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Entries in Florida (193)

Monday
Sep052016

Put These Bass on Your Bucket List!

Shoal bassIf you think largemouths, smallmouths, and spots are the only fish worth pursuing, you don't know your bass.

As  the most adaptable and widespread species in the black bass family, they certainly have earned their fame and your loyalty. But if you enjoy catching hard-fighting fish in scenic rivers and streams, you should meet their stay-at-home cousins, most notably shoal and Guadalupe bass.

"I used to think smallmouth bass were the ultimate river bass, but shoal bass have completely changed my mind," said Steven Sammons, an avid angler as well as fisheries scientist and research fellow in Auburn University's School of Fisheries, Aquaculture, and Aquatic Sciences.

"They grow faster, consistently reach larger sizes, and may be the most aggressive black bass we have. I routinely fish for them with topwater lures most suited to peacock bass and they usually are up to the challenge!"

Guadalupe bass (left) and largemouth bassAnd the Guadalupe? Tim Birdsong, a fisherman who also happens to be Habitat Conservation Branch Chief for Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPW), feels much the same way about this smaller river fish.

"It fights harder than any other species I've caught," he said. "Guadalupes know how to move their bodies in current, and they are inextricably linked to flowing water. They hang out just behind the current and move out into it to ambush."

With such glowing recommendations, then, why don't more anglers know about and fish for these moving water brawlers? Unlike largemouths, smallmouths, and spots, they can't tolerate reservoir conditions, and consequently mostly are restricted to free-flowing waters in their historic ranges. That means anglers must go to the Hill Country of central and south Texas to fish for the Guadalupe, the state's official fish, and to the Apalachicola River drainage (Chattahoochee and Flint tributary systems) in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida to fish for the shoal bass.

But a little travel time is well worth it, according to Sammons, who caught three 5-pound-plus shoal bass one day this past spring. "Those who know what they are doing --- and there are many better than I --- routinely catch 5-pound shoal bass every spring," he said. "The better anglers' number of fish in those sizes is in the dozens annually. Not many smallmouth rivers can produce fish like that."

Additionally, he added, they are not difficult to catch just about any time if you are in the right place. And where is that for the shoal bass?

Shoal bass fishingThe "epicenter" for big shoal bass, Sammons explained, is the Flint River west of Thomaston, Ga.. "There are five or six places that you can access for float trips," he said. "And you can canoe or wade fish."

The Flint River between Albany and Lake Seminole, meanwhile, can accommodate larger boats and seems to hold bigger, but fewer, fish.

In Florida, the Chipola River, especially below Marianna, offers some of the best shoal bass fishing. Fisheries biologist Andy Strickland said that three low-water years, starting in 2006, produced big year classes of shoal bass that now are moving into the 4- and 5-pound range. But Ray Tice recently caught a new state record (5.2 pounds), the fourth in little more than a year,  from the Apalachicola River in Gadsden County.

Where do you find shoal bass in those rivers? "They set up like salmon or trout," Sammons explained. "They are not behind a rock or in an eddy. "They set up in that fast water, the first big drop in a shoal. They're in front of the 'push' water."

Guadalupe bass fishingIn Texas, meanwhile, the lower Colorado River below Austin boasts a trophy fishery for Guadalupe bass, and, in fact,  that's where Bryan Townsend caught the record, 3.71-pounds, on a crawfish-pattern fly in 2014. Birdsong added that about 60 percent of anglers targeting the state fish cast flies as they wade or drift.

The Llano River, a tributary of the Colorado, is another good choice. "Around Kingsland, you have a different kind of river channel with granite outcrops," Birdsong said. "It's a great area to wade fish."

Sadly, the Guadalupe no longer is found in some of its range, mostly because of development. "We see this as an urgent time to do something meaningful to protect the species," the biologist said, pointing out that population in the Hill Country has increased by one million people during the past decade.

"Fourteen species of fish are found in the Hill Country and nowhere else in the world," he added. "We're really concerned about urbanization and demand on our spring-fed rivers."

That's why TPW initiated the 10-year Guadalupe Bass Restoration Initiative in 2010, with the hope that a public-private conservation partnership can help sustain and/or restore the rivers.

In addition, populations of the shoal and other black bass species mentioned below seem to be slowly declining due to habitat degradation and hybridization with illegally introduced non-native bass, especially spots. That why Sammons and other fisheries scientists in state agencies and universities within their native ranges have stepped up conservation efforts.

The Rest of the Family

Generally speaking, nine species of black bass now are recognized by the scientific community: northern largemouth bass, Florida largemouth bass, Alabama spotted bass, northern spotted bass, smallmouth bass, Guadalupe bass, shoal bass, redeye bass, and Suwannee bass.

Until 1999, the shoal was considered a subspecies of the redeye, which is why the 8-12 caught in the Apalachicola River in 1995 is recognized as the all-tackle record by the International Game Fish Association, but not by Florida as a state record. The Georgia record, meanwhile, is an 8-3 caught in 1977 on the Flint River and the Alabama record is a 6-11 caught from Halawakee Creek in 1996.

Although similar in overall appearance to the shoal, the redeye is a smaller fish and prefers skinnier waters in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and small portions of North Carolina and Tennessee. The Georgia state record, 3-7, came from Lake Hartwell in 2004.

 "It's not found in the fast water," said Sammons. "It doesn't need boulders like the shoal. Mostly you catch them in small pools with 6-pound line and small crankbaits."

As scientific investigative methods improve and conservation efforts for native species intensify, it's possible that the redeye will be subdivided into several different species in the years to come, including Coosa, Tallapoosa, Chattahoochee, Cahaba, and Warrior.

Because of its association with a song written by Steven Foster, the Suwannee bass is the most recognized black bass outside the big five. But it has the smallest range of the family--- the Suwannee, Santa Fe, Wacissa, Wakulla,  and several other free-flowing Florida rivers, as well as the Alapaha, Ochlockonee, and Withlacoochee shared by Florida and Georgia. Current IGFA record is 3-14, taken from the Suwannee in 1985.

During the next few years, Choctaw and the Bartram's likely will be the next bass to be recognized as separate species, Sammons said.

"The genetics is really strong on the Choctaw," he explained. "It looks like a spotted bass, but it's geographically isolated."

In fact, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission already includes the Choctaw in its fishing regulations.

The Bartram's, meanwhile, "should be a slam dunk" to be recognized, the Auburn scientist said. "It's found only in the Savannah and Broad River drainages  and it's the only one (outside the big five) to survive in reservoirs. You can catch it in lakes, and it gets a little bigger, 2 to 2 1/2 pounds."

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

Thursday
Sep012016

Help Clean Up Florida's East Coast

The Marine Resources Council in collaboration with Keep Brevard Beautiful and the Ocean Conservancy would like to invite you to join the International Coastal Cleanup! in Brevard County on Florida's east coast. Event is scheduled for 8 a.m. to noon. on Saturday, Sept. 17

Every year this event garners hundreds of thousands of volunteers to comb shorelines, lakes, rivers and beaches around the world for trash. Over the course of nearly three decades, more than 9 million volunteers have collected nearly 164 million pounds of trash.

No matter where you live—whether on the coast or thousands of miles away—all waterways lead to the ocean. If we take action and work together, we can improve the ocean’s health and make trash free seas a reality.

Tuesday
Aug162016

Nearly 10,000 Lionfish Harvested in Florida Waters

With little more than a month left to go in Florida's Lionfish Challenge, divers have removed 9,216 of the exotic predator from state waters.

Since the May 14 kickoff, 68  have participated in the program that rewards divers for taking 50 or more lionfish. Of those, 23 also qualified for the Panhandle Pilot Program, which rewards participants for every 100 lionfish removed from Escambia through Franklin counties, where lionfish densities tend to be higher.

 David Garrett is in the lead for the Lionfish King title, with 1,262 harvested so far, followed by John McCain at 380.

Why the war on lionfish? Although about 18 inches is the maximum size in its nonnative range, the lionfish is a versatile, voracious predator that is gobbling up smaller native species, as well as juveniles of highly prized sport fish species. Additionally, as its population grows, it crowds native species out of their habitat.

Lionfish Challenge

Remove 50 or more lionfish between Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day (May 14, 2016) and the end of September to enter the Lionfish Challenge.

Rewards include the following:

  • a commemorative coin to mark membership
  • an event T-shirt
  • Lionfish Hall of Fame recognition on the MyFWC.com website
  • being entered in drawings to win prizes including fishing licenses, lionfish harvesting equipment, fuel cards and dive tank refills
  • and, the person who “checks in” the most lionfish will be crowned Florida’s Lionfish King or Queen and will receive a lifetime saltwater fishing license, have his or her photograph featured on the cover of the FWC’s January 2017 Saltwater Regulations publication, be prominently featured on MyFWC.com’s Lionfish Hall of Fame, and be recognized at the November 2016 FWC Commission meeting

How to Enter

Email photos of your first 50 qualifying lionfish to Lionfish@MyFWC.com and include the name of the harvester, the date harvested, your signature in the photo (written on a piece of paper next to the fish, for example) and your mailing address. You can also submit your first 50 at an FWC-approved checkpoint.

Go here to learn more.

Saturday
Aug132016

When You Throw Out That Bait . . . You Just Never Know!

Catching two bass on one cast with a crankbait is rare, but does happen occasionally, especially if bass are schooling and/or in a feeding frenzy. After all, the bait has at least two sets of trebles, increasing the potential for hookups.

On Mexico's Lake El Salto when big fish were in such a frenzy during an all-day rain, I caught a 5-pounder and 7-pounder together on a Magnum Fat Free Shad. And years ago, I wrote an article for Bassmaster Magazine about a tournament anglers who caught his limit--- 5 bass!--- on one cast.

But two bass on a single hook?  The odds for that have to be infinitesimal.

Yet that is just what Jake, a Florida angler, did recently on a pond in central Florida. Using a Yum craw bait rigged Texas style on a 3/0 hook, and using 12-pound Trik Fish line, he hooked a small bass.

He says that he "was playing with him next to the boat in very clear water when I saw the big bass come up from the bottom and nail it.

"I let him take it for like three seconds and then I nailed him!"

Jake estimates that the  bass weighed 7 to 8 pounds.

Was the lunker going after the soft plastic or the smaller bass? My guess is that it wanted the Yum craw.

But who knows? As the success of large swimbaits have shown us, sometimes big bass prefer a mouthful to an appetizer. It might have been trying to eat the smaller fish.

Sadly, that doesn't always turn out so well for either.  With the spines on its dorsal fin providing resistance, the  smaller bass, bluegill, or crappie can get stuck in the mouth/throat of the larger predator,  and both fish die. Also on Lake El Salto, I've seen large, dead bass floating on the surface, with tilapia lodged in their mouths. My partner and I found one before it died, removed the tilapia, and the bass swam away.

Meanwhile, check out what happened to bass pro Greg Hackney while fishing for crappie a couple of years ago.

Incidents like this are why we fish, and why I wrote Why We Fish, including the essay "You Just Never Know." Here's an excerpt:

"Finally, way back during my college years, I was bringing in a small bass that had eaten my topwater. As I reeled it the last couple of feet to shore, a tremendous explosion showered me with water and a fierce yank nearly pulled the rod from my hands. I never saw what ate the little bass and nearly hooked itself on my lure, but that brief moment in time will be forever with me.

"When you throw out that bait . . . you just never know."

Sunday
Aug072016

Line Reycling Programs Increase; More Needed 

Following Florida's lead in 1999,  monofilament line recycling programs have been initiated in at least two dozen states, and the public image of anglers nationwide would be greatly enhanced if more stepped up to participate. 

That's because Berkley estimates  it has recycled more than 9 million miles worth of fishing line since it began accepting it in 1990. That's enough to fill two reels for every angler in America. Had it been discarded in the water or on the shore, far more fish, fowl, and other wildlife likely would have died. Also it could have caused considerable damage to boat engines by becoming entangled in props or sucked in by intakes.

Initiation of a program requires one key ingredient, according to Chris Dunnavant, angling educator coordinator with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) and long-time member of B.A.S.S.

"Staffing is a big issue so volunteers contact us. They might be a Scout group or an association," he said, adding that VDGIF coordinates and approves placement of line recycling bins across the state. On its website, it also provides instruction and diagrams for building the bins, which now are in place at about 150 access areas in Virginia.

"They (volunteers) do it all," he continued. "They are responsible for emptying the bins and taking the line to recycling centers, including at Bass Pro Shops and some of our regional offices. From there it goes to Berkley."

Regular monitoring is a must, he explained, because some put trash in the bins, and birds and other wildlife sometimes go into them, get tangled, and die, if baffles are not included.

Why is discarded monofilament a problem? Here's what the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) says at its Monofilament Recovery and Recycling Program (MRRP) website page:

"Most monofilament is non-biodegradable and can last hundreds of years, depending on environmental conditions.

"Because it is thin and often clear, it is very difficult for birds and animals to see and they can easily brush up against it and become entangled in it. Once entangled, they may become injured, may drown, may become strangled, or may starve to death.

"Many animals also ingest fishing line. One recovered sea turtle was found to have consumed 500 feet of heavy duty fishing line."

But when the line is sent to Berkley, it is made into fish habitat structures, as well as raw plastic pellets, which can be used to make tackle boxes, spools for line, and toys. Discarded monofilament , however, is not used to make more fishing line.

"By recycling line, we are enhancing fishing," Dunnavant said.

For more information, check out VDGIF, FWC's MRRP, Texas Monofilament Recovery & Recyling, and the Berkley Conservation Institute online.