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Entries in Lake Fork (12)

Thursday
Dec292016

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.

Friday
Oct142016

Don't Overlook Small Baits for Catching Big Bass

The Texas state record largemouth bass was caught by accident.

Chances are that you don't know the amazing story of that fish, which weighed 18.18 pounds and was caught in 1992.

I do. I talked to the angler who caught it and included his tale in my book, Better Bass Fishing, in a chapter about catching big bass with small baits.

St. Clair had been bass fishing on Lake Fork with two friends. They decided to stop and catch a few crappie for the table. St. Clair didn’t have light tackle with him, so he simply put 12-inches of 8-pound leader and a 1/0 gold Aberdeen hook onto his bass rod and reel, which was loaded with 14-pound line.

The strength of that line and the backbone of the rod played no small part in the battle that was about to occur.

“At first, I didn’t know what I had,” St. Clair told me. “But I never panicked. That’s what helped me get the fish in.

“I put pressure on it, and it started to move. Right away, I thought it might be a big catfish. But it didn’t act like a catfish.”

The fish ran three times, but stayed deep. “I took the time to wear her out,” St. Clair said. “Then I eased her toward the surface.

“When she came up, it was like an exploding buoy coming out of the water. We all were stunned. Then I screamed ‘Get the net!’ at my buddies.”

Once he had her in, St. Clair noted that the big bass “filled the bottom of the boat,” and he saw that the delicate wire hook was bent nearly into a circle. “Once more run and she would have been gone,” he said.

Since that memorable day, St. Clair has learned that his experience was not unique.

Secret: In other words, big bass will eat little baits, just as elephants will munch peanuts.

“I’ve run across numerous examples of others who were doing the same thing (crappie fishing) when they hooked something big,” he said. “A few got them in, and the fish were in the 13-pound range. Others couldn’t do it. I was lucky that I had tackle stout enough to handle the fish.”

Here’s another example of a big bass dining at the hors d’oeuvre tray instead of the buffet table: In April 2006, Randy Beaty Jr. used a 1/8-ounce Blakemore Roadrunner to catch a 15.68-pound bass at Florida’s Bienville Plantation.

And my personal favorite: I caught a 12-pound, 4-ounce largemouth bass on a 3/8-ounce Cordell Spot, while fishing in Mexico’s Lake Guerrero. In case you’re not familiar with it, that lipless crankbait is a mere 3 inches long, seemingly hardly an appetizer for a big bass.

Why do big bass sometimes eat little baits?

Find the answer in Better Bass Fishing. The book has been out for a few years, but most of the information  does not go out of date because it's about bass behavior and intelligence, seasonal patterns, weather, etc. In other words, it's about the "big picture" of bass fishing.

Thursday
Jan142016

Giant Salvinia Found at Texas' Lake Fork

A noxious invasive plant that has plagued Louisiana and Texas waters for more than a decade finally has found its way to Lake Fork, the Lone Star State's No.1 trophy bass lake. Possibly giant salvinia was brought in accidentally by boat or trailer from Toledo Bend, Sam Rayburn, or Caddo.

"We do everything we can within the limits of manpower and budget that we have to work with," said Larry Hodge, spokesman for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). "The problem is that everybody who has a boat is a potential vector."

"We've found infestations like this on other reservoirs  in East Texas and have gone in and physically removed the plants, all that we can find," he added. "If you catch it early, sometimes you can get rid of it, at least temporarily."

On Nov. 18 in Chaney Branch, agency biologists confirmed the presence of this fast-growing, free-floating fern that can double its coverage in a week, as it blocks access and displaces native plants, which can't grow under its dense mats. 

"The infestation appears to be confined to this branch and a another small cove west of the dam and occupies an estimated 3.25 acres," TPWD said. "Judging by the distribution and age of the plants, it appears it has been in place for several months."

The Sabine River Authority (SRA) immediately close boat ramps at Chaney Point South and Secret Haven to reduce the risk of spreading the plant.   It also checked at bridge crossings and along shorelines for additional plants.

Additionally, SRA and TPWD crews have physically removed plants, as well as placed about 1,100 feet of floating boom across the creek, in hopes of containing the infestation within the 90-acre cove.

TPWD also plans to conduct a chemical treatment, using glyphosate. "All efforts will be made to protect beneficial plants, while focusing on killing the invasive giant salvinia," the agency said, adding that it will continue to look for the plant in other areas of the lake.

"We've had a lot of rain and high water this year and a lot of wind," said biologist Kevin Storey. " I suspect this will affect Lake Fork for years."

Wednesday
Jan072015

Would Florida-Strain Bass Improve Your Fishery? Maybe . . . Not

In southeastern Oklahoma one winter, hatchery ponds for the state’s Florida bass stocking program were covered by ice for three weeks. One hundred miles to the south, at Lake Fork, just three days were below freezing.

Anglers at Fork during that time probably found the bite tough, but the world-class fishery suffered no long-term damage. In those ponds, meanwhile, 60 percent of the Florida bass brood stock died.

Yes, Florida bass grow faster and larger than their northern counterparts. And stocking them outside their native range has resulted in the creation of some spectacular trophy fisheries in states such as Texas, California, Georgia, and Alabama.

But desired outcome from the expensive effort is not a guarantee.

“In Oklahoma, we finally decided that stocking Florida bass was a waste of time in some places, no matter what fishermen want,” said Gene Gilliland, B.A.S.S. National Conservation Director and former assistant chief of fisheries for that state.

Still, anglers continue the drum beat to stock Florida bass in waters that biologists say are inappropriate, as Ron Brooks knows all too well.  And in their arguments for stocking, they cite “evidence” that really isn’t evidence at all, explained the Kentucky fisheries chief.

“We receive requests to stock the Florida strain fairly regularly, and they always site Tennessee’s stockings in Kentucky Lake and the larger bass there as a result,” he said, echoing the experiences of fisheries managers in several states.

But biologists haven’t verified that those large bass are the result of Florida strain stockings. “The truth of the matter is that Kentucky Lake is a very fertile lake with very abundant forage species,” Brooks added.

Recently, some wanted Kentucky to stock Florida bass in Cave Run Lake, an infertile fishery east of Lexington, with limited forage and almost no habitat in the lower end. And, oh yeah, muskies, fish that like cold water, do quite well there.

Still, Brooks said, explanations for why Cave Run is inappropriate fell on deaf ears.

In a nutshell, here’s what introduced Florida bass need to thrive: mild climate, abundant forage, and plentiful habitat, preferably vegetation. Originating in subtropic Florida, they’re most at home in shallow water with a long growing season and plenty to eat.

Simply for survival, climate is the most critical of the three. Temperature drop of just a few degrees can stress Florida bass, and rapid and/or severe drop can kill them. Unfortunately, a clear geographic boundary for determining where Florida bass can live and where they can’t does not exist.

 “It’s not a north/south thing,” Gililland said. “It’s a diagonal, with cold moving from the northwest to the southeast.”

To thrive, meanwhile, Florida bass require plenty of food both throughout the year and during all stages of their life cycle. In their native range, that means mostly golden shiners, shad, and sunfish. But they will grow large and fat on other species, including trout in California and tilapia in Mexico’s Lake El Salto.

Shallow-water, vegetated habitat is the least critical of the three components, especially if the climate is mild and food plentiful.

Okay, some of you say, “I understand that. But what’s the big deal if you stock Florida bass in a lake and they don’t do well. No harm, no foul. Right?”

Wrong.

Introducing Florida bass is not the same as a supplemental stocking to enhance a depleted fishery. There’s only one reason to stock them: To grow trophy fish. If a water body isn’t conducive for that, then Florida genes mixed into the native strain actually can harm the fishery, making them less hearty, at least in the short term. Eventually, Florida genes will disappear from the population.

But the money wasted to maintain brood stock, spawn them, and stock the offspring still will have been wasted.

Additionally, as Florida bass breed with native bass, the potential for growing to trophy size is lost over time. “You can’t just stock and leave them,” Gilliland said. “As long as you have 50 percent or greater Florida genes, there’s still the potential. Below that, it’s no greater than with just native fish.”

Still, many anglers who want big bass in their home waters continue to lobby for something that is not in the best interests of their fisheries.

“Believe me, if past research projects indicated that Florida strain bass would produce lunker bass in Kentucky, we would have stocked them years ago,” said Brooks, voicing the frustration of many fisheries managers. “We strive to produce the best fisheries possible within the limits of our resources.”

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

Friday
May312013

Tournament to Benefit West, Texas, Firefighters and EMS

Set for June 22 on  Lake Fork, a bass fishing tournament will benefit the volunteer fire department and EMS of West, Texas.

Fourteen people, 12 of them firefighters, were killed there in a fertilizer explosion on April 17. Another estimated 200 were injured in the blast that wiped out a residential section of this community about 20 miles north of Waco.

Here's a link for more information.