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Entries in catch-and-release (44)


Stocking Bass Can Do More Harm Than Good

Biologists and knowledgeable anglers understand that most supplemental stockings of bass do nothing to improve fisheries, and, in fact, can do more harm than good. But many who manage private lakes do not know that, and, as a consequence, annually waste thousands of dollars of other people's money, accomplishing just the opposite of what they intended.

For example, the board of the homeowners' association in my community spends nearly $4,000 annually to stock 6- to 8-inch bass in lakes already filled with stunted fish.

"That's pretty common," said Gene Gilliland, who was a fisheries biologist in Oklahoma before he became National Conservation Director for B.A.S.S. "A lot of homeowners' associations have that mentality. One of the biggest challenges that we had was getting people to buy into the idea of doing something different than what they'd always done if they wanted different results."

In these lakes, as well as many farm ponds, the problem is an overabundance of predators, and adding more just makes it worse. How does this happen? Well, first of all, bass spawn. In general, after their initial stocking in a pond or manmade lake, they don't need additional help, barring a catastrophic die-off. On their own, they sufficiently will populate a fishery, based on available habitat and forage.

Then there's catch-and-release. "A lack of harvest is something we see all the time," Gilliland said. "Twenty or 30 years ago, ponds and small lakes could be overharvested. Today, it's just the opposite. Back then, harvest could be 40 percent. Now it's about 5 percent.    

"Catch-and-release almost seems to have gotten out of hand in some places. And the problem is magnified in smaller waters."

In fact, catch-and-release alone over time can lead to a stunted bass population in such fisheries, unless they receive regular and abundant stockings of forage, such as threadfin shad or shiners.

Now throw in more mouths to feed instead of more food and you get what we have in my community's lakes, packs of 8- to 10-inch bass prowling the shorelines in search of food--- and almost nothing else. Occasionally, larger bass are caught, usually on offshore structure or shallow during the pre-spawn. But fish in the 2- to 4-pound range are nearly nonexistent.        

Bass typically stunt at about 11 inches, and one that size could be 5 or 6 years old. Depending on geographic region, a bass that age in a healthy fishery should be from 3 to 8 pounds. But to grow to a larger size, bass require progressively larger forage. If that's in scarce supply, so are plump and healthy bass. "You can't have just big bluegill and little bluegill," Gilliland said. "You have to have a variety of sizes (available) as the bass grow up."

So what's happening to those bass dumped into an already overpopulated fishery? "A lot of studies show that supplemental stocking is of little value," the B.A.S.S. conservation director said. "Survival of those fish is probably pretty poor. They could be starving to death or maybe they're getting eaten by bigger bass."

And how does a fishery with a stunted bass population get turned around? Managers should stock forage, not bass. Anglers should catch and keep those small bass, something that probably isn't going to happen because of the catch-and-release ethic.

"We used to  recommend removing 10 pounds of bass per acre per year (from a small fishery)," Gilliland said. "An 11-inch bass weighs just 1/3 of a pound so that would be 150 fish from a 5-acre pond. If you get enough out of there, then those remaining fish eventually will start to fatten up."

All this is not to suggest that bass never should be stocked. But they shouldn't be dumped into a fishery as a matter of habit. Rather, managers should have clear intent. For example, Florida recently added one million bass fingerlings to Lake Apopka as part of a decades-long project to rehabilitate that once great fishery. Habitat and water quality were enhanced before the stocking to ensure better survival.

Texas, meanwhile, long has stocked Florida strain largemouths to enhance the trophy potential of bass in Lake Fork and other fisheries. Without booster shots of Florida genes from time to time, the fish wouldn't grow as quickly or as large.

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


Ray Scott, Bill Dance, John Anderson Honored by Bass Pro Shops

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. --- B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott, legendary angler Bill Dance, and country music artist John Anderson were honored for their conservation achievements by Bass Pro Shops (BPS) and its founder Johnny Morris during a holiday ceremony at BPS headquarters here.

“All of us at Bass Pro Shops are proud to honor these individuals for their unwavering dedication to conservation,” said Morris. “Long recognized and well respected as leaders for their conservation efforts and support, they continue to help restore and conserve our natural resources and important habitats for North America's wildlife.”

As recipient of a Fisherman's Best Friend Award, Scott is best known for popularizing catch and release among bass fishermen. "Today more than 98 percent of bass weighed in during national B.A.S.S. tournaments are returned alive to the waters," BPS said. "He also advocated against the dumping of aquatic herbicides into public waters."

A recipient of the same honor, Dance is a long-time friend of Morris and they have worked together often to promote conservation issues. Most recently, Dance played a key role in the placement of a Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid in his hometown of Memphis.

Anderson was recognized as Conservation Partner of the Year because of his "strong belief in the need to give back more to conservation than we take" and for donating his time and talent with performances at national conservation conventions. Love of the outdoors, inspired by his father, was the inspiration for his popular song, "Seminole Wind."

Additionally, former U.S. Marine Mark Geist was recognized with a special Defender of Freedom Award.

Former Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon attended the event, as did NASCAR star Martin Truex, Jr. Nixon was honored last year for his leadership in conservation and outdoors issues during his administration. Truex was there to thank Morris and BPS for its donations to the Martin Truex, Jr. Foundation in support of cancer research.


Catch-and-Release Proposed for Stretch of of Texas' Devils River

Increasing angler pressure has prompted the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) to propose catch-and-release regulations for largemouth and smallmouth bass on a portion of the Devils River, which feeds into Lake Amistad from the north.

 “The pressure has increased over the last 10 to 15 years,” TPWD's Ken Kurzawski said.  “In 2013, we began requiring access permits from any TPWD property. In the first year, we had 780 permits. This year, we expect at least 1,300.”

“What we are proposing in January is to institute catch-and-release for largemouth and smallmouth bass on the Devils from Baker’s Crossing to Big Satan Creek, a distance of 38 miles,” he added. “This is where the river becomes wider and more lake-like. It is the downstream boundary of the state natural area.”

The biologist added that smallmouth have been increasing in the river, while the overall size of largemouth has declined.

If the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission approves the regulation, it then would be open for public comment, with implementation possible in September 2017.

One of the most remote and unspoiled waterways in Texas, the Devils is part of the Rio Grande drainage. It is fed by numerous clear springs in the region's karst topography, which includes rugged ridges, canyons, and grassy banks. While it features white water, a portion also flows underground, where gravel, sand, and limestone filter to help maintain high water quality.

TPWD's Devils River State Natural Area consists of 37,000 acres in two units, including the original 20,000-acre portion called Del Norte and newly acquired 17,000-acre Dan A. Hughes Unit. Del Norte offers primitive camping, mountain biking, horseback riding, hiking, and camping, as well as fishing. It also features a group barracks that can accommodate up to10 people.


Fisheries Management Is NOT Just About the Fish

Once upon a time, when harvest of bass was commonplace, wildlife agencies managed fisheries for sustainability. No matter where they fished in their state, anglers knew the bag and size limit regulations would be the same, typically 5 or 10 fish, with a minimum size of 12 inches.

But then in the 1970s along came Ray Scott, B.A.S.S., and a practice that bass anglers  embraced with open arms--- catch and release. Bass fishing became more about competitive sport and recreation than catching and keeping a limit.

As a consequence, today's fisheries manager must be two parts fisheries biologist and one part sociologist. Or maybe it's the other way around. In other words, it's not all about the fish anymore. It's also about the fishermen and what they want to catch.

"There are variables related to the biological side of things and then there is the social/people side of things," said Dave Terre, Management and Research Chief for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). "Both those things have to come together for success."

With Texas among the most innovative states for bass management, TPWD planners consider four regulation strategies to accommodate "diverse opportunities." They include harvest, high catch rate, quality-sized fish, and trophy fish.

Of course, the first  favors those who still want to keep and eat bass. The second is for those who enjoy catching numbers of fish but not keeping them, while the third and fourth are self-explanatory.

To gain reputations as trophy fisheries, some lakes don't require special regulations or other assistance, such as supplemental stockings of Florida-strain bass, if they have enough habitat and forage, as well as periodic high water to accommodate large years classes and survival.  But usually these are cyclical as opposed to long-term.

On the other hand, maintaining a trophy fishery typically involves special regulations, such as a protected slot of 18 to 22 inches or even catch and release only and/or periodic stockings of Florida or Florida-hybrid bass to stimulate faster and larger growth. For example, recent angler success suggests that Tennessee has created a trophy bass fishery at Lake Chickamauga by enhancing the genetics.

A trophy fishery also requires constant monitoring and altering of regulations to meet changing population dynamics. In Arkansas, managers want to encourage harvest of smaller fish by reducing the protected slot from 16-21 inches to 14-17 because of the high density of bass at Mallard Lake, which yielded the state record, 16-8, in 1976.

In Texas, meanwhile, biologists wanted to prevent harvest of too many small bass when O.H. Ivie was opened to fishing about 25 years ago. Thus, the five-fish bag could include no more than two bass under 18 inches. Now, they are considering regulation changes that would encourage harvest of smaller fish and increase abundance of larger ones.  

"The nice thing about these kinds of regulations, five-fish bag limits with no more than XX number of fish above or below a certain length, is that they are conducive to both tournament and non-tournament angling, unlike slot limits that are prohibitive to tournaments," said Brian Van Zee, TPWD Inland Fisheries Regional Director. 

Especially in states where bass are the No. 1 sport fish, managers have learned that "adaptive management"  is the best strategy to deal with ever-changing  environmental conditions in fisheries and to satisfy their constituencies. The latter often are surveyed on the water, online, by mail, and at public meetings as to their preferences regarding bag and size limits, both in general and for specific water bodies.

After listening to its resident fishermen, Florida decided to simplify regulations, with an emphasis on increasing the odds that anglers can catch and release larger bass. While the statewide limit remains at five, with no minimum length for largemouths, only one fish of 16 inches or longer can be kept. Forty-two site-specific regulations have been eliminated.

"While reducing harvest of large bass is beneficial, allowing more bass under 16 inches to be kept may improve some fisheries by reducing competition so other individuals grow faster and larger," said Tom Champeau, Fisheries Chief for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Still, "sometimes regulations have little to do with it (quality of a fishery)," reflected Terre, pointing out that just 57 of Texas' 1,100 reservoirs have special regulations. " Most anglers catch and release all the bass they catch. Now, we have to feel  the public will keep fish before putting on a slot.

"And we're constantly learning, experimenting, and managing according to conditions. We don't do things willy nilly."


Georgia Trophy Fishery Set to Re-Open in Spring

Georgia anglers are eagerly awaiting re-opening in the spring of a small, but prolific big-bass fishery that has been closed for nearly four years.

In November 2012,  the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) shut down the 106-acre lake at Ocmulgee Public Fishing Area so that it could be drained and leaks sealed in the bed. Repairs began in March but were delayed by spring rains, with completion now expected sometime this fall.

Additionally, DNR has been growing bass at several hatcheries as well as at a three-acre pond near the lake so Ocmulgee will have an immediate population of adult fish for anglers to enjoy. If not for that, it probably wouldn't have re-opened until 2018, said biologist Tim Bonvechio.

"It was really coming on as a high profile trophy bass fishery in the state of Georgia," he added. "We hope to bring that recipe back again."

That recipe involved stocking a lower density  population of female-only bass while allowing catch-and-release only for the fishery that first opened in 2006. By all indications, it was working too.

Angler surveys from February and March of 2012 revealed that 46 bass weighing 8 pounds or more were caught and released, with 10 of more than 10 pounds and one checking in at 12-4. Additionally,  biologists logged in a 13-4 while doing an electrofishing survey.

Repairs  included rerouting the stream that runs through the middle of the impoundment and then removing two feet of lake bed where leaks were occurring. After that, the area was covered with a rugged fabric similar to what is used to prevent runoff at construction sites, with three-feet of red clay pressed on top.

Previously, the lake had been stocked with bluegill, crappie, and catfish, as well as bass. This time around, DNR won't add catfish, which would compete with bass for forage. The hope is that this will help Ocmulgee's bass grow bigger even faster.

"We want to put someone on the fish of a lifetime," Bonvechio said.