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Entries in Florida (168)

Tuesday
Feb092016

Research Shows Catch-and-Release Does Help Sustain Fisheries

Releasing a bass makes us feel good. But does catch-and-release really help sustain fisheries?

Based on results from a tagging study at Texas’ Amon Carter, a 1,539 acre fishery north of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, the answer is a resounding “Yes!”

Sixty-three percent of 786 tagged bass were taken. In other words, fishermen caught nearly 500 of those fish.

 Forty-three percent were weighed in by tournament anglers. Another 16.3 percent was caught and released by recreational fishermen, with just 3.7 percent harvested.

There’s plenty more evidence too.

Nearly 75 percent of tagged fish were caught at Florida’s Lake Santa Fe.

“Another study we did on Rodman years ago was 40 percent caught by anglers,” said Mike Allen, professor of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences at the University of Florida.

On Tennessee’s Norris Reservoir, meanwhile, the “adjusted annual angler catch rate” for tagged largemouth bass was 47 percent in 1996 and 34 percent in 1997.

And Jacob Westhoff encountered some powerful anecdotal evidence while doing a smallmouth telemetry study on the Jacks Fork River for the Missouri Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Unit. Eighteen of the 33 bronzebacks with transmitters were caught by anglers.

“Also of note, is that eight of our fish were caught by a single angler in one day during the winter at the confluence of Alley Spring and the Jacks Fork River,” he said.

Clearly, the evidence is there to support the wisdom of catch-and-release--- and more.

“Those findings highlight the importance of proper fish care,” said Randy Myers, a fisheries biologist for Texas Parks and Wildlife. But he is quick to add that not all bass fisheries reveal such dramatic findings. For example, just 38 percent of more than 6,000 tagged fish were caught on Sam Rayburn, a lake more than 70 times the size of Carter.

Allen added that the statewide estimate for Florida lakes is about 20 percent.

“It obviously varies widely among water bodies and probably among regions,” he added. “In Florida, we have so many lakes. It’s probably higher in states without as many fishing sites.”

Allen’s point is important. The percentage of a bass population caught ties directly to angling pressure. At Amon Carter, tournament and recreational effort was a combined 14 hours per acre, while it was 5.2 at Rayburn. And in Florida, drought had reduced accessible areas at other fisheries, likely forcing more anglers than normal to fish Santa Fe.

Other factors can influence how great a percentage is caught as well.

“Rayburn has better habitat than Carter,” Myers said. “Overall, it’s a better lake for bass production.”

Still, angling pressure is a top consideration for resource managers in maintaining healthy bass fisheries. That’s why Myers is hopeful that removal of a protective slot at Ray Roberts will attract tournaments away from Carter.

“At Carter, more than half of the effort was from tournament anglers,” he said. “Because they are so popular, we have to think long and hard about restrictions that would limit tournaments. But if 50 percent of tournament-retained fish die (at Carter) it would have some impact on the fishery.”

Consequently, how fish are cared for before they are released also is a concern for Myers and other fisheries managers.

“If a fish is gilling, lots of experienced anglers still assume that it will live,” Myers said. “But that’s not always true. Some of those fish do die.”

The Texas biologist pointed to statistics gathered as part of a fizzing study during five tournaments at Lake Amistad in 2009.

On days when the water temperature was in the 50s and 60s, mortality, both immediate and delayed, was less than 10 percent. On a day when the temperature was 79 to 80, total mortality was 23 percent and delayed 18.3. And, most sobering, when the temperature was 83, total mortality was 50.8 percent and delayed 42.1.

“What we saw at Amistad is that 75 degrees is the critical temperature for bass health in a livewell,” he said. “That high mortality was strictly related to water temperature.”

Hot Days and Heavy Limits

Research like that at Amistad prompted Texas biologists Randy Myers and James Driscoll to recommend an oxygen injection system for livewells, particularly when an angler has a hefty limit as often happens at Texas reservoirs.

“Oxygen injection has long been used by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department hatcheries to maintain the health of fish being stocked into reservoirs,” they said.

“Fisheries staff regularly transport or hold fish in ratios equal to or greater than one pound of fish to a gallon of water. However, boat manufactures do not offer oxygen injection system options, and very few tournament anglers have installed oxygen equipment on their boats.”

Proper installation and operation of such a system, they added, “will ensure oxygen levels remain above the preferred level of 7 milligrams per liter, even when livewells contain heavy limits.”

More information is available in a Power Point presentation.

Monday
Feb082016

This Time, Anglers Are Attacked

Anglers who caught a huge tiger shark off the coast of Australia have been attacked with the same indignant outrage as that heaped on the Minnesota dentist who killed Cecil the lion.

Never mind that the two incidents are vastly different. That doesn't matter to the name-calling know-nothings whose comments highlight their colossal ignorance regarding wildlife and nature. What matters to these "animal lovers" is that they want to heap abuse on those who fish and hunt.

And in doing so, the implication should be clear to all of us who hunt or fish and occasionally keep what we catch: They don't want us doing it either, and, if they have their way, one day we won't be able to. They've already scored victories on this front in western Europe, where catch-and-release isn't allowed in some countries because its "cruel" and in others where live bait can't be used because it's equally offensive.

How ignorant are these people? Here's one comment on Facebook, where the photo of the  nearly 1,400-pound shark and the anglers originally was posted:

"WTF is wrong with these people leave the Sharks alone without them out ocean would be a lot more polluted." (Comment is reprinted just as it was written.)

And here's an excerpt from another:

". . . you went into another's place of residence and fought an unfair battle, you were armed with a weapon that has placed this creature in an unfair situation. To me you are cowards . . . "

That's called anthropomorphizing, and that's what these people do. In other words, they attribute human qualities, needs, emotions, etc. to animals. In fact, a primary objective of the most radical is achieve legal "personhood" for animals.

The same types of comments and attacks surfaced on social media against hunters and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in the wake of last fall's bear hunt, which the agency deemed an appropriate management tool to help control the state's exploding bear population.

With the shark, meanwhile, we know little about the circumstances of the catch and why the anglers decided to keep the fish instead of release it. What we do know, though, is that their catch was legal.

And we know that they were using light line (15 kg-pound test, or the equivalent of about 30-pound). What that suggests is that they probably were not targeting sharks, and that a long fight was required to bring it to the boat.  And the longer the battle, the more likely that the shark was too exhausted to survive afterward. That sometimes happens when large fish are caught on light line.

Of course, that's of absolutely no importance to the know-nothings who say things like this:

"You are just as bad as poachers in Africa."

They are relentless too, and not in the least bit troubled by their ignorance, as they are fueled entirely by emotion.

And as we become an increasingly urbanized society, where more and more people spend little time outdoors and have no clue as to how nature works, this is only going to get worse for those of us who fish and hunt.

Friday
Feb052016

Catch-and-Release Fishing During Spawn Doesn't Hurt Population, Florida Study Reveals

Ongoing research by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), suggests that fishing  beds for the Florida strain of largemouth bass has little, if any, impact on populations--- if those fish are not harvested.

Results "indicated that fish captured during the spawning period contributed significantly to fall recruitment, despite being removed from their nests," reported Nick Trippel and other biologists who participated in two projects.

They added, "Genetic analysis of over 3,249 Florida bass fall recruits collected over two years provided evidence that nest fishing may not significantly impact the number of adults contributing to reproduction or the average number of recruits produced per adult."

In this study, researchers set up hatchery ponds, each stocked with 10 pairs of mature Florida bass. For two years, half of the ponds were fished and the other half were not. If caught, fish were held for one hour and then released. Biologists snorkeled the ponds every other day to document the number of nests made and confirm that the nests in the fished ponds were being pressured.

After the spawn, the ponds were left alone until October, when they were drained and the number of young produced in each was counted. Using fin clips to obtain DNA, biologists determined the parental contribution from each pond.

Genetic results  revealed that fish that were caught off nests still contributed as many juveniles to the recruited year class as did fish that were not caught, they reported. "These results reveal that fishing for nesting Florida Bass likely does not have any negative population level impacts."

In the other study, conducted  on three lakes during the spring of 2012 and again in 2015, they observed nests that were randomly placed in three test groups: never fished, catch-and-immediate release, and catch and hold for one hour, before being released 1,000 meters down the shoreline.

"There were no statistical differences in nest success rates between the three treatment groups: 32 percent for controls, 27 percent for catch-and-release, and 27 percent for catch and hold," the biologists said. "Lake, male size, and brood stage were better predictors for nest success rates than angling treatments were. Nest success was higher for smaller males than larger males."

The length of the spawning season likely helps explain why fishing for bedding bass has little if any negative impact.  Mike Allen, a fisheries expert at the University of Florida, reported graduate student Stephanie Shaw found the average male raises at least two broods a year.

"The long spawning season in the southern states makes this feasible," he said. "It's less likely that males can successfully raise more than one brood in the northern states, where total spawning duration may be only a period of two to three weeks."

Allen added that bass are not "total spawners," as are trout and salmon. Rather, they are "batch spawners," which means their eggs are spread over multiple spawning events yearly. "Genetic studies have confirmed that female bass spawn with multiple males across a given spawning season," he said.

Still, all of this is not to say that bed fishing could not have an negative impact on bass populations in some cases. "Bed fishing that involves a high harvest component may display results significantly different than this experiment (test ponds)," the FWC biologists said.

"However, we feel that results are applicable to bass fisheries around Florida, as the majority of bass being caught, 70 to 99 percent, are voluntarily released and harvest rates are less than 10 percent."

Additionally, they cautioned, the pond study was not designed to measure "deleterious impacts" that might be associated with fishing specifically for trophy bass. 

"However, this study was designed to simulate a worst case scenario in which every nest created throughout the entire spawning season was vulnerable to angling. This is likely not the case in larger public waterbodies with higher habitat complexities."

And finally, here's a revelation that will not surprise many anglers who have been frustrated in their attempts to entice bedding bass: "We also saw that catch rates of Florida bass while on nests were lower than expected, suggesting that Florida bass are less vulnerable to angling than previously thought," the biologists said.

Thursday
Feb042016

American Shad Another Reason to Fish Florida Waters

Caught my first American shad today on  Florida's St. Johns River, while fishing with Captain Ron Presley and Dave Burkhardt, owner of Trik Fish fishing line.

Migrating into rivers to spawn, the shad ranges from Florida to Canada, and is a great sport fish on light tackle or fly rod. It's a dogged fighter, much like a smallmouth, and often will jump. Catches of 30 to 40 fish a day are common when concentrations of fish are found and they are feeling cooperative.

Shad start migrating into the St. Johns in December, with the run lasting into February. Largest fish caught in Florida waters weighed 5-3. Farther north, though, they tend to grow larger. World record of 11-4 came from Massachusetts' Connecticut River in 1986.

They once were the most commercially valuable fish in the Mid-Atlantic states. But by the late 1800s, overharvest, pollution, and loss of habitat had decimated the species in many waters. An annual harvest of 17.5 million pounds at the turn of the century plummeted to less than 2 million pounds by the 1970s.

 

Monday
Feb012016

Confidence, Patience Just Two of Secrets for Topwater Success

I caught this bass on Sam Griffin's Offset Sam, my favorite topwater for big bass.

Its rubber skirt long ago dried up and crumbled into dust, but the old yellow Hula Popper remains one of my most prized possessions.

I haven’t fished with it in 40 years, and, as best I can remember, I caught only one bass with it.

But that one fish . . . well, it set the course that I have followed as a lifelong angler, including to my friendship with Sam Griffin, a lure designer and one of the world’s best topwater fishermen. That’s why I so love that Hula Popper.

Yet, I didn’t make the connection between that lure and my addiction to topwater fishing until I wrote an essay in my new book, Why We Fish.

As I started to write “The Proof Is in the Popper,” my intent was to point out that pleasant memories of previous trips are some of the main reasons that we fish. But then the essay took on a life of its own as I visualized that fall day on Turner’s pond so many years ago.

The water was flat calm, and I knew next to nothing about fishing a topwater. Since the bait was a “popper,” I popped it. In fact, I popped it as hard as I possibly could, sending ripples all across that pond.As the pond returned to glasslike following my second pop, water under the lure exploded, and I suddenly was tied fast to the biggest bass that I had ever hooked.

Of course, it wasn’t large enough to pull drag on my Johnson Century spincast reel. But at 3 pounds, it was a trophy in my eyes as I dragged it up on the bank. My heart nearly leaped out of my chest at the sight of that fish, and, after I put the fish on my rope stringer, I remember looking down to see my hands still shaking.In the decades since, I’ve caught thousands of bass larger than the one that I caught that fall day, including more than a dozen that weighed 10 pounds or more. And I have caught some of those lunkers on Sam’s wooden surface baits, mostly the Offset Sam.

But I’ve never caught one that excited me more than that 3-pounder did. And as I wrote about that, I suddenly realized, hey, that’s why I like topwater so much!

How can a 3-pounder that I caught on top as a child mean more to me than 10-pounders that I’ve caught as an adult?

If you’ve ever returned to the elementary school that you went to as a child, you know that the halls, the rooms, the desks, everything looks smaller to you as an adult that it was in your memories. Well, it’s the same thing.

I have no doubt that if a 3-pound bass were to blow up on that Hula Popper today in exactly the same way as that one from my childhood, the explosion would pale in comparison to what I remember.

But just as school is larger in our memories than in the reality of adulthood, so too is that strike.

That’s why I’d rather throw a topwater than anything else.  I remember how that blowup excited me, and I want more, in much the same way that an addict needs his fix.

And that’s why I’m so blessed to have Sam as a friend. It’s as if some higher power led the student to his teacher. For years, Sam made baits for Luhr Jensen, including the Jerk’n Sam. Now he makes his own line, including the Offset Sam, a slush bait, and the Lil’ Richard, a finesse lure that has been his biggest seller.“Keep throwing a topwater and eventually you will get bit,” says the man who has been designing and making topwater lures for more than 30 years and who has been living on and fishing Lake Okeechobee for most of his 70-plus years.  While guiding and “field testing” his lures, he has logged more time on the water than most any professional bass fisherman.

“My big things are to be confident and have patience. I’ll fish behind people throwing worms and crankbaits and catch fish they bypass. I like to fish that topwater slower and let ‘em read the menu.”

Sam Griffin making b

Sam’s Secrets

Here are some of the strategies that Sam has shared with me during our time on the water together:

1. On topwaters, most fish are caught on the front hook. That means it is important to have a bigger, stronger hook there.

2. Dress up the back hook. Sam has learned that he gets 25 percent more bites when he puts pearlescent Mylar tinsel on the back hook. It’s especially productive when the bait is still.

3. The same topwater bait will work anywhere. “It’s a matter of confidence,” says Sam. “That’s why there are regional favorites.”

4. Slow down. “Most of the time, people fish a topwater too fast,” the lure designer says. “They’re just pulling and pulling. I’d say that 85 percent of the time, the bite comes when the bait is still or coming to a stop.”With most topwaters, Sam will jerk the bait twice, creating slack in the line and allowing the bait to sit. Then he will swing the rod tip toward the bait, taking in line, and repeat the sequence. With a popper, he might jerk just once.

“Pay attention and fish will let you know what they want,” he says. “If you are fishing too fast, they will follow but not hit.”

5. “Early and late is a myth,” says Sam. “Those are not the only times to throw a topwater. People used to fish two or three hours before work and then come home and fish two or three hours. That’s the way that got started. I’ve found that 10 to 2 is the most productive time for big fish.”

6. Color is more important to the fisherman than it is the fish.

“When I develop a lure, I seal it so it won’t take on water, but I don’t paint it,” Sam explains. “Then I fish with it. I’ve probably caught more fish on those baits than with painted baits. I’ve sold a few like that too, but mostly they’re too bland for fishermen.

“I offer 26 colors, but black and white is what I use the most. It’s what I grew up with and what I have confidence in.”

7. Topwaters aren’t just for warm water.

“You can catch bass consistently on top in water that is 50 degrees or above,” the Florida native says. “Usually in colder water, you want to fish extremely fast or extremely slow, not in between.”

The popper is a good choice for colder water, he adds, because you can keep it in one place longer and because its tail sits down in the water, making it easier for the bass to take.

8. Topwaters aren’t just for calm water either.

“Take what the weather gives you,” says Sam. “In rough weather, you can throw in the ‘wind rows’ in grass. And you can throw in troughs between waves. Most of the time, you’ll want a faster retrieve in rough water, to take the slack out of your line.”

9. Not every topwater bite is explosive. In general, louder and larger baits will draw more aggressive bites. Smaller, more subtle baits will get the “suckers.”

“In cold weather and in calm water, when you’re using a small bait, it’s really important to watch your line, just like you would with other baits,” Sam says. “That’s because you’re more likely to get a sucking bite.

“With a soft, suck bite on the back of the bait, don’t set the hook hard,” he cautions. “Instead, lift up and reel. Otherwise you’ll pull the hook out. When you do get a fish this way, it’s usually hooked on the edge of the mouth or even the outside.”

If you want to incorporate some of Sam’s lures with his strategies, your best chance of finding them are in the bait shops around Lake Okeechobee. A few are listed from time to time on eBay and possibly you might find some at other websites as well.

Just as with that yellow Hula Popper, I’m not about to part with any of mine.