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Thursday
Mar242016

9/11 and the Importance of Fishing

In the fall of 2000 we took a trip to Angler’s Inn on Mexico’s Lake El Salto. A friend and I had caught and released thirteen bass of 10 pounds or more, with the largest a hefty 13 pounds, 8 ounces. We didn’t even count all the 8- and 9-pounders we boated.

With that in mind, four of us planned to go there in October of 2001, hoping to enjoy similar action. But then religious fanatics hijacked four planes, took down the World Trade Center twin towers, and killed 2,996 people on September 11, 2001.

My friend Norm and I decided to go fishing anyway, but two of our party backed out. I’m not certain if they were fearful of being hijacked or just didn’t want to deal with the wartime-status security we’d encounter at the airports. Whatever their reasons, most of those who’d booked a trip to Angler’s Inn during that week also decided not to go. That meant fewer than a dozen of us were at a resort that could accommodate 45 to 50. With such a small group, this meant we could get to know everyone, especially in the evenings.

Those were the times we’d sit out under the thatched-roof palapas, drinking margaritas before dinner. Normally, we shared stories about the day’s fishing, with lots of laughing and teasing lightening the mood. But on our first evening there the mood was somber.

Not sad exactly, but more reserved than usual. I don’t remember how the conversation started or what we talked about at first, but eventually we learned that several of our small group were from one family. “We come here every year,” the father said. “We almost didn’t come this time. Our son was killed on 9/11.”

From my point of view, time stopped, as did the rocking chairs some of us were sitting in.

Why did they come? Read "9/11" in Why We Fish: Reel Wisdom From Real Fishermen.

Tuesday
Mar222016

Tiger Bass Stocked to Improve Smith Mountain Lake Fishery

Robert Dean Wood wants to engineer a better bass fishery at Smith Mountain Lake. Elite Series angler John Crews wants to help. And the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) has approved the first step, privately funded stocking of a northern/Florida hybrid known as the F-1 Tiger bass.

 “Smith Mountain Lake is my lake. That’s why I’m doing this,” said Wood, a long-time tournament angler. “I want a bigger and better bass fishery for future generations.”

In three to five years, Wood explained, he hopes to see 50 out of 100 boats in a tournament weigh in a 5-pound bass. “And my dream is to have B.A.S.S. here for another major event.” (Elite Series anglers last competed there in 2010 Blue Ridge Brawl.)

Virginia pro Crews added, “This could be a really good deal for Virginia in general, as well as Smith Mountain Lake. I know that the Elite Series anglers loved the lake, and it would be great to bring them back.

“I’ve seen that phenomenon before,” he said. “You get the right genetics in the water, and a fishery takes off. And this lake reminds me of some out west that grow big bass. And Biwa in Japan is similar, with deep, clear water.”

Private stocking of a public fishery is rare. “But it has been done before, in places like the Rappahannock (River),” said VDGIF biologist Dan Wilson

“This is not a matter of identifying a need,” he continued. “But if they are supplying the fish, this benefits both of us. We can study what happens and see if it works in our larger reservoirs.”

The state already has tried the F-1 Tiger in three small lakes, with mixed results. In one, the biologist said, “They didn’t show up.” In another, which had been recently drained and had few resident fish, they “did okay.” While in the third, which had good forage but low numbers and recruitment, they performed “very well.”

By contrast, 20,000-acre Smith Mountain already boasts good density of bass with acceptable growth, even though it is clear and deep with steep shorelines and little shallow cover. “There’s not a recruitment problem,” Wilson said. “It’s a pretty average lake.”

Smith Mountain also has plenty of forage, including threadfin shad, alewives, and blueback herring. “Bass can feed on bluegill and crawfish too,” Wood said. “We felt that all of this forage would support a stocking.”

So if the lake already has an adequate bass population and limited shallow habitat for spawning, why do a supplemental stocking of F-1 Tiger bass? Also, most lakes in Virginia have a 50/50 mix of northern/Florida genes, Wilson revealed.

“In some, it’s 60/40 and in others it’s 40/60. And who knows how it happened?” the biologist said. “Largemouth bass are not native to Virginia and we don’t have records.”

Briery Creek, which has produced big fish and is widely believed to have been stocked with pure strain Florida bass during the 1980s, really is no different than the rest.

 “We stocked pure northern and what we thought were pure Florida in there,” Wilson said. “But when we started checking progeny, we found that didn’t that we didn’t go far enough south to get those Florida bass.”

The F-1 Tiger hybrid, however, is bred especially for fast growth and aggressiveness by American Sport Fish Hatchery in Montgomery, Ala. (See related sidebar.) Wood and Crews hope that mixing in those genes could be just the jump start that Smith Mountain needs to produce larger bass and heavier limits.

“Of course, all 20,000 won’t survive. What we’re looking for is to get the number of fish per acre up and start a better strain of bass,” Wood said. “And Don Keller (at AFS) said that the fish would be fine with the colder temperatures up here.”

Before deciding to do it himself, the Virginia angler checked to see if VDGIF would supplement the largemouth population in Smith Mountain. “Virginia does stock stripers,” he said. “But because bass spawn in there, it wasn’t going to stock them. To my knowledge, no one has ever stocked bass in there.”

The first planting of two-inch fingerlings occurred in May 2015, with follow-ups planned for 2016 and 2017. Cost for each shipment is $10,600, and Wood is hoping that anglers will donate to the cause.

“But even if they don’t, I’ll buy it out of pocket if I have to,” he said

The fingerlings won’t be tagged, but VDGIF will help with the stocking, as well as conduct electrofishing surveys to assess success. It also will take fin clips of captured fish for genetic identification by Auburn University.

“Dan and I agree that habitat in Smith Mountain is not as conducive (to growing big bass) as Chickamauga (Tennessee impoundment stocked with Florida bass),” Wood said. “But we’ll never know whether it will work if we don’t try.”

Additionally, stocking is just the first step in making the Virginia impoundment a better bass fishery, he added.

“The stocking will give us a reason to start talking to people who live on the lake and manage it about getting some vegetation for the fish,” he said.

“We’re hoping that the power company (American Electric Power) will allow some grasses, maybe something like willow grass,” Crews said. “The whole key is not to do anything that would disturb power plant operation or the home owners.

“I’m going to spread the word to donate money for the stocking and to support shallow water cover. This lake is in my backyard, and I take a lot of pride in it,” he said. “I want it to be as good as it can be.”

F-1 Tiger Bass

The F-1 Tiger bass is the offspring of a special strain of northern bass and a pure strain of Florida bass. American Sport Fish is the only hatchery licensed to produce and sell this hybrid.

“Our Florida strain largemouth bass brooders are from proven trophy lines and our northern largemouth bass have been selected for 15 generations for their aggressive feeding behavior,” said AFS’s Don Keller.

Fed a diet of goldfish, shad, and tilapia, the brood stock is kept in prime condition for spring spawning.

"Our Tiger bass have already gained weights of 15 pounds in eight years,” he added. “We expect them to break state records in the next several years.”

Sunday
Mar202016

Bass Catching Wisdom From 'The Way It Was Back Then'

Robert Earl Woodard is an internet sensation right now because of a video showing him catching a 16-pound largemouth bass by hand. You can check it out here.

But he's also an accomplished angler with rod and reel. In his book, The Way It Was Back Then, he shares what he's learned over the years in "Bass Fishing Tips and Secrets From Forty Years of Catching Big Bass." He also sprinkled in some more bass-catching wisdom in other places in this entertaining and nostalgic book that celebrates a time when hard work and personal responsibility were a way of life and childhood was adventurous instead of sedentary.

Here's a little of his bass fishing wisdom, based on his experiences in Alabama:

"In general, when the buds are full on the trees, but before the leaves bloom out full in the spring, is always a great time to fish. Also, another great time to go fishing is after five consecutive days of no rain and, with the temperature above 95 degrees in the middle of June, preferably during the second or third week. Typically after July 1, in the heat of the summery, finding and catching big bass becomes more difficult."

 Also, he says, ". . . the third day after the first cool nights in August or early September have been some of my best fishing times."

Thursday
Mar172016

Worm Weather Is Here!

"One of my best memories is of the first day of summer vacation at the end of fifth grade. No sleeping in for me. I got up earlier than I would have for school, and three of us rode our bikes to a big tree in an open field at the edge of our subdivision.

"We had found lots of worms in the shade of that tree previously and were confident we’d find more that day. As I stood there with a shovel in my hand, I looked up at the early morning sun filtering through the branches and thought to myself that life just couldn’t get much better than this.


"I don’t remember digging for the worms or anything else from that day. I just recall the simple moment in time when I was beginning an endless summer by digging worms with my friends so we could go fishing. That was perfection."

Excerpt from "Worm Weather" in Why We Fish: Real Wisdom From Reel Fishermen.


Tuesday
Mar152016

Lousiana Anglers Unite to Oppose Closures

A battle is heating up once again in the cultural and legal swamp of controversy regarding who owns and who has access to the canals and backwaters of southern Louisiana.

What may be different this time is that bass anglers seem intent on organizing on behalf of public access. They've created an organization, Louisiana Sportsmen Coalition, and a petition that garnered more than a 1,000 signatures before it was even written. And they intend to pursue a state legislative fix to this complex problem, as well as national support from fishermen and anglers' advocacy groups.

"We want to make sure that we're organized and have clearly defined what we want," said Sean Robbins, president of the Lake Verret Bass Club. "We want to do this right so people will take us seriously." 

This issue, mostly related to canals dug for access to oil and gas drilling sites, has been intensifying for years, as adjoining acreage was purchased and the waterways blocked. In 2003, pro angler Gary Klein was shot at by a landowner during the Bassmaster Classic. In 2007, a  U.S. District judge ruled that anglers could motor into flooded areas, but not fish them.  

Most recently, popular fishing canals were blocked near Lake Verret and in the Orange Grove area of marshes around Houma, according to Robbins. Some property owners want to keep out what they believe to be trespassers, Robbins theorized, while others are looking to make a profit by selling "memberships" to fish the waters that the claim are theirs by virtue of owning the land under it.

"Waters that have historically been open to public use are increasingly being gated off, making it more difficult to access productive fishing waters," he said. "It's time to stand up and fight to protect our right to recreationally fish canals connected to public waterways."

Robbins added that other clubs have voiced support for the petition and the campaign, as well as "a ton of guys who want to be included, who want to be a voice."

To find out more about the petition and joining the fight for access, check out Louisiana Sportsmen Coalition on Facebook.