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Entries in Red River (3)


Sturgeon Recovery Prompts Less Restrictive Regulations in Minnesota

Bruce Holt of G.Loomis (front) and guide John Garrett, briefly hold a white sturgeon for photos

Arguably the Columbia River is the nation’s premier fishery for large sturgeon.

Fishing with guide John Garrett a few years ago, G.Loomis’ Bruce Holt, former PGA golfer Johnny Miller and I caught five white sturgeon , each measuring 9 feet long or more and weighing at least 300 pounds. We could have caught more, but wind and high waves finally chased us off the river.

With the three of us battered and beaten by the huge fish and rough conditions, Miller asked the guide, “Have you ever killed a fisherman out here?”

“Not yet,” said Garrett. “Not yet.”

Will Spychalla and Carlin Salmela caught this 75-inch sturgeon Jan. 1, 2015, on the St. Croix River. The fish, estimated to weigh 115 pounds, could have easily bested the Minnesota record of 94 pounds, 4 ounces, but had to be immediately released because it was out of season. New state rules will allow anglers to target lake sturgeon throughout much of the year. (Photo courtesy of Blue Ribbon Bait & Tackle)

Minnesota’s lake sturgeon aren’t that large--- 6 feet long and 100 pounds is a trophy. But they’re becoming more and more abundant, highlighting the impressive recovery of an ancient species once nearly wiped out by overfishing. Reflecting that recovery, the state is introducing liberalized regulations beginning March 1, as reported by

“At the center of the changes are catch-and-release seasons that will run for most of the year on the St. Croix, Mississippi and St. Louis rivers, the Red River of the North and all inland waters, including the Kettle River, where the official state record -- 94 pounds, 4 ounces -- was caught in 1994.

“The Kettle, which flows into the St. Croix in St. Croix State Park, is among a number of inland waters where sturgeon fishing has been closed for years as populations declined. Under the new rules, all inland waters will be open to catch-and-release fishing from June 16 to April 14.

“Sturgeon well over 100 pounds and longer than 6 feet likely have been caught in the St. Croix River between Taylors Falls and its mouth at the Mississippi River, according to anglers and biologists, with some angler-caught specimens weighing perhaps as much as 150 pounds. Previously, that stretch of water was open to sturgeon fishing for only a month and a half in the fall. The new season will allow fishing throughout the year except from March 2 to June 15.”


Anglers, Boaters Getting 'Locked' Out

Starting this month, anglers and other boaters will find water access reduced --- in some cases, even eliminated --- at reservoir systems managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In a few cases, new restrictive policies already are in place.

Officials cite budget constraint as the reason. They say that aging infrastructure requires that they direct funding that normally would go to lower priority facilities and operations to those with higher priorities.       

Among the lowest priorities is lock service, especially on systems where commercial traffic has diminished or, in some cases, disappeared entirely. As a consequence, service has been or will be reduced and/or eliminated at 63 locks nationwide.

In West Virginia, that policy translates into lost access on the Upper Monongahela River, a popular bass fishery.

“With the proposed lock closings, recreational users will have extremely limited access to the two middle pools in West Virginia,” says Jerod Harman, conservation director for the West Virginia B.A.S.S. Federation Nation. “The Corps will basically shut down 13.4 miles of navigable waters, or approximately 1/3 of the fishable waters on the river in West Virginia.

“But, more importantly, this has restricted the thoroughfare from Fairmont to Morgantown. It would be kind of like the only bridge was lost on a major interstate highway. You can either drive on ‘that side’ or you can drive on ‘this side.’ But you can’t get there from here!”

The Alabama, Allegheny, Arkansas, Black Warrior, Chattahoochee, Cumberland, Mississippi, Ouachita, Red, Tennessee, West Pearl, and many other systems also will see locks service reduced or even eliminated for recreational traffic.

As a consequence, some fisheries, such as Hildebrand Pool on the Monongahela, no longer will have public access.

“It’s outrageous,” says Barry Pallay, vice president of the Upper Monongahela River Association (UMRA), which has been working with the Corps, communities, B.A.S.S., and others to maintain recreational access.

“Not only is there not access at Hildebrand, but the only access on the Morgantown Pool, Uffington boat ramp, gets silted in.”

With locks closed to recreational traffic, anglers also will be denied the freedom to fish several pools from one launch site, while larger pleasure craft won’t be able to cruise through a system, On the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF), for example, boaters can no longer go from Eufaula, Ala., to Apalachicola, Fla.

That’s because locks at Walter F. George (Lake Eufaula), George W. Andrews, and Jim Woodruff (Lake Seminole) rank as only a “1” in importance. Level 6 locks are manned 24/7, while level 1 locks are opened for commercial navigation by appointment only.

“We’d have to have at least more than a thousand recreational lockages to raise up to level 3, which involves someone manning the locks one shift per day,” says Bill Smallwood, ACF project manager.

The three locks had no commercial traffic in 2011, with recreational lockages numbered nearly 300 at Lake Eufaula and 140 at Seminole.

Out on the Ouachita, a new lock operation schedule means service reduced from 24 hours to 18 hours a day at two Louisiana locks and from 24 hours to 16 hours at two Arkansas locks.

"This could be the beginning of the end for this project," said Bill Hobgood, executive director of the Ouachita River Valley Association.

But the UMRA, B.A.S.S., and others are determined to protect and restore access for recreational use on these systems.

“I am working with Gordon Robertson at the American Sportfishing Association to set up a meeting with the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works to discuss the serious impacts that closure of 60 locks will have for recreational fishing and boating,” said Noreen Clough, B.A.S.S. National Conservation Director.

UMRA, meanwhile, intends to find a solution, possibly one that can be applied nationally, and Pallay says that Corps officials, in turn, have been cooperative.

During a joint public meeting in July, officers from the Pittsburgh District said this in their Power Point presentation:

“As the federal government steps out, who steps in? We are willing to try anything; to explore any idea. Let’s set the example for the nation on how to do this right.”

UMRA has placed some of its recommendations in a resolution endorsed by communities along the Upper Monongahela. Among them: open the locks during recreation boating season, authorize use of part-time employees or even auxiliary volunteers as lock operators, and investigate innovative ways to fund operation of locks.

“We want to find ways to keep the locks open while we work on long-term solutions,” Pallay says. “And now we are ratcheting up the effort.

“We’re hoping that by April of next year we will be testing a pilot or demonstration project that can be replicated in other places.”

(Reprinted from B.A.S.S. Times.)


Practice Begins Today for Bassmaster Classic Contenders on Red River

Aaron Martens fishes on the Red River during Day One of the 2009 Bassmaster Classic. Photo courtesy of B.A.S.S.

The Bassmaster Classic is coming up Feb. 24-26 on the Red River near Shreveport, La.

What awaits the world’s best bass anglers on this fishery?

Here is what B.A.S.S. reports:

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — “I’ll know when I get there.”

That’s what several Bassmaster Classic qualifiers had to say about Red River conditions and how the weather might or might not dictate the bite for the Feb. 24-26 Bassmaster Classic out of Shreveport-Bossier City, La.

None of the 49 Classic qualifiers have been on the river lately, because it’s been off limits for more than two months. That will change Friday, the first of four days of practice. But until they start looking and/or casting, what Classic anglers can surmise about the Red stems from past knowledge and long-distance reconnaissance.

It’s a safe bet that the majority have been tracking weather trends and river levels for weeks. Most anglers’ ideal conditions would be moderate air and water temperatures, Goldilocks water levels (not too high and not too low) and a moderate rate of water flow. And that’s been the Red over the past few days.

But the river is famous for turning wild. That’s what makes competition there so tough, especially at the Classic, in which the prestige, visibility and $500,000 first-place prize create extra pressure on anglers.

A hard rain, for example, can quickly muddy the main channel. A swift and high main river swollen from upriver deluges can push stained water into the normally more clear and productive backwaters. Under such conditions, the big and mighty Red River suddenly seems to shrink, said Classic qualifier Todd Faircloth, who can drive two hours from his Texas home and be on the river.

“What high, muddy water does is concentrate everybody, because there’s a smaller percentage of fishable water,” said Faircloth, who competed in the first Classic on the Red River three years ago, finishing 35th.

Conversely, in a dry spell, some backwater areas can drop and be inaccessible by boat if they don’t disappear altogether.

Like most Classic qualifiers, Alabamian Aaron Martens would not like to find extremely low water when he arrives back in Louisiana.

When he scouted in December, low water was what he saw. “It was impossible or very difficult to get to any of the stuff we fished before (in 2009),” he reported. “At normal pool, fishing should be decent. I’m not sure what it is now; I’ll look at it when I get there.”

He’s hoping the South’s moderate winter temperatures will continue. Not so much for his comfort — although he’d take it, he said — but because he’s found that Red River bass tend to bite better in warmer weather.

He has not been tracking upriver or local rainfall closely.

“When I get there, I’ll check the river flow. Mostly, though, just seeing the river is going tell me the most,” said Martens, who was ninth in the 2009 Classic.

Brent Chapman from Lake Quivira, Kan., is hot off a Feb. 12 fish-off win in the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open in Texas. Like other Classic qualifiers, he is expecting a backwater bite in tight quarters.

“It’s a great fishery, but it tends to fish small,” said Chapman, who finished 27th in the 2009 Classic. “You have to expect to fish around several other boats.”

Edwin Evers has not been back to the Red since Classic 2009, in which he finished fifth. At home in Talala, Okla., he tracked Red River water levels. Lower water would definitely create a crowded backwater contest, he said.

“Low water will put a whole lot more boats in those areas, and it will fish a lot smaller than it did when we were there before,” he said.

Like other anglers, Evers will evaluate the Red when he sees it again. But under any given river condition, he expects the weights to be tight.

“It’s just that type of fishery,” he said. “There’s really no hidden, secret area that somebody can use to blow this thing out. Every ounce is going to count.”

Evers noted that given extremely low water, some competitor might decide to run a shallow-draft aluminum boat or a jet boat into a skinny backwater,” but that angler will not be him. He planned to leave his aluminum rig at home. He said no condition would be likely to tempt him to give up the advantages of his fully equipped fiberglass rig.

Faircloth is of the same mind; he said going to aluminum is not an option for him.

So what does Mother Nature have planned in northwestern Louisiana come Classic time? On Feb. 16, the National Weather Service seven-day forecast pegged daily highs in the 60s and nighttime lows in the 40s, with mainly cloudy skies and rain showers through Feb. 22. The 10-day Weather Channel forecast shows that the first competition day, Feb. 24, will be under sunny, clear skies with a high of 70 and low of 48 degrees.

As to water level, according to the National Weather Service’s hydrologic statement of Feb. 15, the Red’s readings have been falling. The flood stage at Shreveport is 30 feet; the river on Feb. 15 was 18.4. For the start of practice Feb. 17, the water level prediction was at 17 feet. Normal at Shreveport is 17.72 feet. By Monday, Feb. 20, the date of the farthest-out prediction, the level was expected to be steady at 17 feet.

Fog reduced visibility in the Shreveport area to a quarter mile as recently as today in the early morning hours. Fog isn’t just a driving nuisance, it can change an entire Classic game. Fog over water can delay a morning start, as it did last year at the New Orleans Classic. This year, for any angler counting on having enough time to lock down into the Red River’s lower pools, a shortened competition day won’t work.

Given all the possibilities, will the weather be a ruling factor in Classic No. 42? Until a crystal ball appears, as Faircloth put it: “We’ll just have to wait and see what happens when we get there.”