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Entries in big bass (26)

Thursday
Nov022017

Round Gobies: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

A small invader has had a large impact on some northern bass fisheries since it first was discovered in 1990 in the St. Clair River, and it's not finished yet.

A bottom-dwelling fish that can grow to 10 inches, but more commonly is 3 to 5, the round goby has gained notoriety for eating the eggs of other species, including bass, in the Great Lakes and other waters. But it also has developed a taste for shellfish, it seems, particularly zebra mussels, another exotic species. At a glance, that would seem good news, but not necessarily.

 "In the past two years, we have observed a decline in the total mussel biomass in Oneida Lake, likely because of the rapid growth of the goby population," said Stephanie Roh, a Cornell University student researcher. "If these trends continue, we expect to see lakewide ecological changes such as decreased water clarity very soon."

The implications could be significant. Although zebra and now quagga mussels have caused many problems and cost the nation billions of dollars for control and mitigation, their filter feeding has improved water clarity in many fisheries, allowing more sunlight penetration, and thus encouraging the growth of beneficial vegetation.

In general, that has been good for bass and other sport fish that primarily are sight feeders. In places such as Minnesota's Mille Lacs, however, that ecological change is suspected, along with warming waters, of contributing to the decline in walleye, which prefer darker conditions.

Also, clearer water means less productivity in the form of phytoplankton and zooplankton at the bottom of the food chain for prey fish to eat. "Walleye eat mostly fish, and there's not as many fish," said Minnesota fisheries biologist Eric Jensen, adding that smallmouth continue to thrive because they also eat crayfish.

Still, this potential impact is just speculation at this point.

"We haven't seen that yet, but are still watching things unfold," said Cornell professor Randy Jackson, who has been keeping an eye on how gobies impact Oneida's bass fishery since anglers first reported catching a few of the invaders in 2013.

"It is not my impression from the Great Lakes, where gobies have been established for much longer, that people think that are having a large impact on mussel densities," he said.

What is no longer speculation, however, is that bass, especially smallmouths, seem to grow faster and larger when their diet consists mostly of gobies.

Following a study of the diets for largemouth and smallmouth bass in eastern Lake Ontario, scientists concluded the following:

"Our results provide further support that recent increases in the size of Lake Ontario bass are a result of round goby consumption, and that the effects of this dietary shift on body condition are greater for smallmouth bass."

And from a study on Lake Erie:

"Roundy goby became the dominant prey of smallmouth bass after its invasion (observed in 73.3 percent of diets), and crayfish were only observed in 5.8 percent of diets in the post-round goby time period. Length-at-age increased following invasion of round goby and the greatest increases in length (11 to 15 percent) were observed for ages 2 to 4."

Also,  state record smallmouth bass caught in Michigan and New York during 2016 were taken from waters where gobies are established. In Michigan, the bass from Indian River  checked in at  9.98 pounds, nearly double digits! It bested a mark of 9.33 set less than a year previous. Before that, the state record of 9.25 pounds had been in place since 1906. In New York, a 8.25-pound bronzeback from the St. Lawrence tied a record first established in 1995.

Jackson is not ready to say that's going to happen on Oneida, where gobies still are settling in as permanent residents and all data is preliminary.

"It is our sense that we are seeing some larger, and fatter bass the last couple of years," he said. "But this is anecdotal. Overall it is too early to see significant increases in lengths of bass, but we seem headed in that direction. Anglers also are saying fish are bigger."

One way that gobies could be benefitting bass growth rates and size, he speculated, is that they spawn several times during a season. "With  production of small gobies all season long, I would imagine bass would have no problems remaining piscivorous all summer, which should enhance growth.

"This may be a more subtle, behind the scenes impact of gobies," he continued. "But in systems, particularly in the north, where first-year growth of young bass is important to overwinter survival, enhanced growth could ultimately lead to improved recruitment and increases in adult population size, assuming that population size is not limited by something acting on adults."
And here's another reason to like gobies:

Double-breasted cormorants seem to like them. According to Jackson, they have seem to have shifted to feeding on them in some fisheries, "which, of course, is good for sport fish that they used to eat more of. Our cormorants are starting to eat gobies as well, but we haven't seen a wholesale shift yet. Everyone is hopeful."

 

The Dark Side

Still, predation by sport fish and cormorants on gobies is but one piece of the puzzle on how this exotic fish will ultimately will impact native species and their ecosystems. There are plenty of negatives as well.

Michigan Sea Grant points out that gobies have been linked to outbreaks of botulism, which have killed fish-eating birds around the Great Lakes.  Mussels accumulate the toxin in their flesh, as they filter feed in places where it thrives in water depleted of oxygen by decaying algae.  Gobies eat the mussels, and predatory fish and birds eat the gobies.    

Additionally, the Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force (ANS) said, "They out-compete native fish for food due partially to an ability to feed in darkness and to the presence of a suctorial disk located on their pelvic fin, which allows them to attach to rocks/substrates and remain fixed on the bottom even in faster currents. Tubenose and round gobies are the only fish to possess this unique characteristic."

It also warns that gobies "maybe interfere with habitat restoration projects. Round gobies are aggressive toward other fish and may drive native fish away from prime spawning areas."

In the St. Clair River, where gobies were first confirmed nearly 30 years ago, populations of native sculpin and logperch have suffered substantial declines.

Wednesday
Oct182017

Possible State Record Smallmouth Caught In Montana

Mike Dominick caught this 7.51-pound smallmouth bass Sept. 23 on Montana's Fort Peck Reservoir and weighed on a certified scale. Likely state will recognize it as state record, surpassing 7.4-pounder caught in 2016 at Flathead Lake.

“I think an 8-pounder will be caught next year,” he said, noting that the fish he caught would be about 8 pounds if it was full of eggs during the spawn.

Fort Peck could easily produce that next big bass, he believes. On his last trip he caught five fish over 6 pounds. One trip he and another angler caught 30 smallmouth over 3 pounds in an hour-and-a-half and never moved the boat. The reason the fish are so beefy is the large baitfish population. He’s seen bass stuffed full of cisco, an introduced species also known as lake herring.

“They’ve got the perfect recipe for growing them, as long as the bait keeps up,” Dominick said.

Sunday
Aug272017

No Surpise: Big Bass Are Lazy

While researching the genetic influence of introduced Florida bass on a small fishery in East Texas, scientists noted something unexpected and especially interesting for bass anglers.

Bass seem to grow bigger when they have a small home range and don’t move much.

“We had lots of variability within the bass population,” said Dr. Brian Graeb, a biologist at South Dakota State University and part of the research team for 125-acre Grand Lake at Eagles Nest Preserve east of here. “We began studying why. We started to look at habitat use and movement by putting radio telemetry into 40 bass and did an 18-month study on home ranges of movement.”

As he tracked the bass, Ph.D. student Jason Breeggeman discovered that some areas of the lake were heavily used, while others were not. He also noted a wide variance in how far bass swam.

“The smallest mover had a home range of about 50 yards, and this is what we would normally expect,” Graeb explained. “But we began to see bass that used the entire lake routinely zipping over a mile to each end of the lake. In 24 hours, one bass swam 1.4 miles and we had one go more than 2 miles.

“These were very unexpected results.”

In trying to figure out why some stayed home and others didn’t, they scanned the bottom of the lake, seeing that much of the woody cover had disintegrated. With remaining habitat limited and occupied, some bass had no choice but to move to find food.

“We determined habitat was the most limiting factor in this lake,” Graeb said. “It was like we had a bunch of marathon runners and we wanted couch potatoes. The bass were skinny by having to swim so far.”

Researchers now have added artificial habitat from Mossback to form “fish cities” throughout the lake and will monitor the results.

“The goal is to try and decrease fish activity, decrease their home range and increase consumption,” the biologist said. “Our target is between 20- and 40-percent coverage of the lake. Currently, we have 22 fish cities and 13-percent habitat coverage with a plan to increase annually. We want to see if too much habitat begins to be too much of a good thing.”

The project began in 2011, with a goal of determining how best to grow a 15-pound bass by maximizing genetic potential and other variables.

“We came up with a strategy for trophy fish management based on age, habitat, nutrition and genetics,” Graeb said. “These are all barriers that must be overcome to grow big fish.”

After learning that genetics were favorable, scientists noted that bass diet consisted of nearly an equal amount of crawfish and forage fish. They also observed that the fish first put on weight quickly, but then leveled off as they aged. Eventually, they saw that some of the fish were fat, while others were skinny, which led to the discovery about movement.

Tuesday
May092017

Kansas' La Cygne Yields Double-Digit Bass

In late March, a tournament angler caught one of the biggest largemouth bass every taken in Kansas public waters. At the late afternoon weigh-in on La Cygne, Jeremy Conway's double-digit bass checked in an 10 pounds, 15 ounces.

The last two state records, 11.8 (11-13) and 11.75, were taken in private waters. Record before that was 11 pounds, 3 ounces. 

Doug Nygren, fisheries chief for the Department of Wildlife and Parks, wasn't surprised that this 2,600-acre impoundment in eastern Kansas yielded the lunker.

"There's just no doubt that La Cygne is the best of our lakes when it comes to quality bass," he said. "Most years, out of all those lakes we sample, the biggest are in La Cygne. It's special."

Nearly half of bass over 8 pounds collected during sampling of state waters since 1979 have come there, he added.

Genetics likely play a role. Nearly 40 years ago, Florida strain bass were stocked with the hope that they would thrive in the warmer water provided by discharges from a coal-fired power plant. No research has been done in the past few years, but La Cygne bass reflected that genetic tie for decades after.

In addition to a longer growing season, the fishery also has good habitat, including water willow, and an abundance of big bluegill. Offspring of the latter provides plenty of food for bass, Nygren said.

Conway caught the big bass on his first cast of the day, using a Rapala crankbait and 10-pound line.

 

Friday
May052017

Tournament Anglers Boat Big Bass at North Carolina's Shearon Harris Lake

North Carolina's Shearon Harris Lake claimed legendary status as a bass fishery in 1996, when Dennis Reedy won a tournament with a 10-fish limit that weighed 72 pounds. Since he finished a distant third with 35 pounds, Shane Burns well remembers that day.

But Burns and fiance Bonnie Kelly made an even more spectacular splash on the 4,100-acre reservoir in early March when they won back-to-back tournaments with 40-pound-plus limits of 5 fish.

"I just seem to keep figuring it out better every year," said Burns. "Not many weigh in a limit with five fish overs out there."

By "overs," Burns means bass above the 16- to 20-inch protected slot on  the fishery that boasts hydrilla and provides cooling water for the Harris Nuclear Plant.

"It is not specifically managed as a trophy fishery but is in a cluster of ponds in the Capitol area that seems to persistently breed above average fish," said Bill Frazier, conservation director for the North Carolina B.A.S.S. Nation. "Hydrilla is managed pretty extensively but other weeds have gotten a foothold. Notably alligator grass and primrose."

In the first event, competing against 88 other teams, Burns estimated that he and Kelly caught about two dozen overs, as they weighed in 41.93 pounds. "Everything we caught was an over," he said.

In a smaller event the following weekend, they managed an even more impressive 46.89 pounds.

"The fishing wasn't as fast and furious," the veteran angler said. "But we had a limit of 32 to 34 pounds within the first 45 minutes. I caught a 10.38 later and then a 10.91. We had eight fish over 7 pounds and I counted 30 overs."

Even more incredible, Burns went back out with a friend on the day after each tournament and enjoyed equal success.

How did he do it? Just before the first tournament, Burns found a transitional spot. "I intercepted those fish on the way to spawn," he said.

His primary area was about 100 yards long, and featured a main lake point that dropped out and then rose back up to a hump. "I was marking fish in 30 feet of water," he said. "But they wouldn't bite that deep. We caught them in 23 to 26 feet."

Only three teams fished deep in the first tournament, he added, and they finished first, second, and third.

Burns and Kelly used 3/4-ounce willowleaf spinnerbaits and football head jigs for the first win.  For the second, they needed only jigs.

"These were the most unbelievable days of my life and getting to share them with Bonnie was extra special," he said.