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Thursday
Jan142016

Intersex Bass Found in North Carolina Streams, Rivers

During the 2012 spawning season, North Carolina State University scientists checked 20 of the state's streams and rivers for bass with reproductive problems that could potentially threaten populations, as well as for contaminants known as endocrine disruptors. They found that 60 percent of 81 bass tested were intersex, meaning males showed signs of developing eggs in their testes.

“Males guard the nest, create spawning nests for young, and guard fertilized eggs,” researcher Crystal Lee Pow said. “ Males are crucial for hatching success, and their male behavior could be altered by exposure to contaminants and the presence of the intersex condition.”

They also detected 43 percent of the 135 pollutants that they were looking for, because of the belief that exposure to them are feminizing male fish in waters across the country. These compounds include hormones, as well as drugs, chemicals, and pesticides that mimic estrogen, which enter the water via runoff or wastewater treatment plants.

Because differences between waterways are still being analyzed, researchers haven't yet revealed which rivers contain bass that have been affected. One of those might be the Catawba, which feeds Lake Norman, site of the 2014 Bass Pro Shops Southern Open and 2015 Carhartt College Eastern Regional.  Just a few miles to the east,  scientists found that the Pee Dee River had the highest rate of intersex fish in nine U.S. river basins during a 2009 study.

Here's another story about this growing problem for our fisheries: Scientists Find More Mutated Intersex Bass in Nation's Waters.

Thursday
Jan142016

Giant Salvinia Found at Texas' Lake Fork

A noxious invasive plant that has plagued Louisiana and Texas waters for more than a decade finally has found its way to Lake Fork, the Lone Star State's No.1 trophy bass lake. Possibly giant salvinia was brought in accidentally by boat or trailer from Toledo Bend, Sam Rayburn, or Caddo.

"We do everything we can within the limits of manpower and budget that we have to work with," said Larry Hodge, spokesman for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). "The problem is that everybody who has a boat is a potential vector."

"We've found infestations like this on other reservoirs  in East Texas and have gone in and physically removed the plants, all that we can find," he added. "If you catch it early, sometimes you can get rid of it, at least temporarily."

On Nov. 18 in Chaney Branch, agency biologists confirmed the presence of this fast-growing, free-floating fern that can double its coverage in a week, as it blocks access and displaces native plants, which can't grow under its dense mats. 

"The infestation appears to be confined to this branch and a another small cove west of the dam and occupies an estimated 3.25 acres," TPWD said. "Judging by the distribution and age of the plants, it appears it has been in place for several months."

The Sabine River Authority (SRA) immediately close boat ramps at Chaney Point South and Secret Haven to reduce the risk of spreading the plant.   It also checked at bridge crossings and along shorelines for additional plants.

Additionally, SRA and TPWD crews have physically removed plants, as well as placed about 1,100 feet of floating boom across the creek, in hopes of containing the infestation within the 90-acre cove.

TPWD also plans to conduct a chemical treatment, using glyphosate. "All efforts will be made to protect beneficial plants, while focusing on killing the invasive giant salvinia," the agency said, adding that it will continue to look for the plant in other areas of the lake.

"We've had a lot of rain and high water this year and a lot of wind," said biologist Kevin Storey. " I suspect this will affect Lake Fork for years."

Wednesday
Jan132016

Court Ruling Against EPA Could Impact Anglers

A recent federal court decision possibly will be a good news/bad news proposition for bass anglers and other boat owners.

The U.S. Court of Appeals 2nd Circuit ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) failed in its responsibility under the Clean Water Act to protect the nation's waters from aquatic invasive species introduced by ballast water discharge. The most glaring evidence of that has been the introduction of zebra and quagga mussels into the Great Lakes by ocean-going ships. They've since spread across much of the country, forcing states, cities, and businesses to spend billions of dollars annually for control costs and/or to mitigate damage.

Additionally,  troublesome round gobies and dozens of other species also have hitched a ride to this country in ballast water.

As a consequence of this action, EPA must develop stricter regulations regarding ballast water, although the court did not set a deadline. In responding to the decision, the agency said that won't happen until 2018, adding that it still is "studying the recent decision by the 2nd Circuit to determine the best course of action."

Environmental groups, which sued EPA over its ballast water policy, praised the decision.

“This is a huge win for our environment, economy, fish, wildlife, communities, and businesses,” said Marc Smith, policy director for the National Wildlife Federation.

“The court, in no uncertain terms, has told the federal government that it needs to uphold its responsibility under the Clean Water Act to protect our drinking water, jobs, and way of life. This decision is welcome news for the millions of families, anglers, hunters, paddlers, beach-goers, and business owners who have borne the brunt of damages from aquatic invasive species for far too long."

But Bill Frazier, conservation director for the North Carolina B.A.S.S. Nation, warned that with this good news possibly comes some bad.

"This is a very big deal," he said. "As with most things, EPA possibly will overreach and extend (its restrictions) to all waters. If so, this may be the death knell for recreational boaters moving from one water body to another."

Frazier added that specific consequences might include mandatory inspections and/or certificates for moving boats from one lake to another,  fees to pay for such programs, and possible closing of access areas if costs prove to be prohibitive. 

Monday
Jan112016

Lessons Learned from a Hawk in a Falcon

As a teenager, I "rescued" this hawk from a lake where I worked cleaning boats and pulling weeds. It had captured a snake in its talons and tried to take off with it. The reptile was too heavy and/or too strong for the hawk, and it crashlanded in the shallows. I waded out, wrapped my shirt around the birds wings, and carried it to shore.

Instead of turning it loose right away, I decided to take it home with me. On the way, it got loose in the backseat of my Ford Falcon. You can find out what happened and about the lessons I learned from the hawk and a childhood spent in the outdoors in Fish, Frogs, and Fireflies: Growing Up With Nature.

At that same lake, I also encountered Ozarks dinosaurs and a mysterious black creature that stole a peanut butter sandwich from my backpack when is strayed too far down the shoreline as I was fishing.

Monday
Jan112016

Should Oklahoma's Grand Lake Be Stocked With Smallmouth Bass?

A couple of nice largemouths pulled from Grand Lake by Pete Gluszek during pre-fishing for the 2013 Bassmaster Classic.As the site of the 2016 GEICO Bassmaster Classic, Grand Lake o' The Cherokees is a world-class largemouth bass fishery.

But that's not enough for some. They want more. They want Grand to join Broken Bow, Tenkiller, Keystone, and a few other Oklahoma lakes with thriving smallmouth fisheries, courtesy of stockings about 20 years ago.  In fact, more than 700 anglers petitioned the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) in 2008 to stock the 46,500-acre impoundment.

And the Peoria Tribe of Indians is growing smallmouth bass  at its  aquatic facility near Spring River  in hopes ODWC and Grand River Dam Authority will approve their release into Grand.

But establishing a fishery isn't as simple as stocking them in this deep, rocky lake, which seems a natural for bronzebacks. That's because smallmouth bass already live in the tributaries of this reservoir that is nearly 75 years ago, and they never have moved down to join largemouth bass in the impounded waters.

Why not?

"My contention is that something isn't right for them (in the lake)," said Gene Gilliland, a long-time fisheries biologist in Oklahoma before he became B.A.S.S.'s national conservation director. "If you stock those fish, it probably won't do any good. If they were going to make it, they already would be there."

But why did they make it in Tenkiller and other eastern Oklahoma fisheries? Smallmouth bass stocked in those impoundments aren't the same strain as those that live in the tributaries and are being hatchery raised. When Oklahoma became its smallmouth stocking program, it used Tennessee strain, the same genetic fish that thrives and grows to husky proportions in Tennessee and Cumberland River impoundments.

"That was when a smallmouth was a smallmouth was a smallmouth," Gilliland said. "But now the science is better. Now we see there are unique stocks."

And the native smallmouths of eastern Oklahoma streams are the Neosho strain. When ODWC realized that stocking Tennessee smallmouths could jeopardize the genetic integrity of its native fish, it got rid of the brood stock, Gilliland added.  "There was concern that Tennessee bass would swim upstream, interbreed, and we'd lose native fish over the years," he said.

The Peoria tribe hasn't yet made a formal request to stock Grand with Neosho strain smallmouth. If genetic purity of the fish can be confirmed, though, it seems likely that permission will be granted.

"Will it make a difference in Grand Lake?" asked Barry Bolton, ODWC fisheries chief. "I don't know. If we are going to error, we want to error on the side of caution."

Justin Downs, an environmental specialist for the tribe, contends that that the Neosho strain never reaches its size potential in streams because forage is limited to crawfish and insects. But in Grand, those bass could gorge on shad and, consequently, grow to a size comparable to their Tennessee cousins.

But Gilliland is not convinced. "I'd love to see it go. But there's something just not right that those native smallmouth bass don't thrive there," he said. "Tennessee strain fish are different, more adaptable to reservoir environments.

"I fought the moratorium on stocking (Tennessee strain)," he said. "I'm not convinced that they would swim upstream and hybridize."