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Entries in Texas (65)


Research Shows Catch-and-Release Does Help Sustain Fisheries

Releasing a bass makes us feel good. But does catch-and-release really help sustain fisheries?

Based on results from a tagging study at Texas’ Amon Carter, a 1,539 acre fishery north of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, the answer is a resounding “Yes!”

Sixty-three percent of 786 tagged bass were taken. In other words, fishermen caught nearly 500 of those fish.

 Forty-three percent were weighed in by tournament anglers. Another 16.3 percent was caught and released by recreational fishermen, with just 3.7 percent harvested.

There’s plenty more evidence too.

Nearly 75 percent of tagged fish were caught at Florida’s Lake Santa Fe.

“Another study we did on Rodman years ago was 40 percent caught by anglers,” said Mike Allen, professor of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences at the University of Florida.

On Tennessee’s Norris Reservoir, meanwhile, the “adjusted annual angler catch rate” for tagged largemouth bass was 47 percent in 1996 and 34 percent in 1997.

And Jacob Westhoff encountered some powerful anecdotal evidence while doing a smallmouth telemetry study on the Jacks Fork River for the Missouri Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Unit. Eighteen of the 33 bronzebacks with transmitters were caught by anglers.

“Also of note, is that eight of our fish were caught by a single angler in one day during the winter at the confluence of Alley Spring and the Jacks Fork River,” he said.

Clearly, the evidence is there to support the wisdom of catch-and-release--- and more.

“Those findings highlight the importance of proper fish care,” said Randy Myers, a fisheries biologist for Texas Parks and Wildlife. But he is quick to add that not all bass fisheries reveal such dramatic findings. For example, just 38 percent of more than 6,000 tagged fish were caught on Sam Rayburn, a lake more than 70 times the size of Carter.

Allen added that the statewide estimate for Florida lakes is about 20 percent.

“It obviously varies widely among water bodies and probably among regions,” he added. “In Florida, we have so many lakes. It’s probably higher in states without as many fishing sites.”

Allen’s point is important. The percentage of a bass population caught ties directly to angling pressure. At Amon Carter, tournament and recreational effort was a combined 14 hours per acre, while it was 5.2 at Rayburn. And in Florida, drought had reduced accessible areas at other fisheries, likely forcing more anglers than normal to fish Santa Fe.

Other factors can influence how great a percentage is caught as well.

“Rayburn has better habitat than Carter,” Myers said. “Overall, it’s a better lake for bass production.”

Still, angling pressure is a top consideration for resource managers in maintaining healthy bass fisheries. That’s why Myers is hopeful that removal of a protective slot at Ray Roberts will attract tournaments away from Carter.

“At Carter, more than half of the effort was from tournament anglers,” he said. “Because they are so popular, we have to think long and hard about restrictions that would limit tournaments. But if 50 percent of tournament-retained fish die (at Carter) it would have some impact on the fishery.”

Consequently, how fish are cared for before they are released also is a concern for Myers and other fisheries managers.

“If a fish is gilling, lots of experienced anglers still assume that it will live,” Myers said. “But that’s not always true. Some of those fish do die.”

The Texas biologist pointed to statistics gathered as part of a fizzing study during five tournaments at Lake Amistad in 2009.

On days when the water temperature was in the 50s and 60s, mortality, both immediate and delayed, was less than 10 percent. On a day when the temperature was 79 to 80, total mortality was 23 percent and delayed 18.3. And, most sobering, when the temperature was 83, total mortality was 50.8 percent and delayed 42.1.

“What we saw at Amistad is that 75 degrees is the critical temperature for bass health in a livewell,” he said. “That high mortality was strictly related to water temperature.”

Hot Days and Heavy Limits

Research like that at Amistad prompted Texas biologists Randy Myers and James Driscoll to recommend an oxygen injection system for livewells, particularly when an angler has a hefty limit as often happens at Texas reservoirs.

“Oxygen injection has long been used by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department hatcheries to maintain the health of fish being stocked into reservoirs,” they said.

“Fisheries staff regularly transport or hold fish in ratios equal to or greater than one pound of fish to a gallon of water. However, boat manufactures do not offer oxygen injection system options, and very few tournament anglers have installed oxygen equipment on their boats.”

Proper installation and operation of such a system, they added, “will ensure oxygen levels remain above the preferred level of 7 milligrams per liter, even when livewells contain heavy limits.”

More information is available in a Power Point presentation.


Giant Salvinia Found at Texas' Lake Fork

A noxious invasive plant that has plagued Louisiana and Texas waters for more than a decade finally has found its way to Lake Fork, the Lone Star State's No.1 trophy bass lake. Possibly giant salvinia was brought in accidentally by boat or trailer from Toledo Bend, Sam Rayburn, or Caddo.

"We do everything we can within the limits of manpower and budget that we have to work with," said Larry Hodge, spokesman for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). "The problem is that everybody who has a boat is a potential vector."

"We've found infestations like this on other reservoirs  in East Texas and have gone in and physically removed the plants, all that we can find," he added. "If you catch it early, sometimes you can get rid of it, at least temporarily."

On Nov. 18 in Chaney Branch, agency biologists confirmed the presence of this fast-growing, free-floating fern that can double its coverage in a week, as it blocks access and displaces native plants, which can't grow under its dense mats. 

"The infestation appears to be confined to this branch and a another small cove west of the dam and occupies an estimated 3.25 acres," TPWD said. "Judging by the distribution and age of the plants, it appears it has been in place for several months."

The Sabine River Authority (SRA) immediately close boat ramps at Chaney Point South and Secret Haven to reduce the risk of spreading the plant.   It also checked at bridge crossings and along shorelines for additional plants.

Additionally, SRA and TPWD crews have physically removed plants, as well as placed about 1,100 feet of floating boom across the creek, in hopes of containing the infestation within the 90-acre cove.

TPWD also plans to conduct a chemical treatment, using glyphosate. "All efforts will be made to protect beneficial plants, while focusing on killing the invasive giant salvinia," the agency said, adding that it will continue to look for the plant in other areas of the lake.

"We've had a lot of rain and high water this year and a lot of wind," said biologist Kevin Storey. " I suspect this will affect Lake Fork for years."


LMBV Still Around, But Not Threat It Once Was

Red dots show where LMBV was found from 2006 to 2011. Yellow dots indicate water was tested, but no virus found.Red dots here show where LMBV was found from 1996 to 2011. The decline from 1996 to 2006 was dramatic

Starting with Lake Sam Rayburn in 1998, Largemouth Bass Virus (LMBV) was confirmed in Texas 26 bass fisheries during the next decade. In many of those reservoirs, the virus resulted in fatalities, especially of larger fish.

Consequently, Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPW) has been among the most diligent agencies nationally in continuing to check for the virus, in its hatcheries as well as its lakes, even though the last kill occurred seven years ago.

"We do continue to have hatchery fish test positive for the virus from year to year, including Florida largemouth bass, northern largemouth bass, Guadalupe bass, and smallmouth bass," said Greg Southard, the state's LMBV expert and an aquatic animal health inspector at TWP's A.E. Wood Laboratory.

Mostly those fish are brood stock. The virus rarely is seen in fingerlings, but that could be because fewer are being tested than they were in the past.

"We used to analyze practically every black bass pond," Southard added. "But since LMBV became less of an issue, we don't invest as much time/effort into screening every pond like we did during 2000-2008."

If fish still are testing positive, why is LMBV less of an issue? The virus now rarely progresses into a fatal infection. That might be because bass have developed antibodies following exposure, said Southard, who assisted Dr. John Hawke of Louisiana State University in testing a non-lethal detection method in 2005.

Hawke agrees with that.

"My current thought about the epidemiology of the infection is that LMBV behaved much like an exotic introduced pathogen," he explained. "It ran its course, spreading very rapidly through the Southeast, causing high mortality in affected water bodies.

"One a fish population had been exposed, survivors produced antibodies to the virus and became resistant to reinfection. This is probably why we never saw a re-occurrence of fish kills in the same reservoir the next year or in subsequent years."

Check out this 2011 post at Activist Angler about LMBV. And here's an LMBV fact sheet that I put together for B.A.S.S. back in 2005.


Texas Considers Lowering Size Limit for Coastal Largemouth Bass

Texas likely will lower the size limit on bass from 14 to 12 inches in the southeastern bayous of Orange and Jefferson counties. Final decision will be based on recommendation by Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPW), as well as on online angler survey.

The agency decided to look into the possibility after State Rep. Dade Phelan introduced a bill that would lower the limit for high school and college tournaments, with the hope of bringing more bass fishing--- and business--- to southeast Texas.

Phelan said that he decided not to push for immediate passage after TWP asked for time to study the waters of the lower Sabine and Neches rivers, as well as the Taylor/Big Hill/Hillebrandt Bayou System. "We knew that the data was going to back up what we said all along," he said.

What Phelan and a growing number who fished tournaments in these brackish waters had been saying was that 14-inch bass are scarce. And an electrofishing survey seems to have confirmed that. Of the more than 600 bass collected, fewer than 7 percent were 14 inches.

"Current data indicate that largemouth bass in these three systems are relatively abundant, but have slow growth and high mortality rates," TPW said. "On average, largemouth bass reach 14 inches at 3.9 years. For reference, largemouth bass at Sam Rayburn and Toledo Bend reservoirs reach 14 inches at approximately 2.5 years."

Slow growth and high mortality mostly are the result of variable salinity and the absence of quality forage, it added.

"TWPD could manage the largemouth bass populations using various regulations to provide fishing opportunities on what anglers prefer," the agency said. "Less restrictive regulations could be implemented to increase harvest opportunities and fish available for tournament weigh-ins."

If the size limit is reduced, it will apply to all anglers, not just those fishing high school and college tournaments.



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.