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Entries in Texas (61)


Along With Bass, Alligator Gar Population Booming at Falcon

TPWD technicians Jimmy Cordova (left) and John Ingle remove a Falcon alligator gar from gillnet during a sampling study that led to increased limit. TPWD photos

Booming populations of largemouth bass and alligator gar give anglers two good reasons to fish Falcon Reservoir.

Above average rainfall in spring 2014 and 2015, following low water levels for several years prior, is sparking a resurgence of the bass population, said Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) Inland Fisheries biologist Randy Myers.

“The low water allowed for jungle-like growth of huisache, mesquite, acacia and retama on the exposed reservoir bottom,” he said. “The water level increase inundated that terrestrial growth, resulting in the formation of strong year classes of bass.”

TPWD annually stocks Falcon with around half a million Florida largemouth bass to enhance the production of large fish. Stocking plus strong natural spawns in 2004 and 2005 following the last water level rise led to a boom that lasted from 2008 until 2011. During that time winning tournament weights for a five-fish limit typically exceeded 40 pounds, and Falcon was named the best bass lake in the nation by Bassmaster magazine in 2012.

Myers said 8- to 14-inch bass are currently very abundant in Falcon, and those fish will grow rapidly over the next several years. Myers expects Falcon’s largemouth bass population to peak again in 2017—2019.

“Now is the time to do your homework on Falcon and learn where and how to fish it,” he said. “Falcon is a big reservoir—more than 80,000 acres when full—and it pays to have a game plan in place before you go fishing.”

Adele Myers, age 7, with a 70-inch, 88-pound alligator gar that she caught on a jug line baited with a 12-inch freshwater drum. She is the daughter of TPWD biologist Randy Myers, who said that she also caught the drum.

While you are looking for the best places to fish for bass, Myers suggests that you try your luck with alligator gar as well. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission raised the limit on alligator gar on Falcon to five fish per day and 10 in possession effective Sept. 1.

The alligator gar population in Falcon is doing well, and based upon scientific data, is able to sustain itself with the increased bag limit.  Female alligator gar in Falcon are attaining 100 pounds in 7-10 years and the lake record weighing 249 pounds was taken in 2014.  While having a 10-pound bass on the end of your line is exciting, battling a gar that could be 100 pounds or bigger can give you quite a thrill and make for some very special memories and photographs.

Since you can target alligator gar using different means of take, it is important to know that harvested gar can make for some fine table fare. 

“Anglers pursue gar with archery equipment, rod and reel, and jug lines on Falcon, and the meat is white, non-oily and not fishy tasting,” Myers said. “It’s quite popular with locals, who call it catan.


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.”


'Waters to Watch' Benefit From Partnerships

Sun Creek, Oregon

The National Fish Habitat Partnership  has unveiled its list of 10 “Waters to Watch” for 2015, a collection of rivers, streams, estuaries, lakes and watershed systems that will benefit from strategic conservation efforts to protect, restore or enhance their current condition. These voluntary, locally-driven projects represent conservation actions in progress implemented under the National Fish Habitat Partnership by 19 regional Fish Habitat Partnerships throughout the country.

The conservation actions implemented through these projects are designed to conserve freshwater, estuarine and marine habitats essential to the many fish and wildlife species that call these areas home. These examples of conservation have been fundamental to the overall success of the National Fish Habitat Partnership since 2006.

Throughout the year, these projects will demonstrate how conservation efforts are reversing persistent declines in our nation’s aquatic habitats. Having featured 90 partnership projects since 2007, these “Waters to Watch” are proving that science-based on-the-ground conservation efforts are truly making a difference in improving fish habitat across the United States.

“Success in conservation often doesn’t happen overnight,” said Kelly Hepler, Chair of the National Fish Habitat Board. “We are highlighting these projects today with both long and short-term goals in mind. We are working through our regional partnerships in an effort to conserve these great waterways, and reverse declines in suitable fish habitat. In our 9th year of this annual campaign, we are beginning to see many of our previous projects named to this list making a real difference. For our 10th Anniversary of the “Waters to Watch” in 2016, we will highlight some of these dynamic past projects that are making a positive impact both regionally and nationally.”

The 2015 “Waters to Watch” list and associated Fish Habitat Partnerships:

1) Alexander Creek Watershed, AK
Partnership: Mat-Su Basin Salmon Habitat Partnership

Objective: Project goals are to restore Alexander Creek drainage Chinook salmon numbers in what was previously very productive habitat and a vibrant fishery. Partners are working to do this through large scale invasive pike removal and monitoring, as well as detection, education and eradication of Alaska's first invasive aquatic plant Elodea.

2) Kasilof and Anchor River Watersheds, AK
Partnership: Kenai Peninsula Fish Habitat Partnership

Objective: The Kenai Peninsula Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Project will help restore physical and biological processes within the Kasilof and Anchor River Watersheds in order to contribute to a healthy, productive and biologically diverse ecosystem for the benefit of injured species and services. The project will eliminate four barriers to aquatic species passage on the Anchor and Kasilof Rivers.

3) Kilchis Estuary, OR
Partnership: Pacific Marine and Estuarine Fish Habitat Partnership

Objective: Restore freshwater and tidal connections, provide off-channel rearing habitat for salmonids, and restore historic spruce swamp habitat. The site provides habitat for coho, Chinook and chum salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout as well as a myriad of other wetland species, including colonial nesting waterbirds, migrating waterfowl, juvenile marine fishes and resident mammals.

4) Lake Livingston, TX
Partnership: Reservoir Fisheries Habitat Partnership

Objective: The overall goal of the project is to reestablish Lake Livingston as a destination for anglers and other outdoor recreationists. As such, the project has support from a host of community leaders. A dedicated core group of volunteer leaders are in place to ensure that the project continues to move forward garnering additional local support along the way.

5) Lower Heeia Stream Habitat Improvement Project, Oahu (HI)
Partnership: Hawaii Fish Habitat Partnership

Objective: This project will restore native vegetation in the tidally influenced portion of Heeia Stream and its adjacent estuary. Project implementation will involve removal of a large stand of invasive riparian trees, followed by soil preparation, erosion control and riparian forest restoration using native plant species.

6) Mill Creek Restoration, WV
Partnership: Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture

Objective: The WV Division of Natural Resources (WVDNR) is mitigating the negative impacts of Super Storms that occurred in 2012 on Mill Creek, WV, one of the state’s four intact brook trout populations, by implementing a strategic Large Woody Material “chop and drop” program within Kumbrabow State Forest, which encompasses approximately 6 stream miles. This project is being completed utilizing the principles of natural stream restoration to place, and in some instances modify and anchor, currently hanging trees in the stream as habitat for fish.

7) Pinole Creek, CA
Partnership: California Fish Passage Forum|

Objective: The purpose of this project is to restore access to the upper reaches of Pinole Creek for the current population of Central California Coast Steelhead by modifying the existing box culverts where Pinole Creek passes under Interstate Highway 80 (I-80). Habitat assessments conducted on Pinole Creek in 2009 indicate sufficient habitat to support anadromous steelhead spawning and rearing if passage issues at the I-80 culvert are remedied. This project will improve access to nearly 7 miles of documented quality steelhead spawning and rearing habitat on the main stem of Pinole Creek.

8) Shoshone Springs Pupfish Habitat Project, CA
Partnership: Desert Fish Habitat Partnership

Objective: The project secured the existence of Shoshone pupfish in their native range far into the future, and will educate the public about their importance. The project quadrupled the habitat area occupied by endemic Shoshone pupfish, benefiting the entire known population in the one spring, springbrook, and spring supported riparian system where they naturally occur.

9) Sun Creek, OR
Partnership: Western Native Trout Initiative

Objective: To reestablish redband trout and migratory populations of bull trout to Sun Creek through improved connectivity, habitat quality and stream and riparian function. Due to poor connectivity between Sun Creek and the Wood River, overall habitat degradation, and interactions with non-native salmonids, redband trout were extirpated from Sun Creek and bull trout populations were restricted to a short headwater reach. Similar to other Cascade tributaries in the Upper Klamath Basin, Sun Creek likely supported widespread and abundant populations of both species. Reconnecting Sun Creek to the Wood River will allow redband trout to recolonize Sun Creek and access high quality spawning and rearing habitat. It will also provide a migratory corridor for the isolated bull trout population to expand its range, occupy new habitat within Wood River watershed, and improve overall population resilience.

10) Ulele Springs on the Hillsborough River, FL
Partnership: Southeast Aquatic Resources Partnership

Objective: The restored Ulele Springs is providing native wetland vegetation and provide habitat for fish and mammals. To date, numerous native fish and wildlife has been observed within the basin, which is staring to mimic the anticipated species richness and diversity of a natural spring run entering an estuarine ecotone.


No Surprise: Big Bass Are Lazy


While researching the genetic influence of introduced Florida bass on a small fishery in East Texas, scientists noted something unexpected and especially interesting for bass anglers.

Bass seem to grow bigger when they have a small home range and don’t move much.

“We had lots of variability within the bass population,” said Dr. Brian Graeb, a biologist at South Dakota State University and part of the research team for 125-acre Grand Lake at Eagles Nest Preserve east of here. “We began studying why. We started to look at habitat use and movement by putting radio telemetry into 40 bass and did an 18-month study on home ranges of movement.”

As he tracked the bass, Ph.D. student Jason Breeggeman discovered that some areas of the lake were heavily used, while others were not. He also noted a wide variance in how far bass swam.

“The smallest mover had a home range of about 50 yards, and this is what we would normally expect,” Graeb explained. “But we began to see bass the used the entire lake, routinely zipping over a mile to each end of the lake. In 24 hours, one bass swam 1.4 miles and we had one go more than 2 miles.

“These were very unexpected results.”

In trying to figure out why some stayed home and others didn’t, they scanned the bottom of the lake, seeing that much of the woody cover had disintegrated. With remaining habitat limited and occupied, some bass had no choice but to move to find food.

“We determined habitat was the most limiting factor in this lake,” Graeb said. “It was like we had a bunch of marathon runners and we wanted couch potatoes. The bass were skinny by having to swim so far.”

Researchers now have added artificial habitat from Mossback to form “fish cities” throughout the lake and will monitor the results.

“The goal is to try and decrease fish activity, decrease their home range and increase consumption,” the biologist said. “Our target is between 20- and 40-percent coverage of the lake. Currently, we have 22 fish cities and 13-percent habitat coverage with a plan to increase annually. We want to see if too much habitat begins to be too much of a good thing.”

The project began in 2011, with a goal of determining how best to grow a 15-pound bass by maximizing genetic potential and other variables.

“We came up with a strategy for trophy fish management based on age, habitat, nutrition and genetics,” Graeb said. “These are all barriers that must be overcome to grow big fish.”

After learning that genetics were favorable, scientists noted that bass diet consisted of nearly an equal amount of crawfish and forage fish. They also observed that the fish first put on weight quickly, but then leveled off as they aged. Eventually, they saw that some of the fish were fat, while others were skinny, which led to the discovery about movement.

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


TPWD Makes Changes to Bass Regulations

O.H. Ivie lunker

Changes to bass regulations have been made for Braunig, Calaveras,  O.H. Ivie, and Nasworthy by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD).

At Braunig and Calaveras, the 18-inch minimum is changed to the statewide 14-inch, while daily bag limit remains at five fish.

“Since 1999, few bass 18 inches and larger have been collected in department electrofishing samples,” TPWD said. “In recent surveys of anglers, only 4 to 5 percent of angling effort was expended for bass at both reservoirs, and angler catch rates were poor. The 18-inch limit did not improve angling in the reservoirs, and the proposed change is expected to have minimal impact on the bass populations or angling in either reservoir.”

At O.H. Ivie, the 18-inch minimum for smallmouth bass and three-fish daily bag is changed to the statewide 14-inch minimum and five-fish bag.

“Because abundance of smallmouth bass is low and the fishery minimal, the 18-inch limit on smallmouth bass has not been effective,” the agency said, adding that anglers have expressed the desire to keep incidentally caught smallmouths for tournament weigh-ins.

At Nasworthy, the 14-inch minimum is changed to a protected slot of 14 to 18 inches, while daily limit remains five.

“Local staff has made presentations to three San Angelo bass clubs about the bass growth problems and potential regulation changes, and these bass anglers support making a regulation change,” TPWD said. “They also expressed willingness to harvest fish under 14 inches if it would help the overall population.”

On Falcon, another popular bass fishery, the agency changed the daily bag limit of one alligator gar to five.

“Most Falcon anglers --- gar and non-gar anglers --- desire an increase in the daily bag limit,” TPWD explained.