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Michigan Considers Opening Some Waters to Bass Tournaments During Spawn

With catch and release now allowed year around in most state waters, Michigan is considering opening 16 of its fisheries in the lower peninsula to bass tournaments during the spawn.

That means catch-and-delayed-release (CDR) would be permitted for registered tournaments from the last Saturday in April through the Saturday before Memorial Day.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources played host to public meetings about this and other proposed regulation changes during July. In addition, spokesman Nick Popoff said, "We will take input electronically as well for four or five months."

The proposed CDR fisheries would include Lake Charlevoix, Houghton Lake, Burt Lake, Mullett Lake, Hardy Dam Pond, White Lake, Muskegon Lake, Gull Lake, Gun Lake, Kent Lake, Portage Chain, Cass Lake, Half Moon Chain, Pontiac Lake, Wixom Lake, and Holloway Reservoir.

DNR said, "There is a limited biological uncertainty with liberalizing bass seasons. But, it added, "Most U.S. states allow bass fishing during the spawn without negative population impacts. Limiting the lakes will allow the DNR and public to gauge biological and social implications."

The agency also pointed out that local communities "could see economic boosts with more tournament activity."

Michigan had been considering allowing catch and release during the spawn for years, before initiating it this past April. The Michigan B.A.S.S. Nation was at the forefront of a campaign to make it happen.

 "Throughout that time, we had six test lakes, and did a lot of research to determine does CIR (catch-and-immediate-release) negatively affect spawning bass, versus CDR," Popoff said. "All of our research has shown there is no negative impact on spawning bass populations to target and catch those fish and immediately return them to the water." 


Along With Bass, Alligator Gar Population Booming at Falcon

TPWD technicians Jimmy Cordova (left) and John Ingle remove a Falcon alligator gar from gillnet during a sampling study that led to increased limit. TPWD photos

Booming populations of largemouth bass and alligator gar give anglers two good reasons to fish Falcon Reservoir.

Above average rainfall in spring 2014 and 2015, following low water levels for several years prior, is sparking a resurgence of the bass population, said Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) Inland Fisheries biologist Randy Myers.

“The low water allowed for jungle-like growth of huisache, mesquite, acacia and retama on the exposed reservoir bottom,” he said. “The water level increase inundated that terrestrial growth, resulting in the formation of strong year classes of bass.”

TPWD annually stocks Falcon with around half a million Florida largemouth bass to enhance the production of large fish. Stocking plus strong natural spawns in 2004 and 2005 following the last water level rise led to a boom that lasted from 2008 until 2011. During that time winning tournament weights for a five-fish limit typically exceeded 40 pounds, and Falcon was named the best bass lake in the nation by Bassmaster magazine in 2012.

Myers said 8- to 14-inch bass are currently very abundant in Falcon, and those fish will grow rapidly over the next several years. Myers expects Falcon’s largemouth bass population to peak again in 2017—2019.

“Now is the time to do your homework on Falcon and learn where and how to fish it,” he said. “Falcon is a big reservoir—more than 80,000 acres when full—and it pays to have a game plan in place before you go fishing.”

Adele Myers, age 7, with a 70-inch, 88-pound alligator gar that she caught on a jug line baited with a 12-inch freshwater drum. She is the daughter of TPWD biologist Randy Myers, who said that she also caught the drum.

While you are looking for the best places to fish for bass, Myers suggests that you try your luck with alligator gar as well. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission raised the limit on alligator gar on Falcon to five fish per day and 10 in possession effective Sept. 1.

The alligator gar population in Falcon is doing well, and based upon scientific data, is able to sustain itself with the increased bag limit.  Female alligator gar in Falcon are attaining 100 pounds in 7-10 years and the lake record weighing 249 pounds was taken in 2014.  While having a 10-pound bass on the end of your line is exciting, battling a gar that could be 100 pounds or bigger can give you quite a thrill and make for some very special memories and photographs.

Since you can target alligator gar using different means of take, it is important to know that harvested gar can make for some fine table fare. 

“Anglers pursue gar with archery equipment, rod and reel, and jug lines on Falcon, and the meat is white, non-oily and not fishy tasting,” Myers said. “It’s quite popular with locals, who call it catan.


Are We Making Bass Lazy?

Anglers may be influencing the evolution of bass and the consequences do not look promising, according to a ground-breaking study by the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment (DNRE) at the University of Connecticut.

“This scenario genetically favors the fish with lower metabolisms, the fish that are less likely to be caught by anglers,” said researcher Jason Vokoun. “It suggests that we may be permanently changing exploited fish populations over the long term.”

And what we might be changing them into are the aquatic equivalent of couch potatoes, fish not as likely to be caught because they are less aggressive.

The potential for recreational fishing to act as an evolutionary force is well established as a theory, according to the university. “But this is the first study to identify outcomes of selection from recreational fishing of wild populations using unfished populations as reference,” it said.

In the study funded by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), scientists collected young bass from fished and unfished lakes. After being tagged to identify their places of origin, the fish were released into protected waters. A year later, researchers collected them and measured their resting metabolisms.

They found that a significantly higher number of fish taken from the lakes where fishing was allowed had lower metabolic rates than bass from unfished waters. “This results point to a reduction in the type of behavior that is so prized by anglers,” said Jan-Michael Hessenauer, a doctoral student.

Why is this happening? Scientists aren’t as certain about that. Possibly nests guarded by more aggressive males fail more often because those fish are caught, and, as a consequence, the genes of those fish are not passed on. Or maybe more aggressive females that are caught and released suffer physiological stress, resulting in egg resorption and fewer offspring.

In an attempt to learn more, scientists now will interbreed the two populations, with the hope that the offspring will inherit the more aggressive behavior of the fish from unpressured waters.“The findings in this study may be a strong signal that we need to be much more creative in the ways we manage our inland fisheries,” said DEEP’s Robert Jacobs.


Asian Carp Spawn Raises Threat for Barkley, Kentucky Lake Sport Fisheries

Can an Asian carp invasion destroy a world-class sport fishery? We're about to find out. And, no, it won't be in the Great Lakes.

Ground Zero will be Kentucky and Barkley Lakes, where anglers and commercial fishermen now are seeing millions and millions of young-of-the year silver carp.

Commercial fisherman Ben Duncan sent me these photos that he recently took at Boswell Bay, where he caught about 500 of them.

"I've seen similar schools in Cypress Bay, Eagle Creek, and Blood River," he said. "My conjecture is this year's mid-summer flood has made the 2015 spawn one for the record books."

And Paul Rister, a Kentucky fisheries biologist, confirmed that assessment. "Yes, we are aware of the tremendous spawn of Asian carp in the tailwaters and lakes this past spring," he said, adding that the state recently implemented a nickel a pound subsidy to encourage commercial harvest.

He also said that the numbers of carp likely will be far more than commercial fishermen can harvest, especially since nets can capture only larger specimens.

"So, what is the answer?" he continued. "There is not one yet. The good news is that it is still very unlikely that the carp have impacted sport fish in the lakes."

They may have displaced them, though, meaning anglers might find the fishing tougher as they are forced to fish new areas. Also, with so much forage, bass and crappie might be more difficult to catch on artificial baits--- at least immediately after the carp spawn. But within a few months, the fast-growing carp are too large for sport fish to eat.

Those impacts are short term. What's going to happen during the next year? Or five? Will the invasion overwhelm the sport fishery as carp occupy so much water that there's no room for other species?  That's happened in portions of major rivers, including the Missouri and Illinois.

Will commercial fishing contain carp numbers? Will scientists develop a chemical or biological control?

We will just have to wait and see.


Sick Susquehanna Bass Fishery Needs Your Help

Smallmouth bass with a malignant tumor was caught by an angler in the Susquehanna River near Duncannon, Dauphin County. Photo by PFBC

Neglect destroyed a world-class bass fishery at Florida's Lake Apopka. Fifty years later, is history about to repeat itself on Pennsylvania's Susquehanna River, as well as Chesapeake Bay, which it flows into?

Since 2005, anglers and fisheries biologists with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) have noted lesions and sores on smallmouth bass, as well as a declining population because of what is believed to be disease-related delayed mortality in young-of-year fish. In 2013, the Washington Post noted that Susquehanna's smallmouth bass might be the "canary in a coal mine" regarding the river's health. Last June, the U.S. Geological Survey found intersex bass, likely a consequence of endocrine-disrupting chemicals, in three Pennsylvania waterways, with the highest incidence in the Susquehanna.

More recently, officials documented the first cancerous tumor. The discovery made media headlines both because of its rarity and the ominous overtones that it conveys regarding the health of this river that provides 50 percent of the fresh water flowing into Chesapeake Bay, site of a recent Elite Series tournament.

"As we continue to study the river, we find young-of-year and now adult bass with sores, lesions, and more recently a cancerous tumor, all of which continue to negatively impact population levels and recreational fishing," said John Arway, PFBC's executive director. "The weight of evidence continues to build a case that we need to take some action on behalf of the fish."

To PFBC's credit, it has been sounding the alarm about the "sick" fishery for years, as well as lobbied the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to categorize the lower portion of the river as "impaired."  The Chesapeake Bay Foundation also has petitioned for that designation, as have the Pennsylvania Council of Trout Unlimited and American Rivers. Until the waterway receives that designation, a comprehensive plan can't be developed to address the problem, which probably is pollution.

But DEP has argued that it makes recommendations based on water quality and not species health.  Thus far, it has refused to recommend that the Susquehanna be included on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) impaired waters list.

 "Although we share the continuing concerns about the health of the smallmouth bass population, we do not have sufficient data at this time to scientifically support listing the main stem of the Susquehanna as impaired," the EPA said in a statement.

In other words, for government bureaucrats, sick fish do not equate to a sick river. Yeah, it probably was something they ate.

Prompted both by the inaction of environmental agencies and concern for the future of this world-class fishery, the PFBC recently launched a "Save Our Susquehanna!" campaign so that the smallmouth fishery doesn't die of neglect. And it's going to need your help.

Until the end of this year, PBFC expects to take in at least $3 million from sales of about 130,000 resident and non-resident fishing licenses. When it reaches that threshold, funds from additional sales will be dedicated to projects aimed at reducing pollution in areas of the river where diseased fish have been found. To kick start the effort, the agency already has pledged $50,000, and, once anglers provide a matching amount, work will begin.

Those who purchase licenses also can show their support by buying "Save Our Susquehanna!" buttons for $10 each. Both are available at PFBC's Online Shop, as well as from licensing agents around the state. Finally, people can contribute by sending checks made out to the campaign to PFBC, P.O. Box 67000, Harrisburg, PA 17106.

"Protect the waters of the river, and you protect the waters of the bay," said B.A.S.S. National Conservation Director Gene Gilliland. "Purchasing a fishing license or making an additional donation is an investment in the future of river smallmouth and Chesapeake Bay largemouth bass fisheries."

Arway added, "The Susquehanna River is sick and someone has to take steps to fix it before it is too late. We need leadership to begin working on fixing problems that we know exist."

Despite spending millions of dollars on rehabilitation projects in recent decades, Florida resource managers have been unable to restore Lake Apopka's bass fishery to what it once was. Sadly, it seems, they waited too long. Let's hope  that the Susquehanna and Chesapeake Bay fisheries do not suffer similar fates.

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