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Entries in New York (22)

Thursday
Dec012016

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.

Friday
Nov042016

'Freaky Fat' Smallmouth Ties New York State Record

First Patrick Hildenbrand's "freaky fat" smallmouth bass missed the New York state record by less than 2 ounces.

And then it didn't.

The scales used to weigh it during a tournament sponsored by the Cape Vincent Chamber of Commerce indicated that the fish weighed 8.15 pounds. But they proved slightly inaccurate, and, when recertified,  officials realized that Hildenbrand's smallie actually weighed 8.25, which tied a record set in 1995.

Girth of the record fish, 20 3/4 inches, is only slightly less than its length, 21 1/2 inches. During pre-spawn, the bass arguably could weigh at least a few ounces more with an even larger girth.

The 37-year-old angler from Tivoli noticed a big fish arc on his Hummindbird fishfinder in 35 feet of water  as he fished the St. Lawrence River about 7 a.m. on Aug. 28. He then provoked the bite with a Berkley Powerbait Dropshot Minnow in goby color on his dropshot rig, which was tied to 15-pound line with 6-pound fluorocarbon leader.

The bass with a huge belly earned Hildenbrand second place and the big fish award and then was released. Additionally, the angler will receive an engraved plaque, certificate of achievement, and lapel pin from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NYDEC), according to tournament sponsors. NYDEC hasn't yet officially announced the record catch.

Using a grub, Andrew Kartesz caught the original state record smallmouth in June 1995 on Lake Erie. Its girth is not included in NYDEC records.

Remarkably, New York's biggest smallies weigh just 3 pounds less than the state record largemouth, 11-4. John Higbie caught that fish in September 1987 on a spinnerbait in Buckhorn Lake.

Sunday
Mar152015

New York Legislation Reminds Anglers to Clean, Drain, And Dry

Giant salvinia on boat trailer in Texas. TPWD photo

New legislation in New York makes anglers and other boaters responsible for taking common-sense precautions to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species. That means that they should clean, drain, and dry their boaters and trailers to remove plant and animal matter before transport or launch.

“New York’s new law is the latest, but not the last,” said Gene Gilliland, National Conservation Director for B.A.S.S. “Texas and Arizona passed clean, drain, and dry laws a few years ago.

“It is said that there needs to be legislation to enforce common sense,” he continued. “Checking your boats for clinging plants or debris, cleaning it by removing materials or power washing after you’ve boated in contaminated waters, removing the plug to drain your boat’s bilge or livewell, and drying the boat thoroughly to prevent the spread of any sort of plants or critters should be automatic --- an unconscious habit --- for all boaters.

“The fact that it is not a habit results in laws that force the issue.”

Starting in November, offenders in New York waters will receive a written notice for a first violation, along with educational materials regarding invasive species. A fine of up to $150 will be issued for a second offense, up to $250 for a third offense, and no more than $1,000 for a fourth.

Additionally, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has adopted regulations that prohibit boats from launching or leaving agency access sites without taking these precautions. Also, several local municipalities and state organizations have adopted local laws to minimize the spread of invasives, including boat inspection and washing requirements.

In 2014, New York adopted its first mandatory inspection program for boat launches on Lake George.

DEC points out that invasives threatened both tourism and sport fishing by outcompeting native species for food and habitat. Additionally, they can spread diseases, and, once established, are nearly impossible to eradicate because they have few natural predators in their new environments. Nationwide, they annually cause about $120 billion in damage.

“As much as people don't like government regulation, the problem here is one of how easily a system can be contaminated,” Gilliland said.

“A single boat can be responsible for introducing invasive mussels or plants. If boaters do not police themselves, to protect water resources, states may take drastic measures, such as we've seen in California, where boats are banned altogether from some waters.”

Wednesday
Jan282015

Retail Sale of Bass Encourages Black Market

Largemouth bass painting by Al Agnew

States that allow sale of black bass in markets and restaurants are just asking for trouble, even if regulations specify that they must be hatchery raised. The words of Seth Gordon, the first conservation director for the Izaak Walton League (IWL), serve as a chilling reminder of what once was and what could again be when we don’t learn from history.

“So long as there is a legal market anywhere, you may bank on it that thousands of pounds of illegally caught bass will be sold,” he said during IWL’s all but forgotten campaign during the 1920s to save black bass from decimation by commercial harvest.

Well into the 20th century, black bass were commercial, as well as sport fish. Even as government agencies stocked fish anywhere and everywhere and closed seasons limited sport fishing, commercial fishermen harvested largemouth and smallmouth bass with pound and fyke nets, as well as other means, for sale in the fish markets of many cities.

“Eulogy on the Black Bass” read the headline in a 1927 issue of Forest and Stream, and another in 1930 screamed, “Defrauding Ten Million Anglers.” In the latter article, Edward Kemper slammed the Bureau of Fisheries for “overseeing the slaughter of millions and millions of black bass” and he included a “role of dishonor,” naming 10 states that continued to allow sale of bass in markets.

IWL was the prime mover for passage of the Black Bass Act of 1926, which was introduced into Congress by Rep. Harry Hawes of Missouri. As the law prohibited shipment of bass across state lines, IWL also worked within those states to outlaw commercial harvest.

I learned about this little known chapter in bass history from Jim Long, assistant unit leader of the Oklahoma Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Oklahoma State University. He came across this and other long forgotten information as he prepared a presentation on the history of black bass management for a Black Bass Diversity Symposium at a Southern Division Meeting of the American Fisheries Society.

“I’ve read some histories of fisheries but I’ve never seen one for black bass,” he told me. “I wanted original newspaper clippings, not third-hand accounts, and data bases made that possible,” he said.

Pouring through archives, Long found a headline from the 1920s that proclaimed “Hoover Laments Decline of Fishing.” And he discovered that the New York Times listed black bass regulations during the 1870s. “That’s something you don’t see today,” he said.

As he divided his search into major time periods, starting with the 1800s, what surprised Long the most were the influential roles played by the IWL and, before that, by Dr. James A. Henshall.

Author of the 1881 Book of the Black Bass, Henshall was a medical doctor and passionate bass angler. The most quoted line in bass fishing literature belongs to him: “I consider him (black bass), inch for inch and pound for pound, the gamest fish that swims.”

Henshall’s passion, said Long, was to promote black bass as “a pre-eminent gamefish.” But the doctor also was a “lumper,” countering decades of science that preceded him.

Long coined that phrase as the opposite to “splitters,” which describes those who recognize multiple bass species.

“Henshall did a lot of really good work, but he considered the spotted bass a smallmouth, the Guadalupe a largemouth, and the Florida a largemouth,” Long explained. “And he was the authoritative voice.”

So, even though the smallmouth bass and then largemouth bass were identified in 1802, the spotted bass in 1819, the Florida bass in 1822, and the Guadalupe bass in 1874, Henshall’s lumping successfully countered their acknowledgement as separate species until the 1940s.

By the way, no one knows where that first smallmouth was caught before it was shipped to France to be analyzed and given its Latin name. But what Long discovered is that the black bass’s keystone designation as Micropterus was based on a damaged dorsal fin.

“It looked like it had a second, smaller dorsal,” he said. “And that word means small fin or wing.”

With improvement in science over the decades, especially in genetics, Henshall’s lumping has fallen out of favor and we’re not likely to name any new species based on an imperfection. Also, we’ve become much more selective about how and when we stock, and we’re focused on improving habitat as never before as a way to sustain fisheries.

All those are good things. But I am troubled by our politicians and their propensity for repeating harmful chapters in our history, as evidenced by New York’s decision two years ago to allow sale of black bass in markets and restaurants.   

Here’s a link to a column I wrote about this threat in 2011.  

Monday
Sep152014

What's Ailing Susquehanna River Smallmouth Bass?

Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission photo

Despite its refusal to declare the Susquehanna River impaired last year, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) says that it will continue intensive sampling of what was once a world-class smallmouth fishery.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission asked for the designation, as fingerlings continue to die, adults carry ugly lesions, and eggs show up in the testes of male fish. Additionally, an estimated 80 percent of the bass seem to have disappeared from the central part of the state, where the North and West Branches meet, down to Conowingo Dam in Maryland.

The 2014 plan calls for analysis of fish tissue for pesticides, PCBs, and metals. Also biologists will look at insects, mussels, and other invertebrates, as well as sample the water for sediment, pollution, and pesticides.

At 464 miles, the Susquehanna is the largest river to drain into the Atlantic, and its massive watershed of 27,500 square miles includes portions of New York and Maryland, as well as nearly half of Pennsylvania.

“Over the last two years where we tremendously enhanced our examination efforts, DEP has learned a great deal about the health of the Susquehanna River,” said Secretary E. Christopher Abruzzo.

 “It is important to continue these efforts so that DEP can create policy and regulation based on facts and sound science.”

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation believes that a “perfect storm” of conditions have contributed to the sick and declining smallmouth population, with pollution from farms and sewage plants, low dissolved oxygen, rising water temperatures among the contributors. These stressors make the fish more susceptible to bacteria, parasites, and diseases that might not have affected them in the past.

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