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Entries in Texas (79)

Friday
Feb172017

Will Anglers Land a ShareLunker on Conroe in 2017 Bassmaster Classic?

Renee Linderoth caught this 13.8-pound largemouth in 2009 on Lake Conroe. Seventeen Conroe bass weighing 13 pounds or more have been entered in Texas' Toyota ShareLunker program. The largest weighed 15.93.

Will crowds at Minute Maid Park witness a double-digit bass weighed in during the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods? Considering the trophy potential of nearby Lake Conroe, where 52 of the nation’s best bass anglers will compete March 24-26, they might be treated to more than just a 10- or 11-pound bass — or two or three.
 
“I think we are going to see very big bass come weigh-in time in Houston, maybe a ShareLunker,” said Dave Terre, management/research chief of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD). “At Conroe, March is the prime month for that to occur. We’ll be ready.”
 
Established in 1986, the agency’s Toyota ShareLunker program encourages the catch and release of large fish and uses bass of 13 pounds or heavier for selective breeding, before being returned to the fishery from which they were caught. Of the 17 ShareLunkers caught at Conroe, five were taken during the month of March. The latest, a 13.14-pounder, was caught in early April 2015.
 
Terre explained that Conroe’s rise as a world-class fishery was no accident. “Making big bass and great fishing are products of good fisheries management and partners working together on fish habitat.”
 
B.A.S.S. National Conservation Director Gene Gilliland added, “For years, Lake Conroe was the poster child for grass carp gone bad. Back then, the bass fishermen thought the world was coming to an end. But a solid long-term management plan that married passionate B.A.S.S. club members with the expertise of Texas Parks and Wildlife biologists, turned Conroe into a top-tier fishery.”
 
Seven Coves Bass Club, a B.A.S.S. Nation club, took a leadership role among those partners, and for its efforts, received a 2013 Environmental Excellence Award from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. “This is probably the highest recognition our conservation program has received to date,” said Tim Cook, conservation director for the Texas B.A.S.S. Nation. “Every member should be proud to be part of an organization that gives so much back to the sport we all love.”
 
In 2008, following a second round of grass carp introductions to control invasive hydrilla, the club was awarded a grant for about $45,000 from B.A.S.S. and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to build a plant nursery on property owned by the San Jacinto River Authority. The latter and TPWD also helped finance the effort.

“With the assistance and advice of TPWD, the San Jacinto River Authority, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Lewisville Aquatic Ecosystem Research Facility, they started growing native aquatic plants to go into Lake Conroe,” said TPWD biologist Mark Webb. “More people all the time were getting excited about coming in and helping to grow ecologically appropriate native plants to provide the kind of habitat we need for fish and wildlife in Lake Conroe.”
 
The following summer, 150 plants grown in the nursery were placed in the lake; they were shielded from grass carp and turtles with protective cages. Many more were to follow, as Seven Coves expanded its alliances for the betterment of the fishery. In 2010, Seven Coves received an additional $20,000 from the Toyota Texas Bass Classic and Bass Pro Shops as part of the first ever Friends of Reservoirs Foundation grant.

“This project has brought a wide range of stakeholders closer together, which has been positive for the angling community,” said Ron Gunter, a club member and assistant conservation director for the Texas B.A.S.S. Nation.
 
Today, the nursery still produces plants for Conroe, but TPWD and the Corps have taken a larger role in that aspect of the alliance, while Seven Coves members are devoting more time to helping the agency with artificial cover for the fishery.
 
“The plant work is to help propagate the (bass) species, and that definitely has helped on Conroe,” Gunter said. “The attractors will help anglers find a place to fish.”
 
Webb estimates that about 10,000 mature native plants have been added to the 21,000-acre fishery since 2008, with some, particularly water willow, now expanding on their own.
 
Along with good water quality and improved habitat, Conroe’s trophy potential is enhanced by stockings of Florida-strain largemouth bass fingerlings. The introductions are intended to keep big-bass genes abundant, rather than simply increase numbers.
 
More than 500,000 Floridas were stocked annually in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2013, and some almost certainly have reached ShareLunker size.
 
Odds are improving that one of the Bassmaster Classic contenders will weigh in a ShareLunker during the world championship, as Terre predicted might happen. It would be the first 13-pounder in the Classic’s 47-year history and would easily eclipse the existing record, an 11-10 bass caught in Florida’s Kissimmee Chain in 2006.

For information about attending the 47th Bassmaster Classic in Houston, go to Bassmaster.com.

About the 2017 Bassmaster Classic

The 47th world championship of bass fishing, the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods will host 52 of the world’s best bass anglers competing for more than $1 million, March 24-26 in Houston, Texas. Competition and takeoff will begin each day at Lake Conroe Park (146 TX-105, Montgomery, Texas) at 7:20 a.m. CT. There will be off-site parking and shuttles for fans wanting to attend the takeoff. Weigh-ins will be held daily March 24-26 at 3 p.m. in one of Major League Baseball’s Top 20 largest stadiums, the Houston Astros’ Minute Maid Park (501 Crawford Street, Houston, Texas). 


In conjunction, the Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods will be open daily only a block from Minute Maid Park at George R. Brown Convention Center, (1001 Avenida de las Americas, Houston, Texas) the largest in Classic history. Expo hours are Friday, March 24, noon – 8 p.m.; Saturday, March 25, 10 a.m. – 7 p.m.; Sunday, March 26, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. All events are free and open to the public.

Monday
Jan232017

Catch-and-Release Proposed for Stretch of of Texas' Devils River

Increasing angler pressure has prompted the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) to propose catch-and-release regulations for largemouth and smallmouth bass on a portion of the Devils River, which feeds into Lake Amistad from the north.

 “The pressure has increased over the last 10 to 15 years,” TPWD's Ken Kurzawski said.  “In 2013, we began requiring access permits from any TPWD property. In the first year, we had 780 permits. This year, we expect at least 1,300.”

“What we are proposing in January is to institute catch-and-release for largemouth and smallmouth bass on the Devils from Baker’s Crossing to Big Satan Creek, a distance of 38 miles,” he added. “This is where the river becomes wider and more lake-like. It is the downstream boundary of the state natural area.”

The biologist added that smallmouth have been increasing in the river, while the overall size of largemouth has declined.

If the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission approves the regulation, it then would be open for public comment, with implementation possible in September 2017.

One of the most remote and unspoiled waterways in Texas, the Devils is part of the Rio Grande drainage. It is fed by numerous clear springs in the region's karst topography, which includes rugged ridges, canyons, and grassy banks. While it features white water, a portion also flows underground, where gravel, sand, and limestone filter to help maintain high water quality.

TPWD's Devils River State Natural Area consists of 37,000 acres in two units, including the original 20,000-acre portion called Del Norte and newly acquired 17,000-acre Dan A. Hughes Unit. Del Norte offers primitive camping, mountain biking, horseback riding, hiking, and camping, as well as fishing. It also features a group barracks that can accommodate up to10 people.

Monday
Dec052016

Fisheries Management Is NOT Just About the Fish

Once upon a time, when harvest of bass was commonplace, wildlife agencies managed fisheries for sustainability. No matter where they fished in their state, anglers knew the bag and size limit regulations would be the same, typically 5 or 10 fish, with a minimum size of 12 inches.

But then in the 1970s along came Ray Scott, B.A.S.S., and a practice that bass anglers  embraced with open arms--- catch and release. Bass fishing became more about competitive sport and recreation than catching and keeping a limit.

As a consequence, today's fisheries manager must be two parts fisheries biologist and one part sociologist. Or maybe it's the other way around. In other words, it's not all about the fish anymore. It's also about the fishermen and what they want to catch.

"There are variables related to the biological side of things and then there is the social/people side of things," said Dave Terre, Management and Research Chief for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). "Both those things have to come together for success."

With Texas among the most innovative states for bass management, TPWD planners consider four regulation strategies to accommodate "diverse opportunities." They include harvest, high catch rate, quality-sized fish, and trophy fish.

Of course, the first  favors those who still want to keep and eat bass. The second is for those who enjoy catching numbers of fish but not keeping them, while the third and fourth are self-explanatory.

To gain reputations as trophy fisheries, some lakes don't require special regulations or other assistance, such as supplemental stockings of Florida-strain bass, if they have enough habitat and forage, as well as periodic high water to accommodate large years classes and survival.  But usually these are cyclical as opposed to long-term.

On the other hand, maintaining a trophy fishery typically involves special regulations, such as a protected slot of 18 to 22 inches or even catch and release only and/or periodic stockings of Florida or Florida-hybrid bass to stimulate faster and larger growth. For example, recent angler success suggests that Tennessee has created a trophy bass fishery at Lake Chickamauga by enhancing the genetics.

A trophy fishery also requires constant monitoring and altering of regulations to meet changing population dynamics. In Arkansas, managers want to encourage harvest of smaller fish by reducing the protected slot from 16-21 inches to 14-17 because of the high density of bass at Mallard Lake, which yielded the state record, 16-8, in 1976.

In Texas, meanwhile, biologists wanted to prevent harvest of too many small bass when O.H. Ivie was opened to fishing about 25 years ago. Thus, the five-fish bag could include no more than two bass under 18 inches. Now, they are considering regulation changes that would encourage harvest of smaller fish and increase abundance of larger ones.  

"The nice thing about these kinds of regulations, five-fish bag limits with no more than XX number of fish above or below a certain length, is that they are conducive to both tournament and non-tournament angling, unlike slot limits that are prohibitive to tournaments," said Brian Van Zee, TPWD Inland Fisheries Regional Director. 

Especially in states where bass are the No. 1 sport fish, managers have learned that "adaptive management"  is the best strategy to deal with ever-changing  environmental conditions in fisheries and to satisfy their constituencies. The latter often are surveyed on the water, online, by mail, and at public meetings as to their preferences regarding bag and size limits, both in general and for specific water bodies.

After listening to its resident fishermen, Florida decided to simplify regulations, with an emphasis on increasing the odds that anglers can catch and release larger bass. While the statewide limit remains at five, with no minimum length for largemouths, only one fish of 16 inches or longer can be kept. Forty-two site-specific regulations have been eliminated.

"While reducing harvest of large bass is beneficial, allowing more bass under 16 inches to be kept may improve some fisheries by reducing competition so other individuals grow faster and larger," said Tom Champeau, Fisheries Chief for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Still, "sometimes regulations have little to do with it (quality of a fishery)," reflected Terre, pointing out that just 57 of Texas' 1,100 reservoirs have special regulations. " Most anglers catch and release all the bass they catch. Now, we have to feel  the public will keep fish before putting on a slot.

"And we're constantly learning, experimenting, and managing according to conditions. We don't do things willy nilly."

Tuesday
Nov292016

Grass Carp: Why You Hate 'Em and Why They Are Needed

Harvest by anglers and bowfishermen has been added as a control measure for grass carp.Anglers have been complaining about grass carp for nearly 40 years. Coincidentally, that's how long fisheries managers have been using the

exotic species as a control for another exotic, hydrilla, along with other invasive aquatic plants.

What's happened recently at Texas' Lake Austin provides a prime example of why they complain. Grass carp released there in 2012 and 2013 have consumed not just the hydrilla, but all of the aquatic plant habitat, which was beneficial for bass and other species. The stocking permit has now been revoked by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), with anglers and bowfishermen encouraged to catch and kill the carp.

"Anglers get angry at us when we stock grass carp, and we understand that," said Dave Terre, TPWD's Management/Research chief, who emphasized that his agency strives to involve fishermen in plans to control invasive plants.

"Everywhere we've used carp has resulted in a complete vegetation community crash," he added. "But it took 10 years for that to happen at Austin. And maybe someday we'll be able to extend that to 20 years. Just three or four years ago, we were promoting the success of grass carp in Austin."

Ten years is a considerable improvement over what happened in the early 1980s. Over the objections of anglers and TPWD, the Texas Legislature authorized the stocking of 270,000 carp into 21,000-acre Lake Conroe. In just two years, aquatic plants were gone, and the long-lived carp kept it that way until the late 1990s.

About the same time, much the same thing happened up in Kansas' Big Hill Reservoir. A heavy stocking of carp "set the reservoir back eight or nine years," said Doug Nygren, fisheries chief for Kansas Department of Parks, Wildlife, and Tourism.

"We regretted it," he added. "It was a wakeup call to be careful."

Yet, there is a flip side to this grass carp decimation story, starting with the fact that Conroe will be the site of the 2017 Bassmaster Classic March 24-26. The impoundment on the San Jacinto River now has not only grass and grass carp, but a first-class bass fishery.

"It's been producing 30-pound stringers all summer long," said Tim Cook, Conservation Director for the Texas B.A.S.S. Nation. "The lake has a significant number of 8-pound fish and I'm expecting that six to ten over 8 pounds will be caught each day. We've had five Toyota Texas Bass Classics on that lake, so anglers know how good it can be."

In short, fisheries do recover, as these controversial exotics remain the best biological method for controlling hydrilla in public fisheries, as well as filamentous algae in private and hatchery ponds. Sadly, though, their use is not a precise science. Inevitably results are cyclical, as they have been at both Austin and Conroe and other impoundments across the country, and often influenced by variables that resource managers have no control of.

Weather is the most prominent. Lower water levels prompted by drought and warmer water courtesy of hotter temperatures combined to power an unprecedented hydrilla growth spurt at Austin, and suddenly 600 acres spread across the 1,600 acre fishery. "It changed the dynamics and threw everything out of balance," Terre said.

Mechanical harvest wasn't an option, because fragmentation spreads the fast-growing exotic. Neither was herbicide, since Austin serves as a public water supply. Additionally, unchecked hydrilla inevitably would impede hydropower generation.

To knock back the plant, the city of Austin's resource managers stocked 33,000 carp from late 2011 through spring of 2013. Contrast that with only 20,000 that had been stocked incrementally for eight years, starting in 2003.

"We could live with 100 acres," said biologist Marcos De Jesus. "But 600 acres was just too much. It was going to cause problems with the turbines."

Terre added, "Anglers sometimes think that we're attacking the habitat of bass. We're not. We know that vegetation is important. But there are multiple users to consider. And grass carp are a tool."

He added that in lakes like Amistad, Falcon, Rayburn and Toledo Bend, with little development, "hydrilla is not a problem for anyone and we don't touch it."

Efforts already are underway to jumpstart aquatic vegetation again at Austin, by growing it in cages, De Jesus said. "There are going to be lots of efforts to restore habitat and to provide more options, with things like brushpiles."

Because it is smaller than Conroe and because state agencies have begun  to partner with other entities, including bass clubs, in recent years to re-establish aquatic vegetation, Terre is hopeful that Austin's recovery will be rapid.

Activist Angler with 30-pound-plus grass carp that was illegally stocked in community lake.Conroe, meanwhile, serves as a model for restoration not only for Austin, but for the nation, with much of the credit going to Seven Coves Bass Club. The B.A.S.S. affiliate spearheaded growing and planting of native vegetation, even as officials continued to combat hydrilla with more stockings of grass carp.

As part of an overall management plan for the lake, the club was awarded a grant for about $45,000 from B.A.S.S. and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to build a plant nursery on property provided by the San Jacinto River Authority. The latter and TPWD also helped finance the effort.

Additionally, occasional harvest by anglers and bowfishermen has been added to the overall strategy for using and controlling grass carp. In 2011, they removed more than 5,000 pounds of carp from Conroe during a tournament.

The event was intended to reduce carp population "to a number capable of preventing re-sprouting of hydrilla but which will allow us and our partners to better enhance important native aquatic vegetation for fish habitat and water quality improvement," said Craig bonds, TPWD's Director of Inland Fisheries.

While habitat initiatives and angler harvest have been added to help control carp and restore beneficial vegetation more quickly, not much has changed in terms of overall strategies for stocking grass carp to keep problematic vegetation under control, said John Biagi, Chief of Fisheries Management for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Two of the most notable are smaller, incremental stockings as opposed to one massive release, and replacing diploid grass carp, which can reproduce in the wild, with triploid, which are sterile and have shorter live spans.  

"And we are learning," said Texas biologist De Jesus. "We're refining the way we monitor the effects of carp on vegetation."

Terre added, "Instead of stocking carp per surface acre, we're looking into doing it per the biomass of the plants. Our goal always is to maintain good aquatic habitat for fisheries."

Other Considerations

Most anglers think about grass carp only in terms the damage that they do to bass fisheries. But they've been used since the late 1960s by aquaculture facilities to keep filamentous algae blooms under control. They still serve that important purpose today, both in hatchery and private ponds.

A disturbing corollary to that, however, is that they also can cause algal blooms, explained Doug Nygren, Kansas fisheries chief. "When they eat the plants, that releases nutrients that can feed those harmful blooms," he said.

At Clarks Hill, meanwhile, grass carp could help save bald eagles, as well as coots, among their favorite prey on that Georgia-South Carolina border reservoir. Researchers say that a toxic cyanobacteria grows on submerged aquatic plants, especially hydrilla. Coots feed on the plants, contract Avian Vacuolar Myelinopathy, and die, as do the eagles that eat them.

"Native plants are coming on and hydrilla seems to be diminishing," said Georgia fisheries chief John Biagi. "We're in discussions with the Corps (of Engineers) on stocking rates. This is a tough one. We don't want to eliminate good habitat, but the eagles have to be considered."

In the Wild

Diploid grass carp are reproducing in Missouri's Truman Lake, and that's just one of many waters where this plant-eating exotic now has sustainable populations, according to Duane Chapman, Asian carp expert for the U.S. Geological Survey.

While Texas reports they are spawning in the Trinity River and Kansas indicates the same for the Missouri, Chapman said, "The Illinois River has a large wild grass carp population."

In fact, he added, they are reproducing in free-flowing waters from Louisiana up into Illinois and Iowa, including in the Mississippi River. And some have turned up on "the wrong side of the (electric) barrier" designed to keep Asian carp out of Lake Michigan. They're also in the Sandusky, a tributary of Lake Erie.

Although some might believe that dams will stop them, Chapman said, "I suspect that when we start looking, we're going to find diploids fairly common above dams."

He added that some believe that silver and bighead carp pose more of a threat to our waterways than grass carp, both because they are more prolific and because data already has revealed how they are outcompeting and replacing native species.

"But grass carp don't require huge populations to have detrimental effects," he said, adding that they could destroy Great Lakes wetlands, re-established through time-consuming and costly mitigation projects.

"Grass carp remove vegetation and they dig, causing destabilization and turbidity," the carp expert continued.

Additionally, diploid grass carp can live nearly 30 years, surviving on very little when plants are scarce. "They just shut down when the food is not there and don't expend energy," Chapman said. "They're just waiting for things to change, and then they gorge."

How did this happen?

"When grass carp were brought into this country by aquaculture facilities in the late 1960s, they weren't worried about security," he said. "The belief was that they wouldn't reproduce."

Sadly, that has proven to be wrong in waters all over the country.

Additionally, while some states now prohibit diploid grass carp, others do not. And anyone can buy them.

"It might be difficult to take them into some states, but it's tough to police that," Chapman said. "States might agree to make diploids less available. But in states like Iowa and Missouri, where grass carp already are all around you, it's not a big issue. There's no downside."

(A variation of this article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)

Friday
Oct142016

Don't Overlook Small Baits for Catching Big Bass

The Texas state record largemouth bass was caught by accident.

Chances are that you don't know the amazing story of that fish, which weighed 18.18 pounds and was caught in 1992.

I do. I talked to the angler who caught it and included his tale in my book, Better Bass Fishing, in a chapter about catching big bass with small baits.

St. Clair had been bass fishing on Lake Fork with two friends. They decided to stop and catch a few crappie for the table. St. Clair didn’t have light tackle with him, so he simply put 12-inches of 8-pound leader and a 1/0 gold Aberdeen hook onto his bass rod and reel, which was loaded with 14-pound line.

The strength of that line and the backbone of the rod played no small part in the battle that was about to occur.

“At first, I didn’t know what I had,” St. Clair told me. “But I never panicked. That’s what helped me get the fish in.

“I put pressure on it, and it started to move. Right away, I thought it might be a big catfish. But it didn’t act like a catfish.”

The fish ran three times, but stayed deep. “I took the time to wear her out,” St. Clair said. “Then I eased her toward the surface.

“When she came up, it was like an exploding buoy coming out of the water. We all were stunned. Then I screamed ‘Get the net!’ at my buddies.”

Once he had her in, St. Clair noted that the big bass “filled the bottom of the boat,” and he saw that the delicate wire hook was bent nearly into a circle. “Once more run and she would have been gone,” he said.

Since that memorable day, St. Clair has learned that his experience was not unique.

Secret: In other words, big bass will eat little baits, just as elephants will munch peanuts.

“I’ve run across numerous examples of others who were doing the same thing (crappie fishing) when they hooked something big,” he said. “A few got them in, and the fish were in the 13-pound range. Others couldn’t do it. I was lucky that I had tackle stout enough to handle the fish.”

Here’s another example of a big bass dining at the hors d’oeuvre tray instead of the buffet table: In April 2006, Randy Beaty Jr. used a 1/8-ounce Blakemore Roadrunner to catch a 15.68-pound bass at Florida’s Bienville Plantation.

And my personal favorite: I caught a 12-pound, 4-ounce largemouth bass on a 3/8-ounce Cordell Spot, while fishing in Mexico’s Lake Guerrero. In case you’re not familiar with it, that lipless crankbait is a mere 3 inches long, seemingly hardly an appetizer for a big bass.

Why do big bass sometimes eat little baits?

Find the answer in Better Bass Fishing. The book has been out for a few years, but most of the information  does not go out of date because it's about bass behavior and intelligence, seasonal patterns, weather, etc. In other words, it's about the "big picture" of bass fishing.