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Wednesday
Aug262015

World-Class Suwanee Bass on Display in Florida

If it's not already, a world record Suwannee bass soon will be swimming in the 9,200-gallon aquarium at Bass Pro Shops in Tallahassee, Fla. It was just two ounces shy of the record when released there this sumemr, after being caught in the Ochlockonee Rivery by Ferrol "Roscoe" Holley, Jr.

After catching the fish on June 26, Holley contacted Andy Strickland, a biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), who immediately went to meet him. The 3.75-pound bass was weighed on a certified scale and measured 16.5 inches long. The state and world record is 3.89 pounds, caught by Ronnie Everett in 1985 on the Suwannee River in Gilchrist County.

Give it a few good meals in the Bass Pro Shops’ aquarium and customers should soon be watching a world-record feed at noon each Tuesday/Thursday and at 2 p.m. on Saturdays.

First, Brian Claborn, Bass Pro Shops’ aquarist, treated the bass to ensure it was healthy and held it in quarantine. Once it was given a clean bill of health, Claborn and Strickland arranged for Holley and his family to come to the store and release the bass into the aquarium. Strickland also presented Holley with a “Big Catch” certificate.

Big Catch is the FWC’s oldest angler-recognition program, which traces its history to 1953 when a “fishing citation” program was run by Florida Wildlife Magazine (now the free online FloridaWildlifeMagazine.com). The actual Big Catch Angler Recognition Program began in 1990, and since then thousands of anglers have enjoyed having their catches recognized.

Anglers can register for free at BigCatchFlorida.com to submit their catch or view other anglers’ catches. A customized certificate is rewarded to any angler who legally catches and photographs one of 33 popular Florida freshwater fish species that exceeds the qualifying length or weight. The program includes categories for specialists (five qualifying fish of the same species), masters (five qualifying fish of different species) and elite anglers (10 qualifying fish of different species). In addition, a youth category makes this a family-friendly way to get kids involved.

The final Big Catch category includes the freshwater grand slams. A Bass Slam includes catching a largemouth, spotted, shoal and Suwannee bass in the same year. A Bream Slam is awarded for catching any four of bluegill, redear sunfish, spotted sunfish, warmouth, redbreast sunfish or flier in one day, and an Exotic Slam requires catching a butterfly peacock, Mayan cichlid and oscar in one day. These programs help encourage anglers to try new species, locations and techniques, and provide fun family challenges.

Holley’s near-world-record Suwannee bass is in the same group of black basses as largemouth bass, shoal bass, spotted bass and the newly-identified Choctaw bass. With the exception of the largemouth, these other basses are all primarily riverine and within Florida are only located in the panhandle and tributaries of the Suwannee River. The FWC is proposing new rules to continue to protect all of these species (see MyFWC.com/Fishing and click on “Speak out on bass rules” to learn more and comment.)

Monday
Aug242015

Sport Fisheries in Kentucky and Barkley Lakes Under Assault From Asian Carp

Photo by Mark Marraccini, Kentucky Fish and WildlWhile we have been looking one way, Asian carp have been swimming in another.

For years, most media, scientific, and political attention was focused on the threat that silver and bighead carp pose to sport fisheries if they become established in the Great Lakes. Meanwhile, some of these invaders took at right turn at the Ohio River, and their numbers now are exploding in Kentucky and Barkley Lakes, even as they continue their infestation of other fisheries along the Cumberland and Tennessee River. What's occurring here is not hypothetical; it's real.

In the October issue of B.A.S.S. Times, I'll have a detailed report on what's happening to these fisheries and what might be done to save them. Following are some comments about the situation from anglers, as well as the fisheries chiefs in Kentucky and Tennessee

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"When I was on Kentucky Lake in June, they (Asian carp) were everywhere, hitting the surface on the ledges. You could look down and see schools of them. Kentucky Lake is doomed in the very near future."

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"Yep, they are thick in Kentucky Lake, but people don't see them jumping  like in other areas. But I see them all the time on my sonar and Steve had one jump into his boat and hit him in the back a few years ago."

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"Yesterday i went to Smithland. The 4-inch Asian carp are 15 feet thick in places next to the dam in the still water and are so plentiful around the bank area that they are actually jumping up on each other and lying there out of the water."
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"Fishing as we know it is winding down! Not one striper at any of the dams right now!"

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"The two species of Asian carp that we are most concerned about right now because of their numbers are the bighead and silver carp," said Ron Brooks, Kentucky fisheries chief.

"Silver carp eat phytoplankton. Bighead eat primarily zooplankton, and, together, the two species threaten the very base of the aquatic food pyramid. By eating phytoplankton, silver carp reduce the amount of food available to many zooplankton species, which reduces the amount of zooplankton. Bighead forage on zooplankton, which also reduces the amount of zooplankton . . .

"Without sufficient densities of zooplankton available shortly after hatching, bass, crappie, bluegill, and even walleye would have poor survival into the juvenile phase of their lives. That is why we are most concerned about controlling the invasive carp numbers."

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"We have had several inquiries from a few Chinese businessmen but nothing has developed so far.  We have also had one group from Tennessee that has been exploring the possibility of constructing a processing plant but they are still looking for a source of funding (10 to 12  million dollars)," said Bobby Wilson, Tennessee fisheries chief.

"However, with the three (plants) in Kentucky, there is a market for harvesting Asian carp in Tennessee waters.  There is a need to coordinate the harvest of Asian carp by commercial fishermen with the purchase of Asian carp by the fish processors. We are working to try to make that happen."

Friday
Aug212015

Tennessee, Cumberland River Fisheries Threatened by Asian Carp

Most anglers know that Asian carp are overwhelming populations of native fish in portions of the Mississippi, Missouri, and Illinois Rivers. Likely they are aware that the invaders could have catastrophic consequences for the sport fishery if they migrate into the Great Lakes.

And almost certainly they have seen photos of silver carp leaping from the water, like the one above, as they are frightened by passing boats. This iconic shot was taken in 2007  by Nerissa McClelland of Illinois Department of Natural Resources from the chase boat as an electrofishing survey was conducted on the Illinois River, just upstream from Havana.

What most anglers do NOT know is that silver and bighead carp also threaten the Tennessee and Cumberland River systems , along with the world-class sport fisheries in their reservoirs. Most at risk right now are Kentucky and Barkley Lakes, but the invaders are moving steadily upriver from there.

In the October issue of B.A.S.S. Times, I'll have a detailed report on what's happening to these fisheries and what might be done to save them. Following is some insight regarding the problem from Ben Duncan , a commercial fisherman:

"I think it's too late to fully save the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. The quantity of carp in both those rivers is unimaginable, although sustained fishing does help. If we don't start soon, the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers will soon follow.

"Using the Cumberland River as an example, the numbers on the Barkley pool are large, while two pools up--- Old Hickory Lake --- catches, while becoming more frequent, are still at manageable levels.

" I have been on these lakes all my life, and spend more time on the water in a year than most people do in 10, and I can already see how native fish are changing their behaviors due to the invasion of carp. I think it's even influenced the crappie population and spawn on Kentucky Lake. Commercially, we catch way fewer fish in the bays than we did seven or eight years ago---  especially buffalo--- a fish that competes with Asians for food. Such large schools of carp decimate the food source so there's no reason to enter the bays. I have observed the same patterns in gizzard shad. 

"Currently, commercial harvest is the only defense. Kentucky and Barkley lakes are two of the most productive reservoirs in the country and it's concerning that Asian carp have made them so vulnerable. There are still several anglers unaware of the severity of the problem and most need to be educated on how tackling the problem is a collaborative effort among all stakeholders."

Wednesday
Aug192015

Mepps Honors Angler Who Turns 100 

Mepps birthday gift pack for Clem Polfe

August 29 will mark yet another in a long list of momentous dates for the Mepps lure company. On that Saturday, one of Mepps' most ardent supporters, someone who has graced the pages of its annual catalog three times,  will turn 100 years old.

“Of course, I remember Clem Polfer and his wife, Angie,” said Mepps President Mike Sheldon, when informed of Clem’s upcoming birthday. “Clem has been in a bunch of our catalogs over the years. And, in fact, his wife even appeared on the cover of the 1978 issue.”

Beginning in 1973, Clem went on to earn eight awards in the Mepps Master Angler Program, and appeared in the catalog during 1981, 1983 and 1991. “I noticed his MasterAngler awards include a 9-pound walleye, a 22-pound northern pike and a 32-pound lake trout. Those are some seriously big fish. Real trophies!” remarked Mepps Communication Director, Kurt Mazurek.

“Fishing is his favorite past time and it’s what keeps him going,” said his great granddaughter, Heather Ewry. She added that recognition from Mepps “means a lot!”

People like Clem mean a lot to Mepps. From the dedicated team that has hand-assembled every Mepps lure in the USA since 1956, to passionate fishermen like Clem Polfer, Mepps’ success has always relied on the people.

So, on behalf of everyone here at Mepps,” says Sheldon, “we’d like to thank Mr. Polfer for his amazing skills as an angler and his lifelong dedication to Mepps lures, and to wish him a heartfelt, happy birthday! We’ll be watching the mail for his latest submission to the Master Angler program.”

Monday
Aug172015

Citizens Must Be Voice for Fish and Wildlife in Gulf Restoration

Less than five years after the largest marine oil spill in U.S. history, BP has agreed to pay $18.7 billion in penalties and damages for its role. This stands in stark contrast to the decades-long litigation following the Exxon Valdez spill, and is great news not only for those who live along the Gulf Mexico, but for all of us who recognize the ecological, recreational, and economic value of this region to the nation.

Much of our seafood comes from there. Millions of us visit the five Gulf states annually to fish and enjoy other outdoor pursuits. And if you live in the Midwest or Great Plains, the waterfowl hunting that you enjoy annually is  dependent on healthy and abundant marshes and wetlands along the Gulf Coast, where 70 percent of waterfowl from the Central and Mississippi Flyways stopover or winter annually.

Now that we have an amount for what it likely the largest environmental settlement in history, it's important that plans and projects be implemented wisely and effectively. The federal RESTORE Act of 2012 will ensure that 80 percent of any Clean Water Act civil and administrative penalties paid by BP and other companies responsible for the disaster goes to the Gulf Coast Restoration Fund. That means each of the Gulf states will receive hundreds of millions of dollars to implement recovery plans, starting with Pot 1 for wildlife habitat restoration and improvement of water quality. This category also provides for “job creation” and “infrastructure projects,” which could allow expenditures that sound good but that won’t help the Gulf.

That's why it will be important for citizens along the Gulf to be a voice for fish and wildlife. They must tell their governors and state legislators that they want the money spent on projects such as restoring wetlands, sea grasses, and barrier islands, as well as ensuring adequate freshwater flows, which are important for sustaining healthy spawning and nursery habitat for fish and wintering areas for ducks and geese.

Vanishing Paradise looks forward to working with federal and state officials and the RESTORE Council to make sure that the BP funds go to meaningful, comprehensive restoration.

And as this work begins, we should remember that we still don't know the true extent of the damage caused by an estimated 4.9 million gallons of oil pouring onto the ocean floor. Years and possibly even decades will be required to determine population level impacts to species.

What we do know is that an estimated one million birds died from exposure to the oil, as well as large numbers of dolphins and sea turtles. We also know that cleanup crews removed 106,465 tons of "oily material" from Gulf shorelines by the end of 2013. And BP reports that it already had spent $14 billion and 70 million personnel hours on cleanup and response by that time.

With direction as provided by the RESTORE Act and watchful oversight from those of us who want the best for Gulf Coast fish and wildlife, it now will spend an additional $18.7 billion.