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Entries in Bassmaster Classic (24)

Tuesday
Nov292016

Grass Carp: Why You Hate 'Em and Why They Are Needed

Harvest by anglers and bowfishermen has been added as a control measure for grass carp.Anglers have been complaining about grass carp for nearly 40 years. Coincidentally, that's how long fisheries managers have been using the

exotic species as a control for another exotic, hydrilla, along with other invasive aquatic plants.

What's happened recently at Texas' Lake Austin provides a prime example of why they complain. Grass carp released there in 2012 and 2013 have consumed not just the hydrilla, but all of the aquatic plant habitat, which was beneficial for bass and other species. The stocking permit has now been revoked by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), with anglers and bowfishermen encouraged to catch and kill the carp.

"Anglers get angry at us when we stock grass carp, and we understand that," said Dave Terre, TPWD's Management/Research chief, who emphasized that his agency strives to involve fishermen in plans to control invasive plants.

"Everywhere we've used carp has resulted in a complete vegetation community crash," he added. "But it took 10 years for that to happen at Austin. And maybe someday we'll be able to extend that to 20 years. Just three or four years ago, we were promoting the success of grass carp in Austin."

Ten years is a considerable improvement over what happened in the early 1980s. Over the objections of anglers and TPWD, the Texas Legislature authorized the stocking of 270,000 carp into 21,000-acre Lake Conroe. In just two years, aquatic plants were gone, and the long-lived carp kept it that way until the late 1990s.

About the same time, much the same thing happened up in Kansas' Big Hill Reservoir. A heavy stocking of carp "set the reservoir back eight or nine years," said Doug Nygren, fisheries chief for Kansas Department of Parks, Wildlife, and Tourism.

"We regretted it," he added. "It was a wakeup call to be careful."

Yet, there is a flip side to this grass carp decimation story, starting with the fact that Conroe will be the site of the 2017 Bassmaster Classic March 24-26. The impoundment on the San Jacinto River now has not only grass and grass carp, but a first-class bass fishery.

"It's been producing 30-pound stringers all summer long," said Tim Cook, Conservation Director for the Texas B.A.S.S. Nation. "The lake has a significant number of 8-pound fish and I'm expecting that six to ten over 8 pounds will be caught each day. We've had five Toyota Texas Bass Classics on that lake, so anglers know how good it can be."

In short, fisheries do recover, as these controversial exotics remain the best biological method for controlling hydrilla in public fisheries, as well as filamentous algae in private and hatchery ponds. Sadly, though, their use is not a precise science. Inevitably results are cyclical, as they have been at both Austin and Conroe and other impoundments across the country, and often influenced by variables that resource managers have no control of.

Weather is the most prominent. Lower water levels prompted by drought and warmer water courtesy of hotter temperatures combined to power an unprecedented hydrilla growth spurt at Austin, and suddenly 600 acres spread across the 1,600 acre fishery. "It changed the dynamics and threw everything out of balance," Terre said.

Mechanical harvest wasn't an option, because fragmentation spreads the fast-growing exotic. Neither was herbicide, since Austin serves as a public water supply. Additionally, unchecked hydrilla inevitably would impede hydropower generation.

To knock back the plant, the city of Austin's resource managers stocked 33,000 carp from late 2011 through spring of 2013. Contrast that with only 20,000 that had been stocked incrementally for eight years, starting in 2003.

"We could live with 100 acres," said biologist Marcos De Jesus. "But 600 acres was just too much. It was going to cause problems with the turbines."

Terre added, "Anglers sometimes think that we're attacking the habitat of bass. We're not. We know that vegetation is important. But there are multiple users to consider. And grass carp are a tool."

He added that in lakes like Amistad, Falcon, Rayburn and Toledo Bend, with little development, "hydrilla is not a problem for anyone and we don't touch it."

Efforts already are underway to jumpstart aquatic vegetation again at Austin, by growing it in cages, De Jesus said. "There are going to be lots of efforts to restore habitat and to provide more options, with things like brushpiles."

Because it is smaller than Conroe and because state agencies have begun  to partner with other entities, including bass clubs, in recent years to re-establish aquatic vegetation, Terre is hopeful that Austin's recovery will be rapid.

Activist Angler with 30-pound-plus grass carp that was illegally stocked in community lake.Conroe, meanwhile, serves as a model for restoration not only for Austin, but for the nation, with much of the credit going to Seven Coves Bass Club. The B.A.S.S. affiliate spearheaded growing and planting of native vegetation, even as officials continued to combat hydrilla with more stockings of grass carp.

As part of an overall management plan for the lake, the club was awarded a grant for about $45,000 from B.A.S.S. and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to build a plant nursery on property provided by the San Jacinto River Authority. The latter and TPWD also helped finance the effort.

Additionally, occasional harvest by anglers and bowfishermen has been added to the overall strategy for using and controlling grass carp. In 2011, they removed more than 5,000 pounds of carp from Conroe during a tournament.

The event was intended to reduce carp population "to a number capable of preventing re-sprouting of hydrilla but which will allow us and our partners to better enhance important native aquatic vegetation for fish habitat and water quality improvement," said Craig bonds, TPWD's Director of Inland Fisheries.

While habitat initiatives and angler harvest have been added to help control carp and restore beneficial vegetation more quickly, not much has changed in terms of overall strategies for stocking grass carp to keep problematic vegetation under control, said John Biagi, Chief of Fisheries Management for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Two of the most notable are smaller, incremental stockings as opposed to one massive release, and replacing diploid grass carp, which can reproduce in the wild, with triploid, which are sterile and have shorter live spans.  

"And we are learning," said Texas biologist De Jesus. "We're refining the way we monitor the effects of carp on vegetation."

Terre added, "Instead of stocking carp per surface acre, we're looking into doing it per the biomass of the plants. Our goal always is to maintain good aquatic habitat for fisheries."

Other Considerations

Most anglers think about grass carp only in terms the damage that they do to bass fisheries. But they've been used since the late 1960s by aquaculture facilities to keep filamentous algae blooms under control. They still serve that important purpose today, both in hatchery and private ponds.

A disturbing corollary to that, however, is that they also can cause algal blooms, explained Doug Nygren, Kansas fisheries chief. "When they eat the plants, that releases nutrients that can feed those harmful blooms," he said.

At Clarks Hill, meanwhile, grass carp could help save bald eagles, as well as coots, among their favorite prey on that Georgia-South Carolina border reservoir. Researchers say that a toxic cyanobacteria grows on submerged aquatic plants, especially hydrilla. Coots feed on the plants, contract Avian Vacuolar Myelinopathy, and die, as do the eagles that eat them.

"Native plants are coming on and hydrilla seems to be diminishing," said Georgia fisheries chief John Biagi. "We're in discussions with the Corps (of Engineers) on stocking rates. This is a tough one. We don't want to eliminate good habitat, but the eagles have to be considered."

In the Wild

Diploid grass carp are reproducing in Missouri's Truman Lake, and that's just one of many waters where this plant-eating exotic now has sustainable populations, according to Duane Chapman, Asian carp expert for the U.S. Geological Survey.

While Texas reports they are spawning in the Trinity River and Kansas indicates the same for the Missouri, Chapman said, "The Illinois River has a large wild grass carp population."

In fact, he added, they are reproducing in free-flowing waters from Louisiana up into Illinois and Iowa, including in the Mississippi River. And some have turned up on "the wrong side of the (electric) barrier" designed to keep Asian carp out of Lake Michigan. They're also in the Sandusky, a tributary of Lake Erie.

Although some might believe that dams will stop them, Chapman said, "I suspect that when we start looking, we're going to find diploids fairly common above dams."

He added that some believe that silver and bighead carp pose more of a threat to our waterways than grass carp, both because they are more prolific and because data already has revealed how they are outcompeting and replacing native species.

"But grass carp don't require huge populations to have detrimental effects," he said, adding that they could destroy Great Lakes wetlands, re-established through time-consuming and costly mitigation projects.

"Grass carp remove vegetation and they dig, causing destabilization and turbidity," the carp expert continued.

Additionally, diploid grass carp can live nearly 30 years, surviving on very little when plants are scarce. "They just shut down when the food is not there and don't expend energy," Chapman said. "They're just waiting for things to change, and then they gorge."

How did this happen?

"When grass carp were brought into this country by aquaculture facilities in the late 1960s, they weren't worried about security," he said. "The belief was that they wouldn't reproduce."

Sadly, that has proven to be wrong in waters all over the country.

Additionally, while some states now prohibit diploid grass carp, others do not. And anyone can buy them.

"It might be difficult to take them into some states, but it's tough to police that," Chapman said. "States might agree to make diploids less available. But in states like Iowa and Missouri, where grass carp already are all around you, it's not a big issue. There's no downside."

(A variation of this article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)

Sunday
Mar062016

Louisiana Anglers Organize to Fight for Access

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, as well as this article at Louisiana Sportsman.

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."

Monday
Feb232015

International Bass Fishing Center Location Announced

The International Bass Fishing Center – a multi-functional attraction centering on the world of bass fishing, is being planned for construction in Cullman, Ala., the Board of Director of the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame Board of Directors announced.

The plans were unveiled during the annual Hall of Fame Induction Dinner on the eve of the Geico Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro in Greenville and on Lake Hartwell, S.C.

Adjacent to I-65 in northern Alabama - the “home state” for bass fishing, the International Bass Fishing Center (IFBC) will be the home of the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame, which honors and describes the accomplishments of those who have made significant contributions to the sport and the bass fishing industry, and much more.

“Within the Center, anglers young and old can immerse themselves in the “Family Fishing Experience” attraction,” said Dr. C. Hobson Bryan, BFHOF board member and professor emeritus at the University of Alabama. “We’ll have fully-stocked ponds for learn-to-fish excursions for area school children, plus we plan on hosting multi-day ‘Fish Camp’ clinics during the summer months.”

The IBFC will include a “Boat and Tackle Showcase” – a living display of the ingenuity and innovation of the bass fishing industry, along with a variety of interactive displays in the Virtual Fishing area, from simulating catching the big one to a ride in a fast, state-of-the-art bass boat.

The “Discovery Center” will enable visitors to experience the watery world of bass first-hand by observing fish behavior in the 36,000 gallon aquarium designed by Acrylic Tank Manufacturing, known throughout the world as the subject of the hit Animal Planet television show "Tanked". Bass fishing professionals and other instructors will demonstrate the latest lures and techniques used successfully on the tournament trail.

With its proximity to such world-class fisheries as Smith Lake and TVA lakes Guntersville, Wheeler, and Wilson, the IBFC will be a tournament headquarters and conference center. According the BFHOF board president Sammy Lee, the location makes it a natural meeting place for fishing industry related events.  These can include national tournament organizations and angling research symposia, as well as bass tournament weigh-ins. The adjacent Cullman Civic Center will enable partnering with the City on a wide range of activities, including non-fishing related events as well.

Currently in the midst of a major fundraising effort – already supported by leading tackle industry names including PRADCO, Zebco, Shimano, G. Loomis, T-H Marine and Strike King, the BFHOF Board anticipates groundbreaking for the IBFC in fall 2016.

###

About The Hall of Fame -- The Bass Fishing Hall of Fame is a nonprofit organization dedicated to all anglers, manufacturers, tackle dealers, media and other related companies who further the sport of bass fishing. In February 2013 the board of directors announced the completion of a decade-long, exhaustive quest to secure a permanent home with the selection of Cullman, Alabama as the future site of the Hall – and what will now be the International Bass Fishing Center. The IBFC site will be constructed as a joint project with the City of Cullman, Cullman County and the City of Good Hope – a project that includes an adjacent civic/convention center, all of which will be housed on the 110-acre parcel known as the Burrow property. The Hall will enjoy a dedicated 30 acres of the property, which will include ponds, gardens and an aquatic-education center. The entire project is estimated to cost in excess $17 million with structures that will encompass 101,000 square feet. Dependent on fundraising efforts, the BFHOF Board hopes 

Thursday
Jan082015

DNA Research Reveals Trophy Bass Parentage at Guntersville

Contrary to popular belief, Guntersville trophy bass are not pure Florida strain, according to DNA research conducted during the 2014 Bassmaster Classic at that northern Alabama fishery.

From a scientific standpoint, however, that really isn’t surprising. Between 1981 and 1994, an estimated 500,000 Florida bass were released into Guntersville, but few have been added since.

“The population, instead, consists largely of hybrid crosses,” said Dr. Eric Peatman, an associate professor in Auburn University’s School of Fisheries, Aquaculture, and Aquatic Sciences.

Eight-pound-plus fish are 52 percent Florida and 48 percent northern. That’s in keeping with the assessment of Gene Gilliland, B.A.S.S. National Conservation Director, who said that bass with 50 percent or more Florida genes have enhanced trophy potential. “Below that, and it’s no greater than for native fish,” he added.

Peatman and his team also found that the “lakewide average genetic composition” is about 70 percent northern and 30 percent Florida.

“Four to five-pound fish do not vary significantly from the lakewide average in their genetic make-up,” he explained. “However, seven-pound-plus fish show an increase in Florida percentage to 42 percent of their genome.”

These findings suggest that stocking Guntersville with Florida bass has been effective in shifting the genetic baseline of the population and that trophy-size fish are bunched around a rough 50:50 genetic split, said Peatman, adding that more samples are needed to reach definitive conclusions.

“One of the missing components in this analysis is age,” the scientist said, adding that multiple ages likely are represented among those samples of larger bass. “Ultimately, we want to know what is the genetic composition of the largest size fish within each year class, or what mix of Florida and northern alleles produces the fastest growing fish.”

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) will with this aspect during its spring sampling.

“A final component in the mix is obviously habitat,” Peatman said. “The best performing genotype in one reservoir is not necessarily the best genotype in a different reservoir with different environmental parameters. “So we have plans to include different reservoirs and habitats in the analysis in the coming year as well.”

All of this work is part of a statewide project funded by ADCNR to better understand the impacts of the state’s Florida bass stocking program on the quality of its bass fisheries.

“The Classic and other tournaments throughout the year in Alabama represent an excellent opportunity to take non-lethal DNA samples from larger bass brought in by anglers,” Peatman said.

“At the end of the day, the goal is to use these genetic tools to help ALDCNR make proactive stocking and management decisions to ensure the highest quality bass fisheries for our anglers for years to come.”

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