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Entries in bass (27)

Monday
Dec302013

'12 Worst Invasive Fish on Earth'

Smallmouth bass. Photos from Environmental Graffiti.

Have you ever seen a largemouth bass eat an alligator? Neither have I.

I’m not saying it hasn’t--- or couldn’t--- happen. Predatory fish are opportunistic feeders and will eat any critter that they can catch and swallow.

Or did you know that largemouth bass “eat day and night.”

I didn’t know that either, and I know plenty of anglers who would disagree with that assessment.

I stumbled upon these two portrayals of largemouth behavior on a list of “12 Worst Invasive Fish on Earth” at Environmental Graffiti.”

In general, I agree with the list, including the inclusion of both largemouth and smallmouth bass. Because they are popular game fish, and because they are so cooperative and adaptable, they have been spread well beyond their original ranges. And they will eat smaller native species.

Common carp

In our own Northwest, however, they are inaccurately blamed for the demise of salmon populations, which have declined because of altered habitat and degraded water quality. While dams have provided perfect reservoir habitat for bass, they have been devastating to cold-water fisheries.

My belief is that the author of this list is either from the Canada or the United Kingdom. His descriptions certainly suggest to me that he’s not an angler and he has no personal experience with either bass species. Here is what he says about smallmouths:

“Even small mammals and snakes aren’t safe! Once this bass has its prey, there’s little chance of escape, as its mouth is lined with tiny gripping teeth that work like Velcro.”

My biggest criticism: Why aren’t Asian (bighead and silver) carp included?

Tuesday
Dec102013

One of My Favorite Places: Florida's Crystal River

Florida’s Crystal River has been one of my favorite places to fish since I first visited there in the mid 1990s.

No, it’s not place to catch trophy bass.

I like it for the variety of fish that it offers, as well as its natural beauty and wildlife, including manatees, dolphins, and a multitude of bird species.

The most interesting thing for me is how the fishery has evolved since I first went there. In the 1990s, the aquatic vegetation was abundant, especially in the canals, and so were the bass. Additionally, sea trout and jacks were common, with redfish a little less so. Snook were rare visitors, as were tarpon.

Today, that grass is all but gone, gobbled up by the manatees, who keep it browsed down almost to the roots. And without the vegetation to soak up nutrients from runoff, algae blooms through much of the system and visibility is greatly reduced. Additionally, as winters have moderated, huge numbers of snook have moved in, competing with bass for both forage and habitat.  As a consequence, largemouths aren’t nearly as numerous.

Still, it’s one of my favorite places.

 I fished there yesterday with long-time friends Dave Burkhardt, and Matt Beck, photo editor and outdoor writer for the Citrus County Chronicle. Matt probably knows the fishery as well as anyone, and we had a great day on the water with him. (Matt tells me that he is going to include my new book, Why We Fish, in his two-part, gift ideas column.)

We caught bass, snook, redfish, jacks, and ladyfish. Sadly, the bite was slow and quality fish had lockjaw. The only real angling excitement occurred when Matt lost a nice snook near a dock. (I won't embarrass him by posting the photo of the small snook that he did catch.)

But the fish were there; we saw them moving. They simply weren’t inclined to bite. We also saw manatees, dolphins, eagles and another recent arrival, the wood stork, as well as some beautiful shoreline vistas.

By the way, Audubon Florida is concerned about those birds and fish having enough to eat. Check out this article about the need to protect baitfish.

Thursday
May232013

Climate Change Is Reality; Claim That It Is 'Manmade' Is Not

Out on the water, biologists observe the effects of climate change on fisheries. At conferences, they talk about its implications.  For example, at the recent annual meeting of the Southern Division of the American Fisheries Society, concerns about its effects were discussed in at least seven presentations, several of them involving bass.

One abstract summarized this way: “Climate change is thought to be a leading driver in the erosion of biodiversity and ecosystem sustainability at all scales.”

Yet, some anglers deny the reality of climate change, and I speak from personal experience in saying that. I’ve met them.

So have the biologists. “When I explain what is happening (to fishermen), I have to tip toe all around the reasons for change,” says one.

Why is that?

Certainly a number of them do not believe.  But for most, I think that refusal to accept reality has more to do with blind rejection of what they view as the “party line” for environmentalists. And I can relate to that argument.

Much of the “green” agenda  is anti-fishing, as typified by attempts to ban lead fishing tackle, and campaigns to create “protected areas,” where recreational fishing would not be allowed. Let’s not forget, either, an adjunct of that, the animal rights movement, which now wants to use drones to stalk and harass hunters and fishermen.

But what anglers with tunnel vision fail to see is that enviros are beating the drum to end “manmade” climate change. Questioning the validity of that argument is where fishermen should make their case, not denying that the climate changes and, in so doing, affects fisheries.

Of course climate changes. It’s a dynamic force.

More than a century ago, Mark Twain reputedly said, “If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.” The reality, though, is that’s the case, no matter where you live. As fronts move in and out, weather changes --- by the minute, by the hour, by the day. And just as it evolves over these short periods, it changes during longer stretches of time as well --- by the year, by the decade, by the century.

“When we talk about climate change, we talk about changes in long-term averages of daily weather,” says the National Atmospheric and Space Administration.

Anglers who deny this fact of life damage our reputation as conservationists, and alienate some of our closest allies, the biologists. Instead of being supporters of enlightened management to sustain fisheries, they become barriers.

Most importantly, in rejecting climate change, they are disputing the idea that changes occur naturally in fisheries, changes for which there are no “solutions.”    

Still not convinced? Just look to the north and south, the front lines for fisheries altered by climate change.

In Florida, milder winters have allowed snook to move up the Gulf Coast. Eight years ago, the saltwater predator was an infrequent visitor to Crystal River. Now it seems to be a firmly established resident --- and a competitor with bass for forage and habitat. Long-time angler Matt Beck says that it’s not uncommon to catch more snook than bass when fishing for the latter. “Today, snook in the 20- to 35-pound range are caught on a regular basis,” he adds.

Florida biologist Allen Martin says the state has no data on the river’s bass population, but he doesn’t doubt Beck’s observation.

“With mild winters, snook have moved as far north as the Suwannee, about 100 miles to the north,” says the biologist, adding that degraded habitat and increased salinity because of lower flows of springs likely have contributed to changes as well.

“Peacock bass, armored catfish, and tilapia moved farther northern too,” he adds. “A couple of cold winters knocked them back, but they probably will start moving north again.”

Meanwhile, water temperatures have been warming for 47 years on New York’s Oneida Lake, a benefit for bass.

“It’s been particularly pronounced since the 1980s, when smallmouth bass really started to take off,” says Randy Jackson, a biologist with the Cornell Biological Field Station on the lake. “At Lake Erie, there’s a strong correlation too.”

Anecdotal evidence also suggests that largemouth bass, bowfin, longnose gar, and gizzard shad also are profiting from warmer weather, he adds. Concurrently, the cold-water burbot, on the southern end of its range, is declining.

“This is all consistent with what people are predicting,” he says. “No one can argue than we have warmer lakes than we did 40 years ago.”

I wish that were true, especially among anglers.

(This opinion piece appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)

Thursday
Jan032013

Bass Out of Water

Crestliner photo

(This is another of my articles written originally for young readers, but which contains information of benefit to all fishermen.)

If sharks had feet, they would wear out a lot of shoes.

Many species of sharks, along with tunas, must constantly move in order to breathe. That can make it tough to get a good night’s sleep.

Bass and most other fish are lucky. Like us, they can breathe while they are not moving. And like us, they breathe to put oxygen into their bodies so that they can live.

But bass, sharks, and all other fish are very different from us in how they get that oxygen. We breathe in air so that our lungs can obtain oxygen. By contrast, fish push water through their mouths and across their gills, which take in the oxygen that they need. Most fish just open and close their mouths to push the water, while tunas and some sharks must move to do so.

Having gills, makes a bass a real “fish out of water” when you pull it onto shore or into your boat. Unless you treat it with care and put it quickly into a livewell or back into a lake or river, it will die because it can not get the oxygen it needs from air.

Some species, such as catfish, can live longer out of water than others. But always it is a good idea to return a fish to water as soon as possible.

In that watery world, a bass breathes by opening its mouth and drawing in water. As it does that, it closes its gill covers tight over its gill openings.  Then it closes it mouth and drives the water over its gills and out with special throat muscles.

Gills are those bright red feathery organs that you see beneath the gill covers, or operculum, on the side of a fish’s head. As water is passed through, oxygen is absorbed through the gills and into the fish’s blood. From there, arteries take it throughout the body. As the oxygen is used up by the stomach, brain, liver, and other vital organs, the blood flows to the heart, where it is pumped back to the gills.

Some water is better for breathing than other water. That’s why you should keep your livewell --- and your aquarium at home--- aerated. That means using turbulence from a pump to put oxygen into the water.

You must do this because fish, like us, produce carbon dioxide as waste as they breathe. In a closed container without aeration, a fish soon would use up all of the oxygen and die of suffocation, just as it does when left out in the air for too long. Turbulence replaces the carbon dioxide with live-giving oxygen.

Pumping oxygen in becomes even more important as the water heats up. That’s because warmer water can’t hold as much oxygen as can cooler. Also, a bass needs more oxygen in hot weather because it is cold-blooded and higher temperatures make it more active.

Bass sometimes die in small, shallow ponds during summer, because the water is so warm that it can’t hold enough oxygen for the fish to survive.

In the north, they also might die of suffocation in the winter, when ponds and lakes freeze over. Ice keeps the water from absorbing oxygen from the air. Also, snow cover on the ice can be a killer, as it prevents sun from reaching underwater plants. Without sunlight, plants don’t “breathe” in the water’s carbon dioxide and breathe out the oxygen that fish require.

Monday
Dec172012

Bass Are Faster Than You Think

Bass aren’t the fastest fish in the world. But no matter how quickly you retrieve that crankbait or topwater, you can’t get it away from them--- if they want it.

That’s because even the fastest reels are capable of retrieving baits at only 2 or 3 miles per hour. A bass, meanwhile, can swim in bursts of 12 to 18 miles per hour.

Most of the time, they don’t, not even when they’re feeding. That’s because bass are pot-bellied, ambush predators. Much of the time, they would rather chow down on a slow-moving worm or injured minnow.

The key to success when you’re fishing is not to know how fast a bass can swim, but how fast it is willing to swim. Experiment with speed until you find the right one.

Knowing your reel’s “speed” is important for this. One reel can look almost exactly like another but be faster or slower.

“Speed” refers to the amount of line retrieved in one full turn of the handle. A fast reel (7.0:1 gear ratio) can take in 30 to 31 inches of line per turn, while a slower one (5.0:1) only 20 or 22.

If you’re fishing with a crankbait, you might think that you want a faster reel, but probably you don’t. That’s because fast reels are used mostly when fishing soft plastics, to take up slack line quickly before the hook set or to get the bait back to the boat in a hurry after it is out of the strike zone.

Although not always, slower reels usually are better for faster-moving crankbaits. For one thing, they allow time for the baits to go to their proper depths. For another, they allow for more erratic, lifelike action.

With some fish, especially many salt-water species, you do want a speedy retrieve. That’s because tuna, wahoo, dorado (dolphin), billfish, and others are roving hunters that chase down their prey.

No one knows for certain how fast the fastest fish can swim. But experts estimate that a leaping sailfish can hit 68 miles per hour, based on the fact that it can strip out 100 yards of line in 3 seconds.

Other speed demons include the swordfish (60 mph), marlin (50), and wahoo (47).