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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."

Thursday
Jan072016

Florida'sTrophyCatch Numbers for Big Bass Continue to Grow

"TrophyCatch Season 3 ended on a very positive note, and Season 4 is off to an even better start, with peak fishing time right around the corner," according to the Florida Fish and Widllife Conservation Commission (FWC).

 TrophyCatch is the citizen-science program that allows FWC to collect data on largemouth bass heavier than 8 pounds. In return, corporate partners reward anglers for properly documenting the catch with a photo of the entire bass (head to tail) on a scale with the weight showing, and releasing it.

During Season 3, the FWC verified 1,744 TrophyCatch bass, with more than 70 percent of the submissions being approved. The previous season, 993 bass heavier than 8 pounds were verified, which was about 60 percent of submissions. The first season, 185 were verified, which was less than 40 percent of submissions.

“This reflects an increasing awareness by anglers of the TrophyCatch program and how to document their catches, but also shows how prolific the trophy bass fishery is in Florida,” said KP Clements, director of TrophyCatch.

By going to TrophyCatchFlorida.com anglers can register, submit fish, and examine other catches from around the state. Just registering makes you eligible to win a $40,000 boat package. Ed Prather was the lucky winner of the third Phoenix Bass Boat given away by TrophyCatch. The boats are powered by Mercury and equipped with a PowerPole shallow-water anchoring. To be eligible for the random drawing at the end of Season 4, simply ensure you are registered and your information is up-to-date.

Data has shown FWC biologists that while there are hot lakes, like Kingsley Lake in Clay County (which has limited access to the military and homeowners), numerous catches come from small urban or rural ponds or even golf course ponds. Large popular public lakes like Istokpoga, Tohopekaliga, Okeechobee and Kissimmee provide equal opportunity for all anglers and are popular tourist destinations.

At TrophyCatchFlorida.com you can search for catches by county or water body to determine how your favorite area is doing or where to try next.

 Last season about 50 TrophyCatch bass were verified in December, which doubled to more than 100 in January, then increased to about 150 in February and peaked in March with almost 400 approved submissions. Trophy bass catches then declined through November before picking up again, in a typical annual cycle. Of course, this is keyed to the bass’ spawning cycle and anglers’ enthusiasm for finding bass during early spring.

March panned out very well for the 15 Hall of Fame winners from Season 3, who were honored in December at an event at Bass Pro Shops, Orlando. Those anglers caught, documented and released 17 bass over 13 pounds, five of which were caught in March. This included Seth Chapman, who earned the TrophyCatch championship ring, donated by the American Outdoors Fund, for a 15-pound, 11-ounce bass submitted from Kingsley Lake. The ring goes to the biggest verified bass of the season.

Porschia Gabrielse was the first angler with three Hall-of-Fame bass — a 13-, 14-, and 15-pounder — all from small Polk County ponds. She has contributed a total of 41 TrophyCatches to the program.

“TrophyCatch provides significant data to help manage our valuable, ensuring that Florida remains the ‘Fishing Capital of the World’,” said Tom Champeau, director of the FWC’s Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management.

Each Hall-of-Fame fish would be a state record in 28 states, and Florida has had 23 documented in three years. A 15-pounder exceeds the records in all but 12 other states.

To become a TrophyCatch winner yourself, catch, document and release a largemouth bass legally that is 8 pounds or heavier in Florida. To enter a trophy bass, take a photo of the entire bass on a scale with the weight visible, and release it alive. Being legal includes having a Florida freshwater fishing license or approved exemption, so make sure you are covered.

For more information , check out Facebook.com/TrophyCatchFlorida, and YouTube.com/TrophyCatchFlorida.

Tuesday
Jan052016

Tuesday
Jan052016

Fishing Helps Families Strengthen Bonds

What's more rewarding than spending a day on the water with your son or daughter? You share something you love with someone. You strengthen family ties as you help reinforce the foundation and future of recreational fishing.

But what if you're a kid whose mother or father doesn't fish?  Or what if you're that mother or father who just can't seem to connect with your child and don't know what to do about it?

As an angler, Shane Wilson appreciated the value of various state and organizational programs that introduce kids to fishing. As an educator dealing with good kids who made bad decisions, he recognized that something besides fishing was missing from their lives.

And with the creation of Fishing's Future in 2007, he seized an opportunity to not only increase participation in sport fishing but help better the lives of families.

"I founded Fishing's Future to save the family by creating an avenue for parents to engage their children via an educational angling experience," said the Texas man who traded his administrator's job for a first-grade classroom so that he would have more time to devote to his passion.

"If we do this well, and we do," he continued, "families will go fishing again together and that leads to increased sales of fishing licenses and fishing equipment, as well as an increase in health and wellness. And we will do a better job of saving the sport and caring for the environment."

How does Fishing's Future do it well? Mostly by conducting one-day Family Fish Camps via its 55 chapters in 15 states. The events are free and all equipment is provided, courtesy of sponsors. Following instruction, the families go fishing from shore, but the kids aren't competing for the first, biggest, or most fish. Focus is on the parents helping their children  and sharing the joy when they hoist ashore a wiggling bluegill or catfish.

The families also pick up trash as part of their instruction on conservation and stewardship. Last year, 103,000 kids and their parents collected 18,000 pounds. "Thirty families can pick up 300 to 500 pounds or more pretty easily," Wilson said. "It adds up quickly when you have events going on in multiple communities across several states."

At the end of the camp, Fishing's Future instructors encourage the kids to hug their parents and say that they love them. Because they have spent the day together having fun, the effect is profound. Sometimes, though, it's not the first embrace of the day.

"Your program today has caused me to re-evaluate my priorities," one parent wrote Wilson. "Being a single parent and working full time is hard and sometimes I just cannot relate to my 11-year-old son.

"When my son caught his first fish today, I saw something in his eyes that I have never seen before. He was so excited, he even hugged me in public."

Another offered, "I thought that all he (son) liked to do was skateboard and play on the computer . . . I am very deeply moved in my awakening and want to thank you again for a remarkable program."

These "remarkable programs," as well as other educational and family-related fishing events, are conducted by the master angler(s) in each chapter. Volunteers achieve that status by taking the angling instructor certification course offered by their states. In exchange for a fee that helps finance the national non-profit program, Fishing's Future provides additional information and guidance, as well as liability insurance and equipment.

Bass clubs, schools, and even municipal governments have formed chapters, but just two or three dedicated individuals can do so as well.

The ultimate goal, Wilson said, is to re-establish fishing as the No. 1 family-oriented outdoor sport in America. If you're someone who already takes your child fishing, you might be thinking "re-establish?"

But an outdoors website doesn't even include fishing with camping, hiking, walking, biking, canoeing, photography, and even "BBQing" as a popular family activity.

"Collaboration with other organizations and industry leaders, along with legislative changes, must occur, but teaching a family how to fish together independently is the first necessary step," Wilson said. "America will return to fishing and spending time outdoors together if their first experience is positive, educational, and memorable.

"Fishing's Future is fishing's future."

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

Tuesday
Jan052016

30 Years as a Conservation Writer

Steve Chaconas has written a kind and generous article about my 30 years as a conservation writer and Senior Writer for B.A.S.S. If it weren't for longtime Bassmaster editor Dave Precht, who took a chance on me, I wouldn't have had the opportunity. I can't say enough about how lucky I feel to be associated with B.A.S.S. and the many great people who work there.

Check out Steve's article here. And if you want a guide to fish the Potomac River, Capt. Steve Chaconas is your man.