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Entries in Lake Conroe (10)

Tuesday
Nov292016

Grass Carp: Why You Hate 'Em and Why They Are Needed

Harvest by anglers and bowfishermen has been added as a control measure for grass carp.Anglers have been complaining about grass carp for nearly 40 years. Coincidentally, that's how long fisheries managers have been using the

exotic species as a control for another exotic, hydrilla, along with other invasive aquatic plants.

What's happened recently at Texas' Lake Austin provides a prime example of why they complain. Grass carp released there in 2012 and 2013 have consumed not just the hydrilla, but all of the aquatic plant habitat, which was beneficial for bass and other species. The stocking permit has now been revoked by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), with anglers and bowfishermen encouraged to catch and kill the carp.

"Anglers get angry at us when we stock grass carp, and we understand that," said Dave Terre, TPWD's Management/Research chief, who emphasized that his agency strives to involve fishermen in plans to control invasive plants.

"Everywhere we've used carp has resulted in a complete vegetation community crash," he added. "But it took 10 years for that to happen at Austin. And maybe someday we'll be able to extend that to 20 years. Just three or four years ago, we were promoting the success of grass carp in Austin."

Ten years is a considerable improvement over what happened in the early 1980s. Over the objections of anglers and TPWD, the Texas Legislature authorized the stocking of 270,000 carp into 21,000-acre Lake Conroe. In just two years, aquatic plants were gone, and the long-lived carp kept it that way until the late 1990s.

About the same time, much the same thing happened up in Kansas' Big Hill Reservoir. A heavy stocking of carp "set the reservoir back eight or nine years," said Doug Nygren, fisheries chief for Kansas Department of Parks, Wildlife, and Tourism.

"We regretted it," he added. "It was a wakeup call to be careful."

Yet, there is a flip side to this grass carp decimation story, starting with the fact that Conroe will be the site of the 2017 Bassmaster Classic March 24-26. The impoundment on the San Jacinto River now has not only grass and grass carp, but a first-class bass fishery.

"It's been producing 30-pound stringers all summer long," said Tim Cook, Conservation Director for the Texas B.A.S.S. Nation. "The lake has a significant number of 8-pound fish and I'm expecting that six to ten over 8 pounds will be caught each day. We've had five Toyota Texas Bass Classics on that lake, so anglers know how good it can be."

In short, fisheries do recover, as these controversial exotics remain the best biological method for controlling hydrilla in public fisheries, as well as filamentous algae in private and hatchery ponds. Sadly, though, their use is not a precise science. Inevitably results are cyclical, as they have been at both Austin and Conroe and other impoundments across the country, and often influenced by variables that resource managers have no control of.

Weather is the most prominent. Lower water levels prompted by drought and warmer water courtesy of hotter temperatures combined to power an unprecedented hydrilla growth spurt at Austin, and suddenly 600 acres spread across the 1,600 acre fishery. "It changed the dynamics and threw everything out of balance," Terre said.

Mechanical harvest wasn't an option, because fragmentation spreads the fast-growing exotic. Neither was herbicide, since Austin serves as a public water supply. Additionally, unchecked hydrilla inevitably would impede hydropower generation.

To knock back the plant, the city of Austin's resource managers stocked 33,000 carp from late 2011 through spring of 2013. Contrast that with only 20,000 that had been stocked incrementally for eight years, starting in 2003.

"We could live with 100 acres," said biologist Marcos De Jesus. "But 600 acres was just too much. It was going to cause problems with the turbines."

Terre added, "Anglers sometimes think that we're attacking the habitat of bass. We're not. We know that vegetation is important. But there are multiple users to consider. And grass carp are a tool."

He added that in lakes like Amistad, Falcon, Rayburn and Toledo Bend, with little development, "hydrilla is not a problem for anyone and we don't touch it."

Efforts already are underway to jumpstart aquatic vegetation again at Austin, by growing it in cages, De Jesus said. "There are going to be lots of efforts to restore habitat and to provide more options, with things like brushpiles."

Because it is smaller than Conroe and because state agencies have begun  to partner with other entities, including bass clubs, in recent years to re-establish aquatic vegetation, Terre is hopeful that Austin's recovery will be rapid.

Activist Angler with 30-pound-plus grass carp that was illegally stocked in community lake.Conroe, meanwhile, serves as a model for restoration not only for Austin, but for the nation, with much of the credit going to Seven Coves Bass Club. The B.A.S.S. affiliate spearheaded growing and planting of native vegetation, even as officials continued to combat hydrilla with more stockings of grass carp.

As part of an overall management plan for the lake, the club was awarded a grant for about $45,000 from B.A.S.S. and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to build a plant nursery on property provided by the San Jacinto River Authority. The latter and TPWD also helped finance the effort.

Additionally, occasional harvest by anglers and bowfishermen has been added to the overall strategy for using and controlling grass carp. In 2011, they removed more than 5,000 pounds of carp from Conroe during a tournament.

The event was intended to reduce carp population "to a number capable of preventing re-sprouting of hydrilla but which will allow us and our partners to better enhance important native aquatic vegetation for fish habitat and water quality improvement," said Craig bonds, TPWD's Director of Inland Fisheries.

While habitat initiatives and angler harvest have been added to help control carp and restore beneficial vegetation more quickly, not much has changed in terms of overall strategies for stocking grass carp to keep problematic vegetation under control, said John Biagi, Chief of Fisheries Management for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Two of the most notable are smaller, incremental stockings as opposed to one massive release, and replacing diploid grass carp, which can reproduce in the wild, with triploid, which are sterile and have shorter live spans.  

"And we are learning," said Texas biologist De Jesus. "We're refining the way we monitor the effects of carp on vegetation."

Terre added, "Instead of stocking carp per surface acre, we're looking into doing it per the biomass of the plants. Our goal always is to maintain good aquatic habitat for fisheries."

Other Considerations

Most anglers think about grass carp only in terms the damage that they do to bass fisheries. But they've been used since the late 1960s by aquaculture facilities to keep filamentous algae blooms under control. They still serve that important purpose today, both in hatchery and private ponds.

A disturbing corollary to that, however, is that they also can cause algal blooms, explained Doug Nygren, Kansas fisheries chief. "When they eat the plants, that releases nutrients that can feed those harmful blooms," he said.

At Clarks Hill, meanwhile, grass carp could help save bald eagles, as well as coots, among their favorite prey on that Georgia-South Carolina border reservoir. Researchers say that a toxic cyanobacteria grows on submerged aquatic plants, especially hydrilla. Coots feed on the plants, contract Avian Vacuolar Myelinopathy, and die, as do the eagles that eat them.

"Native plants are coming on and hydrilla seems to be diminishing," said Georgia fisheries chief John Biagi. "We're in discussions with the Corps (of Engineers) on stocking rates. This is a tough one. We don't want to eliminate good habitat, but the eagles have to be considered."

In the Wild

Diploid grass carp are reproducing in Missouri's Truman Lake, and that's just one of many waters where this plant-eating exotic now has sustainable populations, according to Duane Chapman, Asian carp expert for the U.S. Geological Survey.

While Texas reports they are spawning in the Trinity River and Kansas indicates the same for the Missouri, Chapman said, "The Illinois River has a large wild grass carp population."

In fact, he added, they are reproducing in free-flowing waters from Louisiana up into Illinois and Iowa, including in the Mississippi River. And some have turned up on "the wrong side of the (electric) barrier" designed to keep Asian carp out of Lake Michigan. They're also in the Sandusky, a tributary of Lake Erie.

Although some might believe that dams will stop them, Chapman said, "I suspect that when we start looking, we're going to find diploids fairly common above dams."

He added that some believe that silver and bighead carp pose more of a threat to our waterways than grass carp, both because they are more prolific and because data already has revealed how they are outcompeting and replacing native species.

"But grass carp don't require huge populations to have detrimental effects," he said, adding that they could destroy Great Lakes wetlands, re-established through time-consuming and costly mitigation projects.

"Grass carp remove vegetation and they dig, causing destabilization and turbidity," the carp expert continued.

Additionally, diploid grass carp can live nearly 30 years, surviving on very little when plants are scarce. "They just shut down when the food is not there and don't expend energy," Chapman said. "They're just waiting for things to change, and then they gorge."

How did this happen?

"When grass carp were brought into this country by aquaculture facilities in the late 1960s, they weren't worried about security," he said. "The belief was that they wouldn't reproduce."

Sadly, that has proven to be wrong in waters all over the country.

Additionally, while some states now prohibit diploid grass carp, others do not. And anyone can buy them.

"It might be difficult to take them into some states, but it's tough to police that," Chapman said. "States might agree to make diploids less available. But in states like Iowa and Missouri, where grass carp already are all around you, it's not a big issue. There's no downside."

(A variation of this article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)

Tuesday
Mar042014

Tourney Raises Funds for Conroe Restoration

During the past two years, the Lake Conroe Big Bass Extravaganza, sponsored by Legend Boats, has raised $6,000 for habitat restoration on this Texas fishery. Most of the funds will be directed toward the PVC habitat structure program, according to Derek Taylor, conservation director of the Seven Coves Bass Club (SCBC).

“Legend had heard of our conservation efforts on Lake Conroe at the 2010 Toyota Texas Bass Classic,” Taylor said. “They contacted us about assisting with the development of a big bass tournament at Lake Conroe.

“We were both humbled and honored that our dedicated conservation work was being noticed nationally in the fishing industry, and that a great company like Legend Boats wanted to work with us.”

Plagued with infestations of exotic vegetation and then an overpopulation of grass carp, Conroe suffered degraded habitat and a declining bass fishery for years. Then Seven Coves started to work, partnering with a variety of local, state, and national entities to restrict invasive plants and restore the fishery. Much of the effort has been directed at raising and planting beneficial native vegetation.

“This project benefits the environment by reducing harmful exotic vegetation in a sustainable manner, increasing sustainable native habitat for fish and other wildlife, sequestering harmful nutrients, reducing bank erosion, and stabilizing bottom sediments,” explained Mark Webb, a Texas Parks and Wildlife fisheries biologist.

During the second extravaganza this past April, Grant Rogers caught a 9.86-pound largemouth to win a custom Legend bass boat, as well as a $400 hourly prize.

Four prizes were awarded each hour, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. during the two-day event.

“While many volunteered to work the 130-angler event, SCBC members who fished the event also took home 13 checks for more than $3,800,” Taylor said.

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

Tuesday
Jan212014

Angler Aid Needed to Revitalize Reservoirs

Dale Hollow photo by Robert Montgomery

Exclusive of the Great Lakes, more than 84 percent of freshwater anglers fish in lakes and reservoirs. With about 10,000 of them larger than 250 acres, manmade impoundments are especially important.

“Our generation has never known an America without reservoirs,” said Alton Jones, 2008 Bassmaster Classic winner.

But for far too long, reservoirs have been enduring a quiet death. As a result, the number who fish them, as well as natural lakes, has declined from about 45 million during the mid 1980s to 23 million in 2011.

What’s going on?

“Reservoirs may look like natural lakes, but they were created by people, and they must be cared for by people,” said Jones, a Texan well acquainted with the value of manmade waters.  “As they age, the quality of fish habitat declines, and so does the quality of fishing.”

Additionally, few reservoirs are being built anymore.

That’s why Jones is helping spread the word to anglers about the Reservoir Fisheries Habitat Partnership (RFHP) and its ambitious goal to revitalize these fisheries, most of which are 50 years old or more.

Aging degrades reservoirs, just as it does natural lakes. But the process is much more accelerated in manmade waters. Flooded timber decays and dissolves. Upstream sedimentation fills in backwaters and shallow areas. Water quality declines because of nutrient runoff and other pollution.

“We’re way behind in addressing these issues,” said Jeff Boxrucker, RFHP coordinator.

That opinion is echoed not only by Jones, but by Dave Terre, chief of fisheries management and research for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD).

“Fishing is still great,” Terre added. “But we need to restore habitat for now and future generations to keep the reservoirs functioning. And there’s no way that funding from state agencies is sufficient to tackle these problems.

“We need anglers and the fishing industry to be more pro-active. We need to all work together to improve fishing and water quality.”

A couple of notable examples, Table Rock in Missouri and Arkansas and Conroe in Texas, highlight how it can be done.

Work on Table Rock began in 2007, as a pilot program of sorts for National Fish Habitat Partnership, which spawned the reservoir partnership two years later. Partners include the Missouri Department of Conservation, Arkansas Game and Fish, Bass Pro Shops, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, assisted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Thus far, 1,869 cedar and hardwood structures have been sunk in the reservoir, along with 114 rock structures and 76 stump fields. Twenty-six rock fences also have been added, as have 11 piles of stumps and rocks.

Assessment of what works best and where has been ongoing, according to Missouri’s Mike Allen.

“We have seen slight improvement (in the fishing), but we only have three years of sampling and we need more.”

Both creel and internet surveys revealed that 95 to 99 percent of anglers support the $4 million project, which is scheduled to end in December.

“We hope to do continuing work, but not through the current structure,” Allen said. “We are working to become a member of Friends of Reservoirs (FOR).”

FOR was created to provide non-profit funding and  grassroots manpower for reservoir restoration projects, with Seven Coves Bass Club at Lake Conroe the first chapter. Work there has focused on establishing native vegetation while controlling invasive hydrilla. The club even established its own nursery for growing beneficial plants, and it serves on the Lake Conroe Habitat Improvement Project Coalition with TPWD and other others.

Earlier this year, the coalition was honored with the Texas Environmental Award by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.”

“Members are committed, passionate, and respected,” Terre said.

Serving as an adopt-a-lake program with individuals, non-government groups, and agencies all working together, FOR now has 13 chapters involving 11 organizations, 35 individuals, and 3 corporate sponsors. Additionally, 35 states have expressed support for the program, while five projects have been proposed and all of them funded. Financing comes from tax deductible donations, as well as grants, mostly from NFHP funds administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“We would love to have lots of groups operating like Seven Coves Bass Club,” Terre said. “So far, we have seven FOR chapters in Texas. We want to see them in as many states as possible.”

Participating groups can expect to do habitat work, such as sinking brushpiles. But that’s not all they are needed for, according to Boxrucker.

“Of the top seven impairments, only one is happening with the reservoirs themselves,” he said. “The other problems come from outside.”

Based on a nationwide survey of resource managers, RFHP determined that sedimentation is the top problem, with 25 percent  of reservoirs having moderate to high impairment. Insufficient aquatic plants and structural habitat are next, followed by non-point source pollution, excessive nutrients, excessive inorganic turbidity, and “excessive levels of agriculture.”

“We hope to get angling groups started with the habitat work,” Boxrucker explained. “But once we get them involved and have momentum, we want to move upstream, to address other issues.

“We’re treating these reservoirs as parts of river systems. Most of the other partnerships (under the NFHP umbrella) are watershed-oriented, and we’re going to work with them too.”

These collaborative efforts not only will improve fishing, Classic winner Jones added.

“Good fish habitat is the foundation for healthy aquatic life and clean water supplies,” he said. “Water fish live in is the same water you drink. What’s good for the fish is good for you.”    

Reservoir Fisheries Habitat Partnership

The RFHP’s stated mission is “to protect and improve healthy aquatic habitat in reservoir systems for the benefit of fish and wildlife and the enhancement of quality of life for people and their communities.”

Its executive committee includes representatives from B.A.S.S., Bass Pro Shops, state agencies, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and U.S. Geological Survey.

For more information:

RFHP

Friends of Reservoirs

National Fish Habitat Partnership

Table Rock fish attractor map and survey

 

Wednesday
Sep122012

You Can Compete for $100,000 on Lake Conroe

Now’s the time to sign up for a chance to win $100,000 in the Sharelunker Club Tournament (SCT) on Lake Conroe, Oct. 1-21.

A $100 fee is required to become a member and only pre-registered members will be eligible for the $100,000 prize. The member who catches the largest Toyota ShareLunker from Lake Conroe during the tournament period will win a cash prize of $100,000. A portion of program proceeds will benefit the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s youth outreach programs.

Additionally, the SCT will kick off the annual Toyota ShareLunker Program across the state of Texas. It runs through April 30, with the mission of promoting the catch-and-release of large fish and selectively breeding trophy largemouth bass. A bass must weigh at least 13 pounds to be entered in the program.

A press release from Texas Parks and Wildlife says the following:

The ShareLunker Club Tournament is the perfect way to cap off the Toyota Texas Bass Classic and continue the excitement from the event, which will be held on Lake Conroe, Sept. 28-30.  

The Toyota Texas Bass Classic will feature 50 of the best professional anglers in the world along with three days of concerts and expos, with the anglers battling it out to claim the title of the world’s best.

The Toyota Texas Bass Classic tournament functions are operated by the Professional Anglers Association with technical assistance and support from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Inland Fisheries Division. Title sponsor for the event is Toyota.

Limited quantities of free tickets are available this year to the three-day outdoor music festival and professional bass fishing world championship. 

Monday
Jan302012

Standing Timber Cut at Lake Conroe

Standing timber has been cut at Texas’ Lake Conroe. Learn more about this illegal disregard for fish, wildlife, and public safety at The Angler Advocate:

“Habitat is again under attack on Lake Conroe, and those responsible have little regard for fish, wildlife, or public safety. A group of local anglers have discovered some large areas of standing timber that have been recklessly removed by yet unidentified individuals in Live Branch on the South end of the lake.”