” 

Brown added, “I wanted that (record shoal bass), but I got this,” Brown said of her record shadow bass. “Now I want the shoal bass record even more.”

Weighing 8-3, the state record shoal bass was caught on the Flint in 1977.

Not knowing what she had caught, the angler sent an image to Georgia Department of Natural Resources, which identified it as a shadow bass and officially recognized it as a state record. The world record weighed 1-13 and was caught in 1999 from the Arkansas' Spring River, according to the International Game Fish Association.

Shadow bass are found in streams from Louisiana to Georgia, as well as in isolated pockets on the Missouri/Arkansas border. They are characterized by distinctive mottled patterns on their sides, which include an irregular series of dark blotches. The latter distinguish them from rock bass, which have regular lines of black dots (northern) or irregularly scattered black speckles (Ozark).


New Virus Identified in Wisconsin Bass

As concerns about Largemouth Bass Virus (LMBV) mostly have been put to rest, researchers in Wisconsin have identified yet another virus that seems specific to the species.

"This could be inconsequential to largemouth bass or it could be an existential threat to the species," said Tony Goldberg, an epidemiologist at University of Wisconsin-Madison. "At this point, it's all new and we are trying to find out more."

Largemouth Bass Reovirus was isolated at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife La Crosse Fish Health Center from dead fish collected during an investigation of a May 2015 kill at Pine Lake in northeastern Wisconsin. Its genome was sequenced at a "virus hunting laboratory" operated by Goldberg. He and his associates searched through genetic databases to see if they could find anything similar.

They could not, although it is related to  viruses associated with other fish species.

"Largemouth Bass Reovirus is only the second representative of its group of viruses," Goldberg said. "These viruses are emerging pathogens that infect all sorts of animals. They cause kills in marine and freshwater fisheries, including wild and farmed populations."

But he emphasized that this virus has yet to be linked to fish mortality. More investigation is needed before it can be determined if it caused the bass kill at Pine Lake, where no large fish kills involving bass or any other single species had been previously recorded.

Meanwhile, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources isn't advising management changes in response to the discovery. "We would hope people will continue with their due diligence and follow the rules in place that seeks to prevent spread of viruses and other fish health concerns," said David Giehtbrock, fish culture section chief.

B.A.S.S. National Conservation Director Gene Gilliland added that he hopes this announcement will not cause over-reaction, as was the case with LMBV and associated kills a decade ago.

 "It (LMBV) caused a huge outcry among anglers wanting state agencies to do something (close lakes, prohibit tournaments, etc.), but it was collectively decided that there was little anyone could do," he said.

"No real transmission mode was ever identified, no real preventatives, no cure. It had to run its course and the affected populations built immunities and recovered."

Biologists still find bass carrying LMBV from time to time in fisheries around the country, but die-offs associated with them have been few and minor for several years.

Gilliland added that he's also concerned that some anglers "will blame the 'new bass virus' as the culprit rather than admit they are the possible cause (for dead bass) by continuing to do stupid things like having 8- and 10-hour-long tournaments in the hottest part of the summer,  and expecting all of the catch to survive."


What You Don't Know About the Common Carp

Bluegill and bullheads got me started. But long before I became a semi-skilled bass angler,  common carp educated me. They pulled drag. They broke line. They made my heart pound and my pulse race. And one of them stole my Johnson spincast outfit as it rested in a forked stick on a creek bank.

As I pursued them, I learned the benefits of subtlety and finesse and the importance of tying good knots. And I gained valuable experience combating  double-digit carp hooked on Wheaties, dough balls, and worms long before I encountered my first five-pound bass on an artificial.

Many anglers who grew up in the Midwest and Mid-South, where common carp are especially common, shared similar experiences, I suspect.

What I didn't know then and what thousands and thousands of still don't know today is that the common carp also has altered, degraded, and even destroyed sport fisheries in every state except Alaska.  They've been in our waters so long that most just think of them as natives, which they are not.

Rather, they are arguably the most destructive aquatic species every introduced into the United States. But, as the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) points out, because they have been present in some areas since the first surveys were taken, their impact can't be definitively determined.

Long before political favoritism, poor judgment,  illegal acts, and under-regulated pet and shipping industries led to the introduction and spread of  other exotic fish, including bighead and silver carp, the federal government championed  import of the common carp. A fish native to Asia and Eastern Europe, it had been cultivated as a food fish and water-garden inhabitant for thousands of years.

Pressure on the feds came from immigrants, who could not believe that the waters of their new homeland did not contain carp. Out in California, Julius A. Poppe imported five carp from Germany in 1872, and, four years later, was shipping them by train throughout the country.

"There ought to be one person in every county who would raise choice carp as stock fish to sell to others to fatten for their own tables," he said.

Listening to Poppe and others, the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries began to intensively cultivate and distribute carp in 1877, with state fish commissions soon following suit. Additionally, the carp's ability to live and reproduce in most every water condition allowed it to spread on its own as well.

So, what happened?  First, the common carp did not prove to be the popular food and sport fish that it was in Europe and Asia. By the turn of the century, in fact, fishermen saw it supplanting the fish that they preferred to catch and eat. Additionally, both anglers and fisheries managers noted  that formerly clear lakes and ponds where carp had been introduced were turning  muddy.

That's because the common carp is a bottom feeder, not a filter-feeder like silver and bighead carp. It uproots vegetation, as it sucks in mud and other matter, retaining the nutrients it finds, while spitting out the rest. This increases turbidity, which, in turn, reduces the ability of predator fish to see their prey. It also hinders light penetration, which aquatic vegetation requires for growth. Plus, the USGS said, "There is also evidence that common carp prey on the eggs of other fish species."

Now factor in the carp's productivity. A female can lay up to two million eggs during one spawn, and the young can grow as large as eight inches in the first year.

Of course, bottom-feeding carp were not solely to blame for murky water and declining populations of native fish. Their introduction came at a time when we also were oblivious to the impacts that pollution and land-use practices had on our lakes and rivers.  As much as anything, carp simply took advantage of conditions that harmed native species while allowing them to thrive.

Today, state agencies spend millions of dollars annually rehabilitating fisheries that have been overrun with carp. For example, Kansas recently contracted with commercial fishermen to catch and remove them from Milford Reservoir, the largest impoundment in the state.

"Agency officials hope that removing carp from Milford will improve water quality and reduce the potential for blue-green algae blooms, while also providing benefits to sport fish," said Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism."

Yeah, the common carp is a great "starter" fish. But who knows what bounty that I and many others might have enjoyed as kids if our waters had not been invaded and degraded by them.

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