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Ground Zero for Asian Carp Invasion

Havana, Ill., is Ground Zero for the Asian carp invasion, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. On the Illinois River, it’s about 200 miles south of Lake Michigan and 120 miles north of the Mississippi.

“You find more carp per acre, per mile of river, tan nearly anyplace else in the world,” says Kevin Irons, DNR’s Asian carp program director.

If you doubt that, check out this video.

Based on electrofishing surveys, bighead and silver carp now account for about 60 percent of the fish biomass in that stretch of the river. That means native species have declined dramatically because the exotics outcompete them for food and habitat.

And peaceful boat rides are a thing of the past because of silver carp, which go airborne when startled.

“People have been hit and seriously injured,” says DNR’s Matt O’Hara. “I know there have been some cases of broken noses and jaws.

“Pretty distressing when you come out here and you’re looking for native fish, and all you see is invasive Asian carp,” he adds.


Minnesota Considers Expanding Bass Season

Minnesota is proposing to increase bass fishing opportunities.

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) wants to open the season statewide two weeks earlier, at the same time that the walleye season begins. Those two weeks would be for catch-and-release only, except in the northeast, where the bass season already opens two weeks before the rest of the state.

Additionally, anglers would be allowed to keep smallmouth bass during the fall in the northeast. At present, all smallmouths must be released from mid September through February.

Warming winters and expanding bass populations are primary reasons for the changes. Traditionally, the opener was delayed to protect spawning bass, even though largemouth and smallmouth bass account for just 5 percent of fish caught and kept.

“When you look at the facts, we have no recruitment issues with bass. Our electrofishing numbers are extremely high, and the changes will have no impact on that,” said Eric Altena, a DNR fisheries supervisor and member of the Technical Bass Committee.

“We are way above recruitment in most parts of the state, and most waters have an abundance of bass.”

Bass tournaments, however, would not be allowed during the catch-and-release season. Under the proposal, all bass caught until Saturday of Memorial Day weekend must be released immediately.

“The proposal probably could have gone even more liberal, but there wasn’t as much support for more liberal framework,” said Henry Drewes, regional fisheries manager. “But we can do this and still protect the (bass) population statewide.”

Following a public-comment period, the proposals will be reviewed by DNR staff before a final decision is made. If approved, the regulations will go into effect for the 2015 fishing season.


My new book, Fish, Frogs, and Fireflies --- Growing Up With Nature, will be out soon. You can check it out at the publisher's information page. You can't order yet, but you can see some of the content and a photo of me kissing a lizard!

You can buy my other books, Why We Fish and Better Bass Fishing, at Amazon.


Tarpon Tales from the Caribbean

Smaller tarpon like this are great fun to catch on bass tackle. Photo of Activist Angler by Dave Burkhardt

When most anglers think of catching tarpon, they envision doing battle with muscular and acrobatic fish weighing 100 pounds or so.

But  three Kansas anglers recently bested one that probably weighed more than 300 pounds and almost certainly would have been a world record had it been caught according to rules established by the International Game Fish Association.

Taken off the coast of Nicaragua, the massive tarpon was 110 inches long, with a girth of 46 inches. But it was mistakenly measured to the tip of the tail, instead of the fork, so  a more accurate length probably is in the range of 102 inches.

Still, the world record measured just a little more than 90 inches, as it weighed in at 286-9. It was caught in 2003 off the coast of West Africa.

The Kansas friends, meanwhile, were fishing waters long favored by American fishermen. That’s because of the snook and tarpon that frequent the Caribbean coastal waters of both Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

I’ve caught plenty of both species down there, starting in 1988, with a trip to Archie Field’s Rio Colorado Lodge. Baseball great Gaylord Perry and his son were there at the time as well.

But what I best remember is hooking my first tarpon. I was fishing from the beach with 14-pound line and tackle that I typically used to catch bass. In other words, I was way overmatched.

I write about the battle in an essay entitled “You Just Never Know” for my book Why We Fish --- Reel Wisdom from Real Fishermen. Here’s an excerpt:

“All I could do was hold on. I knew I couldn’t stop the fish, no matter how skillfully I played it. I waded out into the water as far as I dared, knowing as I did so that it was a pointless gesture.

“But then the miraculous occurred, just as I looked down at my reel to see all the line gone except for the knot.”

I’ve since learned to use heavier tackle and stouter line for most tarpon. Still, if the fish are in the 20- to 40-pound range, bass tackle works just fine, and, in my opinion, tarpon of that size are much more fun to catch than those that top 100. They’re still strong and acrobatic, but they can be turned with drag and the fight typically takes 10 to 15 minutes.

Taking turns with the rod, those three Kansas friends sweated and strained for about 2 ½ hours to bring their massive fish to the boat. Somewhere during that stretch, I suspect, fun turned to work.   


Bass Assist With Native Mussel Restoration

Photo courtesy of Nathan Eckert, USFWS

Smallmouth and largemouth bass assisted recently with an innovative program to boost sagging mussel populations in Wisconsin.

Carrying shellfish larvae in their gills, they were released into the Chippewa River by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).

“The fish will swim around like normal and, after a week or two, the mussel larvae will mature and drop from the fish gills down into the substrate,” explained biologist Nathan Eckert. “In doing a free release of fish with mussels, our hope is that the fish drop off more mussels than would occur naturally, thus bolstering the native population.”

For the project, 2,500 bass were released with larval mucket, 1,050 walleye with larval black sandshell , and 800 lake sturgeon with larval hickorynut.

“Mussels are nature’s water filter,” the biologist said. “They leave the water cleaner than they found it. This is a benefit that the public will receive, even if they do not notice it.”

Additionally, cleaner water allows for more robust phytoplankton and zooplankton populations, which provide the base of the food chain for bass and other game fish.

Biologists “equip” the fish by placing them in tubs of water and then pouring in the larvae. “We let them swim around in the mussel glochidia soup for about a half hour and, during that time, the mussels grab ahold of the fish’s gills,” Eckert said.

With preliminary findings encouraging, FWS also has used this method to assist with recovery of the endangered Higgins eye pearlymussel in tributaries of the Upper Mississippi River.

“We haven't found many, but we have recovered individuals from multiple age classes in two of those streams and the individuals have reached maturity,” the biologist explained.

“Now we are watching and waiting to see if those individuals will start reproducing on their own. Once we have documented that the animals we released are reproducing, we can declare the effort a success and the population has been re-established in these streams where that mussel hasn't been seen in the last 100 years.”