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Entries in Texas (57)

Thursday
Apr232015

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.

Friday
Apr102015

Grass Carp Gobble Up Lake Austin's Grass, Reputation

 

Gut contents of a Lake Austin grass carp. Photo by Brent BellingerAs grass carp gobbled up all the aquatic vegetation in Texas’ Lake Austin, they also obliterated the reservoir’s reputation as one of the nation’s top bass fisheries.

“When the grass was around 400 to 500 acres for a couple of years, the bass fishing really took off,” said John Ward, marketing director of the Texas Tournament Zone (TTZ). “The fish were fat and healthy. We had a great sunfish and crawfish population, and plenty of ambush spots for the big girls to grab them.

“Now sunfish and crawfish numbers are significantly down. You see more schools of bass chasing shad balls instead. The worst feeling is when you finally get a big girl, and it’s a 10-pound head with a 5-pound body. They just can’t eat like they used to.”

Understandably frustrated anglers blame mismanagement and/or the powerful influence of lakefront property owners who don’t like hydrilla. For example, one said that Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPW) “grossly overstocked this lake with grass carp.”

He continued, “In less than a year, we have seen complete devastation of this great fishery. The grass is 100 percent gone. Reeds that used to line the lake in places have been uprooted and chewed off at the stalks.”

But the reality is more complex and less malevolent. What happened was the inevitable result of an unavoidable set of circumstances involving weather, two exotic species, and reservoir management priorities.

“This trophy fishery was maintained along with grass carp stockings for many years,” said Texas biologist Marcos De Jesus.

“This extreme drought scenario has thrown a monkey wrench in our management efforts, but we are learning from this experience to avoid a similar outcome in the future.”

Managed by the Lower Colorado River Authority, Austin is a 1,599-acre riverine impoundment on the Colorado River. During normal times, cool discharges into the flow-through fishery combine with a sustained population of grass carp to keep hydrilla in check. Also, less problematic Eurasian watermilfoil thrives, serving as another control. But starting in 2011, drought diminished flow, allowing water to warm and igniting an unprecedented growth spurt in hydrilla. By spring 2013, hydrilla covered nearly a third of the reservoir.

If not kept in check, hydrilla can block flow, pushing water onto highly developed shorelines, De Jesus explained. Consequently, more dramatic control was required, and it could only be done with grass carp. Herbicides are not an option for Austin, which also serves as a municipal water supply.

A stocking of 9,000 carp in May 2013 supplemented 17,000 introduced in 2012, providing 55.5 fish per acre of hydrilla. And, as anglers watched in dismay, the fish quickly gobbled up all of the lake’s aquatic vegetation, except for shoreline plants protected by cages.

“Now we are in a situation where the carp are keeping everything at bay,” said the biologist. “Every time it’s been down to zero, though, it bounces back. We’re now looking at creating habitat (brushpiles) and doing some carp removal.

“Fishing always has been our priority,” he continued, pointing out that electrofishing revealed bass still are plentiful.

“But they’re now suspended in deep water, and people will have to transition to other fishing styles. We were all spoiled. We all loved that lake, and this change was not one that we wanted.”

Brushpiles will help, said Ward, who added that TTZ will help organizes anglers to assist. “But nothing can replace natural habitat. As long as you have 20,000-plus grass carp in a 1,600-acre lake, grass will not grow.

“It’s the aquatic vegetation and the healthy habitat it provides that brings out the potential for big bass in Lake Austin.”

(This article was published originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)

Sunday
Mar152015

New York Legislation Reminds Anglers to Clean, Drain, And Dry

Giant salvinia on boat trailer in Texas. TPWD photo

New legislation in New York makes anglers and other boaters responsible for taking common-sense precautions to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species. That means that they should clean, drain, and dry their boaters and trailers to remove plant and animal matter before transport or launch.

“New York’s new law is the latest, but not the last,” said Gene Gilliland, National Conservation Director for B.A.S.S. “Texas and Arizona passed clean, drain, and dry laws a few years ago.

“It is said that there needs to be legislation to enforce common sense,” he continued. “Checking your boats for clinging plants or debris, cleaning it by removing materials or power washing after you’ve boated in contaminated waters, removing the plug to drain your boat’s bilge or livewell, and drying the boat thoroughly to prevent the spread of any sort of plants or critters should be automatic --- an unconscious habit --- for all boaters.

“The fact that it is not a habit results in laws that force the issue.”

Starting in November, offenders in New York waters will receive a written notice for a first violation, along with educational materials regarding invasive species. A fine of up to $150 will be issued for a second offense, up to $250 for a third offense, and no more than $1,000 for a fourth.

Additionally, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has adopted regulations that prohibit boats from launching or leaving agency access sites without taking these precautions. Also, several local municipalities and state organizations have adopted local laws to minimize the spread of invasives, including boat inspection and washing requirements.

In 2014, New York adopted its first mandatory inspection program for boat launches on Lake George.

DEC points out that invasives threatened both tourism and sport fishing by outcompeting native species for food and habitat. Additionally, they can spread diseases, and, once established, are nearly impossible to eradicate because they have few natural predators in their new environments. Nationwide, they annually cause about $120 billion in damage.

“As much as people don't like government regulation, the problem here is one of how easily a system can be contaminated,” Gilliland said.

“A single boat can be responsible for introducing invasive mussels or plants. If boaters do not police themselves, to protect water resources, states may take drastic measures, such as we've seen in California, where boats are banned altogether from some waters.”

Sunday
Nov092014

Alligator Gar Plentiful in Falcon Lake

Garzilla Guide Service gar caught on Trinity River

For those who want to catch alligator gar these days, Texas’ Trinity River usually is the preferred destination.  But the Rio Grande and Falcon Lake, an impoundment between Laredo and McAllen, also contain plenty of the nation’s second –largest freshwater fish. (Sturgeon top the list.)

"There are some huge --- I mean really huge, world-record-class - alligator gar in Falcon," said Dave Terre, chief of fisheries management and research for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's inland fisheries division.

"What's really cool is that some of the data collected in this study has never been collected before in Texas. It adds so much to our knowledge base for this fish."

According to the Houston Chronicle, the study documents that those border waters afford some of the best in Texas for trophy alligator gar, fish stretching to 7 feet and longer and weighing 200 pounds or more.

A primary reason for the study was to determine if the large predators pose a threat to the lake’s renowned trophy bass fishery. Examination of the stomach contents of nearly 400 gar revealed that almost 90 percent of their diet is carp, tilapia, and gizzard shad. Bass accounted for just 8 percent of the stomach contents.

With plentiful forage and a warm climate, those gar grow large fast. Females reach 5 feet in five years and sexual maturity in seven, about half the time needed in more northern waters.

But the harvest rate is low, with anglers taking just 1 percent of the population annually. That’s partially because the daily limit is one.

With plenty of fish and little harvest, Texas Parks and Wildlife wants to allow anglers on Falcon to take as many as five alligator gar per day.

"We think this proposed bag limit is supported by the science presented in this study, is sufficient to conserve this population long into the future, and it meets the needs and desires expressed by our constituents," Terre said.

Wednesday
Sep102014

Can Nutritional Boost Help Big Bass Grow Even Bigger?

TPWD photo

The majority of bass produced by the Toyota ShareLunker program goes to stocking Texas public reservoirs for anglers to catch. Since the program began in 1986, that translates into more than one million fingerlings spawned in hatcheries from bass weighing 13 pounds or more and distributed into 62 reservoirs, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPW).

Since 2001, though, some have gone into both public and private waters solely to evaluate the benefits of crossing pure Florida ShareLunkers with male bass descended from previous ShareLunkers.

The most recent private stocking in Operation World Record (OWR) occurred this summer on a Webb County ranch owned by Gary Schwarz, best known for growing big whitetail deer. TPW provided 7,404 ShareLunker offspring for the recently renovated 60-acre lake to see if he can attain similarly impressive results with largemouth bass.

To provide the bass with optimum forage, Schwarz is not content with having just bluegill, minnows, and shad. He also will flush prawns, shrimp-like crustaceans, into the lake from surrounding brood ponds. The shellfish can grow as large as 12 inches and should provide a nutritional boost for the fast-growing future ShareLunkers.

Owners of these private “contract” lakes agree not to fish for the bass for a stipulated period, and TPW may remove them as needed.

The Webb County stocking was facilitated by 2008 Bassmaster Classic winner Alton Jones, who knows Schwarz, according to Allen Forshage, director of the Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens.

These likely will be the last OWR offspring stocked in a private lake, as previous research indicates that these fish do grow faster and bigger than normal Florida-strain bass. Four years after they were stocked in other waters, they had an average weight of about 7 ounces more than resident bass of equivalent age, according to biologist Michael Baird.

“Additionally, the largest bass collected were almost always Lunker offspring, while the smallest were resident offspring,” he said.

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