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Entries in Florida (102)

Tuesday
Apr152014

Birds, Bears, and Balance

Cormorant photos by Robert Montgomery

Early this spring, hunters killed 11,653 double-crested cormorants on Lakes Marion and Moultrie (Santee Cooper) in South Carolina. Such an event would have been unthinkable just a decade ago. That’s because cormorants are protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

But in recent years both federal and state resource managers recognized that these fishing-eating birds are causing problems for our fisheries, as their populations explode. Vocal, angry anglers played no small part in that recognition.

More recently, Florida Fish and Wildlife killed five black bears after a woman was attacked at her home in central Florida.

What do these two incidents have in common? They highlight who we are as a species and what we must do if we are to share land and water with other species.

We are beings who alter our environment to meet our needs. We clear the land to farm and to build cities, homes, and highways. We erect dams to control floods, irrigate formerly arid lands, and generate hydropower.

And when we do those things, we take away the habitat of other species, such as black bears in Florida.

Many think that we manage only domestic animals. In truth, if we are to have healthy populations of most wildlife species, we must manage them as well.

And that means sometimes that we must kill some of them because their numbers are too great to be sustained in their remaining habitat and/or they pose a threat to us.

As they were relentlessly hunted and their habitat destroyed, buffalo, deer, and turkey nearly disappeared. But enlightened management has brought them back, and now regular hunts keep their numbers at sustainable levels for their available habitat.

The cormorant is an interesting exception to the rule. That’s because it habitat has not been diminished by us, but rather greatly expanded by the reservoirs behind all of those dams that we’ve built. That’s why it has become such a nuisance species. Many no longer migrate, but instead stay year-around, feasting on fish and expanding their numbers.

Of course, many of those who call themselves animal lovers do not want to hear such rational arguments. They did not like the killing of so many cormorants in South Carolina, and I’ve no doubt that Florida Fish and Wildlife will endure sharp criticism for killing so many bears.

These people want us to either ignore the problem or attempt to solve it in an impractical way.

For example, the Missouri Department of Conservation decided to do something about the overpopulation of deer in suburban St. Louis awhile back. Its first choice was to have a managed hunt. But bowing to pressures from animal lovers, it went with the much more expensive option of trapping and moving the deer.

The agency later discovered that most of those transplanted deer starved to death because their new habitat contained little to none of the types of plants that they were accustomed to eating in the suburbs.

Moving bears won’t solve the problem in Florida either. Suitable bear habitat in the state already is at peak population. Otherwise the animals wouldn’t have moved in so close to humans in the first place.

Additionally, those that have ventured into civilization now grow fat as they scavenge garbage around homes or are intentionally fed by these same animal lovers who have exacerbated the problem with their compassion. In other words, the bears now associate humans with food and if trapped and moved, they’ll just head for the nearest subdivision.

The reality is that we must live with the consequences of our actions as a species that alters its environment, and one of those consequences is that we must manage the other species that share the land and water.

Monday
Apr142014

Strategies Improve for Controlling Hydrilla; Giant Salvinia Grows as Threat to Fisheries

Hydrilla has joined Eurasian milfoil as an invasive exotic plant that threatens northern fisheries. It now has been found in Kansas and Missouri, and the Nature Conservancy is reporting “a number of populations on the doorstep of the Great Lakes.”

Giant salvinia, meanwhile, has emerged as a significant danger to some southern waters, especially in eastern Texas and Louisiana.

Yet much of the news these days is good for anglers in regard to troublesome aquatic plants, particularly hydrilla. Resource managers assert that they have learned from past mistakes and now strive to control this fish-attracting invasive, rather than obliterate it.

“We’re not trying to wipe it (hydrilla) out anymore,” said Howard Elder, aquatic plant biologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife. “We’re trying to find a happy median.”

Bill Caton, leader of the Invasive Plant Management Section at Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, echoed the sentiment, emphasizing that “spot treatment” is preferred.

“It’s like treating weeds in a flower bed,” he said. “It’s much better if you don’t let it get out of control. If you do, then it costs you more, you have to use more herbicides, and you have more dead vegetation to deal with.”

Caton acknowledged that sometimes the aftermath of a herbicide treatment for hydrilla and other invasives still “can look bad” to anglers.

“But the public is just looking at the immediate impact of the treatment and not thinking about the results,” he said. “Treatments are like prescribed fires. They can look bad, but they’re often the only alternative that we have for providing good fish and wildlife habitat and preserving places for people to fish.”

Mechanical harvesting, he added, “is too expensive and destroys everything,” including fish and invertebrates trapped in the plants.

Grass carp, meanwhile, are an option in some states, including Texas and South Carolina.

“We knock the hydrilla back with herbicides and then use grass carp for control,” Elder said.

For the massive Santee Cooper system, the exotic grass-eaters are the preferred primary tool, and Chris Page, manager for the aquatic plant program at the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, believes  balance has been achieved with this method as well.

“We do maintenance stocking of one fish per eight acres,” Page said. “That’s about 20,000 fish. And we’re going to put in another 10,000 to manage an additional 400 acres of (hydrilla) coverage.”

Such a formula is a far cry from the 700,000 fish stocked in the 160,000-acre system from 1989 to 1996, he explained.

“I understand the problem that the public had with that. There were too many carp for several years.”

But as they better manage hydrilla, state agencies also are challenged with new threats to fisheries, including crested floating heart (see below) and giant salvinia.

Unlike hydrilla, giant salvinia has no redeeming value as fish habitat, and it can double in area in 10 days or less. It destroys primary productivity in a fishery and acidifies water until only a desert remains under its canopy.

In Texas, giant salvinia is established in 12 lakes. It also has spread to Louisiana, California, Arizona, and New Mexico, as well as other states.

“Hydrilla is a greater threat overall because it is so popular and so widespread,” Elder said. “Giant salvinia is not as easily distributed and it prefers acidic waters, which is why it is a threat in east Texas.”

This latest invader also is more difficult to control with herbicides than hydrilla, and carp won’t eat it. That’s why both Texas and Louisiana are raising weevils that will feed on the exotic plant.

New Invader

There’s a new bad kid on the block: crested floating heart. It’s been in Florida for awhile, and now is causing problems in South Carolina.

Chances are good that this native of Asia also is established in other states, but hasn’t yet been identified. With flat, floating leaves and white flowers, it resembles the native banana lily, according to the Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants (CAIP) at the University of Florida.

“I think that this could be a bad one,” said Mike Netherland, an aquatic plants expert for the Army Corps of Engineers.

As with so many other exotic plants now degrading our waterways, it likely “escaped from a water garden somewhere,” according to Chris Page, program manager for aquatic plant management in the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

Within four to five years, crested floating heart spread from 10 to 15 acres to 2,000 in the 160,000-acre Santee Cooper system, he added.

“We’ve done some (herbicide) treatment in coves, where there’s no water movement,” said Page, adding that effective application is difficult in open water.

“It’s the most aggressive floating-leave plant that we’ve encountered on the lakes,” said Larry McCord, supervisor of analytical and biological services for the Santee Cooper power and water utility. “It is rooting in high-energy areas along the main shoreline and can grow quite successfully in 10 to 12 feet of water.”

In Santee Cooper’s lakes Moultrie and Marion, this invasive exotic has the potential to spread over 40 percent of the acreage, McCord explained. Plus, reports from Asia suggest that grass carp won’t eat the plant, not good news for a waterway where they are used to control hydrilla.

Once established, cresting floating heart blankets the surface, blocking light penetration to beneficial submersed plants.

In Florida, according to CAIP, the invader is considered a Category II ecological threat. That means it has increased in abundance, but has not yet altered Florida plant communities to the extent shown by Category I species (hydrilla).

(A variation of this article was published in B.A.S.S. Times a few years ago.)

Tuesday
Mar252014

Florida Waters Yielding Abundance of Trophy Bass

Len Andrews caught this 13-pound, 12-ounce largemouth at Florida's Lake Kingsley.

Between Jan. 1 and March 23 of last year,  anglers entered 54 Lunker Club (8-9.9 pounds), 31 Trophy Club (10-12.9 pounds) and 1 Hall of Fame bass of more than 13 pounds in the TrophyCatch program. By contrast, during the same period this year, anglers registered 220 Lunker Club, 89 Trophy Club and 3 Hall of Fame bass.

“Part of that three-fold increase was due to simplified rules and more anglers being aware. Nevertheless, it is clear that Florida is producing and recycling vast numbers or trophy bass,” said Bob Wattendorf of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

Additionally in March, a Bassmaster Elite Tournament on the St. Johns River yieded some impressive results, as 11 of the top 12 finishers filled their five-bag limit all four days. Chris Lane won with a four-day total of 90.13 pounds.

More from FWC:

TrophyCatch rewards anglers for participating in citizen-science, by catching, documenting and releasing largemouth bass heavier than 8 pounds. Besides the immediate gratification of releasing these older bass to fight another day, anglers provide valuable information about the number and distribution of these trophy bass and what it takes to sustain a trophy fishery.

Biologists compare the findings to existing conservation programs such as habitat restoration efforts, aquatic vegetation management strategies, bass stocking histories and various regulation management approaches to determine what works best.

So you never know when you may find a lunker on the end of your line. To be prepared, go to TrophyCatchFlorida.com now, register, and check out the rules and prizing.

Just registering makes you eligible for a random drawing in October for a Phoenix bass boat powered by Mercury and equipped with a Power-Pole. However, every time you have a TrophyCatch bass verified, your name is entered 10 more times. Moreover, every verified bass earns you not only bragging rights on the Web but also a customized certificate, decal and club shirt, plus at least a total of $100 in gift cards from Bass Pro Shops, Dick’s Sporting Goods and/or Rapala.

Bigger fish earn greater rewards: Anglers who have 13-pound plus Hall of Fame entries also get a $500 fiberglass replica of their catch.

All three Hall of Fame entries from this winter (one was caught in the fall by Van Soles on Lake Kissimmee) came from semi-private Lake Kingsley in Clay County. Len Andrews, 74, from Richmond, Va., in a recent two-week period, caught and released 12 Florida largemouth bass over 10 pounds, capped by a TrophyCatch Hall of Fame entry that was verified as 13 pounds, 12 ounces. Andrews also became the first “Triple Crown” winner by documenting a Lunker Club, Trophy Club and Hall-of-Fame bass. All of the hundreds of bass he’s caught on Lake Kingsley have been with a Zoom 6-inch lizard.

Fellow Lake Kingsley angler Joseph “Brooks” Morrell recently reported three huge bass that he caught, documented, released and entered into TrophyCatch. These included the second and third Hall of Fame entries this season (Oct. 1, 2013, to Sep. 30, 2014). These two bass weighed 13 pounds, 12 ounces, and 14 pounds, 9 ounces and were caught March 1 and 8, respectively. The third bass Morrell caught, on March 9, weighed 11 pounds, 13 ounces. All of his catches were enticed to take an artificial crawfish bait. His 14 pounder is the current season leader. If it holds up, he will earn the TrophyCatch Championship ring in October, which is donated by the American Outdoors Fund.

However, there is still a lot of fishing to be done before then, so get out there and see what you can catch.

The FWC scheduled the first of four license-free recreational fishing days on the first full weekend in April each year (April 5-6, 2014), because it coincides with a productive freshwater fishing period, when the weather is usually pleasant. Many of Florida’s recreational sport fishes, inlcuding black bass, bluegill and redear sunfish, move into shallow waters to spawn during spring, making them more available for anglers to catch.

During license-free freshwater fishing weekends (the first weekend in April and the second weekend in June) no recreational fishing license is required. However, all other bag limit and season, gear and size restrictions apply.

To further encourage recreational fishing, the FWC will conduct a special contest during April to collect photos of anglers. All you have to do is post a photo of your family fishing in Florida’s fresh waters on Twitter or Instagram with #FLfish (or you can use #FWC-FamilyFishing). In return for your efforts, the FWC will enter you into a drawing for one of six surprise packages, each including a $50 gift card from Bass Pro Shops, thanks to TrophyCatch, a Glen Lau video library on DVD and assorted fishing lures, hooks, line and goodies to make your next trip even more productive.

Submitted photos must be your own. Editing software must not be used, and the photo cannot include inappropriate content. Photos should be taken during April while freshwater fishing in Florida and include multiple anglers enjoying their day together on the water. The FWC may subsequently use the photos for educational or outreach purposes.

Go to  MyFWC.com/Fishing to learn more about freshwater fishing in Florida. Another good resource is TakeMeFishing.org/State/FL.

Wednesday
Mar192014

Lake Kingsley Leads Way for Trophy Bass in Florida

Len Andrews with TrophyCatch bass caught at Lake Kingsley.

North Florida’s Lake Kingsley is yielding an abundance of big bass this spring. Unfortunately, most of us can’t fish it. On the east, access is limited to military personnel from Camp Blanding and, on the west, with permission of private homeowners.

Still, it’s indicative of what many of the Sunshine State’s public waters are capable of producing, especially during the pre-spawn and spawn. And with the introduction of Florida’s TrophyCatch program a couple of years ago, we’re now getting a better idea of that what they are producing.

 The latest news from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is that Len Andrews caught and released a dozen largemouth bass that weighed 10 pounds or more during a two-week period at Lake Kingsley. Previously, FWC reported that Joseph Morrell caught three double-digit fish in early March. Morrell’s largest weighed 14-9 and Andrews’ 13-12.

Here’s more from FWC about 74-year-old Andrews and his big bass:

Andrews discovered north Florida’s Lake Kingsley 17 years ago and now routinely visits for three months every year, generally fishing seven days a week. His very first cast with a Zoom 6-inch lizard on a Shimano baitcasting reel and G. Loomis rod yielded a 14-pound, 8-ounce Florida largemouth back in 1999. He has been hooked ever since, and always uses the same lure while sight-fishing for bass in the shallows.

Andrews grew up fishing with friends, and in the 1960s and ’70s he tried his hand tournament fishing, but said he “nearly starved,” even after adding guiding on Rodman Reservoir to his repertoire. Ultimately, he relied on being a union carpenter and supervisor until he retired.

TrophyCatch is an incentive-based conservation program that rewards anglers for legally catching, documenting and releasing trophy largemouth bass heavier than 8 pounds in Florida. The second season of this very successful effort to gather information on elusive trophy bass while encouraging anglers to release them began Oct. 1, 2013, and ends Sep. 30 this year. The program itself is ongoing, but having seasons allows the FWC to award a championship ring annually, which is donated by the American Outdoors Fund, and to draw for the Phoenix bass boat, which is powered by a Mercury outboard and equipped with a Power-Pole. Simply registering at TrophyCatchFlorida.com makes you eligible for the random boat drawing.

Andrews’ 13-pounder, which he caught on March 11, was verified on a certified scale by FWC biologists Allen Martin and Steven Hooley as the fourth Hall of Fame entry this season. Van Soles recorded the first, a 13-pound, 2-ounce tournament-caught bass from Lake Kissimmee. Joseph Morrell followed earlier this month with two catches a week apart, weighing, 13 pounds, 12 ounces and then our current leader – a 14-pound, 9-ounce bass. Both of Morrell’s catches were also caught and released on Lake Kingsley.

Hall of Fame entries receive a free fiberglass replica mount ($500 value) from New Wave Taxidermy; $200 worth of gift cards from Bass Pro Shops, Dick's Sporting Goods and/or Rapala; a Bass King duffle bag with customized hoodie, shirt and hat; and a Glen Lau DVD. In addition, their names are entered into the Florida Bass Hall of Fame at the Florida Bass Conservation Center .

The other two clubs that are part of TrophyCatch are the Lunker Club for bass between 8 and 9.9 pounds, and Trophy Club for bass between 10 and 12.9 pounds. Verified Lunker Club entries receive $100 in gift cards from our partners and a club T-shirt. Trophy Club entries earn $150 in gift cards and a long-sleeve club shirt. All three groups also get a club decal and customized certificate.

To enroll in any of the three clubs and support conservation, anglers should register at TrophyCatchFlorida.com, where they will also log in to submit their catches. A verified catch must be properly documented by one of the following means:

  • Photo of entire fish on the scale with the weight showing (if not perfect, be sure to supplement with a closeup showing the scale and at least part of the fish, a shot of entire fish on a tape-measure, and maybe a girth photo);
  • Link to a tournament website with official results, or to a publication that includes your name and verified weight of the individual fish;
  • A copy of an official printed tournament weigh slip, with tournament information that includes your name and the verified weight of the individual fish, or;
  • Provide the name and contact information for an FWC official who saw the actual fish being weighed and can verify the entry (e.g., creel clerks, conservation officers, event volunteers).

Other anglers can view the gallery and map on the TrophyCatch website to see where all the great catches are being made, and follow us at Facebook.com/TrophyCatchFlorida

Tuesday
Mar112014

Florida Angler Catches, Releases Three TrophyCatch Bass

How would you like to catch a 14-, a 13-, and and an 11-pound bass in one month? That's just what Joseph "Brooks" Morrell did recently on Florida's Lake Kingsley in Clay County.

Here's the story about the TrophyCatch fish from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC):

These included the second and third Hall of Fame entries for the program’s second season (Oct. 1, 2013 to Sep. 30, 2014). The bass weighed 13 pounds, 12 ounces,  and 14 pounds, 9 ounces, and were caught March 1 and 8, respectively.

The third bass he caught on March 9 weighed 11 pounds, 13 ounces.

All three of his trophy bass were caught sight-fishing with a soft-plastic Berkley crawfish bait.

On March 1, he located the 13-pounder on a bed guarded by a male. After working the male off the bed, he landed her using the artificial crawfish bait and called the FWC. Conservation officers Jason Bryant and Christiane Larosa were able to help measure the bass and even photographed its successful release, which allowed it to return to the bed.

A week later, Morrell was back on Kingsley Lake and landed the 14-pounder. It was 27.75 inches long with a 21-inch girth. Various formulas used for estimating bass weights (see MyFWC.com/Bass-Formula) project a bass with those dimensions would be between 13.5 and 16.2 pounds, further substantiating the catch. This is now the biggest bass of TrophyCatch season two, and we are right in the middle of peak fishing time for big bass – so the challenge is on.

“Fishing has been awesome this spring,” Morrell said. “I’m so glad that I could get these documented and then release the females alive right back on their beds. Next weekend, on March 15, I’m putting on a ‘Relay for Life’ fishing tournament on Lake Santa Fe to support the fight against cancer (see bit.ly/RFL-bt) but will be back fishing myself as soon as possible.”

TrophyCatch is the FWC’s premier angler-recognition program that encourages anglers who catch largemouth bass over 8 pounds to photo-document them on a scale showing the entire fish and its weight. Once documented, a fish must be live-released in the same water system from which it was caught.

In return for documenting and releasing these big female bass that typically are at least 8 years old and relatively rare, the FWC’s partners provide valuable rewards. FWC posts the images on the TrophyCatchFlorida.com website and provide a full-color certificate and club decal. Corporate partners provide additional incentives including the following:

  • Lunker Club (8-9.9 pounds): $100 in gift cards from Bass Pro Shops, Rapala and/or Dick’s Sporting goods, and a club T-shirt from Bass King Clothing.
  • Trophy Club (10-12.9 pounds): $150 in gift cards from Bass Pro Shops, Rapala and/or Dick’s Sporting goods, and a long-sleeve club shirt from Bass King Clothing.
  • Hall of Fame (13 pounds or heavier): Free fiberglass replica from New Wave Taxidermy ($500 value), $200 in gift cards from Bass Pro Shops, Rapala and/or Dick’s Sporting goods, and a duffle bag and custom hoody, with other goodies, from Bass King Clothing.
  • The biggest bass of the year also receives a TrophyCatch championship ring from the American Outdoors Fund, and if the winning bass is from one of the major lakes in Osceola County, Experience Kissimmee adds a $10,000 check.

However, for many anglers more than the value of the rewards or the bragging rights associated with the program, the biggest thrill is releasing their catch to fight another day and knowing the information provided about the catch helps the FWC ensure trophy bass for future generations. Information reported to TrophyCatch is used by the FWC to determine what management programs such as habitat enhancement, aquatic plant management, fish stocking or regulations are most effective. Moreover, the information is very valuable for promoting Florida bass fishing, which generates significant economic benefits to local communities and encourages additional angling –including getting more youth involved.

For more information, visit TrophyCatchFlorida.com and follow FaceBook.com/TrophyCatchFlorida.