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Friday
Dec092016

What You Should Know About Taking Kids Fishing

First, and foremost,  the primary goal for a young child going fishing is to have fun--- not catch fish. Some adults have trouble remembering that.

Take them to a pond, lake, or small stream where the panfish are plentiful, and fish with live bait and the simplest of gear, such as a cane pole or spincast outfit. Also take a bucket or two, and maybe some jars with holes in their lids. Don’t try to fish yourself. If you do, you’ll just get frustrated. Your full attention should be on being a teacher.

Remember that most every child will want to keep the first few fish that he or she catches. It’s natural, perhaps that first awakening of the hunter-gatherer imperative that is a part of our species. If the fish aren’t biting, that same instinct will kick in when the child turns attention to catching frogs or crawdads.

Before you respond to a plea to keep the catch, start a conversation about its color, size, beauty, and/or uniqueness. Point out a frog’s webbed feet and its big, flat ears on the sides of its head. Spread a sunfish’s dorsal fin and explain its spines. Hold your hands up vertically by the sides of your face and wave them back and forth as if you are a fishing breathing through gills. It’s okay to be silly. Actually, it’s better to be silly.

Suggest placing the critter in a bucket or jar, without agreeing to take it home. Usually, that will be enough. By the time that you are ready to leave, the novelty will have passed, and you can turn loose the catch without protest. I’d suggest doing so with a little ceremony, maybe waving goodbye as the fish swims or the frog hops away.

If you meet with resistance, explain that the animal will die if taken away from its natural home. Most kids don’t think about that until it is explained to them.

When the time is right, too, keep some of those fish and teach kids how to clean them.

Above all, though, take them fishing.

From Fish, Frogs, and Fireflies: Growing Up With Nature.

Thursday
Dec082016

Snakehead a Concern in Arkansas, as Well as Potomac

Although the Potomac receives most of the notoriety for its snakehead population, some Arkansas waters have them as well. And that has prompted Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGF) to begin a new monitoring program that it hopes will help keep the population in check.

"We need to refresh our information on exactly what species are in these areas and what the population dynamics are before the snakehead populations grow to cause any sort of impact," said Jimmy Barnett, AGF aquatic nuisance species program coordinator." "These baseline data will be critical in future management of the fisheries and the fight against invasives."

According to Barnett, biologists are concerned about the possible impact that the exotic predator is having on bass and other native fish. To find out what is going on, the agency will conduct in-depth fisheries profiles of about 40 sites in eastern Arkansas.

Back in the spring of 2008, a breeding population of northern snakeheads was found there in ditches and near an irrigation pump. Worried that they would spread into waterways connected to the White, Arkansas, St. Francis, and Mississippi Rivers, resource managers quickly applied rotenone, killing about 100 of the invasive predators and collecting 55 specimens for live study. AGF also  attempted to eradicate the fish with  the Piney Creeks drainage near Brinkley. But occasional reports still surface of someone catching or seeing a snakehead there.

"Snakeheads have spread slowly since their introduction, but the last three years in a row, we've seen them expand their range," Barnett said. "They once were only found in one of our fisheries districts, but now we're seeing them reach out to the edges of three other districts."

Barnett says the recent prolonged flooding in east Arkansas and the drainages connecting the White, Cache, and Arkansas Rivers may have increased the speed at which the species has spread.

"There have been a lot of sloughs and ditches that have had water in them for a longer period of time that could have helped the species reach new areas," Barnett said.

Anglers can help in the fight against snakeheads by continuing to kill any they catch and reporting them to the regional AGF office nearest the body of water where it was found.

"People should take a picture of the fish for positive identification, and try to keep the fish until they've talked to a biologist about it," Barnett said. "A native species, the bowfin, looks similar to the snakehead, so we want to verify these sightings to help paint an accurate picture of the species' expansion."

Snakeheads likely were introduced into Arkansas waters by a fish farmer, who intended to raise the exotic fish commercially before their possession became illegal. Upon the advice of state and federal officials, he decided to kill the fish by removing them from his ponds and dumping them on levees. Unfortunately, snakeheads can live for several hours out of water and even crawl to water, which probably is what happened.

Monday
Dec052016

Fisheries Management Is NOT Just About the Fish

Once upon a time, when harvest of bass was commonplace, wildlife agencies managed fisheries for sustainability. No matter where they fished in their state, anglers knew the bag and size limit regulations would be the same, typically 5 or 10 fish, with a minimum size of 12 inches.

But then in the 1970s along came Ray Scott, B.A.S.S., and a practice that bass anglers  embraced with open arms--- catch and release. Bass fishing became more about competitive sport and recreation than catching and keeping a limit.

As a consequence, today's fisheries manager must be two parts fisheries biologist and one part sociologist. Or maybe it's the other way around. In other words, it's not all about the fish anymore. It's also about the fishermen and what they want to catch.

"There are variables related to the biological side of things and then there is the social/people side of things," said Dave Terre, Management and Research Chief for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). "Both those things have to come together for success."

With Texas among the most innovative states for bass management, TPWD planners consider four regulation strategies to accommodate "diverse opportunities." They include harvest, high catch rate, quality-sized fish, and trophy fish.

Of course, the first  favors those who still want to keep and eat bass. The second is for those who enjoy catching numbers of fish but not keeping them, while the third and fourth are self-explanatory.

To gain reputations as trophy fisheries, some lakes don't require special regulations or other assistance, such as supplemental stockings of Florida-strain bass, if they have enough habitat and forage, as well as periodic high water to accommodate large years classes and survival.  But usually these are cyclical as opposed to long-term.

On the other hand, maintaining a trophy fishery typically involves special regulations, such as a protected slot of 18 to 22 inches or even catch and release only and/or periodic stockings of Florida or Florida-hybrid bass to stimulate faster and larger growth. For example, recent angler success suggests that Tennessee has created a trophy bass fishery at Lake Chickamauga by enhancing the genetics.

A trophy fishery also requires constant monitoring and altering of regulations to meet changing population dynamics. In Arkansas, managers want to encourage harvest of smaller fish by reducing the protected slot from 16-21 inches to 14-17 because of the high density of bass at Mallard Lake, which yielded the state record, 16-8, in 1976.

In Texas, meanwhile, biologists wanted to prevent harvest of too many small bass when O.H. Ivie was opened to fishing about 25 years ago. Thus, the five-fish bag could include no more than two bass under 18 inches. Now, they are considering regulation changes that would encourage harvest of smaller fish and increase abundance of larger ones.  

"The nice thing about these kinds of regulations, five-fish bag limits with no more than XX number of fish above or below a certain length, is that they are conducive to both tournament and non-tournament angling, unlike slot limits that are prohibitive to tournaments," said Brian Van Zee, TPWD Inland Fisheries Regional Director. 

Especially in states where bass are the No. 1 sport fish, managers have learned that "adaptive management"  is the best strategy to deal with ever-changing  environmental conditions in fisheries and to satisfy their constituencies. The latter often are surveyed on the water, online, by mail, and at public meetings as to their preferences regarding bag and size limits, both in general and for specific water bodies.

After listening to its resident fishermen, Florida decided to simplify regulations, with an emphasis on increasing the odds that anglers can catch and release larger bass. While the statewide limit remains at five, with no minimum length for largemouths, only one fish of 16 inches or longer can be kept. Forty-two site-specific regulations have been eliminated.

"While reducing harvest of large bass is beneficial, allowing more bass under 16 inches to be kept may improve some fisheries by reducing competition so other individuals grow faster and larger," said Tom Champeau, Fisheries Chief for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Still, "sometimes regulations have little to do with it (quality of a fishery)," reflected Terre, pointing out that just 57 of Texas' 1,100 reservoirs have special regulations. " Most anglers catch and release all the bass they catch. Now, we have to feel  the public will keep fish before putting on a slot.

"And we're constantly learning, experimenting, and managing according to conditions. We don't do things willy nilly."

Saturday
Dec032016

New State Record for Florida: Mayan Cichlid

Florida has a new state record fish, a 2.37-pound Mayan cichild. Jonathan Johnson caught the fish in a Collier County canal on a lipless crankbait, and says that his record catch was not by accident.

 

“I looked up the record about six months ago and saw that it was vacant,” said Johnson. “I have caught hundreds [of Mayan cichlids] but only a couple that I thought were large enough. I was targeting them specifically that day and caught about 25, this being the largest one by about half a pound,” he said.

 

Johnson took the fish home where his scale confirmed that it was eligible for the vacant state record, which had a minimum submission weight of 2 pounds. Johnson then called the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) offices to get his record fish certified.

 

With one state record in his pocket, however, Johnson is not resting on his laurels.

 

“I am also targeting the blue tilapia and peacock bass records, but since I use only artificials it will be a challenge,” he said.

 

The FWC made the Mayan cichlid, a cousin of the peacock bass and nonnative species from Central America, eligible for state record status in 2012. But, the record has remained vacant until now. It was first reported in Florida in the early 1980s. During the mid-1990s, the fish began expanding its range and has become common throughout south Florida’s freshwater lakes and canals. Both local and out-of-state anglers target the now-popular fish using methods similar to those used for sunfish. The bright red coloration and scrappy disposition of the Mayan cichlid when caught caused FWC biologists to nickname it the “atomic sunfish.”

 

There are 34 nonnative freshwater fish species that have become established in Florida. Although these species have not caused major disruptions in native ecosystems or reduced harvest of native sport fishes, the FWC strongly encourages anglers not to release them (except legally-introduced peacock bass and triploid grass carp). Most exotic fishes provide excellent table fare. In addition, releasing fish from aquariums or moving them between water systems is illegal and could produce detrimental effects.

 

To properly certify a new Florida state record, a FWC biologist must identify the fish species and witness its weighing on a certified scale. Anglers can check the current state records at BigCatchFlorida.com by clicking on “State Record,” and should notify the nearest FWC regional office if they believe they have caught a record fish. Contact information for FWC regional offices can be found at MyFWC.com/Contact by clicking on “Contact Regional offices.”

 

Thursday
Dec012016

Smallmouth Bass Records Broken or Tied in Four States

Michigan's state record smallmouth bass, caught on a nightcrawler.During a year when the smallmouth bass record possibly has been broken or tied in four states, the most recent is arguably the most impressive for a couple of reasons.

First, Bruce Kraemer's catch Sept.11 on Michigan's Indian River nearly reached double digits, checking in at 9.98 pounds. That's more than a half pound heavier than the previous record, 9.33 pounds, caught less than a year before. The latter toppled a mark that was more than a century old, a 9.25-pound smallie caught in 1906.

Meanwhile in neighboring Wisconsin, the record of 9.1 was set in 1950, while Minnesota's record of 8 pounds has stood since 1948.

Second, Kraemer caught the huge fish while fishing with a live nightcrawler on light spinning gear from his backyard. He wouldn't even have known it was record if he hadn't entered it in a fishing contest sponsored by a local business."I usually spend June through the end of September up here at the cottage," said the angler who lives the rest of the year in Treasure Island, Fla. "I've got some great fish stories and some nice fish, but nothing like this."

And he wouldn't have had "this," if his neighbor, Ron Krieg, hadn't convinced him to stay a little longer.

"He also netted the fish for me and talked me into entering it into the fishing contest at Pat and Gary's Party Store," the angler said.

Up in New York, meanwhile, Patrick Hildebrand tied the state record with an 8.25-pound smallmouth that he caught a few weeks earlier out of Cape Vincent on the St. Lawrence River. Taken on a dropshot rig in about 35 feet of water, it equals the mark set in 1995. New York Department of Environmental Conservation hasn't yet officially acknowledged the catch as tying the state record, but likely soon will.

Both of those fish might have grown to record proportions by gorging on gobies, an exotic species common in both Indian River and the St. Lawrence. In fact, Kraemer said that he had rigged the nightcrawler above his sinker to keep it off the bottom and away from the small bottom-dwelling fish.

"When I set the hook, I first thought that I had a goby," he recalled. "But when I pulled, it didn't move and I thought I was snagged on bottom. But then it started moving toward the middle of the river."

Out in South Dakota's Little Horseshoe Lake, Lyal Held caught a pre-spawn smallmouth that checked in a 7.185 pounds (7-3), to surpass the record of 7, taken at the same fishery in 2013.  Captured in late April, Held's fish had a girth of 19 inches that almost equaled its length of 19.5. "I've never seen anything so fat," Held said. "It was so fat its eyes were bulging."

And in Montana, Melvin McDonald might have set the new standard in August at Fort Peck Reservoir with a catch of 6.7 pounds as he was bottom-bouncing a Berkley Gulp! Minnow for walleyes. Montana Department of Natural Resources has yet to confirm the catch. Current record of 6.375 (6-6) was set twice, in 2000 on the Flat River and in 2002 at Fort Peck.