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Entries in Florida bass (35)

Wednesday
Sep072016

What's Wrong With Lake Guntersville?

Long noted as one of the nation's best bass fisheries, Lake Guntersville has taken a great fall, failing to earn a spot in the top 10 among Bassmaster's 100 Best Bass Lakes for 2016. Additionally, it ranked just fifth in the southeast, with Santee Cooper claiming the top rating.

"It used to be that just about anybody with a reasonable knowledge of bass fishing could come here and catch a nice bunch of fish once they learned the basics of the lake," said guide Mike Carter. "Now, it's almost impossible for people without inside knowledge here to catch much of anything."

That's a far cry from 2011, when Alabama pro Aaron Martens said Guntersville was his favorite fishery in the spring "because you catch 100 fish a day and they're big . . . If you can find grass and stumps, you're really looking good. Once you find them, you can catch a lot."

What's going on at Guntersville in 2016?  Theories abound, as guide Mike Carter and his wife Sharon have formed the Lake Guntersville Conservation Group to examine the decline and seek  solutions. State representatives, as well as biologists from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) and Auburn University are involved.

Auburn fisheries scientist Matt Catalano said that an absence of big fish is not the problem, pointing out that the impoundment has more bass over 20 inches now than in any previously surveyed years. Rather, the number of 15- to 18-inch fish has fallen 30 to 40 percent below its 2011 peak.

"The lake had an outstanding year class in 2008 when a huge number of the fish that were hatched survived to eventually become adults, and by 2011, anglers were seeing the results of this year class in their catches. There were more 15- to 18-inch fish than ADCNR had ever recorded in a continuing study of over 20 years at the lake," he explained.

"But as fish get older, there's a natural mortality as well as some fishing mortality, and not only that the larger fish are harder to catch. They're more wary because they've been caught and released, and they're not in the same places that the smaller fish are most of the time."

As a guide who spends many days on the lake, Carter, meanwhile, sees other possible contributors to the decline, including intense  pressure from both tournament and recreational anglers, as well as illegal harvest of bass in the spring by bowfishermen.

"Particularly in summer, a good number of the fish that go through the weigh-in process just don't make it because of the heat and the low oxygen," Carter said. "When you have thousands of fish being weighed in every weekend in these big events, even though most survive release, the ones that die have an impact."

Tightening harvest restrictions likely would not help, Catalano said. "We tag a lot of bass on this lake and the number of returns we get give us some idea of what the harvest is relative to the number of fish. It's pretty minimal. We think natural mortality is a far larger factor here. That means tighter harvest rules probably would not have a measurable impact."

Stocking with Florida strain bass holds more promise, but even that is not guaranteed to help. "Stocking a lot of young fish on top of a healthy native population usually doesn't have much of an impact because the habitat is already full," the Auburn biologist said, adding that it could be beneficial during a year when the natural spawn is down.

Quite possibly, he explained, Guntersville simply is experiencing a natural downturn following the bountiful year class of 2008.

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

Wednesday
Aug172016

Anglers Help Stock Florida Bass at Mississippi's Ross Barnett

Concurrent with a recent regulation change, anglers recently helped improve the gene pool at Mississippi's Ross Barnett Reservoir, as they assisted with the stocking of 101,000 Florida-strain largemouth bass fingerlings.

"We're not trying to increase catch rates by stocking bass," said Ryan Jones, a fisheries biologist with Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. "We're trying to maintain that gene in the population. What you have in the Florida strain is a fish that has a longer grow period, so they grow bigger, faster."

For this third stocking in three years, fish were transported from the agency's Turcotte Fish Hatchery to two ramps on the 33,000-acre Pearl River impoundment. Then anglers used their boats to transport them in ice chests filled with water to backwater areas, in hopes of improving survival rates.

"Before, we dropped them at the ramp and they (bass) to disperse from there," Jones said. "Now, you're talking about dropping them everywhere.

"I can't tell you what the survival percentage is, but I can tell you it's better than dropping them at the ramp. It's a much better process. It's just great to have the anglers."

The minimum size limit, meanwhile, has been raised from 12 to 14 inches, after fisheries managers noted a decline in the number of bass between 15 and 20. "It's been in decline for about four years," Jones said.

"It could be a natural change in the population, but we want to be on the front end of it in case it's not natural."

Friday
Jul292016

Secrets That You Should Know About 'The Bite'--- Part 3

These are but a few of the secrets in "The Bite" from Better Bass Fishing: Secrets From the Headwaters by a Bassmaster Senior Writer. Here's a link to the book at Barnes & Noble. Also, Amazon carries it, but often is sold out. As of 7/29, it had two left in stock.

Secret: Many anglers believe that Florida strain largemouth bass are more difficult to catch than northern strain. If that’s true, it’s probably because most of the waters in the Florida strain’s natural range are shallow. That can make for some awesome fishing when conditions are right.

           But it also means you’ll get the cold shoulder when trying to catch them during or just after a cold front. Without deep-water refuges where they might be more inclined to bite, Florida bass often move in tight to protective shallow cover during cold weather and become very lethargic. Just about the only way to provoke a bite during such times is to drop a jig or soft plastic bait on the fish’s nose.

          Even in deeper waters of Texas, Louisiana, California, and other places where they have been introduced, Florida strain largemouths still tend to “shut off” more completely during cold weather than do their northern counterparts.

Secret: Sight is the most important sense for a bass in finding food. That’s why, when given a choice, it will move to clearer water to feed. And that’s why you should seek it out too, especially in fisheries where most of the water is stained or muddy.

          The late bass pro Ken Cook, a former fisheries biologist, has this to say about how bass see: “Underwater, a bass’ eye is far superior to the human eye, probably so much better that we can only imagine what its capabilities are. Some studies have indicated that bass can see up to 12 times as well in muddy water as the human eye can in the same conditions.”

Secret: But also check out muddy or stained water pouring into a lake, especially if it is warmer than the main body of water. The runoff contains insects, which attract forage fish and, they, in turn, attract bass.

Secret: Bass often will follow this discharge of warmer, stained water out into the lake, and you should too.

Secret: Sometimes, muddy water is just on the surface, with clear water below. For instance, that can happen when a smaller, rain-filled tributary empties into a larger stream. Sometimes you can catch bass that are using the surface mud as ambush cover.     

More "secrets" about the bite upcoming at Activist Angler.

Check out all my books at Amazon.

 

Tuesday
May172016

Kentucky Wants to Grow Its Own Trophy Bass

Responding to anglers' desires for more opportunity to catch big bass in state, Kentucky has initiated the Trophy Bass Propagation Program.

But while its neighbor to the south, Tennessee, seems to have found success by introducing Florida-strain bass into its lakes, Kentucky is not going that route. Over the years, fisheries biologists have learned that just a few miles north or south can make the difference between whether introduced Florida bass thrive or just barely survive.

"If we had the same kind of year-round temperatures as Florida, then we'd we would be stocking Florida-strain bass," said Ron Brooks, fisheries chief for the Kentucky Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Resources (DWF).

Instead, DWF intends to use offspring of trophy native bass donated by anglers who catch them, with 8pounds the minimum for females and  6 pounds for males.

"I wanted to figure out how we could do a better job of propagating larger bass in Kentucky," Brooks added. "So this kind of program just makes sense. People have been breeding animals forever to optimize the size of the animal, so why not do this with largemouth bass?"

Anglers who wish to help grow bigger bass in Kentucky can take their fish to participating bait shops from Oct. 1 to May 31, when weather typically is mild enough to reduce stress. Employees at those shops will hold the fish in aerated tanks until they can be picked up and taken to a hatchery by DWF staff.

"We don't want anglers to leave their trophy bass in a livewell or keep it in a fish basket on the bank for an extended period of time because we don't want the fish to succumb to stress," Brooks explained. "We're asking people to handle these fish with kid gloves and bring them to a participating bait shop as soon as possible."

After the bass spawn, hatcheries will raise the fish until they are 5 inches long. Then they will be stocked in fisheries around the state, including the lakes where their parents were caught.

"This won't mean that every largemouth bass spawning in Kentucky will have trophy bass genes," the fisheries chief said. "That would be a long way off.  But n the immediate future, it will mean the fish we're stocking to augment the natural spawning will be a higher quality of fish as far as growth potential."

Anglers can find out more and see a list of participating bait shops by plugging in "Trophy Bass Propagation Program" in the search window on the DWF website.

Tuesday
Mar222016

Tiger Bass Stocked to Improve Smith Mountain Lake Fishery

Robert Dean Wood wants to engineer a better bass fishery at Smith Mountain Lake. Elite Series angler John Crews wants to help. And the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) has approved the first step, privately funded stocking of a northern/Florida hybrid known as the F-1 Tiger bass.

 “Smith Mountain Lake is my lake. That’s why I’m doing this,” said Wood, a long-time tournament angler. “I want a bigger and better bass fishery for future generations.”

In three to five years, Wood explained, he hopes to see 50 out of 100 boats in a tournament weigh in a 5-pound bass. “And my dream is to have B.A.S.S. here for another major event.” (Elite Series anglers last competed there in 2010 Blue Ridge Brawl.)

Virginia pro Crews added, “This could be a really good deal for Virginia in general, as well as Smith Mountain Lake. I know that the Elite Series anglers loved the lake, and it would be great to bring them back.

“I’ve seen that phenomenon before,” he said. “You get the right genetics in the water, and a fishery takes off. And this lake reminds me of some out west that grow big bass. And Biwa in Japan is similar, with deep, clear water.”

Private stocking of a public fishery is rare. “But it has been done before, in places like the Rappahannock (River),” said VDGIF biologist Dan Wilson

“This is not a matter of identifying a need,” he continued. “But if they are supplying the fish, this benefits both of us. We can study what happens and see if it works in our larger reservoirs.”

The state already has tried the F-1 Tiger in three small lakes, with mixed results. In one, the biologist said, “They didn’t show up.” In another, which had been recently drained and had few resident fish, they “did okay.” While in the third, which had good forage but low numbers and recruitment, they performed “very well.”

By contrast, 20,000-acre Smith Mountain already boasts good density of bass with acceptable growth, even though it is clear and deep with steep shorelines and little shallow cover. “There’s not a recruitment problem,” Wilson said. “It’s a pretty average lake.”

Smith Mountain also has plenty of forage, including threadfin shad, alewives, and blueback herring. “Bass can feed on bluegill and crawfish too,” Wood said. “We felt that all of this forage would support a stocking.”

So if the lake already has an adequate bass population and limited shallow habitat for spawning, why do a supplemental stocking of F-1 Tiger bass? Also, most lakes in Virginia have a 50/50 mix of northern/Florida genes, Wilson revealed.

“In some, it’s 60/40 and in others it’s 40/60. And who knows how it happened?” the biologist said. “Largemouth bass are not native to Virginia and we don’t have records.”

Briery Creek, which has produced big fish and is widely believed to have been stocked with pure strain Florida bass during the 1980s, really is no different than the rest.

 “We stocked pure northern and what we thought were pure Florida in there,” Wilson said. “But when we started checking progeny, we found that didn’t that we didn’t go far enough south to get those Florida bass.”

The F-1 Tiger hybrid, however, is bred especially for fast growth and aggressiveness by American Sport Fish Hatchery in Montgomery, Ala. (See related sidebar.) Wood and Crews hope that mixing in those genes could be just the jump start that Smith Mountain needs to produce larger bass and heavier limits.

“Of course, all 20,000 won’t survive. What we’re looking for is to get the number of fish per acre up and start a better strain of bass,” Wood said. “And Don Keller (at AFS) said that the fish would be fine with the colder temperatures up here.”

Before deciding to do it himself, the Virginia angler checked to see if VDGIF would supplement the largemouth population in Smith Mountain. “Virginia does stock stripers,” he said. “But because bass spawn in there, it wasn’t going to stock them. To my knowledge, no one has ever stocked bass in there.”

The first planting of two-inch fingerlings occurred in May 2015, with follow-ups planned for 2016 and 2017. Cost for each shipment is $10,600, and Wood is hoping that anglers will donate to the cause.

“But even if they don’t, I’ll buy it out of pocket if I have to,” he said

The fingerlings won’t be tagged, but VDGIF will help with the stocking, as well as conduct electrofishing surveys to assess success. It also will take fin clips of captured fish for genetic identification by Auburn University.

“Dan and I agree that habitat in Smith Mountain is not as conducive (to growing big bass) as Chickamauga (Tennessee impoundment stocked with Florida bass),” Wood said. “But we’ll never know whether it will work if we don’t try.”

Additionally, stocking is just the first step in making the Virginia impoundment a better bass fishery, he added.

“The stocking will give us a reason to start talking to people who live on the lake and manage it about getting some vegetation for the fish,” he said.

“We’re hoping that the power company (American Electric Power) will allow some grasses, maybe something like willow grass,” Crews said. “The whole key is not to do anything that would disturb power plant operation or the home owners.

“I’m going to spread the word to donate money for the stocking and to support shallow water cover. This lake is in my backyard, and I take a lot of pride in it,” he said. “I want it to be as good as it can be.”

F-1 Tiger Bass

The F-1 Tiger bass is the offspring of a special strain of northern bass and a pure strain of Florida bass. American Sport Fish is the only hatchery licensed to produce and sell this hybrid.

“Our Florida strain largemouth bass brooders are from proven trophy lines and our northern largemouth bass have been selected for 15 generations for their aggressive feeding behavior,” said AFS’s Don Keller.

Fed a diet of goldfish, shad, and tilapia, the brood stock is kept in prime condition for spring spawning.

"Our Tiger bass have already gained weights of 15 pounds in eight years,” he added. “We expect them to break state records in the next several years.”