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Entries in Florida (143)

Friday
May222015

Monster Silver Carp Suggests Nightmarish Future Awaits Anglers, Native Species

What will happen to fisheries nationwide and even to outdoor recreation in general as Asian carp continue to spread, reproduce, and outcompete native species? We’ve just received a glimpse of a nightmarish possibility from Kentucky Lake, where angler Bill Schroeder foul-hooked and landed a 106-pound silver carp.

Although I’ve been unable to confirm it, I suspect that’s the largest silver carp taken in the United States, and possibly even the world. Experts say maximum weight for the exotic fish is about 60 pounds. And even now, the Tennessee state record for the silver carp, caught in 2013 on Kentucky Lake, was just 14 pounds, 13 ounces.

What’s going on? Silver carp like it here. So do bighead carp. Typically a larger fish, its maximum weigh is about 90 pounds. But in 2011, an angler targeting paddlefish hooked and landed a 106-pound specimen at Lake of the Ozarks.

And the exotic lionfish likes it here too. As it spreads all across the Gulf of Mexico and up the Atlantic coast, anglers are catching larger and larger specimens of this voracious predator. In its native range, it grows to 12 to 15 inches. Just a few days ago, one was caught off in the Florida Keys that measured nearly 19 inches.

Why are these exotics growing to horror-movie size proportions in our waters? Because they are exotic species, they have no “natural” predators, as they do in their native ranges. And they’re feasting on an abundance of food in our relatively fertile and healthy waters. By contrast, Asian carp struggle to survive in their native range because of pollution and overfishing.

Will the same happen with the Burmese python in the Everglades? Introduced to the wild by an irresponsible and little-regulated pet industry, it is now gobbling up native mammals and reptiles, and likely will expand its range into more developed areas. Will it grow to unprecedented size as well?

Now consider this: Asian carp are schooling fish. Frightened by disturbances on the surface, silver carp often go airborne, striking and injuring anglers and other boaters.

But the fish we see in videos of these airborne attacks usually weigh no more than 10 or 15 pounds. Imagine dozens of 100-pound silver carp taking flight all around you as you motor to your favorite fishing hole.

Of course, no one thought about such possibilities when the carp were imported by aquaculture facilities during the 1970s. And it wasn’t until the 1990s that we really started worrying about them crowding out native species in our rivers.

And then there’s the snakehead . . . 

Wednesday
May202015

Florida Angler Sets State Record for Flier Panfish

Twila Gates set a Florida freshwater fishing record earlier this month.  Her catch of a 1-pound, 5.6-ounce (1.35 pounds) flier on May 9 from a Jackson County pond beat the old record of 1.24 pounds. It had a length of 12 inches and a girth of 11.8 inches. The previous state record came from Lake Iamonia near Tallahassee, in 1992.

“If Gate’s flier is submitted to the International Game Fish Association, it could also could become the new world record,” said the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).  Anglers from North Carolina and Georgia hold the current world record jointly with a pair of 1-pound, 4-ounce submissions.

Gates has been fishing with her father since she was a little girl and has passed her love of the outdoors on to her son, Jantzen, 15. On the Saturday before Mother’s Day, she was fishing from a johnboat with her son and his friend, William Hinson, at a 15-acre cypress pond. She caught the flier on a Shakespeare micro-spin and 6-pound P-Line, using a white grub beetle-spin, at about 4:30 p.m. Hinson thought it was a record and looked it up online and called the regional office.

Chris Paxton, an FWC fisheries biologist, met her to verify the species and carefully measure and weigh the fish on certified scales.

Fliers are probably one of the lesser-known freshwater fish in Florida. They are native and typically found in somewhat heavily vegetated ponds and backwater sloughs, such as the pond where Gates caught this one.

In addition to the record flier, she caught four other nice-sized fliers and the boys added two 10-pound plus trophy bass.

The FWC has several freshwater angler recognition programs including state records, Big Catch, and TrophyCatch.

State records require a biologist to verify the species and have a certified weight for the notarized application. The FWC maintains records for 33 freshwater species.

Big Catch is a long-standing, family-friendly angler recognition for those same 33 species. It recognizes anglers with a certificate if they qualify by submitting a photo of their catch online and if the catch exceeds specified weights or lengths. There are youth, specialist, master and elite angler awards as well. People can learn more at BigCatchFlorida.com.

TrophyCatch is the newest citizen-science conservation rewards program. By catching, documenting and releasing a largemouth bass heavier than eight pounds anglers earn rewards starting with $100 in Bass Pro Shops gift cards, recycle their catch and provide valuable information for conservation biologists. Anglers should be sure to register at TrophyCatchFlorida.com and read the rules, so they will be ready to document their next trophy bass with a photo of the fish on a scale and submit it for rewards. Just registering enters people in a drawing for a Phoenix bass boat powered by Mercury.

“In one day of fishing, right here in the Fishing Capital of the World, Ms. Gates, her son and his friend were on the verge of qualifying for all three programs ─ and topped it off with a potential world record. That is a happy Mother’s Day weekend for a young lady devoted to her son and the outdoors,” said Tom Champeau, director of the Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management.

Sunday
May172015

Chipola River Yields Two Florida Records for Shoal Bass

Tucker Martin used a spinnerbait to catch this 4-8 shoal bass, a Florida state record.

Twice in a few months, Florida recorded a new shoal bass record. On March 8, Tucker Martin was the most recent,  using a spinnerbait to take a 4-pound, 8-ounce trophy from the Chipola River in the northwestern part of the state.

In December, Charles Tucker established the first official record for the shoal bass, also from the Chipola, a tributary of the Apalachicola. The Georgia angler caught a 4-pound, 2-ounce fish on a chatterbait.

“The best destination to catch shoal bass in Florida is the Chipola River,” said Chris Paxton, regional fisheries administrator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

“ Whereas central Florida is especially renowned for trophy largemouth, the Florida Panhandle has numerous species of uniquely evolved black bass that we are proud to promote and manage,” he added. “It was a delight getting to document another state record from this area.”

Florida is home to five species of black bass, including the Choctaw, Suwanee, and spotted, as well as shoal and largemouth. While the bigger largemouth is common throughout the state, all five are found in the Panhandle. The first and second dorsal fins are connected in the four smaller species, but separated in the largemouth by a notch. In addition, the upper jaws of the smaller bass do not extend past the eye, as it does in the largemouth.

“People can distinguish shoal bass from Choctaw, spotted, and Suwannee bass because, unlike those other species, shoal and largemouth basses do not have a patch of teeth on their tongue,” Paxton said.

Also, shoal bass have vertical stripes above the midline on their bodies.

Historically found in the Apalachicola River, the shoal bass has all but been eliminated there because of habitat degradation. As their name implies, these fish favor shoal type habitats, which include shallow, fast-moving riffles and runs containing limestone.

Because the northwestern Florida black basses don’t grow as big as the largemouth and have limited ranges, the FWC is considering new rules to help sustain their populations. The proposed regulations would set a statewide five-fish daily bag limit for all five species, with only one fish 16 inches or longer.

In the Suwannee River, areas north and west of that river and any of its tributaries, shoal, Choctaw, Suwannee, and spotted bass  of less than 12 inches would have to be released immediately, while largemouth bass would have no minimum size restriction.

Depending on public input and a vote by FWC commissioners, the regulations would into effect in July of 2016.

Friday
May152015

Volunteers Help FWC Improve Habitat at Lake Harris

Click photo to see more.

For the third time in recent years, volunteers from a Hawthorne retirement community assisted the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission with construction and deployment of artificial fish attractors in Lake Harris.

According to spokesman Todd Reader, nearly 70 workers, many of them from the Hawthorne Boat Club, put together 300 “trees” and placed them in three ¼-acre sites on the Harris Chain fishery.

“The site must be deep enough so that there is at least 4 feet of water over the top of the trees, even at low water,” Reader said. “In addition, each site is marked with a large white/orange marker designating that the site is a fish attractor location.

“An additional 400 trees are being constructed at Hickory Point by different groups of volunteers for deployment in that end of the lake,” he added.

“These fish attractors are making a big difference in lakes like the Harris Chain,” said Eamon Bolten, conservation director for the Florida B.A.S.S. Nation. “They are very effective.”

Each tree is made of a PVC pipe with multiple “branches” attached. It is anchored with a cinder block, while a round float tied to the top helps keep it upright. The branches provide surface areas for the growth of algae, which attract invertebrates and small fish. Bass, crappie, and other predatory fish follow to feed and use the cover for ambush and protection.

Unfortunately, those branches also made placing them more difficult than in the past, as the weather was “fairly uncooperative,” Reader explained.

“It is very hard to transport and deploy the attractors when the wind blows in excess of 10 miles per hour, although they are constructed of rigid materials and are held together with a cable,” he said.

But he added, “It was evident to all who participated that the spirit of volunteerism is alive and well at Hawthorne, and I think most of us who participated are looking forward to hearing about the first big fish caught from one of these attractor sites.”

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

Thursday
May142015

'Waters to Watch' Benefit From Partnerships

Sun Creek, Oregon

The National Fish Habitat Partnership  has unveiled its list of 10 “Waters to Watch” for 2015, a collection of rivers, streams, estuaries, lakes and watershed systems that will benefit from strategic conservation efforts to protect, restore or enhance their current condition. These voluntary, locally-driven projects represent conservation actions in progress implemented under the National Fish Habitat Partnership by 19 regional Fish Habitat Partnerships throughout the country.

The conservation actions implemented through these projects are designed to conserve freshwater, estuarine and marine habitats essential to the many fish and wildlife species that call these areas home. These examples of conservation have been fundamental to the overall success of the National Fish Habitat Partnership since 2006.

Throughout the year, these projects will demonstrate how conservation efforts are reversing persistent declines in our nation’s aquatic habitats. Having featured 90 partnership projects since 2007, these “Waters to Watch” are proving that science-based on-the-ground conservation efforts are truly making a difference in improving fish habitat across the United States.

“Success in conservation often doesn’t happen overnight,” said Kelly Hepler, Chair of the National Fish Habitat Board. “We are highlighting these projects today with both long and short-term goals in mind. We are working through our regional partnerships in an effort to conserve these great waterways, and reverse declines in suitable fish habitat. In our 9th year of this annual campaign, we are beginning to see many of our previous projects named to this list making a real difference. For our 10th Anniversary of the “Waters to Watch” in 2016, we will highlight some of these dynamic past projects that are making a positive impact both regionally and nationally.”

The 2015 “Waters to Watch” list and associated Fish Habitat Partnerships:

1) Alexander Creek Watershed, AK
Partnership: Mat-Su Basin Salmon Habitat Partnership

Objective: Project goals are to restore Alexander Creek drainage Chinook salmon numbers in what was previously very productive habitat and a vibrant fishery. Partners are working to do this through large scale invasive pike removal and monitoring, as well as detection, education and eradication of Alaska's first invasive aquatic plant Elodea.

2) Kasilof and Anchor River Watersheds, AK
Partnership: Kenai Peninsula Fish Habitat Partnership

Objective: The Kenai Peninsula Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Project will help restore physical and biological processes within the Kasilof and Anchor River Watersheds in order to contribute to a healthy, productive and biologically diverse ecosystem for the benefit of injured species and services. The project will eliminate four barriers to aquatic species passage on the Anchor and Kasilof Rivers.

3) Kilchis Estuary, OR
Partnership: Pacific Marine and Estuarine Fish Habitat Partnership

Objective: Restore freshwater and tidal connections, provide off-channel rearing habitat for salmonids, and restore historic spruce swamp habitat. The site provides habitat for coho, Chinook and chum salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout as well as a myriad of other wetland species, including colonial nesting waterbirds, migrating waterfowl, juvenile marine fishes and resident mammals.

4) Lake Livingston, TX
Partnership: Reservoir Fisheries Habitat Partnership

Objective: The overall goal of the project is to reestablish Lake Livingston as a destination for anglers and other outdoor recreationists. As such, the project has support from a host of community leaders. A dedicated core group of volunteer leaders are in place to ensure that the project continues to move forward garnering additional local support along the way.

5) Lower Heeia Stream Habitat Improvement Project, Oahu (HI)
Partnership: Hawaii Fish Habitat Partnership

Objective: This project will restore native vegetation in the tidally influenced portion of Heeia Stream and its adjacent estuary. Project implementation will involve removal of a large stand of invasive riparian trees, followed by soil preparation, erosion control and riparian forest restoration using native plant species.

6) Mill Creek Restoration, WV
Partnership: Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture

Objective: The WV Division of Natural Resources (WVDNR) is mitigating the negative impacts of Super Storms that occurred in 2012 on Mill Creek, WV, one of the state’s four intact brook trout populations, by implementing a strategic Large Woody Material “chop and drop” program within Kumbrabow State Forest, which encompasses approximately 6 stream miles. This project is being completed utilizing the principles of natural stream restoration to place, and in some instances modify and anchor, currently hanging trees in the stream as habitat for fish.

7) Pinole Creek, CA
Partnership: California Fish Passage Forum|

Objective: The purpose of this project is to restore access to the upper reaches of Pinole Creek for the current population of Central California Coast Steelhead by modifying the existing box culverts where Pinole Creek passes under Interstate Highway 80 (I-80). Habitat assessments conducted on Pinole Creek in 2009 indicate sufficient habitat to support anadromous steelhead spawning and rearing if passage issues at the I-80 culvert are remedied. This project will improve access to nearly 7 miles of documented quality steelhead spawning and rearing habitat on the main stem of Pinole Creek.

8) Shoshone Springs Pupfish Habitat Project, CA
Partnership: Desert Fish Habitat Partnership

Objective: The project secured the existence of Shoshone pupfish in their native range far into the future, and will educate the public about their importance. The project quadrupled the habitat area occupied by endemic Shoshone pupfish, benefiting the entire known population in the one spring, springbrook, and spring supported riparian system where they naturally occur.

9) Sun Creek, OR
Partnership: Western Native Trout Initiative

Objective: To reestablish redband trout and migratory populations of bull trout to Sun Creek through improved connectivity, habitat quality and stream and riparian function. Due to poor connectivity between Sun Creek and the Wood River, overall habitat degradation, and interactions with non-native salmonids, redband trout were extirpated from Sun Creek and bull trout populations were restricted to a short headwater reach. Similar to other Cascade tributaries in the Upper Klamath Basin, Sun Creek likely supported widespread and abundant populations of both species. Reconnecting Sun Creek to the Wood River will allow redband trout to recolonize Sun Creek and access high quality spawning and rearing habitat. It will also provide a migratory corridor for the isolated bull trout population to expand its range, occupy new habitat within Wood River watershed, and improve overall population resilience.

10) Ulele Springs on the Hillsborough River, FL
Partnership: Southeast Aquatic Resources Partnership

Objective: The restored Ulele Springs is providing native wetland vegetation and provide habitat for fish and mammals. To date, numerous native fish and wildlife has been observed within the basin, which is staring to mimic the anticipated species richness and diversity of a natural spring run entering an estuarine ecotone.