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Entries in Sharelunker (19)


What's the Best Way to Handle a Big Bass? Help Researchers Find Out

Whether on a weigh-in stand or in front of a camera, holding a fish up for display has become an integral part of angling. But what’s the best way to handle that bass during the short, but critical time it is out of the water, especially if it weighs 5 pounds or more?

Surprisingly, despite the immense popularity of bass fishing, no research has been conducted to determine that --- until now. Scientists at the Florida Bass Conservation Center are investigating the question during a short, but precedent-setting project co-sponsored by the Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences Program at the University of Florida (UF), Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), and the Fisheries Conservation Foundation (FCF).

During the coming months, they will test three different methods of holding bass, all of which weigh between 4 and 9 pounds. One is by the lower jaw with one hand, while the other is placed near the pelvic fin to fully support the fish’s weight. Another is by a Boga Grip, with the fish hanging vertically. And the third is horizontally by the lower jaw.

The main objective is to determine whether these techniques influence jaw function, and to assess if one is more harmful than another. Many fisheries managers suspect that improper handling can influence feeding effectiveness and jaw mechanics, as well as fish survival.

Evidence to support that is provided by Texas’ ShareLunker Program. This year, three of the first five fish brought in had broken jaws. “The only explanation we have for the broken jaws is fish being held vertically by the lower jaw,” Texas Parks & Wildlife officials said.

“Anglers were expressing concern to FWC about how some big bass were being handled,” said UF’s Mike Allen, who is leading the research. “Studies have been done on other species, such as barramundi in Australia, but we were surprised to find out there is no science on this issue (for bass).

“Now we are hoping that people will get behind this and help support it,” he added. “Also, RocketHub allows us to educate anglers and raise awareness during the project.”

At this fund-raising site, anglers can donate to a scholarship through FCF for a graduate student to help with the laboratory work. Donations also will help with his travel expenses to and from the hatchery, as well as outreach materials to better communicate findings to the public.

A rare opportunity arose to do this work because the hatchery was rotating out about 100 of its brood stock, averaging about 5 pounds each. “That got us on a fast track because the hatchery needs to move those fish,” Allen said.

With cameras recording everything, researchers will test 30 bass at a time, 10 with each method, holding the fish for 60 seconds. The bass then will be placed in raceways for five days to allow them recover from the stress, before they are fed for two days. Finally, they will be moved to a pond to look at long-term survival. Each bass is identified by a bit of colored yarn tied to its dorsal fin. During feeding, scientists will analyze the number of effective strikes on prey, the jaw movement rate (time required to open and close the mouth in feeding), and the behavior of the fish around the feeding process (for example, the time it takes to consume the minnow).   

“We want to see if there’s any harm to the jaw musculature, any damage to the feeding mechanism,” Allen said.

“What’s really going to take some time is looking at all the videos, watching how the fish hold their jaws, seeing if they ‘yawn’ more, looking at whether there’s any effect on the percentage of time that strikes are successful, and how they do long term.”


Support Research About How to Properly Handle Bass

 We need to know more about how to properly handle bass, especially big bass. The following provides some compelling evidence.

On March 18, Texas Parks & Wildlife (TPW) posted this on its ShareLunker Facebook page:

“Three of this year’s five ShareLunkers have come in with broken jaws.Two have died. The other has been returned to the lake.The only explanation we have for the broken jaws is fish being held vertically by the lower jaw. 

“Broken jaws can kill fish in two ways. An infection can start at the break and invade other organs. Or, the fish may not be able to feed and will starve.”

TPW offers good advice on how to properly handle these trophy fish, but we need to know more about how to properly handle bass of all sizes and then we need to spread the word. If you doubt that, just consider the many photos you see of anglers improperly holding bass horizontally by the lower jaw. Even much smaller fish can be hurt this way.

Want to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem? Don’t hold bass horizontally unless you place one hand under the belly to support its weight. And donate to this important research in Florida.

The main objective is to test whether different handling techniques influence the jaw function of Florida largemouth bass. “We hypothesize that improper handling could influence feeding effectiveness and jaw mechanics, as well as fish survival.”

Your support is needed to fund a scholarship through the Fisheries Conservation Foundation for a graduate student to conduct the experiment in the research lab at the Florida Bass Conservation Center near Webster, Florida. “Your support also will go towards travel expenses to the hatchery for the student and outreach materials so we can communicate our results to the bass angling community.


Can Nutritional Boost Help Big Bass Grow Even Bigger?

TPWD photo

The majority of bass produced by the Toyota ShareLunker program goes to stocking Texas public reservoirs for anglers to catch. Since the program began in 1986, that translates into more than one million fingerlings spawned in hatcheries from bass weighing 13 pounds or more and distributed into 62 reservoirs, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPW).

Since 2001, though, some have gone into both public and private waters solely to evaluate the benefits of crossing pure Florida ShareLunkers with male bass descended from previous ShareLunkers.

The most recent private stocking in Operation World Record (OWR) occurred this summer on a Webb County ranch owned by Gary Schwarz, best known for growing big whitetail deer. TPW provided 7,404 ShareLunker offspring for the recently renovated 60-acre lake to see if he can attain similarly impressive results with largemouth bass.

To provide the bass with optimum forage, Schwarz is not content with having just bluegill, minnows, and shad. He also will flush prawns, shrimp-like crustaceans, into the lake from surrounding brood ponds. The shellfish can grow as large as 12 inches and should provide a nutritional boost for the fast-growing future ShareLunkers.

Owners of these private “contract” lakes agree not to fish for the bass for a stipulated period, and TPW may remove them as needed.

The Webb County stocking was facilitated by 2008 Bassmaster Classic winner Alton Jones, who knows Schwarz, according to Allen Forshage, director of the Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens.

These likely will be the last OWR offspring stocked in a private lake, as previous research indicates that these fish do grow faster and bigger than normal Florida-strain bass. Four years after they were stocked in other waters, they had an average weight of about 7 ounces more than resident bass of equivalent age, according to biologist Michael Baird.

“Additionally, the largest bass collected were almost always Lunker offspring, while the smallest were resident offspring,” he said.

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


Future Bright for Trophy Bass in Florida, Texas

The best is yet to come for anglers who pursue big bass in Florida and Texas. Even though they have decidedly different approaches, each sponsors a program that optimizes opportunities provided by the Florida strain of largemouth.

Of course, it’s only logical that the two have differing strategies, since one manages for non-native fish in manmade impoundments, while the other focuses on native fish in natural lakes. As a consequence, Texas constantly researches methods for growing more and ever larger bass, while Florida has set up a system that both helps anglers find the state’s biggest fish and encourages catch-and-release.

Implemented just two years ago, the Sunshine State’s TrophyCatch still is in its “infancy stages,” according to Bill Pouder, a freshwater fisheries administrator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). It was borne out of the state’s Long-Term Black Bass Management Plan, with the intent of ensuring “Florida is the undisputed bass fishing capital of the world.”

Word of mouth, Pouder added, has helped considerably in motivating fishermen to report catches of 8 pounds and larger. “If I’m an angler who catches an 8-pound bass and all I have to do is provide a photo and measurements in exchange for $100 in gift cards and prizes, then I’d be very encouraged to do it,” he said.

Statistics certainly bear out that assessment, too. From Oct. 1, 2012, through September 2013, fishermen entered 206 fish in TrophyCatch. But 679 bass were logged in during the eight months that followed. Of those 885 fish, 244 weighed between 10 and 12.99 pounds and 5 weighed 13 pounds or more.

As possibly the biggest surprise of the program thus far, three of those latter fish, including the largest at 14-9, came from Kingsley Lake, a semi-private fishery in Clay County. That discovery goes to the heart of how TrophyCatch will enhance opportunities for Florida anglers to catch lunkers: It tells them where they are.

Not so surprising is that Lake Istokpoga tops the list of public waters, followed by Okeechobee, Toho, Kissimmee, and St. Johns River. But 235, or more than 25 percent, of those fish have been caught in small, unnamed waters, including private ponds, golf course ponds, retention ponds, and undisclosed public lakes.

“Those types of waters aren’t typically managed,” Pouder said. “But that suggests we might look into that for the future.”

Also worthy of note is that TrophyCatch has given lie to the notion that anglers must use shiners to catch big bass in Florida. More 60 percent of entries were caught on artificials.

More of that kind of helpful information will be available to anglers soon, as FWC develops a more in-depth website for TrophyCatch, which will allow each entrant to have his or her own page.

In Texas, meanwhile, managers continue to look for new ways to improve the state’s trophy bass fisheries through ShareLunker, a program built around stocking Florida strain largemouths. Before the Lonestar State introduced the larger variety of black bass, its state record of 13.5 remained unchallenged for 37 years. Since stocking began in the 1970s, the record has been broken six times, and three since ShareLunker began in 1986.

Current Texas record is 18.2, larger even than the biggest bass documented in Florida at 17.27.

Courtesy of ShareLunker, Florida bass now swim in 62 Texas impoundments. They are spawned in hatcheries from the ShareLunker entries of 13 pounds or more that Texas fishermen donate to the program.Incredibly, 51 percent of ShareLunker entries are pure Florida bass, with the rest being hybrids. Yet sampling reveals that Florida bass typically make up only about 7 percent of a fishery’s bass population.

“A real value of the program has been that it has convinced anglers that they do not have to kill their catch to get a trophy,” said Allen Forshage, director of the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center.

In exchange for donating their fish, anglers are given replica mounts.

Right now, focus is on DNA and how tracking it might help produce a fish that could rival the world record of 22-4. While breeding ShareLunker entries to male ShareLunker offspring, biologists have developed a technique to identify both parents in future trophy bass.

Tagging already has revealed that sometimes entries are caught more than once. In fact, one was caught three times.

“I was a pessimist when we first started this program,” Forshage said. “We had no idea that one day we’d have 62 lakes producing these lunker fish.”

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


Behind the Scenes at the Lunker Bunker

ShareLunker 547. Texas Parks and Wildlife photo.

Check out the new 14-minute video at the Texas ShareLunker Facebook page. It shows what happened when ShareLunker No. 547 was taken into the Lunker Bunker at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens.

You also can see a video in which Donald Deville tells how he caught that 14.06-pound largemouth at Lake Fork.