Results aren't definitive, but "signs" are promising, as a collective effort to restore Elephant Butte's bass fishery continues.
Signs posted by New Mexico Game and Fish (NMGF), asking anglers to voluntarily refrain from fishing in spawning areas is latest effort. Sadly, spring drawdowns might have negated the strategy.
"The largemouth bass are spawning so shallow that the nests may be high and dry before the eggs hatch even if they are left alone," said Earl Conway, New Mexico B.A.S.S. Nation conservation director (CD).
Still, both he and NMGF biologist Kevin Gardner believe the effort will help draw more attention to "the challenges bass face in irrigation reservoirs.
"Based on the amount of chatter I see on social media and a few emails I have received, we certainly met the objective of getting people more interested in the situation," Conway added.
Elephant Butte was built on the Rio Grande a century ago solely as a water supply reservoir for El Paso and to provide irrigation, both in the United States and Mexico. With drawdowns occurring annually for crops at about the same time bass spawned, the sport fishery somehow managed to endure for decades, mostly thanks to a good forage base.
But then several years of droughts and low water levels caused the bass population to decline precipitously.
In recent years, however, Conway has spearheaded the "adapt-a-cove" project to improve habitat, while former CD Ron Gilworth directed most of his efforts at stocking. Private funds paid for 20,000 four-inch bass in 2015, and NMGF followed with 40,000 early this year.
"If we must deal with these early releases every year, we may have to try providing suspended spawning platforms again," said Conway, who added that they were only marginally successful previously because crappie took them over within a couple of years.
"It was great for them," he added. "But the spawning largemouths bass could be found 50 yards away on the shore under any abandoned marine cable they could find."
New Mexico State University will soon begin a study if these if stocking and habitat enhancements make a significant difference in the quality of the fishery.
On the positive side, Conway said, "We can see tremendous improvements in the coves where we did the habitat projects and in the coves where nature helped out with a bumper crop of willows and tumbleweeds.
"We are throwing everything we can think of at the lake, and the fishing is getting much better without a whole lot more water or changes in water management," he continued. "Reports of lots of smaller fish and heavier tournament weights are the metrics we are tracking."
On a bright, sunny day, a splitting-headache suddenly forced to me to stop fishing years ago, even though the fish were big and eager to bite. I quickly took an aspirin. As a downed it with a long swig of water, I realized how thirsty I was.
Two pints later, the headache was gone, and I had learned a lesson that I would not forget. Even if you don't "feet" thirsty, keeping hydrated is vitally important. By the time you recognize thirst, it's too late. Debilitating effects already will have started, interfering with your fishing, as well as possibly endangering your health.
In Better Bass Fishing: Secrets From the Headwaters by a Bassmaster Senior Writer (The book is in limited supply at Amazon, but more copies should be available soon. Link is to Barnes & Noble.), I don't just cover the nuts and bolts of how and when to catch more fish, I offer insights on how to better care for yourself so you will be a more energetic, and thus more successful, angler. Here are some of my "secrets" for preventing dehydration.
Secret: A healthy body typically requires 64 ounces of fluid a day. But when you’re in the sun and sweating, you need even more. Water is the best choice, with power drinks second. Avoid drinks with lots of sugar and caffeine. The latter actually dries out your system.
Secret: On hot days, drink plenty of water before you get on the lake. And keep downing fluids throughout the day. If you wait until you’re thirsty before you drink, you already will be feeling the weakening effects of dehydration. The weaker you are, the less attentive you will be and, thus, the less effective you will be at catching fish.
Secret: “Cold” does not quench your thirst and re-hydrate your body. “Wet” does. Our obsession with having “ice cold” drinks often contributes to dehydration. That’s because you can only sip a freezing beverage--- unless you want to suffer brain freeze. That sip might feel refreshing, but it is not rehydrating your body. Allow that drink to warm a bit and finish it off right away, instead of putting it back in the ice chest to stay “nice and cold.”
Secret: Dehydration isn’t just a summer hazard. Whenever you are outdoors and active, your body needs fluid to sustain itself. Drink plenty of water in the winter too.
Here is something that you didn’t know: You are a hypocrite if you practice catch and release.
That’s right. If you care enough to turn a fish loose after you catch it, then you should be smart enough to realize that you shouldn’t catch it in the first place.
Don’t laugh. That’s a strategy by animal rights activists in this country to kill recreational fishing. Twice now it’s been used in comments at my Activist Angler website. The latest was in response to a post of mine that ridiculed PETA for distorting facts to support its anti-fishing ideology.
(Go here to see what PETA is saying.)
I was accused of being so steeped in a “pro-fishing, pro-industry dogma” that I have lost perspective. “Attempting to demonize people who are concerned about the ethics of sport fishing is a clear act of bigotry,” said commenter Rob Russell.
“Any thoughtful angler will reach a point where he or she desires to lessen their impacts on fish. When you engage in premeditated C&R, when your only goal is ‘sport’ (gratification), how do you rationalize putting a fish’s life at risk?
“If you are not concerned about this, then you have some thinking to do.”
Well, Rob, I have been thinking about it, and I am concerned. And if you fish, you should be concerned too. As irrational as this ploy seems, it already has worked in Europe.
The Swiss Animal Welfare Act of 2008 makes catch-and-release illegal because “it is in conflict with the dignity of the fish and its presumed ability to suffer and feel pain.” A similar rule has been in place since the 1980s in Germany, where anglers also must take a course in fish handling before they can obtain a license.
“The argument runs (in Germany) that it is legally acceptable to go fishing only if one has the intention to catch fish for food,” say the authors of a disturbing study, “A Primer on Anti-Angling Philosophy and Its Relevance for Recreational Fisheries in Urbanized Societies.”
In other words, you can have fun catching fish in Germany, but don’t tell anyone--- and you must keep the fish. Tournament fishing is not allowed and economic benefits are not a sufficient justification for fishing.
“It all boils down to the individual benefits experienced by the angler, and here food provision is currently the only acceptable reason,” the authors add.
Think that can’t happen here, a country of nearly 40 million licensed anglers? Think again, and don’t be misled by the fact that 9 out of 10 Americans approve of legal fishing and support using fish for food.
The authors of that study discovered that when people are asked whether they approve of recreational fishing for sport, answers change dramatically. Twenty-five to 30 percent view angling for sport as cruel in more urbanized states such as Colorado and Arizona, while about 20 percent feel the same way in more rural states, including Alaska and the Dakotas.
And then there are the useful idiots. They fish but are so narrow-minded that they support anti-fishing activists in this campaign.
The second commenter at my website said this: “Sport fishing for catch-and-release should be outlawed! We are working to keep fish for real fishermen who enjoy the taste and food. We need to keep these so called ‘sport fishermen’ out of Minnesota lakes!”
How do we combat this strategy? We don’t engage in the false argument that catch-and-release is just one step on the road to enlightenment and that, if we really care, we must stop fishing for sport. That’s like trying to answer the question “Do you still beat your wife?” and not sound guilty. An attempt to answer either instantly puts the responder on the defensive.
The reality is that catch-and-release is a conservation practice, not an action prompted by concern for the welfare of an individual fish. Since B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott popularized the practice during tournaments in the 1970s, it has been embraced by anglers worldwide as a way to sustain fisheries. And it’s working. For example, Florida anglers keep less than 10 percent of the bass that they catch, with the vast majority released so that they can continue to reproduce, as well as be caught again.
And let’s not forget the value that we derive from catching and releasing those fish. Yes, fish as food nourishes the body, but fishing for fun nourishes the spirit. During this chaotic and angry time in our nation’s history, nothing is more important.
The attempt by bureaucrats to politicize fish and wildlife management to appease pressure groups and avoid dealing with the real issues continues in Washington, D.C. and California with Senate Bill 1894, which would mandate eradication of nonnative bass and stripers from the California Delta, where they have been established for more than a century.
As in the Northwest (See PC Insanity Infects Management of Fish, Wildlife; Our Outdoor Heritage at Risk), these popular sport fish are being blamed for the demise of native salmon and other species. The reality is dams, pumps, irrigation, and development are the real reasons. Nonnative species thrive in these altered habitats, while natives decline.
Please sign the petition to get this provision of the "drought" bill removed:
Purposely hidden in section 202 of the 147 page bill SB 1894 is the planned eradication of nonnative species in the California Delta and its tributaries to include largemouth, smallmouth, striped bass, crappie and catfish. The inclusion of these species in this bill MUST be removed. They are being made the scapegoats for the demise of the salmon and Delta smelt when in fact the pumps are the largest non discriminate predator in the Delta.
This eradication mandate will decimate the natural balance that has existed for 140 years, while doing NOTHING for the drought that is what the bill is supposed to address. It will decimate sport fishing on the California Delta, as well as adversely affect many businesses that rely on income directly generated from Delta fishing, i.e., bait and tackle stores, hotels, restaurants, tackle manufacturers etc.