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Entries in conservation (149)

Wednesday
Jan072015

Would Florida-Strain Bass Improve Your Fishery? Maybe . . . Not

In southeastern Oklahoma one winter, hatchery ponds for the state’s Florida bass stocking program were covered by ice for three weeks. One hundred miles to the south, at Lake Fork, just three days were below freezing.

Anglers at Fork during that time probably found the bite tough, but the world-class fishery suffered no long-term damage. In those ponds, meanwhile, 60 percent of the Florida bass brood stock died.

Yes, Florida bass grow faster and larger than their northern counterparts. And stocking them outside their native range has resulted in the creation of some spectacular trophy fisheries in states such as Texas, California, Georgia, and Alabama.

But desired outcome from the expensive effort is not a guarantee.

“In Oklahoma, we finally decided that stocking Florida bass was a waste of time in some places, no matter what fishermen want,” said Gene Gilliland, B.A.S.S. National Conservation Director and former assistant chief of fisheries for that state.

Still, anglers continue the drum beat to stock Florida bass in waters that biologists say are inappropriate, as Ron Brooks knows all too well.  And in their arguments for stocking, they cite “evidence” that really isn’t evidence at all, explained the Kentucky fisheries chief.

“We receive requests to stock the Florida strain fairly regularly, and they always site Tennessee’s stockings in Kentucky Lake and the larger bass there as a result,” he said, echoing the experiences of fisheries managers in several states.

But biologists haven’t verified that those large bass are the result of Florida strain stockings. “The truth of the matter is that Kentucky Lake is a very fertile lake with very abundant forage species,” Brooks added.

Recently, some wanted Kentucky to stock Florida bass in Cave Run Lake, an infertile fishery east of Lexington, with limited forage and almost no habitat in the lower end. And, oh yeah, muskies, fish that like cold water, do quite well there.

Still, Brooks said, explanations for why Cave Run is inappropriate fell on deaf ears.

In a nutshell, here’s what introduced Florida bass need to thrive: mild climate, abundant forage, and plentiful habitat, preferably vegetation. Originating in subtropic Florida, they’re most at home in shallow water with a long growing season and plenty to eat.

Simply for survival, climate is the most critical of the three. Temperature drop of just a few degrees can stress Florida bass, and rapid and/or severe drop can kill them. Unfortunately, a clear geographic boundary for determining where Florida bass can live and where they can’t does not exist.

 “It’s not a north/south thing,” Gililland said. “It’s a diagonal, with cold moving from the northwest to the southeast.”

To thrive, meanwhile, Florida bass require plenty of food both throughout the year and during all stages of their life cycle. In their native range, that means mostly golden shiners, shad, and sunfish. But they will grow large and fat on other species, including trout in California and tilapia in Mexico’s Lake El Salto.

Shallow-water, vegetated habitat is the least critical of the three components, especially if the climate is mild and food plentiful.

Okay, some of you say, “I understand that. But what’s the big deal if you stock Florida bass in a lake and they don’t do well. No harm, no foul. Right?”

Wrong.

Introducing Florida bass is not the same as a supplemental stocking to enhance a depleted fishery. There’s only one reason to stock them: To grow trophy fish. If a water body isn’t conducive for that, then Florida genes mixed into the native strain actually can harm the fishery, making them less hearty, at least in the short term. Eventually, Florida genes will disappear from the population.

But the money wasted to maintain brood stock, spawn them, and stock the offspring still will have been wasted.

Additionally, as Florida bass breed with native bass, the potential for growing to trophy size is lost over time. “You can’t just stock and leave them,” Gilliland said. “As long as you have 50 percent or greater Florida genes, there’s still the potential. Below that, it’s no greater than with just native fish.”

Still, many anglers who want big bass in their home waters continue to lobby for something that is not in the best interests of their fisheries.

“Believe me, if past research projects indicated that Florida strain bass would produce lunker bass in Kentucky, we would have stocked them years ago,” said Brooks, voicing the frustration of many fisheries managers. “We strive to produce the best fisheries possible within the limits of our resources.”

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

Monday
Dec222014

Shimano Grants Offered to Help Improve Your Fishery

Members of the Lake Oconee Bassmasters were among volunteers who potted, transported and planted 2,000 water willows in West Point Lake as habitat for bass.

Back in the Dark Ages, the Texas-rigged plastic worm was the go-to bait for competitive and recreational anglers alike. And most “habitat projects” by bass clubs consisted of dropping bundles of Christmas trees, which attracted fish but did little to improve the fishery.

Departure from the former is evident. Check out the baits that tournament anglers use to win. Look in any serious fisherman’s tacklebox.  Texas-rigged worms still are popular, but they’re not the go-to bait anymore.

And just as anglers adapted their tactics to keep catching bass, they recognized that habitat work needs to be more about enhancing fisheries than temporary fixes that congregate fish to make them easier to find. But projects that actually improve a lake long-term are more involved and consequently more expensive. To make them happen, conservation-minded fishermen need financial assistance.

Enter the Shimano/B.A.S.S. Youth Conservation Initiative, started early in 2014 and accepting grant applications through Jan. 15 for 2015. Both state chapters and B.A.S.S. Nation clubs can apply for assistance with conservation projects that will involve Junior clubs or high school and college fishing teams. One project in each of the six B.A.S.S. Nation divisions is eligible for assistance ranging from $500 to several thousand dollars.

Projects chosen for 2014 in New Mexico, Georgia, and Connecticut typify how habitat work has matured over the years, as they teach youth the importance of stewardship, help ensure the sustainability of habitat and ecosystem functions long-term, and enlist support by management agencies and other organizations.

“The New Mexico project really typifies what we hope to achieve with this program,” said Gene Gilliland, B.A.S.S. National Conservation Director.

“They’re thinking along the lines of improving an entire reservoir, not just putting in fish attractors. They’re using both plants and artificial habitat. They’re working with BOR (Bureau of Reclamation), Game and Fish, state parks, and other organizations.”

And this ambitious effort to make Elephant Butte a better fishery now has $40,000 in funding, thanks to Conservation Director Earl Conway, who also secured assistance from Audubon/Toyota TogetherGreen, and the Reservoir Fisheries Habitat Program.

“They hit some snags with permitting, which delayed things,” Gilliland explained. “But they’re buying materials, they’re doing a pilot study, and refining what they want to do next spring, so they will be ready.”

That work tentatively will include establishing shoreline vegetation, floating wetlands, suspended spawning beds, and submerged habitat, both permanent and portable. Additionally, Conway has enlisted nothing short of a small army of adult and youth volunteers to assist with the effort.

In Georgia, meanwhile, the B.A.S.S. Nation is using Shimano funds to help restore West Point Lake to its former glory.

“I hear people talking about how great the fishing was back in the 80s,” said Jake Mims, a member of the Chapel Hill High School fishing team. “Maybe this is the first step to making it great again.”

Thus far, volunteers from four B.A.S.S. Nation clubs, six high schools, and the University of West Georgia have planted 2,000 water willows. The Lake Oconee Bassmasters grew the willows from cuttings taken from plants that the club helped establish in Lake Oconee six years ago.

State Conservation Director Tony Beck said the habitat is needed to help largemouths survive predation from an expanding population of smaller, but more aggressive spotted bass.

Ideally, the plants will spread on their own, once they are established.

“We’re hoping that nature takes over to make the project much larger,” Gilliland explained. “It increases the return on investment.”

Up in Connecticut, the goal is not only to improve fisheries in community lakes, but, in doing so, get more people involved by increasing their chances for success.

Echo Lake was chosen as the first of several enhancement projects because of the town’s interest and because the Mohawk Valley Basscasters had worked previously with the Watertown Fishing Club. Volunteers assembled spiderblock structures and then placed them in eight areas accessible by shoreline anglers.

Additionally, the Connecticut B.A.S.S. Nation produced a video guide and installation plan for other clubs to follow.

Besides spawning long-term benefits, these Shimano-funded projects “give adult club members the opportunity to be mentors in more than just fishing,” Gilliland said. “And they get kids involved in conservation in a meaningful way to develop an appreciation for the resource.”

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

 

 

Sunday
Nov302014

Clermont Chain Filling Up --- Again

A rainy fall has helped the Clermont Chain of Lakes in central Florida start filling up again, following half a dozen years of decline. The lower photo of Cresent Lake was taken in fall 2012, the upper in November 2014. The angler came into Crescent by canal from Minnehaha, something impossible to do just a few months before. That's because the canal had become a foot path.

But likely more than just precipitation was involved, as water started rising before the rains came. Public outcry and pressure just might have forced politicians to listen and act. While the Clermont has been drying up, other chains were not suffering the same fate, suggesting withdrawals and diversions were in play. Some of them likely were illegal and possibly even intentionally overlooked by the decision makers.

Whether the water levels return to "normal" and stay there remains to be seen.

Check out my Janury 2013 post about the issue here.

Wednesday
Oct082014

Florida's TrophyCatch 'Huge Success' in Second Year

TrophyCatch at Lake Istokpoga. Photo provided by FWC

Season two of TrophyCatch was a "huge success," according to The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

In season two alone, we documented about 1,000 trophy-sized bass caught in Florida and released to continue growing, spawning and challenging anglers,” said Tom Champeau, director of the FWC’s Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management.

Five anglers caught Hall of Fame bass weighing more than 13 pounds each. They will receive  hand-painted replicas of their catches (a $500 value), as well as $200 in gift cards from Bass Pro Shops, Rapala and/or Dick’s Sporting Goods.

Another 229 anglers joined the Trophy Club in season two by submitting photos documenting bass 10 to 12.9 pounds that they caught and released. Each earned $150 in gift cards, plus a long-sleeve custom shirt from Bass King Clothing.

A remarkable 758 bass weighing 8 to 9.9 pounds were entered in the Lunker Club, and each generated $100 in gifts cards and a short-sleeve Bass King T-shirt. Finally, 386 bass over 8 pounds were submitted that did not have the required information to be accepted into TrophyCatch but received certificates as Big Catches.

Although all bass must have been caught between Oct. 1, 2013, and Sep. 30, 2014, to be included in the season two competition, anglers have until Oct. 15 to get their catch submitted and approved. After that the annual champion will be announced and win the Championship Ring, provided by the Americans Outdoor Fund. The current leader is Joseph Morrell, who caught, documented’ and released a 14-pound, 9-ounce Florida largemouth on March 8 in Kingsley Lake, Clay County.

Every angler who registered, free of cost, at TrophyCatchFlorida.com is entered into an annual drawing for a $40,000 bass boat package. Phoenix boats donated a 619 Pro, powered by Mercury Marine and equipped with a Power-Pole shallow-water anchoring system. In addition, every time an angler has a TrophyCatch verified, he or she earned 10 more chances to win the boat.

To see who the finalists are for this year’s random drawing and to learn when and where the boat will be given away, go to FaceBook.com/TrophyCatchFlorida. By subscribing to YouTube.com/TrophyCatchFlorida you can check out the winners from the first year and be notified when the new winners’ videos are posted.

“Year two produced five times as many winners as the first year,” said KP Clements, TrophyCatch director. “We know there are many more trophy bass that were caught and released but not documented because anglers did not have the necessary tools to verify the weight or didn’t yet know about the program.”

Remember, season three (Oct.1, 2014 – Sep. 30, 2015) is underway, so take a camera and scale fishing with you. Be sure to get the required photo of the entire bass, head-to-tail on the scale, with the weight legible, and the scale held properly by the handle. The photo of the whole fish on the scale is critical to being approved for rewards, so the higher the resolution and sharper the image the better.

You also may submit supplemental photos that aren’t required. Consider including a close-up of the scale to make it easier to read the weight, a photo of the length and maybe girth, and a photo of the angler holding or releasing the catch. You can upload up to five photos or an MP4 video with each submission.

Tournament anglers can participate by submitting a photo of themselves with their catch and a link to the official tournament results showing their name, the weight of the individual bass, date and water body. Another option for large-tournament anglers is to include a photo of a digital scale printout that has that data imprinted on it.

Fishing guides around the state are finding this a great way to promote their business by helping customers get the required weight photos and telling them how easy it is to register and submit their catch.

All of this activity helps achieve the TrophyCatch goals, which are to preserve these valuable fish, learn how to enhance their abundance, and promote recreational fishing.

To see all the catches, go to TrophyCatchFlorida.com and click on “View Gallery” or “Search.” The latter allows you to narrow down results by angler, county, water body or date. 

Monday
Sep152014

What's Ailing Susquehanna River Smallmouth Bass?

Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission photo

Despite its refusal to declare the Susquehanna River impaired last year, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) says that it will continue intensive sampling of what was once a world-class smallmouth fishery.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission asked for the designation, as fingerlings continue to die, adults carry ugly lesions, and eggs show up in the testes of male fish. Additionally, an estimated 80 percent of the bass seem to have disappeared from the central part of the state, where the North and West Branches meet, down to Conowingo Dam in Maryland.

The 2014 plan calls for analysis of fish tissue for pesticides, PCBs, and metals. Also biologists will look at insects, mussels, and other invertebrates, as well as sample the water for sediment, pollution, and pesticides.

At 464 miles, the Susquehanna is the largest river to drain into the Atlantic, and its massive watershed of 27,500 square miles includes portions of New York and Maryland, as well as nearly half of Pennsylvania.

“Over the last two years where we tremendously enhanced our examination efforts, DEP has learned a great deal about the health of the Susquehanna River,” said Secretary E. Christopher Abruzzo.

 “It is important to continue these efforts so that DEP can create policy and regulation based on facts and sound science.”

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation believes that a “perfect storm” of conditions have contributed to the sick and declining smallmouth population, with pollution from farms and sewage plants, low dissolved oxygen, rising water temperatures among the contributors. These stressors make the fish more susceptible to bacteria, parasites, and diseases that might not have affected them in the past.

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