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Entries in Chickamauga (5)

Thursday
Dec292016

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.

Tuesday
Mar222016

Tiger Bass Stocked to Improve Smith Mountain Lake Fishery

Robert Dean Wood wants to engineer a better bass fishery at Smith Mountain Lake. Elite Series angler John Crews wants to help. And the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) has approved the first step, privately funded stocking of a northern/Florida hybrid known as the F-1 Tiger bass.

 “Smith Mountain Lake is my lake. That’s why I’m doing this,” said Wood, a long-time tournament angler. “I want a bigger and better bass fishery for future generations.”

In three to five years, Wood explained, he hopes to see 50 out of 100 boats in a tournament weigh in a 5-pound bass. “And my dream is to have B.A.S.S. here for another major event.” (Elite Series anglers last competed there in 2010 Blue Ridge Brawl.)

Virginia pro Crews added, “This could be a really good deal for Virginia in general, as well as Smith Mountain Lake. I know that the Elite Series anglers loved the lake, and it would be great to bring them back.

“I’ve seen that phenomenon before,” he said. “You get the right genetics in the water, and a fishery takes off. And this lake reminds me of some out west that grow big bass. And Biwa in Japan is similar, with deep, clear water.”

Private stocking of a public fishery is rare. “But it has been done before, in places like the Rappahannock (River),” said VDGIF biologist Dan Wilson

“This is not a matter of identifying a need,” he continued. “But if they are supplying the fish, this benefits both of us. We can study what happens and see if it works in our larger reservoirs.”

The state already has tried the F-1 Tiger in three small lakes, with mixed results. In one, the biologist said, “They didn’t show up.” In another, which had been recently drained and had few resident fish, they “did okay.” While in the third, which had good forage but low numbers and recruitment, they performed “very well.”

By contrast, 20,000-acre Smith Mountain already boasts good density of bass with acceptable growth, even though it is clear and deep with steep shorelines and little shallow cover. “There’s not a recruitment problem,” Wilson said. “It’s a pretty average lake.”

Smith Mountain also has plenty of forage, including threadfin shad, alewives, and blueback herring. “Bass can feed on bluegill and crawfish too,” Wood said. “We felt that all of this forage would support a stocking.”

So if the lake already has an adequate bass population and limited shallow habitat for spawning, why do a supplemental stocking of F-1 Tiger bass? Also, most lakes in Virginia have a 50/50 mix of northern/Florida genes, Wilson revealed.

“In some, it’s 60/40 and in others it’s 40/60. And who knows how it happened?” the biologist said. “Largemouth bass are not native to Virginia and we don’t have records.”

Briery Creek, which has produced big fish and is widely believed to have been stocked with pure strain Florida bass during the 1980s, really is no different than the rest.

 “We stocked pure northern and what we thought were pure Florida in there,” Wilson said. “But when we started checking progeny, we found that didn’t that we didn’t go far enough south to get those Florida bass.”

The F-1 Tiger hybrid, however, is bred especially for fast growth and aggressiveness by American Sport Fish Hatchery in Montgomery, Ala. (See related sidebar.) Wood and Crews hope that mixing in those genes could be just the jump start that Smith Mountain needs to produce larger bass and heavier limits.

“Of course, all 20,000 won’t survive. What we’re looking for is to get the number of fish per acre up and start a better strain of bass,” Wood said. “And Don Keller (at AFS) said that the fish would be fine with the colder temperatures up here.”

Before deciding to do it himself, the Virginia angler checked to see if VDGIF would supplement the largemouth population in Smith Mountain. “Virginia does stock stripers,” he said. “But because bass spawn in there, it wasn’t going to stock them. To my knowledge, no one has ever stocked bass in there.”

The first planting of two-inch fingerlings occurred in May 2015, with follow-ups planned for 2016 and 2017. Cost for each shipment is $10,600, and Wood is hoping that anglers will donate to the cause.

“But even if they don’t, I’ll buy it out of pocket if I have to,” he said

The fingerlings won’t be tagged, but VDGIF will help with the stocking, as well as conduct electrofishing surveys to assess success. It also will take fin clips of captured fish for genetic identification by Auburn University.

“Dan and I agree that habitat in Smith Mountain is not as conducive (to growing big bass) as Chickamauga (Tennessee impoundment stocked with Florida bass),” Wood said. “But we’ll never know whether it will work if we don’t try.”

Additionally, stocking is just the first step in making the Virginia impoundment a better bass fishery, he added.

“The stocking will give us a reason to start talking to people who live on the lake and manage it about getting some vegetation for the fish,” he said.

“We’re hoping that the power company (American Electric Power) will allow some grasses, maybe something like willow grass,” Crews said. “The whole key is not to do anything that would disturb power plant operation or the home owners.

“I’m going to spread the word to donate money for the stocking and to support shallow water cover. This lake is in my backyard, and I take a lot of pride in it,” he said. “I want it to be as good as it can be.”

F-1 Tiger Bass

The F-1 Tiger bass is the offspring of a special strain of northern bass and a pure strain of Florida bass. American Sport Fish is the only hatchery licensed to produce and sell this hybrid.

“Our Florida strain largemouth bass brooders are from proven trophy lines and our northern largemouth bass have been selected for 15 generations for their aggressive feeding behavior,” said AFS’s Don Keller.

Fed a diet of goldfish, shad, and tilapia, the brood stock is kept in prime condition for spring spawning.

"Our Tiger bass have already gained weights of 15 pounds in eight years,” he added. “We expect them to break state records in the next several years.”

Tuesday
May062014

More Tennessee Waters May Be Stocked with Florida Bass

Now that stocking of Florida-strain bass in Lake Chickamauga has proven a success, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) is going to investigate introducing them into other waters.

“We don’t want to throw money away,” said Bobby Wilson, fisheries chief. “We don’t want to stock fish where we don’t think they’re going to do very well.

“But we’re going to gather some preliminary information.”

Fisheries to be examined include Old Hickory, Percy Priest, and Normandy. Biologists hope to determine whether Florida genes already exist in those waters. They also will look at aquatic vegetation, as well as water temperature and quality.

At Chickamauga, meanwhile, multi-year research shows emphatically that adding 2 million Florida fingerlings since 2000 has enhanced the fishery. In spring of 2013, TRWA biologists found that nearly all of the 50 “trophy size” bass from which they collected genetic samples were either hybrids or “backcrosses.”

None of those fish, many weighing 8 pounds or more, was either pure Florida or pure northern.

“A backcross is created when hybrids or their offspring spawn with a pure Florida or pure northern strain of bass,” explained biologist Mike Jolley. “Interestingly, the pure Florida largemouth bass was not observed at all, which has been the common theme throughout this project. Hardly any pure Florida bass have been collected during any of our samples.”

Jolley pointed out that several factors contributed to success, including good aquatic vegetation, an ample forage base, and consistent natural reproduction.

 “We are excited about the results of the Chickamauga Lake Florida Bass Project,” Wilson said. “Our original goal was to increase the percentage of Florida bass genes to 15 percent, and it is currently about 45 percent. But more importantly, these stockings led to a significant increase in the number of larger bass in the lake.”

The fisheries chief praised local anglers and tournament directors for assistance in the study and their desire to see a trophy bass fishery.

Monday
Feb272012

States Hope Florida Genes Will Help Grow Bigger Bass

Dave Burkhardt caught this 13-8 Florida-strain largemouth at Mexico’s Lake El Salto. Florida bass grow quickly to trophy size south of the border, but can their genes help grow bigger bass in more northern states? (Photo by Robert Montgomery)

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, fisheries chief for the Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR). “I hope that can happen in Chickamauga. And, if it does, we’ll move to other lakes with it.”

So far, Wilson has one very persuasive piece 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.

By contrast, the existing state record is just 14-8 and was caught in 1954.

Bureaucratic complications delayed tests to determine the genetic makeup of that extraordinary bass, but results are expected soon. Meanwhile, limited sampling from Browns, Gibson County and other agency lakes where Florida bass have been stocked reveal that larger fish do have introduced genes.

“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’re in the process of finishing up the project right now,” says Keith Floyd, a fisheries supervisor for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

“We haven’t stocked them (Florida bass) on a regular basis,” he adds. “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.

Norm Klayman also caught this 10-4 at Lake El Salto. Its bulging eyes indicate it is a fast-growing fish that is large for its age. (Photo by Robert Montgomery)

AS DWR waits for lab results, “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. This past spring, 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 soon.

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

Thursday
Feb102011

Plant Control Again an Issue for Anglers, TVA at Chickamauga

Remember the funeral procession for Lake Chickamauga back in the 1990s? Clever bass fishermen staged the stunt to embarrass the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). It drew national attention to the decline of the fishery that coincided with TVA’s herbicide treatment of aquatic plants, mostly invasive Eurasian milfoil and hydrilla.

 That activism helped TVA recognize the power of bass fishermen and, to its credit, the agency became more attuned to the concerns of anglers, who know that aquatic plants are good for fishing.

Nevertheless, fishermen in the Chattanooga area have been ever-vigilant since. That’s why the Chattanooga Bass Association staged a strategy session prior to a Feb. 24 meeting of the Chickamauga Stakeholders Group.

Continued