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Entries in Arkansas (15)


More States Look to Grow Trophies With Florida-Strain Bass

Tennessee state record bass caught in 2015 at Lake Chickamauga.Can Tennessee biologists turn Chickamauga into another Lake Fork?

Probably not.

That Texas lake is the gold standard for trophy bass fisheries, and duplicating the success there is not a reasonable expectation, especially for a state with a less hospitable climate.

But resource managers are hopeful that they can grow bigger bass in Chickamauga through the introduction of Florida-strain largemouths into the population.

“I’m convinced that Florida bass will grow big in Tennessee,” says Bobby Wilson, assistant director of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. “I hope that can happen in Chickamauga. And, if it does, we’ll move to other lakes with it.”

So far, Wilson has two very persuasive pieces of evidence to support his conviction: In October of 2009, biologists electroshocked a 16-15 largemouth at Browns Creek Lake, where Floridas also have been stocked. And in 2015, Gabe Keen caught a 15.2 in Chickamauga, good enough to establish a new state record.  

By contrast, the previous record was just 14.5, caught in 1954 at Sugar Creek.

 “We’ve had a few 13-pounders reported by fishermen (from agency lakes),” Wilson adds. “They probably were Florida bass.”

But the verdict still is out on Chickamauga.

The same goes for Lake Guntersville, just to the south in Alabama.

 “We haven’t stocked them (Florida bass) on a regular basis,” said Keith Floyd, a fisheries supervisor for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “It’s been periodically in one or two embayments, to see if we can incorporate Florida genomes into the population.”

Tennessee, however, has been much more deliberate in its approach. After stocking 200,000 fry annually for five years throughout Chickamauga failed to show much of a genetic shift, biologists decided to focus on three creeks for the next five.

“Anglers (at Chickamauga) are saying they are catching bigger bass,” Wilson explains. “And they say that the bass look different from what they are used to seeing.”

Anglers also are catching bigger bass at Lake Atkins in adjacent Arkansas, where the fishery was rehabilitated and then stocked with Floridas. In 2011, anglers caught at least three 12-pound bass in that 752-acre fishery.

Wilson says that his state used criteria from Arkansas and Oklahoma in deciding where Florida-strain bass could be stocked successfully in Tennessee. That turned out to be south of a line from Dyersburg in the west to Chattanooga in the east.

But as Virginia proved during the early 1990s, bass with Florida genes can do well even farther north than that. After being stocked in the late 1980s, Briery Creek Lake yielded a 13-4 trophy in 1992. It followed with a 16-3 (one ounce shy of the state record) in 1995 and 16-2 in 2002. And from 1994 to 2002, it produced the largest bass in the state annually.

“A lot of people are excited about this,” Wilson says about Tennessee’s Florida bass program. “But some don’t want them because they have heard that they are finicky than northern bass.”

And there’s the argument that native bass populations are weakened when Florida bass are added.  “But these aren’t native systems,” the Tennessee fisheries chief points out. “These are manmade impoundments.”

Texas’ long-term success with Florida bass in Lake Fork and other reservoirs provides a strong argument in support of Wilson. And the fact that more than 500 largemouth bass of 13 pounds and more have been entered in its Sharelunker program seems to dispel the “finicky” fear as well.

From my own decades of experience with Florida bass in Florida, Texas, and Mexico, I’ve noted that they can turn off when temperature drops just a degree or two. But I do not believe them more difficult to catch than northern bass. When cold and/or high pressure turns them off, you just have to slow down and adjust your tactics. Instead of throwing a spinnerbait, flip a soft plastic along the edge of a weedline.

Also, I’ve found Florida bass to be, pound for pound, much more challenging fighters than northern bass. A big Florida is like a mean smallmouth with a belly. And I’ve seen 12-pounders tail walk.

Count me as one who is not troubled by the occasional finickiness of Florida bass or the fact that they are being introduced into manmade fisheries in Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, and perhaps other states outside their native range. I’ve been blessed to catch a few double-digit Floridas, and I’d like to see more opportunities for other anglers to do so as well.

Whether Chickamauga and Guntersville are two of the fisheries capable of growing those genetically enhanced big fish likely will be revealed in the years ahead.


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.


Georgia Record Shadow Bass Caught in Flint River

Famous for its shoal bass, Georgia's Flint River has just added to its notoriety by yielding a state record for another species--- the shadow bass.

If you haven't heard of this member of the sunfish family, you are not alone.  It's range is limited. It's frequency mistaken for close cousins, two species of rock bass found in Missouri and Arkansas. And all three are known collectively as "goggle-eye."

Kristen Brown caught the first Georgia state record shadow bass--- 10 ounces and 9 1/4 inches long--- while fishing with a plastic worm for shoal bass in the southwestern part of the state.

“We are excited to add the shadow bass to the many species of fish that are eligible as state records in Georgia,” says John Biagi, chief of fisheries for the Wildlife Resources Division. ”This is our second state record of 2016 and I hope it encourages all new and experienced anglers to get outdoors and go fish Georgia!” 

Brown added, “I wanted that (record shoal bass), but I got this,” Brown said of her record shadow bass. “Now I want the shoal bass record even more.”

Weighing 8-3, the state record shoal bass was caught on the Flint in 1977.

Not knowing what she had caught, the angler sent an image to Georgia Department of Natural Resources, which identified it as a shadow bass and officially recognized it as a state record. The world record weighed 1-13 and was caught in 1999 from the Arkansas' Spring River, according to the International Game Fish Association.

Shadow bass are found in streams from Louisiana to Georgia, as well as in isolated pockets on the Missouri/Arkansas border. They are characterized by distinctive mottled patterns on their sides, which include an irregular series of dark blotches. The latter distinguish them from rock bass, which have regular lines of black dots (northern) or irregularly scattered black speckles (Ozark).


Too Many Mouths to Feed and Not Enough Food

Sometimes, a fishery can have too much of a good thing--- including bass and other predators

That's the case for Greers Ferry Lake, prompting the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) to provide a supplemental feeding for all those hungry mouths.

“It was evident in the crappie, largemouth bass, walleye and hybrid striped bass we sampled that there was not enough forage to support the predator population,” said Tom Bly, fisheries supervisor at the AGFC’s Mayflower office.

 “There are many minnows and bream species in Greers Ferry, but gizzard shad and threadfin shad are the dominant forage species. Just about everything eats them.”

And there were not enough of them.

As a consequence, AGFC stocked 37,000 threadfin shad this past spring, both as an immediate food source and as brood stock for rebuilding the population of the baitfish. Cold winters during 2014 and 2015 caused high mortalities of these smaller shad, which die when water temperatures drop to the low 40s.

"Threadfin shad are a subtropical and southern temperate fish that prefer warm water," Bly added.

Often, threadfin can find refuge in deeper water, that but that wasn't the case this time. Biologists failed to find a single fish while sampling during 2015.

The biologist added that management strategy for Greers Ferry has shifted to bolstering the forage base, with threadfin stocking continuing from a commercial hatchery until the population shows signs of recovery. Additionally, nursery ponds will be used to grow minnows and bluegill, as well as threadfin.

"We also will not stock any predators until the forage population recovers," he said. "This includes largemouth, spotted, and smallmouth bass, walleye and hybrid striped bass. Once forage recovers, we will stock these species in a manner that lends itself to a more sustainable fishery."


Forage Production Boosted to Aid Ailing Fishery at Greers Ferry

As biologists continue to investigate why most of the sport fishery is in decline at Greers Ferry, they’re also taking steps to address what they suspect is the cause.

In short, they believe, the lake has too much of a good thing --- too many bass, crappie, and walleye. And not enough forage to feed them.

Thus, fisheries managers “are going to start culturing forage (minnows, bluegill, and threadfin shad) through the Greers Ferry Lake nursery pond,” said the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC). “This year, they will raise bluegill and fathead minnows through the summer and release them in the fall. This will give the bluegill several opportunities to spawn prior to release.”

Next year, they will use the spawn for threadfin shad production. Additionally, AGFC will not stock predators until the forage population recovers.

“This includes black bass species, walleye, and hybrid striped bass,” AGFC said. “Once the forage base recovers, biologists will stock these species in a manner that lends itself to a more sustainable fishery that can withstand a series of low-water years.”

Low or even normal water levels for six of the past seven years might have contributed to the imbalance in the aging reservoir. “We know that, historically, low-water years results in a reduction in productivity in lakes such as Greers Ferry,” AGFC explained.

By contrast, high water “feeds” the lake through increased runoff and flooding of shoreline vegetation.

Additionally, cold weather during recent winters likely contributed to the decline of threadfin shad, the most dominant forage species in the lake. The threadfin is a subtropical and southern temperate fish, and water temperatures in the low 40s can cause significant die-offs.

“Threadfin shad may still exist in Greers Ferry,” AGFC said. “But their abundance appears to be very low.”