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Entries in Texas (75)


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.


Does Catch-and-Release Help Sustain Bass Fisheries?

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

Based on results from a tagging study a few years ago 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.”


TTBC Helps Texas Introduce More People to Fishing

Following this year's Toyota Texas Bass Classic (TTBC) on Lake Ray Roberts, organizers once again donated $250,000 to help Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPW) introduce more people to fishing, specifically through its Neighborhood Fishin' program.

To characterize the10-year partnership as a success might be a bit of an understatement, according to Dave Terre, TPW's chief of fisheries management and research.

"It's been huge," he said of the $2.5 million overall contribution that TTBC has made. "We've been highly successful at attracting youth and families into fishing. And now we have people calling us all the time saying 'Do my lake. Do my lake.'"

What the callers want is for TPW to stock their nearby urban lakes with 12- to 16-inch catfish biweekly during spring, summer, and fall, and 9- to 12-inch rainbow trout during winter.

TTBC funds have enabled the agency to expand the program from 9 to 18 lakes in the city and county parks of major metropolitan areas. Possibly others will be added in the future, but potential lakes must be studied carefully before a commitment is made. Terre estimated that  stocking a 3-acre lake with catchable size fish costs about $30,000 annually.

"All of the lakes are strategically picked," he said, pointing out that good facilities and shoreline access are important considerations. "By now, we have a pretty good idea of which ones work and which ones don't."

The ones that do are doing so in a big way, with an estimated 100,000 anglers participating annually. "About 50,000 of those are new to fishing and 25,000 of them are youths," Terre added. "The others are lapsed angers (who returned to fishing because of the program).

"Most people tell us that these lakes are the only places that they fish."

The annual Classic donation also helps with marketing of the program as well as supports the agency's Take Me Fishing trailer, which provides instruction in fishing basics at events all over the state, and an annual fish art competition for students. The latter now is averaging more than 1,000 entries annually.

At the lakes, meanwhile, residents have the opportunity to fish when they want to, with few, if any, derbies or events scheduled. Also, they can borrow tackle through some local parks and TPW offices.

"Stocking usually is done on a Thursday or Friday, with the best fishing a day or two after that," said Terre, adding that about 200 fish per acre are stocked in fisheries that average 1 to 6 acres.

The fisheries chief added that a special effort is being made to attract the state's growing Hispanic population to fishing."We're trying to put fish in lakes in neighborhoods that will engage nontraditional anglers," he said. "Largely, Hispanics are under-represented in license sales. But this program is working. (In areas with stocked lakes) we're seeing higher license buying than in traditional neighborhoods."

In addition to TTBC, Terre emphasized that cities, counties, local businesses, and the federal Sport Fish Restoration program also have contributed to the success of Neighborhood Fishin'. At the newest lake, Kingfisher in Austin, sponsors include Travis County, Bass Pro Shops, and Gulf States Toyota.


Put These Bass on Your Bucket List!

Shoal bassIf you think largemouths, smallmouths, and spots are the only fish worth pursuing, you don't know your bass.

As  the most adaptable and widespread species in the black bass family, they certainly have earned their fame and your loyalty. But if you enjoy catching hard-fighting fish in scenic rivers and streams, you should meet their stay-at-home cousins, most notably shoal and Guadalupe bass.

"I used to think smallmouth bass were the ultimate river bass, but shoal bass have completely changed my mind," said Steven Sammons, an avid angler as well as fisheries scientist and research fellow in Auburn University's School of Fisheries, Aquaculture, and Aquatic Sciences.

"They grow faster, consistently reach larger sizes, and may be the most aggressive black bass we have. I routinely fish for them with topwater lures most suited to peacock bass and they usually are up to the challenge!"

Guadalupe bass (left) and largemouth bassAnd the Guadalupe? Tim Birdsong, a fisherman who also happens to be Habitat Conservation Branch Chief for Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPW), feels much the same way about this smaller river fish.

"It fights harder than any other species I've caught," he said. "Guadalupes know how to move their bodies in current, and they are inextricably linked to flowing water. They hang out just behind the current and move out into it to ambush."

With such glowing recommendations, then, why don't more anglers know about and fish for these moving water brawlers? Unlike largemouths, smallmouths, and spots, they can't tolerate reservoir conditions, and consequently mostly are restricted to free-flowing waters in their historic ranges. That means anglers must go to the Hill Country of central and south Texas to fish for the Guadalupe, the state's official fish, and to the Apalachicola River drainage (Chattahoochee and Flint tributary systems) in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida to fish for the shoal bass.

But a little travel time is well worth it, according to Sammons, who caught three 5-pound-plus shoal bass one day this past spring. "Those who know what they are doing --- and there are many better than I --- routinely catch 5-pound shoal bass every spring," he said. "The better anglers' number of fish in those sizes is in the dozens annually. Not many smallmouth rivers can produce fish like that."

Additionally, he added, they are not difficult to catch just about any time if you are in the right place. And where is that for the shoal bass?

Shoal bass fishingThe "epicenter" for big shoal bass, Sammons explained, is the Flint River west of Thomaston, Ga.. "There are five or six places that you can access for float trips," he said. "And you can canoe or wade fish."

The Flint River between Albany and Lake Seminole, meanwhile, can accommodate larger boats and seems to hold bigger, but fewer, fish.

In Florida, the Chipola River, especially below Marianna, offers some of the best shoal bass fishing. Fisheries biologist Andy Strickland said that three low-water years, starting in 2006, produced big year classes of shoal bass that now are moving into the 4- and 5-pound range. But Ray Tice recently caught a new state record (5.2 pounds), the fourth in little more than a year,  from the Apalachicola River in Gadsden County.

Where do you find shoal bass in those rivers? "They set up like salmon or trout," Sammons explained. "They are not behind a rock or in an eddy. "They set up in that fast water, the first big drop in a shoal. They're in front of the 'push' water."

Guadalupe bass fishingIn Texas, meanwhile, the lower Colorado River below Austin boasts a trophy fishery for Guadalupe bass, and, in fact,  that's where Bryan Townsend caught the record, 3.71-pounds, on a crawfish-pattern fly in 2014. Birdsong added that about 60 percent of anglers targeting the state fish cast flies as they wade or drift.

The Llano River, a tributary of the Colorado, is another good choice. "Around Kingsland, you have a different kind of river channel with granite outcrops," Birdsong said. "It's a great area to wade fish."

Sadly, the Guadalupe no longer is found in some of its range, mostly because of development. "We see this as an urgent time to do something meaningful to protect the species," the biologist said, pointing out that population in the Hill Country has increased by one million people during the past decade.

"Fourteen species of fish are found in the Hill Country and nowhere else in the world," he added. "We're really concerned about urbanization and demand on our spring-fed rivers."

That's why TPW initiated the 10-year Guadalupe Bass Restoration Initiative in 2010, with the hope that a public-private conservation partnership can help sustain and/or restore the rivers.

In addition, populations of the shoal and other black bass species mentioned below seem to be slowly declining due to habitat degradation and hybridization with illegally introduced non-native bass, especially spots. That why Sammons and other fisheries scientists in state agencies and universities within their native ranges have stepped up conservation efforts.

The Rest of the Family

Generally speaking, nine species of black bass now are recognized by the scientific community: northern largemouth bass, Florida largemouth bass, Alabama spotted bass, northern spotted bass, smallmouth bass, Guadalupe bass, shoal bass, redeye bass, and Suwannee bass.

Until 1999, the shoal was considered a subspecies of the redeye, which is why the 8-12 caught in the Apalachicola River in 1995 is recognized as the all-tackle record by the International Game Fish Association, but not by Florida as a state record. The Georgia record, meanwhile, is an 8-3 caught in 1977 on the Flint River and the Alabama record is a 6-11 caught from Halawakee Creek in 1996.

Although similar in overall appearance to the shoal, the redeye is a smaller fish and prefers skinnier waters in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and small portions of North Carolina and Tennessee. The Georgia state record, 3-7, came from Lake Hartwell in 2004.

 "It's not found in the fast water," said Sammons. "It doesn't need boulders like the shoal. Mostly you catch them in small pools with 6-pound line and small crankbaits."

As scientific investigative methods improve and conservation efforts for native species intensify, it's possible that the redeye will be subdivided into several different species in the years to come, including Coosa, Tallapoosa, Chattahoochee, Cahaba, and Warrior.

Because of its association with a song written by Steven Foster, the Suwannee bass is the most recognized black bass outside the big five. But it has the smallest range of the family--- the Suwannee, Santa Fe, Wacissa, Wakulla,  and several other free-flowing Florida rivers, as well as the Alapaha, Ochlockonee, and Withlacoochee shared by Florida and Georgia. Current IGFA record is 3-14, taken from the Suwannee in 1985.

During the next few years, Choctaw and the Bartram's likely will be the next bass to be recognized as separate species, Sammons said.

"The genetics is really strong on the Choctaw," he explained. "It looks like a spotted bass, but it's geographically isolated."

In fact, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission already includes the Choctaw in its fishing regulations.

The Bartram's, meanwhile, "should be a slam dunk" to be recognized, the Auburn scientist said. "It's found only in the Savannah and Broad River drainages  and it's the only one (outside the big five) to survive in reservoirs. You can catch it in lakes, and it gets a little bigger, 2 to 2 1/2 pounds."

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


Bass Fisherman Brings Clean Water, Life to Thousands

Three hundred thousand people in Africa now have clean water, thanks to Global Water Partners, which bass fisherman Bruce Whitmire founded in 2009. Since 1996, he's helped drill wells that supply clean water for 12 million.

Think about that.

"Every one of us had a gift that makes the picture complete," he says. "This is where I fit--- lovin' on people and helping them have a better life."

He uses bass tournaments to help solicit support for GWP and spread the word that an estimated 2 billion people still lack access to clean water.

"When parents send their children out to a mud hole to bring home water, that water is supposed to bring life. But what it brings is death and disease," says the Texas angler. "They need clean water for life and health."

Read Whitmire's inspiring story here.