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Entries in Minnesota (43)


Smallmouth Bass Records Broken or Tied in Four States

Michigan's state record smallmouth bass, caught on a nightcrawler.During a year when the smallmouth bass record possibly has been broken or tied in four states, the most recent is arguably the most impressive for a couple of reasons.

First, Bruce Kraemer's catch Sept.11 on Michigan's Indian River nearly reached double digits, checking in at 9.98 pounds. That's more than a half pound heavier than the previous record, 9.33 pounds, caught less than a year before. The latter toppled a mark that was more than a century old, a 9.25-pound smallie caught in 1906.

Meanwhile in neighboring Wisconsin, the record of 9.1 was set in 1950, while Minnesota's record of 8 pounds has stood since 1948.

Second, Kraemer caught the huge fish while fishing with a live nightcrawler on light spinning gear from his backyard. He wouldn't even have known it was record if he hadn't entered it in a fishing contest sponsored by a local business."I usually spend June through the end of September up here at the cottage," said the angler who lives the rest of the year in Treasure Island, Fla. "I've got some great fish stories and some nice fish, but nothing like this."

And he wouldn't have had "this," if his neighbor, Ron Krieg, hadn't convinced him to stay a little longer.

"He also netted the fish for me and talked me into entering it into the fishing contest at Pat and Gary's Party Store," the angler said.

Up in New York, meanwhile, Patrick Hildebrand tied the state record with an 8.25-pound smallmouth that he caught a few weeks earlier out of Cape Vincent on the St. Lawrence River. Taken on a dropshot rig in about 35 feet of water, it equals the mark set in 1995. New York Department of Environmental Conservation hasn't yet officially acknowledged the catch as tying the state record, but likely soon will.

Both of those fish might have grown to record proportions by gorging on gobies, an exotic species common in both Indian River and the St. Lawrence. In fact, Kraemer said that he had rigged the nightcrawler above his sinker to keep it off the bottom and away from the small bottom-dwelling fish.

"When I set the hook, I first thought that I had a goby," he recalled. "But when I pulled, it didn't move and I thought I was snagged on bottom. But then it started moving toward the middle of the river."

Out in South Dakota's Little Horseshoe Lake, Lyal Held caught a pre-spawn smallmouth that checked in a 7.185 pounds (7-3), to surpass the record of 7, taken at the same fishery in 2013.  Captured in late April, Held's fish had a girth of 19 inches that almost equaled its length of 19.5. "I've never seen anything so fat," Held said. "It was so fat its eyes were bulging."

And in Montana, Melvin McDonald might have set the new standard in August at Fort Peck Reservoir with a catch of 6.7 pounds as he was bottom-bouncing a Berkley Gulp! Minnow for walleyes. Montana Department of Natural Resources has yet to confirm the catch. Current record of 6.375 (6-6) was set twice, in 2000 on the Flat River and in 2002 at Fort Peck.


Walleye Will Decline as Bass Expand With Climate Change 

Warming winters and waters will encourage largemouth bass to expand their range in northern states, while walleye populations will diminish and retreat, according the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) researchers and fisheries scientists in the Upper Midwest.

In a recent study about the effects of climate change, USGS revealed that walleye numbers have been declining and bass numbers increasing in Wisconsin during the past 30 years. It added, "This downward trend in walleye populations is likely to continue as climate change will cause lakes to get warmer over time. Researchers identified characteristics of lakes where walleye or largemouth bass were most likely to thrive and found that both species were strongly influenced by water temperature.

"While walleye populations thrived in cooler, larger lakes, largemouth bass were more abundant in warmer lakes."

In other words, what's best for bass is not best for walleye, added Gretchen Hansen, an author of the study and research scientists for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources."Going forward, we predict that many Wisconsin lakes are going to become more suitable for largemouth bass, and less suitable for walleye."

The trend will be most notable, she added, in smaller inland lakes.

Larger fisheries are not immune, however, with Minnesota's Mille Lacs a notable example. Biologists believe that warming water is a primary reason for walleye decline in this 132,516-acre lake.

But it's not just that the walleye don't thrive in warmer water. Neither do forage, such as cisco, which they rely on to stay fat and healthy. Also known as tullibee, these baitfish seek refuge in the coldest parts of lakes during summer.

"I liken them to sticks of butter swimming around, a pretty fatty fish with high energetic content," said Paul Venturelli, an assistant professor in fisheries at the University of Minnesota.

In looking at 2,100 lakes in Wisconsin, USGS scientists considered not just water temperatures from 1979 to2014, but acreage, depth, water clarity, and historical weather. "Wisconsin's lakes are going to get warmer in the future, but how much warmer they will get varies among lakes," said Luke Winslow, a research hydrologist.

Scientists estimated that the percentage of lakes with conditions conductive to high largemouth bass abundance will increase  from 60 to 89 percent by mid century. In contrast, the percentage of lakes likely to support natural reproduction of walleye is predicted to decline from 10 to less than 4 percent.

On a positive note for walleye, the percentage of lake acreage likely to support natural reproduction should decline by a much smaller amount, from 46 to 36 percent. "Walleye populations in large lakes appear to be more tolerant of warming than walleye populations in small lakes," said Hansen, who added increasing stocking rates could help mitigate the decline.


Whether He's Keeping or Releasing, Respect The Other Guy

Back when Jack Wingate still owned and ran Lunker Lodge on Lake Seminole, a sign on the entrance road said, "You should have been here yesterday."  On one memorable trip, some friends and I were there "yesterday," a sunny, early spring day when big pre-spawn bass began migrating into the shallows.

We caught and released dozens of 4- to 7-pound bass, mostly on soft plastics. Back at the lodge, we saw that others had enjoyed similar success.

Only they hadn't released their fish. They were cleaning them. Everyone in our group was upset by this, but one was so enraged that we had to physically restrain him from confronting and possibly provoking a fight.

The meat fishermen at Lunker Lodge had broken no laws. They simply kept their limits and were taking them home to eat. But in doing so, they had raised the ire of other anglers, who practiced catch-and-release with an almost religious fervor.

That same passion remains with millions today. They would never think of keeping a bass for the table, especially a big pre-spawn female. It's sacrilegious, and they have little regard for those who do.

Much the same disdain is directed toward those who use live bait instead of artificials.

Up at Minnesota's Mille Lacs right now, catch-and-release bass fishermen are  agitated because the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) has prohibited harvest of walleyes, as it attempts to revive that sagging fishery. As a consequence, the agency has redirected meat fishermen, often equipped with live bait,  toward the lake's world-class smallmouth bass fishery.

I share the distress of  anglers upset by this. While I do keep smaller largemouth and spotted bass for the table, I would never keep a smallie. Plus, up north, they're slow-growing, the spawning season short, and year-class success less a certainty than in more temperature areas. In other words, the quality of that bass fishery is more tenuous, not just at Mille Lacs but throughout the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes area.

Coincidentally, quite a few northern anglers use live bait to catch and keep bass, as well as walleye. It's a long-standing traditional way to fish and goes hand-in-hand with opposition to catch-and-release fishing, especially as it relates to tournaments. And they get just as mad at the "opposition" as my friend did at Lake Seminole.

Here's what one of them told me in a comment at my Activist Angler website: "Sport fishing to catch and release should be outlawed!  We are working to keep fish for real fishermen who enjoy the taste and food. We need to keep these so called sport fishermen out of Minnesota lakes . . . I am not alone, and I vote!"

My point in all of this? As anglers, we are divided, when we must be united if sport fishing is to survive. That's because it's under siege as never before by the ever-growing and aggressive animal rights movement, which garners much of its support from well meaning people who care about animal welfare, but have no connection to and no interest in fishing and hunting. In parts of western Europe, catch-and-release is outlawed because it's "cruel." Only fishing for food is acceptable.

Now, let's look at the science. Exploitation of the smallmouth bass population at Mille Lacs is only 5 percent, according to MDNR.  "That's horrible for die-hards, but really not that big a deal," said Gene Gilliland, B.A.S.S. national conservation director.

"Limits are set in accordance with good science, to sustain fisheries," he added.

Most bass anglers today, he said, "are indoctrinated into a bass culture in which catch-and-release is the only way to go. But many states have other customers , along with other fish, and they have to listen to them too. If they don't, license sales go down and all species suffer."

Additionally, too much catch-and-release actually can be detrimental. When first popularized during the 1970s, when harvest was high, it  did, indeed, help sustain many fisheries. Now, though, the pendulum has swung so far in the other direction that limits are almost irrelevant for fisheries management. Often, slot limits don't work because people won't keep small bass. Selective harvest would be much better for some fisheries than 90 to 95 percent catch-and-release.

So . . . let's calm down and remember that we're all in this together. Whether that guy in the other boat is using live bait and keeping fish for the table or competing in a tournament, as long as he's obeying the law, you should respect his right to be there, just as he should respect yours.

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


Noise Could Be Way to Slow Spread of Silver Carp

Anglers and other boaters already know that silver carp don't like noise, and arguably that's not a good thing. That's because huge schools of these exotic fish go airborne as they flee the sounds of outboard engines, often damaging boaters and injuring people.

But this aversion to noise also could provide a silver lining in the quest to slow the spread of silver carp, according to scientists with the University of Minnesota-Duluth (UMD) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).    

“Our complex noise findings suggest that certain sounds could be used to divert silver carp away from strategic points on waterways or herd them into nets,” said Brooke Vetter, a UMD researcher and graduate student.

After placing speakers at the ends of outdoor concrete ponds, scientists tested carp response to pure sounds, which resemble a dial tone, and more complex noises. The fish quickly adjusted to the pure tones, never swimming away more than two consecutive times. But they continuously fled the more complex sounds.

Now researchers are testing complex noise as a way to control silver carp in the Illinois River.

“Silver carp threaten many waterways in the Great Lakes basin by competing with native species,” said USGS's Mark Gaikowski. “Understanding silver carp behavior is critical for determining effective techniques to minimize the ecological and economic damage of this invasive species."


Lethal Parasite Investigated in Minnesota Fish

Infected flesh looks as if it has freezer burn or has been cooked.

An aquatic parasite that can be lethal to multiple species of sport fish is a top priority these days for Minnesota fisheries scientists.

"Heterosporis has a very broad host range, and is in at least 15 fish species from at least 26 lakes," Dr. Nick Phelps told B.A.S.S. Times, adding that the largemouth bass is one of 11 species known to be susceptible via laboratory exposure.

"You have to be cautious with laboratory exposure as it may not necessarily reflect the real world," said the assistant professor who is leading investigation of the pathogen at the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center (MAISRC). "But some of these species clearly are highly susceptible."

In Minnesota fisheries, meanwhile, walleye, yellow perch, northern pike, rock bass and five other species are naturally susceptible to this infectious, muscle-dissolving parasite, known scientifically as Heterosporis sutherlandae. It also has been found to a lesser extent in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ontario.

"We are in the process of working up hundreds more fish from known-positive lakes to add more clarity to the list of both susceptible and resistant species," Phelps explained, adding that he has received several "suspect-positive" reports from anglers since they learned about the parasite and the disease it causes.

"When you have lakes that have 30 percent (of the fish population) infected, you can imagine how big of an impact this may have to fishermen trying to catch fish," he said. "When you have something that liquefies tissue and you don't know a lot about the biology and ecology of it, that is a cause for concern."

According to a MAISRC fact sheet, as the parasite dissolves tissue, it gives muscles a freezer-burned or cooked appearance. And that tissue is soft to the touch. "In severe infections, the fish will appear to curve inward due to muscle loss," the center said.

Heterosporis, which is not known to infect humans or other animals, is most often observed when a fish is filleted.

The parasite can be spread by moving infected fish or contaminated water.  Unlike many other fish parasites, this one does not require an intermediate host. It is transmitted directly from one fish to another through consumption of spores or an infected fish. First noted in 1990, its origin is unknown, although related species have been found in marine fish of the West Pacific and Arabian Sea.

"As far as diseases go, this is a nasty one," Phelps said.

"Our understanding of this important pathogen is far from complete and we hope, through the work at the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center, to fill in the gaps and provide the important information needed to guide recommendations for management."