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Entries in Tennessee (16)

Wednesday
Feb012017

Pay It Back, as Well as Forward; Take the Elderly Fishing Too

 

When I was 15, I would do anything for the chance to go fishing. That included taking my elderly neighbor, Mrs. Smith, with me.

Her daughter's family owned a farm with a pond, but no one had the time or interest to walk with her down to the water, help her set up her lawn chair, and then keep an eye on her as she fished with her Zebco for bluegill and bullheads.

Such a job, though, was right in my wheelhouse. The only real work was getting her to and from the pond. After that, all I had to do was check in from time to time to make sure that Mrs. Smith was okay as I walked the banks, casting for bass.

That was all I had to do. But, as it turned out, that wasn't all I did. Bullheads aren't easy to get off the hook, especially when they swallow it. And bluegill will steal the bait in a hurry, if you just let it dangle instead of threading it on. In other words, by our second trip, I was spending nearly as much time helping Mrs. Smith have a good time as I was fishing. I certainly hadn't planned for that. I was the kid. People were supposed to take me fishing, not the other way around.

Yet I don't think that I could have enjoyed our trips together more if I had caught a 5-pound bass on every trip. It was my first experience with giving back, and it felt really good.

In the years since, I've shared my passion with many more. Until I received a note recently from a friend in Tennessee, however, I didn't realize that I had tunnel vision. I had forgotten about that summer when I was 15. For me, sharing fishing had been all about kids, about instilling a love for the sport in the next generation.

But what about all those Mrs. Smiths out there who would love to go fishing but can't without our help? And what are we missing out on when we don't pay it back, as well as forward?

Here's what:

This past fall, my friend and his wife helped take Granny, Dot, and other residents at an assisted-living facility fishing for panfish at a dock on J. Percy Priest Lake.

The bite was slow, my friend said, but finally someone caught a small bluegill and "everyone got excited."

Seeing the joy derived from one little fish, my friend had an idea. "I told Dot that I was going to put some fresh bait on and handed her the pole with the bream," he recalled. "But she did not know the bream was on the hook.

"A few seconds later, the float started moving and Dot got excited, hollering that she had caught one. Words cannot describe how excited she really was. After getting her calmed down and swapping poles with her, I passed the little bream down to my wife and she pulled the same trick on Granny.

"After that, we released it. If only this little bream knew who much it had given to three ladies and also the helpers."

And it gets better.

Later during a Halloween party at the assisted-living facility, my friend talked with Dot about the outing at Percy Priest. "Dot told me how much she had enjoyed that fishing trip," my friend explained, adding that she said the bluegill was the largest she had ever caught.

And when he asked her how big, she said, "Almost 5 pounds."

He also learned that she had been telling all who would listen about her "big fish."

"You cannot imagine the good feeling inside after that trip with these elderly folks," my friend said. "One of the ladies is at a very low point now and may not be with us long.        

"We often do not appreciate what we have until something like this slaps us in the face. I am just proud that my wife and I are able to assist in some small way to make their remaining days just a little brighter."

By all means, we should keep taking kids fishing. In fact, we should do more of it. But also we shouldn't forget Dot, Granny, and Mrs. Smith. We should  spend some time with those who love the sport just as much as we do but can no longer enjoy it without a little assistance.    

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

Thursday
Dec292016

More States Look to Grow Trophies With Florida-Strain Bass

Tennessee state record bass caught in 2015 at Lake Chickamauga.Can Tennessee biologists turn Chickamauga into another Lake Fork?

Probably not.

That Texas lake is the gold standard for trophy bass fisheries, and duplicating the success there is not a reasonable expectation, especially for a state with a less hospitable climate.

But resource managers are hopeful that they can grow bigger bass in Chickamauga through the introduction of Florida-strain largemouths into the population.

“I’m convinced that Florida bass will grow big in Tennessee,” says Bobby Wilson, assistant director of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. “I hope that can happen in Chickamauga. And, if it does, we’ll move to other lakes with it.”

So far, Wilson has two very persuasive pieces of evidence to support his conviction: In October of 2009, biologists electroshocked a 16-15 largemouth at Browns Creek Lake, where Floridas also have been stocked. And in 2015, Gabe Keen caught a 15.2 in Chickamauga, good enough to establish a new state record.  

By contrast, the previous record was just 14.5, caught in 1954 at Sugar Creek.

 “We’ve had a few 13-pounders reported by fishermen (from agency lakes),” Wilson adds. “They probably were Florida bass.”

But the verdict still is out on Chickamauga.

The same goes for Lake Guntersville, just to the south in Alabama.

 “We haven’t stocked them (Florida bass) on a regular basis,” said Keith Floyd, a fisheries supervisor for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “It’s been periodically in one or two embayments, to see if we can incorporate Florida genomes into the population.”

Tennessee, however, has been much more deliberate in its approach. After stocking 200,000 fry annually for five years throughout Chickamauga failed to show much of a genetic shift, biologists decided to focus on three creeks for the next five.

“Anglers (at Chickamauga) are saying they are catching bigger bass,” Wilson explains. “And they say that the bass look different from what they are used to seeing.”

Anglers also are catching bigger bass at Lake Atkins in adjacent Arkansas, where the fishery was rehabilitated and then stocked with Floridas. In 2011, anglers caught at least three 12-pound bass in that 752-acre fishery.

Wilson says that his state used criteria from Arkansas and Oklahoma in deciding where Florida-strain bass could be stocked successfully in Tennessee. That turned out to be south of a line from Dyersburg in the west to Chattanooga in the east.

But as Virginia proved during the early 1990s, bass with Florida genes can do well even farther north than that. After being stocked in the late 1980s, Briery Creek Lake yielded a 13-4 trophy in 1992. It followed with a 16-3 (one ounce shy of the state record) in 1995 and 16-2 in 2002. And from 1994 to 2002, it produced the largest bass in the state annually.

“A lot of people are excited about this,” Wilson says about Tennessee’s Florida bass program. “But some don’t want them because they have heard that they are finicky than northern bass.”

And there’s the argument that native bass populations are weakened when Florida bass are added.  “But these aren’t native systems,” the Tennessee fisheries chief points out. “These are manmade impoundments.”

Texas’ long-term success with Florida bass in Lake Fork and other reservoirs provides a strong argument in support of Wilson. And the fact that more than 500 largemouth bass of 13 pounds and more have been entered in its Sharelunker program seems to dispel the “finicky” fear as well.

From my own decades of experience with Florida bass in Florida, Texas, and Mexico, I’ve noted that they can turn off when temperature drops just a degree or two. But I do not believe them more difficult to catch than northern bass. When cold and/or high pressure turns them off, you just have to slow down and adjust your tactics. Instead of throwing a spinnerbait, flip a soft plastic along the edge of a weedline.

Also, I’ve found Florida bass to be, pound for pound, much more challenging fighters than northern bass. A big Florida is like a mean smallmouth with a belly. And I’ve seen 12-pounders tail walk.

Count me as one who is not troubled by the occasional finickiness of Florida bass or the fact that they are being introduced into manmade fisheries in Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, and perhaps other states outside their native range. I’ve been blessed to catch a few double-digit Floridas, and I’d like to see more opportunities for other anglers to do so as well.

Whether Chickamauga and Guntersville are two of the fisheries capable of growing those genetically enhanced big fish likely will be revealed in the years ahead.

Thursday
Oct132016

Angler Assistance Needed as Kentucky Starts First Full Season of Trophy Bass Propagation Program

Acknowledging that they're still ironing out the kinks, fisheries managers are optimistic heading into Kentucky's first full season of its new Trophy Bass Propagation Program, which runs Oct. 1 to May 31. Anglers contributed four bass of 8 pounds or better last spring, when the strategy was first announced.

"We really hope to see more participation from Kentucky's serious bass anglers," said Ron Brooks, fisheries chief for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR). "After all, this is one program where anglers can really make a difference in terms of potentially increasing the quality of bass fishing in the lakes they fish."

State fishermen have longed voiced their desire for Florida-strain bass to be stocked in Kentucky lakes, to improve genetics and, as a result, their chances of catching larger bass. They point to neighboring Tennessee, which has had some success with that method.

But Tennessee is to the south, and just a few miles can make a huge difference in whether Florida-strain bass thrive or don't even survive.

"If we had the same kind of year-round temperatures as Florida, then we would be stocking Florida-strain bass," Brooks explained.

Consequently, Brooks and the KDFWR are hoping to use some of the state's largest bass, 8 pounds and up for females and 6 pounds and up for males, to raise and stock native fish disposed to heavier weights. They hope that anglers will donate those big fish to be used for broodstock for a couple of years before being released into the fisheries where they were caught.

As a thank you, the agency will provide a replica mount of his catch  to the fisherman.

"Being that it was late in the season when we started (last spring), getting four fish was good," said Jeff Ross, assistant director of fisheries. "It allowed us to advertise those fish, which, in turn, allowed us to further advertise the program and show that it was successful in obtaining fish."

This year, Brooks is hopeful that more bait shops will assist as temporary holders for the bass. "Although the project does require some extra work on the part of our biologists and transportation truck drivers, we cannot envision an easier, more efficient system at this time," he said.

Getting state park marinas as participants is another objective this year, according to Ross. "That would create an excellent partnership, allowing them to promote the program and also have their marinas listed in our fish-holding sponsorship lists and advertisements," he said.

After the donated bass spawn, hatcheries will raise the offspring until they are 5 inches long. Then they will be stocked in fisheries around the state, including the lakes where their parents were caught.

"This won't mean that every largemouth bass spawning in Kentucky will have trophy bass genes," Brooks said. "That would be a long way off.  But in the immediate future, it will mean the fish we're stocking to augment the natural spawning will be a higher quality of fish as far as growth potential."

Anglers can find out more and see a list of participating bait shops by going here.

Tuesday
Oct042016

Cormorant Control Needed to Save Reelfoot's Iconic Cypress Trees

Unlike many anglers, Mike Hayes doesn't  see cormorants as a threat because they eat so many fish.

 "Fish populations can come back, and, besides, there usually are enough trash fish around for them to eat," said the man whose family owns Blue Bank Resort on Reelfoot Lake, an iconic cypress-filled fishery that formed when the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-12 redirected the Mississippi River into a sunken portion of western Tennessee.

But make no mistake, he is fearful of the consequences, if states aren't once again allowed to cull these fish-eating birds. Based on lawsuits filed by environmental groups, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., recently halted a program in which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) issues permits for states to kill up to 160,000 double-crested cormorants annually.

Hayes' concern is based on what he sees out his back door daily: Vast numbers of roosting cormorants are killing trees and other aquatic vegetation with their acidic excrement that also degrades water quality. With their hook-tipped beaks, they also strip bark to build nests.

"In five years (if controls are not implemented), we're going to lose all of these trees, and many of them are 200 to 600 years old," he said. "They were here when the lake flooded. They survived back then because they already were so tall. And, once they're gone, unlike the fish, they can never come back.

"What makes it so bad is that once these birds kill trees in one area, they move on to another. Right now, they're killing groups of trees in some of the most fished areas.

"I can't imagine Reelfoot Lake without cypress trees, but, it could happen."

In nearby Kentucky, meanwhile, resource managers no longer are allowed to kill 300 cormorants annually in a population  that is damaging trees on Kentucky and Barkley Lakes.

And Hayes said that since he publicized the threat at Reelfoot, he has received calls  from people all over the country who share his concerns about cormorants destroying  ecosystems. "We're losing a whole lot of habitat," he said.

Some of it is being lost on islands  in Vermont's Lake Champlain, where biologists were not allowed this summer to shoot the birds or oil their eggs to keep them from hatching. "It will not take very long for the number (of cormorants) to double without some active management," said Mark Scott of the Vermont Department of fish and Wildlife.

"They nest in very large numbers, and they kill trees on islands in the lake," said Dave Capan, who has been managing the cormorant program on the Four Brothers Islands. "There are at least five or six islands in this lake that have lost most of their trees and vegetation."

Reporting from the Les Cheneaux Islands on Lake Huron, Peter Payette of Michigan Radio said, "People are pretty worried. About 20 years ago, the number of cormorants on the islands exploded."

On Lake Erie, a cormorant colony of 20,000 has obliterated about 40 percent of  the tree canopy on Middle Island.

And on the Canadian side of Lake Ontario, leafless trees on islands near Amherstview, Ontario, stand as mute testimony to the damage inflicted by cormorants, which also are a protected species there. As Hayes and others press for action in the U.S., members of Parliament are seeking a change to the law  that would allow hunting of cormorants.

In South Carolina's Santee-Cooper, another system rich with cypress trees, sanctioned shooters killed 26,000 birds in two years, but general feeling among anglers was that the hunt had "zero impact" on protecting habitat.

Back at Reelfoot, Hayes said that the cormorant destruction "slipped up on us" about five years ago, and, within three, skeleton trunks stood in place of lush, green trees that were there "long before Davy Crockett ."

He emphasized that he will continue to work with the state in hopes of saving Reelfoot.

"I have been working with the TWRA (Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency)," he said. "They have been right with us on this.

"I have no problem with the TWRA. They are trying to get permits but the problem is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife will not issue them. We have to find the right person who can touch the right button and get us the permit we need."

What Happened?

Why is the FWS no longer allowed to issue depredation orders for states to control their cormorant populations? It's complicated, according to Craig Bonds, Inland Fisheries Division Director for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD).

"A group of bird conservationists and environmental activists sued U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in federal court over its continue of depredation orders for double-crested cormorants on the grounds that the Service violated the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) and that it's environmental assessment was deficient," he explained.

The court agreed with the plaintiffs, which includes Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), and stopped the program, which included giving the states the authority to issue permits to "sub-permittees" (private permit holders).

Now PEER and the other plaintiffs want FWS to go through a lengthy environmental impact process.  The agency, however, hopes that by simply reviewing its existing and less complicated current assessment it can comply with NEPA and start issuing permits later this year.

"In the meantime, the TPWD cormorant depredation permits were invalidated by the court order and individuals have to seek an individual permit with the USFWS," Bonds said. "This is basically the same process people had to go through prior to 2004, when TPWD (and other state agencies) was granted the authority to issue its own permits."

Why Are Cormorants Protected?

Double-crested cormorants, along with 800 other species, are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 and subsequent amendments. Intent then was to protect these birds that migrated across Canada and the U.S. from commercial overharvest.

But that did nothing to protect them and other fish-eating birds from the devastating effects of the pesticide DDT, and populations plummeted. By the late 1950s, scientists noticed  diminished reproduction in brown pelicans, eagles, cormorants, and other birds, with cause traced to high concentrations of the pesticide in their systems. DDT didn't kill the birds, but rather altered the birds' calcium metabolism so that their eggs thinned and couldn't support the weight of incubating parents.

But fish-eating birds made a hearty comeback when the pesticide was banned, and, for cormorants at least, thousands of reservoirs built on the nation's river systems provided far more habitat and forage than they had historically.  With that combination,  populations exploded during the 1970s and 1980s, especially on the Great Lakes. And spreading out from there, they've established huge colonies all the way down to the Gulf Coast.

Mostly, they've been vilified for eating too many fish, and, in some cases, that accusation has been justified.  Much of the damage that they do to fish populations, however, is centered around hatcheries and put-and-take stockings of sport fish, especially trout.

Cormorants eat more of his Arkansas farm's fish than any other birds, according to Mike Freeze, president of the National Aquaculture Association. He added that he has at least two employees working full-time during winter to protect the fish in his 1,000 acres of ponds.

"We've got to have some kind of relief by October," he added. "That's when these hordes descend on us."

By contrast, stomach analysis of 214 cormorants killed in Kentucky showed that shad made up 56 percent of the diet, according to Fisheries Chief Ron Brooks. Small sunfish accounted for 28 and Asian carp 6, with crappie just 0.37 percent.

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

Tuesday
May172016

Kentucky Wants to Grow Its Own Trophy Bass

Responding to anglers' desires for more opportunity to catch big bass in state, Kentucky has initiated the Trophy Bass Propagation Program.

But while its neighbor to the south, Tennessee, seems to have found success by introducing Florida-strain bass into its lakes, Kentucky is not going that route. Over the years, fisheries biologists have learned that just a few miles north or south can make the difference between whether introduced Florida bass thrive or just barely survive.

"If we had the same kind of year-round temperatures as Florida, then we'd we would be stocking Florida-strain bass," said Ron Brooks, fisheries chief for the Kentucky Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Resources (DWF).

Instead, DWF intends to use offspring of trophy native bass donated by anglers who catch them, with 8pounds the minimum for females and  6 pounds for males.

"I wanted to figure out how we could do a better job of propagating larger bass in Kentucky," Brooks added. "So this kind of program just makes sense. People have been breeding animals forever to optimize the size of the animal, so why not do this with largemouth bass?"

Anglers who wish to help grow bigger bass in Kentucky can take their fish to participating bait shops from Oct. 1 to May 31, when weather typically is mild enough to reduce stress. Employees at those shops will hold the fish in aerated tanks until they can be picked up and taken to a hatchery by DWF staff.

"We don't want anglers to leave their trophy bass in a livewell or keep it in a fish basket on the bank for an extended period of time because we don't want the fish to succumb to stress," Brooks explained. "We're asking people to handle these fish with kid gloves and bring them to a participating bait shop as soon as possible."

After the bass spawn, hatcheries will raise the fish until they are 5 inches long. Then they will be stocked in fisheries around the state, including the lakes where their parents were caught.

"This won't mean that every largemouth bass spawning in Kentucky will have trophy bass genes," the fisheries chief said. "That would be a long way off.  But n the immediate future, it will mean the fish we're stocking to augment the natural spawning will be a higher quality of fish as far as growth potential."

Anglers can find out more and see a list of participating bait shops by plugging in "Trophy Bass Propagation Program" in the search window on the DWF website.