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Entries in Guntersville (7)


More States Look to Grow Trophies With Florida-Strain Bass

Tennessee state record bass caught in 2015 at Lake Chickamauga.Can Tennessee biologists turn Chickamauga into another Lake Fork?

Probably not.

That Texas lake is the gold standard for trophy bass fisheries, and duplicating the success there is not a reasonable expectation, especially for a state with a less hospitable climate.

But resource managers are hopeful that they can grow bigger bass in Chickamauga through the introduction of Florida-strain largemouths into the population.

“I’m convinced that Florida bass will grow big in Tennessee,” says Bobby Wilson, assistant director of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. “I hope that can happen in Chickamauga. And, if it does, we’ll move to other lakes with it.”

So far, Wilson has two very persuasive pieces of evidence to support his conviction: In October of 2009, biologists electroshocked a 16-15 largemouth at Browns Creek Lake, where Floridas also have been stocked. And in 2015, Gabe Keen caught a 15.2 in Chickamauga, good enough to establish a new state record.  

By contrast, the previous record was just 14.5, caught in 1954 at Sugar Creek.

 “We’ve had a few 13-pounders reported by fishermen (from agency lakes),” Wilson adds. “They probably were Florida bass.”

But the verdict still is out on Chickamauga.

The same goes for Lake Guntersville, just to the south in Alabama.

 “We haven’t stocked them (Florida bass) on a regular basis,” said Keith Floyd, a fisheries supervisor for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “It’s been periodically in one or two embayments, to see if we can incorporate Florida genomes into the population.”

Tennessee, however, has been much more deliberate in its approach. After stocking 200,000 fry annually for five years throughout Chickamauga failed to show much of a genetic shift, biologists decided to focus on three creeks for the next five.

“Anglers (at Chickamauga) are saying they are catching bigger bass,” Wilson explains. “And they say that the bass look different from what they are used to seeing.”

Anglers also are catching bigger bass at Lake Atkins in adjacent Arkansas, where the fishery was rehabilitated and then stocked with Floridas. In 2011, anglers caught at least three 12-pound bass in that 752-acre fishery.

Wilson says that his state used criteria from Arkansas and Oklahoma in deciding where Florida-strain bass could be stocked successfully in Tennessee. That turned out to be south of a line from Dyersburg in the west to Chattanooga in the east.

But as Virginia proved during the early 1990s, bass with Florida genes can do well even farther north than that. After being stocked in the late 1980s, Briery Creek Lake yielded a 13-4 trophy in 1992. It followed with a 16-3 (one ounce shy of the state record) in 1995 and 16-2 in 2002. And from 1994 to 2002, it produced the largest bass in the state annually.

“A lot of people are excited about this,” Wilson says about Tennessee’s Florida bass program. “But some don’t want them because they have heard that they are finicky than northern bass.”

And there’s the argument that native bass populations are weakened when Florida bass are added.  “But these aren’t native systems,” the Tennessee fisheries chief points out. “These are manmade impoundments.”

Texas’ long-term success with Florida bass in Lake Fork and other reservoirs provides a strong argument in support of Wilson. And the fact that more than 500 largemouth bass of 13 pounds and more have been entered in its Sharelunker program seems to dispel the “finicky” fear as well.

From my own decades of experience with Florida bass in Florida, Texas, and Mexico, I’ve noted that they can turn off when temperature drops just a degree or two. But I do not believe them more difficult to catch than northern bass. When cold and/or high pressure turns them off, you just have to slow down and adjust your tactics. Instead of throwing a spinnerbait, flip a soft plastic along the edge of a weedline.

Also, I’ve found Florida bass to be, pound for pound, much more challenging fighters than northern bass. A big Florida is like a mean smallmouth with a belly. And I’ve seen 12-pounders tail walk.

Count me as one who is not troubled by the occasional finickiness of Florida bass or the fact that they are being introduced into manmade fisheries in Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, and perhaps other states outside their native range. I’ve been blessed to catch a few double-digit Floridas, and I’d like to see more opportunities for other anglers to do so as well.

Whether Chickamauga and Guntersville are two of the fisheries capable of growing those genetically enhanced big fish likely will be revealed in the years ahead.


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.)


Activist Angler Featured by Rick Hart's TightLines

Check out Rick Hart's TightLines on Facebook for information about Pickwick, Wilson, Wheeler, Guntersville, and Bay Springs, as well as weekly angler photos from across the country. "Good times, good friends, and great fishing."



Will Alabama Close Guntersville And Other State Parks?

Lake Guntersville State Park

If Alabama is unable to solve its budget crisis by the time the state legislative session ends in mid June,  Guntersville and Joe Wheeler state parks, along with 13 others, will be closed. In fact, at least one, Buck’s Pocket, already was scheduled for closure on May 1.

Most likely would shut down on Oct. 1, the start of the new fiscal year.

As of right now, $11.4 million is set to be taken away from the 2016 budget for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, with $10.4 million of that coming from the state parks system.

“In anticipation of this loss in revenue, on May 1, 2015, we will implement an Emergency Operations Plan that closes several of our parks and park operations across the state,” said Greg Lein, Alabama State Parks Director.


State auditor has plan to avoid closing parks


If closed, the parks will be collateral damage in a debate over whether to implement new taxes.  In response to Lein’s announcement, Rep. Will Ainworth said that he is “concerned that Director Lein’s letter is merely an unnecessary scare tactic that is attempting to build support for Gov. Bentley’s $541 million tax plan.”

Ainsworth added that he intends to introduce a plan to “help balance the General Fund budget without breaking the ‘no new taxes’ pledge that many of my fellow lawmakers and I made to citizens of Alabama.”

Along with Guntersville, Wheeler, and Buck’s Pocket, parks to be closed would include Bladon Springs, Chickasaw, Paul Grist, Florala, Blue Springs, Roland Cooper, Richwood Caverns, Cheaha, Lake Lurleen, DeSoto, Lakepoint (Lake Eufaula), and Frank Jackson.

These parks would remain open: Meaher, Wind Creek, Chewacala, Monte Sano, Cathedral Caverns, Oak Mountain, and Gulf.

“Those 15 parks (to be closed) have not consistently made a profit over the last three years,” Lein said. “The remaining seven parks have. This is a very dynamic financial situation.”

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


Alabama Might Approve Gill Nets for Guntersville, Other Bass Fisheries

Gill nets like these used by Florida netters before the ban would be made legal in TVA lakes by a bill now before the Alabama Senate. Photo by Frank Sargeant

As a recreational and/or tournament angler, do you want gill nets on Guntersville, Wheeler, Wilson, and Pickwick?

It could happen. The Alabama state House already has passed a bill to allow it on those Tennessee River impoundments, and now it is being considered by the state Senate Committee for Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry.

 “That’s where we hope this anti-bass fishing legislation will end,” said BoatUS Government Affairs Senior Program Manager David Kennedy, “But recreational anglers need to speak up now.” 

Alabama bass angler and BoatUS Program Coordinator Dustin King added, “Gill nets are designed to entangle paddlefish, catfish, and buffalo, but do not discriminate, and they would ruin our most prized bass fishery.”

And Frank Sergeant  in the Huntsville Times said, "The idea of permitting gill nets in North Alabama's TVA lakes apparently has some appeal to somebody, otherwise it would not have been made into a bill, HB 258, and passed by the Alabama House of Representatives recently.

"But thousands of recreational fishermen (and women) as well as homeowners and fishing/boating/resort industry execs in the affected areas are pretty much universally opposed to bringing this highly effective gear to the river lakes, which include Lake Guntersville, frequently cited as one of the top bass fishing lakes in the nation.

"Not that the netters or the legislators who backed them propose to net bass commercially--state laws prohibit net harvest of gamefish. The targets would be shad, drum and other "rough fish" that some say are currently going to waste in the fertile waters of the big river.

"But one issue that must surely concern anglers is the fact that gill nets do not work well for catch and release in many cases. They're called "fish chokers" in saltwater, for good reason. They function via squares of mesh that slide over the head of a fish and then jam tight right behind the gill plates--they're locked in place.

"Getting a fish out of the mesh without killing it is not easy, particularly when it's being done rapidly and/or at night, both of which conditions often apply in net fishing because that's the nature of the fishery."

More from BoatUS:

 Recreational fishing is an estimated $853 million industry in Alabamam according to a study commissioned by the Alabama Bass Trail (ABT) and completed by the University of Alabama at Huntsville. ABT operates dozens of tournaments across the state, and Executive Director Kay Donaldson said the proposed legislation would give mostly out-of-state commercial fishermen unfettered access to string nets in the Tennessee River and its tributaries, with no additional enforcement.

“The state is already stretched too thin on enforcing the laws on the books,” said Donaldson.

 Kennedy continued, “When you look at the math, it simply doesn’t add up. The meager revenue gained by any new paddlefish commercial license fees wouldn’t even begin to offset the loss of the recreational fishery and those who make their living from it.

“There are also safety issues for all recreational boaters with the placement of nets, their impact on the bass spawning season, and other environmental concerns.”

Alabama anglers are urged to contact their state senators by going here.