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Entries in smallmouth bass (62)

Thursday
Dec072017

Montana's Fort Peck Producing Big Smallies, Including State Record

In the Great Lakes states, smallmouth bass seem to be growing to record sizes by gorging on round gobies, an exotic species. Out West, they seem to be doing much the same thing by feeding on cisco (lake herring), likewise a nonnative species, at Montana's Fort Peck Reservoir.

At least that's the theory proposed by Mike Dominick in late September, after he caught a state record smallie. On a certified scale, it checked in at 7.51-pounds, besting the old mark of 7.4 caught last year by Jacob Fowler at Flathead Lake.

Dominick said that he's consistently caught smallmouths stuffed full of cisco, citing one trip when he caught five fish of more than 6 pounds each and another when he and a companion caught 30 topping 3 pounds each in 1 1/2 hours from the same spot.

"They've got the perfect recipe for growing them, as long as the bait keeps up. I think an 8-pounder will be caught next year," he said, adding that his fish could have been that large had it been caught in the spring, when it likely would be laden with eggs.

And he's surprised that walleye anglers haven't taken a record from the eastern Montana fishery yet. State record is 17.75 pounds caught in 2007 at Tiber Reservoir.

Incredibly, Dominick's trophy, which he released, is just a little more than a pound shy of the state record largemouth, an 8.8-pound specimen caught at Roxon Rapids Reservoir in 2009.

The Montana angler hooked the smallmouth along a submerged rocky ridge with a drop-shot rig on 8-pound test.

"It tried to jump twice, but it was too big," he told the Billings Gazette. "It just stuck its nose out of the water and wallowed around. It was ungodly fat, just an impressive fish."

A serious bass fisherman who drives 9 1/2 hours to fish Fort Peck, he was particularly pleased that his fish tops the current record, caught by casual angler Jacob Fowler from a  Flathead Lake dock, using bait.

"I've been working two years for that fish," Dominick said. "I thought that record was breakable.

"But whether Fish and Game accepts it or not, that's okay. It was the most impressive one I've seen in Montana."

Thursday
Nov022017

Round Gobies: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

A small invader has had a large impact on some northern bass fisheries since it first was discovered in 1990 in the St. Clair River, and it's not finished yet.

A bottom-dwelling fish that can grow to 10 inches, but more commonly is 3 to 5, the round goby has gained notoriety for eating the eggs of other species, including bass, in the Great Lakes and other waters. But it also has developed a taste for shellfish, it seems, particularly zebra mussels, another exotic species. At a glance, that would seem good news, but not necessarily.

 "In the past two years, we have observed a decline in the total mussel biomass in Oneida Lake, likely because of the rapid growth of the goby population," said Stephanie Roh, a Cornell University student researcher. "If these trends continue, we expect to see lakewide ecological changes such as decreased water clarity very soon."

The implications could be significant. Although zebra and now quagga mussels have caused many problems and cost the nation billions of dollars for control and mitigation, their filter feeding has improved water clarity in many fisheries, allowing more sunlight penetration, and thus encouraging the growth of beneficial vegetation.

In general, that has been good for bass and other sport fish that primarily are sight feeders. In places such as Minnesota's Mille Lacs, however, that ecological change is suspected, along with warming waters, of contributing to the decline in walleye, which prefer darker conditions.

Also, clearer water means less productivity in the form of phytoplankton and zooplankton at the bottom of the food chain for prey fish to eat. "Walleye eat mostly fish, and there's not as many fish," said Minnesota fisheries biologist Eric Jensen, adding that smallmouth continue to thrive because they also eat crayfish.

Still, this potential impact is just speculation at this point.

"We haven't seen that yet, but are still watching things unfold," said Cornell professor Randy Jackson, who has been keeping an eye on how gobies impact Oneida's bass fishery since anglers first reported catching a few of the invaders in 2013.

"It is not my impression from the Great Lakes, where gobies have been established for much longer, that people think that are having a large impact on mussel densities," he said.

What is no longer speculation, however, is that bass, especially smallmouths, seem to grow faster and larger when their diet consists mostly of gobies.

Following a study of the diets for largemouth and smallmouth bass in eastern Lake Ontario, scientists concluded the following:

"Our results provide further support that recent increases in the size of Lake Ontario bass are a result of round goby consumption, and that the effects of this dietary shift on body condition are greater for smallmouth bass."

And from a study on Lake Erie:

"Roundy goby became the dominant prey of smallmouth bass after its invasion (observed in 73.3 percent of diets), and crayfish were only observed in 5.8 percent of diets in the post-round goby time period. Length-at-age increased following invasion of round goby and the greatest increases in length (11 to 15 percent) were observed for ages 2 to 4."

Also,  state record smallmouth bass caught in Michigan and New York during 2016 were taken from waters where gobies are established. In Michigan, the bass from Indian River  checked in at  9.98 pounds, nearly double digits! It bested a mark of 9.33 set less than a year previous. Before that, the state record of 9.25 pounds had been in place since 1906. In New York, a 8.25-pound bronzeback from the St. Lawrence tied a record first established in 1995.

Jackson is not ready to say that's going to happen on Oneida, where gobies still are settling in as permanent residents and all data is preliminary.

"It is our sense that we are seeing some larger, and fatter bass the last couple of years," he said. "But this is anecdotal. Overall it is too early to see significant increases in lengths of bass, but we seem headed in that direction. Anglers also are saying fish are bigger."

One way that gobies could be benefitting bass growth rates and size, he speculated, is that they spawn several times during a season. "With  production of small gobies all season long, I would imagine bass would have no problems remaining piscivorous all summer, which should enhance growth.

"This may be a more subtle, behind the scenes impact of gobies," he continued. "But in systems, particularly in the north, where first-year growth of young bass is important to overwinter survival, enhanced growth could ultimately lead to improved recruitment and increases in adult population size, assuming that population size is not limited by something acting on adults."
And here's another reason to like gobies:

Double-breasted cormorants seem to like them. According to Jackson, they have seem to have shifted to feeding on them in some fisheries, "which, of course, is good for sport fish that they used to eat more of. Our cormorants are starting to eat gobies as well, but we haven't seen a wholesale shift yet. Everyone is hopeful."

 

The Dark Side

Still, predation by sport fish and cormorants on gobies is but one piece of the puzzle on how this exotic fish will ultimately will impact native species and their ecosystems. There are plenty of negatives as well.

Michigan Sea Grant points out that gobies have been linked to outbreaks of botulism, which have killed fish-eating birds around the Great Lakes.  Mussels accumulate the toxin in their flesh, as they filter feed in places where it thrives in water depleted of oxygen by decaying algae.  Gobies eat the mussels, and predatory fish and birds eat the gobies.    

Additionally, the Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force (ANS) said, "They out-compete native fish for food due partially to an ability to feed in darkness and to the presence of a suctorial disk located on their pelvic fin, which allows them to attach to rocks/substrates and remain fixed on the bottom even in faster currents. Tubenose and round gobies are the only fish to possess this unique characteristic."

It also warns that gobies "maybe interfere with habitat restoration projects. Round gobies are aggressive toward other fish and may drive native fish away from prime spawning areas."

In the St. Clair River, where gobies were first confirmed nearly 30 years ago, populations of native sculpin and logperch have suffered substantial declines.

Sunday
Oct292017

Lake Simcoe Yields Canada One-Day Record Weight

Jason Clay and Matt Belzil set a Canadian five-bass tournament record for weight with 31.89 pounds Sunday in Ontario's Lake Simcoe Open.  That's an average of more than 6 pounds per smallmouth in the event hosted by the Aurora Bassmasters.

In 2010, the previous record one-day record of 31.5 pounds also was caught in the Lake Simcoe Open.

Wednesday
Oct182017

Possible State Record Smallmouth Caught In Montana

Mike Dominick caught this 7.51-pound smallmouth bass Sept. 23 on Montana's Fort Peck Reservoir and weighed on a certified scale. Likely state will recognize it as state record, surpassing 7.4-pounder caught in 2016 at Flathead Lake.

“I think an 8-pounder will be caught next year,” he said, noting that the fish he caught would be about 8 pounds if it was full of eggs during the spawn.

Fort Peck could easily produce that next big bass, he believes. On his last trip he caught five fish over 6 pounds. One trip he and another angler caught 30 smallmouth over 3 pounds in an hour-and-a-half and never moved the boat. The reason the fish are so beefy is the large baitfish population. He’s seen bass stuffed full of cisco, an introduced species also known as lake herring.

“They’ve got the perfect recipe for growing them, as long as the bait keeps up,” Dominick said.

Monday
Oct162017

New Arkansas Bass Plan Includes Smallouth, Spots

Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) has released its blueprint for improving bass fishing. Unlike previous versions in 1990 and 2002, this latest Reservoir Black Bass Management Plan focuses on smallmouth and spotted bass, as well as largemouth.

In announcing this latest update, AGFC said the mission of plan "is to facilitate the management of a fishery--- fish, habitats, and people--- and provide background and guidelines for AGFC's management of Arkansas reservoirs and lakes while utilizing the best available science and practicing adaptive management."

According to the plan, variables that resource managers must consider include sampling, habitat, health and disease, tournament fishing, supplemental stocking, population characteristics, and human dimensions.

Goals include the following:

  • Managing black bass fisheries using the best data available for decision making, including current and historical standardized sampling data, the scientific body of literature, and this plan.
  • Striving to better understand black bass anglers and to increase interaction with them to make them aware of our efforts, incorporate their preferences into management decisions, and foster greater collaboration and trust from both parties.
  • Using science-based methods to evaluate reservoir habitat quality, and prescribe both chemical and physical methods for habitat enhancement where necessary.
  • Maximizing efficiency and effectiveness of the AGFC culture system to produce sufficient quantities of fish to meet management goals. Evaluating the contribution of stocked fish to reservoir fish populations to ensure that resources are maximized.
  • Seeking to obtain the personnel, equipment, and other resources necessary to carry out the provisions of this plan.