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As Spring Approaches, What Do Bass Need for a Good Spawn?

Just as with people, bass need stability to successfully raise their families. That’s not easy to achieve for even the most responsible of largemouth parents.

That’s because the whims of nature and the needs of man often complicate or even deny conditions necessary for a strong year class.

“Anglers need to be aware that White River fisheries are cyclical. They are going to have their ups and downs,” said A.J. Pratt with the Missouri Department of Conservation.

The fisheries biologist was speaking specifically about Beaver, Table Rock, and Bull Shoals and all impoundments in general. But even natural lakes can prove a hostile place for bass in their first year.

By contrast, what conditions will yield a strong year class? B.A.S.S. Times asked fisheries experts to explain, especially for reservoirs, which receive most of the angling pressure.

Not surprisingly, stable weather and water for the spawn and immediately after rank at the top. If few fry survive, then a year class is all but eliminated.

“If nests are shallow enough, then extreme cold and storms can force the males to abandon them,” said Gene Gilliland, B.A.S.S. National Conservation Director. “Smallmouth and spotted bass are less likely (than largemouths) to be affected because they nest deeper.”

Also, depending on the timing, wind from those storms can destroy shallow-water nests or break up the fry school, making the tiny fish more vulnerable to predation, according to Mike Maceina, a fisheries professor emeritus at Auburn University. Additionally, the turbidity it creates can make finding food much more difficult.

“Mortality is very high for a week or two after the spawn anyway,” Maceina said. “Mostly it’s predation, but fry will die in two or three days if they don’t eat. That’s why each nest will have 2,000 to 3,000 eggs.”

In reservoirs, falling water levels can be just as damaging as foul weather.

“They can fluctuate greatly from year to year and that can make for some weak year classes,” Pratt said.

“But on the opposite side, if you get a lot of rain and the water stays up for an extended period, then you have good habitat (along shoreline) and an influx of nutrients,” the Missouri biologist added. “That can produce a good population.”

Low, stable water also can enable a good spawn. Sometimes, though, it will be more nutrient-poor than high water. Consequently, fry either won’t survive or grow as quickly into robust fingerlings. Still, good year classes are possible during low water, Maceina said.

Meanwhile, water moving quickly through a reservoir can be harmful, the fisheries professor explained. “When you have a high exchange rate, then it’s more like a river. You have more turbidity and food is blown out.”

In natural lakes and some reservoirs, aquatic vegetation provides both food for the young fish and refuge from predation. 

“That’s one of the most consistent factors for guaranteeing good reproduction,” said Maceina, adding that too much can be nearly as harmful as too little.

Gilliland agreed. “If you have too much cover, little bass will stay in there and keep eating bugs on the plants,” he said. “Then in the fall, the plants will die back and the fish will be only 2 inches long. They’re much more likely to get eaten.”

Shifting to a fish diet early in the summer, can enable young of the year bass to grow to 6 or even 8 inches by fall, greatly enhancing their chances of surviving the winter.

“If you are going to grow big bass, it needs to happen quickly,” Maceina said. “The growth advantage occurs early in life.”

During winter, meanwhile, cover in deeper water can help young bass, especially the smaller ones, escape being eaten.

“Shallow-water cover is critical right after the spawn,” Gilliland said. “But they can’t stay there in winter because the water is too cold. That’s why it might be a good idea to make brush rows instead of brushpiles.”

Fisheries managers wait until the following spring to gauge the strength of a year class. “You want to see them through their first fall and winter,” Gilliland said.

“And size will vary hugely. As with any population, you are going to have a bell curve. Some grow like rabbits, and some are runts. The majority will be in the middle.”

Sustaining Fisheries

Considering all that a young bass has to endure during its first year, it’s a good thing that a strong year class isn’t necessary annually to maintain a healthy fishery.

“Every several years, you need a good spawn,” Gilliland said. “Bass have long lives compared to other fish. Missing a year class is not a huge hole in the population for a fish that lives 10 years or more.

“But if you have two or three (poor year classes) in a row, then you have a bigger hole and anglers will see that. It will show up three or four years down the road in fewer quality fish.”

Additionally, bass are an adaptable and determined species, foul weather and fluctuating water levels notwithstanding.

“Bass will spawn in a lot of different places, in a lot of different depths,” the conservation director said. “And not all of them spawn at the same time. Usually, there are enough successful nests to maintain the population.


Faith and Fishing

Something happens in our wiring when that inanimate graphite rod in our hands springs to life, connected to another living thing. Think about this: why would it be fun to catch a fish? Why would it be even more fun to watch a big fish swim away? Who knows, but it is. Logic cannot define it. There is no reasoning to it, no explaining it to someone who hasn’t experienced it.

But it is fun. It’s healing, being out there. It transcends a peace, and it’s about more than neurons and psychology. That dancing rod does something in our soul, and, if you ask me, something in our spirit, too.

Fishing uniquely connects us to nature. Hiking, kayaking, hunting, and golf --- all of those things get us outside. But fishing does something nothing else does. The tug is the drug. Studies prove it. And that connection with nature ---with Creation---  that can help define a relationship with the Creator.

With God. Jesus didn’t show up here to bring us a bunch of rules. He came for the sake of relationship. Relationships created, or renewed, or restored. Relationships rooted in all the right stuff, like truth and grace and love. And out there in the outdoors, whether it’s alone, or with a family member or a buddy or a bunch of buddies, that’s a sweet spot for relationship.

Excerpt from "Faith and Fishing" in Why We Fish.


Monters Cats on the Prowl in Kansas Waters

Monster blue catfish up to 100 pounds are already swimming in at least two Kansas rivers and probably Milford Reservoir.

 “The blue catfish has created a kind of big-game fishing in Kansas,” said Doug Nygren, Kansas Wildlife and Parks fisheries chief. “Now people can go out and have a legitimate chance of catching a 50-pound fish.”

Biologists and experienced blue cat anglers say more lakes may hold 100-pounders in the future. Cheney and El Dorado reservoirs, near Wichita, have the potential to grow catfish that could eventually top the current world record of 143 pounds.

“I think Kansas could someday harbor a new world record,” said John Jamison, a professional catfish tournament angler from Spring Hill. “With the forage base we have in our lakes, a 140- to 150-pound fish is highly possible."

Read more here.


Will Anglers Land a ShareLunker on Conroe in 2017 Bassmaster Classic?

Renee Linderoth caught this 13.8-pound largemouth in 2009 on Lake Conroe. Seventeen Conroe bass weighing 13 pounds or more have been entered in Texas' Toyota ShareLunker program. The largest weighed 15.93.

Will crowds at Minute Maid Park witness a double-digit bass weighed in during the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods? Considering the trophy potential of nearby Lake Conroe, where 52 of the nation’s best bass anglers will compete March 24-26, they might be treated to more than just a 10- or 11-pound bass — or two or three.
“I think we are going to see very big bass come weigh-in time in Houston, maybe a ShareLunker,” said Dave Terre, management/research chief of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD). “At Conroe, March is the prime month for that to occur. We’ll be ready.”
Established in 1986, the agency’s Toyota ShareLunker program encourages the catch and release of large fish and uses bass of 13 pounds or heavier for selective breeding, before being returned to the fishery from which they were caught. Of the 17 ShareLunkers caught at Conroe, five were taken during the month of March. The latest, a 13.14-pounder, was caught in early April 2015.
Terre explained that Conroe’s rise as a world-class fishery was no accident. “Making big bass and great fishing are products of good fisheries management and partners working together on fish habitat.”
B.A.S.S. National Conservation Director Gene Gilliland added, “For years, Lake Conroe was the poster child for grass carp gone bad. Back then, the bass fishermen thought the world was coming to an end. But a solid long-term management plan that married passionate B.A.S.S. club members with the expertise of Texas Parks and Wildlife biologists, turned Conroe into a top-tier fishery.”
Seven Coves Bass Club, a B.A.S.S. Nation club, took a leadership role among those partners, and for its efforts, received a 2013 Environmental Excellence Award from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. “This is probably the highest recognition our conservation program has received to date,” said Tim Cook, conservation director for the Texas B.A.S.S. Nation. “Every member should be proud to be part of an organization that gives so much back to the sport we all love.”
In 2008, following a second round of grass carp introductions to control invasive hydrilla, the club was awarded a grant for about $45,000 from B.A.S.S. and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to build a plant nursery on property owned by the San Jacinto River Authority. The latter and TPWD also helped finance the effort.

“With the assistance and advice of TPWD, the San Jacinto River Authority, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Lewisville Aquatic Ecosystem Research Facility, they started growing native aquatic plants to go into Lake Conroe,” said TPWD biologist Mark Webb. “More people all the time were getting excited about coming in and helping to grow ecologically appropriate native plants to provide the kind of habitat we need for fish and wildlife in Lake Conroe.”
The following summer, 150 plants grown in the nursery were placed in the lake; they were shielded from grass carp and turtles with protective cages. Many more were to follow, as Seven Coves expanded its alliances for the betterment of the fishery. In 2010, Seven Coves received an additional $20,000 from the Toyota Texas Bass Classic and Bass Pro Shops as part of the first ever Friends of Reservoirs Foundation grant.

“This project has brought a wide range of stakeholders closer together, which has been positive for the angling community,” said Ron Gunter, a club member and assistant conservation director for the Texas B.A.S.S. Nation.
Today, the nursery still produces plants for Conroe, but TPWD and the Corps have taken a larger role in that aspect of the alliance, while Seven Coves members are devoting more time to helping the agency with artificial cover for the fishery.
“The plant work is to help propagate the (bass) species, and that definitely has helped on Conroe,” Gunter said. “The attractors will help anglers find a place to fish.”
Webb estimates that about 10,000 mature native plants have been added to the 21,000-acre fishery since 2008, with some, particularly water willow, now expanding on their own.
Along with good water quality and improved habitat, Conroe’s trophy potential is enhanced by stockings of Florida-strain largemouth bass fingerlings. The introductions are intended to keep big-bass genes abundant, rather than simply increase numbers.
More than 500,000 Floridas were stocked annually in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2013, and some almost certainly have reached ShareLunker size.
Odds are improving that one of the Bassmaster Classic contenders will weigh in a ShareLunker during the world championship, as Terre predicted might happen. It would be the first 13-pounder in the Classic’s 47-year history and would easily eclipse the existing record, an 11-10 bass caught in Florida’s Kissimmee Chain in 2006.

For information about attending the 47th Bassmaster Classic in Houston, go to

About the 2017 Bassmaster Classic

The 47th world championship of bass fishing, the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods will host 52 of the world’s best bass anglers competing for more than $1 million, March 24-26 in Houston, Texas. Competition and takeoff will begin each day at Lake Conroe Park (146 TX-105, Montgomery, Texas) at 7:20 a.m. CT. There will be off-site parking and shuttles for fans wanting to attend the takeoff. Weigh-ins will be held daily March 24-26 at 3 p.m. in one of Major League Baseball’s Top 20 largest stadiums, the Houston Astros’ Minute Maid Park (501 Crawford Street, Houston, Texas). 

In conjunction, the Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods will be open daily only a block from Minute Maid Park at George R. Brown Convention Center, (1001 Avenida de las Americas, Houston, Texas) the largest in Classic history. Expo hours are Friday, March 24, noon – 8 p.m.; Saturday, March 25, 10 a.m. – 7 p.m.; Sunday, March 26, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. All events are free and open to the public.


That's Not a Goby . . . THIS Is a Goby!

Fish in the top photo is a round goby, an exotic fish introduced to the Great Lakes in the ballast water of ocean-going ships. They grow to about 6 inches maximum, but 3 to 4 inches is the norm. Also, they have proven to be among the favorite forage for smallmouth bass, and anecdotal evidence suggests that they are growing faster and larger on a goby diet.

Fish in the bottom photo is the world record marbled goby, caught in Thailand by John Merritt. It checked in at 5 pound, 3 ounces. IGFA says that it is "likely the largest of gobies." And with a mouth like that, it likely could turn the tables on some of those smallmouth bass that are eating its smaller, globe-trotting cousin.

You can see more "weird world records" at Sport Fishing.

The International Sport Fishing Association (IGFA) is the official record keeper for both fresh and saltwater species. You can see the full list here. For line class records and additional information, you must become a member.