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Entries in trophy bass (67)

Monday
Feb272012

States Hope Florida Genes Will Help Grow Bigger Bass

Dave Burkhardt caught this 13-8 Florida-strain largemouth at Mexico’s Lake El Salto. Florida bass grow quickly to trophy size south of the border, but can their genes help grow bigger bass in more northern states? (Photo by Robert Montgomery)

Can Tennessee biologists turn Chickamauga into another Lake Fork? 

Probably not.

That Texas lake is the gold standard for trophy bass fisheries, and duplicating the success there is not a reasonable expectation, especially for a state with a less hospitable climate.

But resource managers are hopeful that they can grow bigger bass in Chickamauga through the introduction of Florida-strain largemouths into the population.

“I’m convinced that Florida bass will grow big in Tennessee,” says Bobby Wilson, fisheries chief for the Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR). “I hope that can happen in Chickamauga. And, if it does, we’ll move to other lakes with it.”

So far, Wilson has one very persuasive piece of evidence to support his conviction: In October of 2009, biologists electroshocked a 16-15 largemouth at Browns Creek Lake, where Floridas also have been stocked.

By contrast, the existing state record is just 14-8 and was caught in 1954.

Bureaucratic complications delayed tests to determine the genetic makeup of that extraordinary bass, but results are expected soon. Meanwhile, limited sampling from Browns, Gibson County and other agency lakes where Florida bass have been stocked reveal that larger fish do have introduced genes.

“We’ve had a few 13-pounders reported by fishermen (from agency lakes),” Wilson adds. “They probably were Florida bass.”

But the verdict still is out on Chickamauga.

The same goes for Lake Guntersville, just to the south in Alabama.

“We’re in the process of finishing up the project right now,” says Keith Floyd, a fisheries supervisor for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

“We haven’t stocked them (Florida bass) on a regular basis,” he adds. “It’s been periodically in one or two embayments, to see if we can incorporate Florida genomes into the population.”

Tennessee, however, has been much more deliberate in its approach. After stocking 200,000 fry annually for five years throughout Chickamauga failed to show much of a genetic shift, biologists decided to focus on three creeks for the next five.

Norm Klayman also caught this 10-4 at Lake El Salto. Its bulging eyes indicate it is a fast-growing fish that is large for its age. (Photo by Robert Montgomery)

AS DWR waits for lab results, “anglers (at Chickamauga) are saying they are catching bigger bass,” Wilson explains. “And they say that the bass look different from what they are used to seeing.”

Anglers also are catching bigger bass at Lake Atkins in adjacent Arkansas, where the fishery was rehabilitated and then stocked with Floridas. This past spring, anglers caught at least three 12-pound bass in that 752-acre fishery.

Wilson says that his state used criteria from Arkansas and Oklahoma in deciding where Florida-strain bass could be stocked successfully in Tennessee. That turned out to be south of a line from Dyersburg in the west to Chattanooga in the east.

But as Virginia proved during the early 1990s, bass with Florida genes can do well even farther north than that. After being stocked in the late 1980s, Briery Creek Lake yielded a 13-4 trophy in 1992. It followed with a 16-3 (one ounce shy of the state record) in 1995 and 16-2 in 2002. And from 1994 to 2002, it produced the largest bass in the state annually.

“A lot of people are excited about this,” Wilson says about Tennessee’s Florida bass program. “But some don’t want them because they have heard that they are finicky than northern bass.”

And there’s the argument that native bass populations are weakened when Florida bass are added.  “But these aren’t native systems,” the Tennessee fisheries chief points out. “These are manmade impoundments.”

Texas’ long-term success with Florida bass in Lake Fork and other reservoirs provides a strong argument in support of Wilson. And the fact that more than 500 largemouth bass of 13 pounds and more have been entered in its Sharelunker program seems to dispel the “finicky” fear as well.

From my own decades of experience with Florida bass in Florida, Texas, and Mexico, I’ve noted that they can turn off when temperature drops just a degree or two. But I do not believe them more difficult to catch than northern bass. When cold and/or high pressure turns them off, you just have to slow down and adjust your tactics. Instead of throwing a spinnerbait, flip a soft plastic along the edge of a weedline.

Also, I’ve found Florida bass to be, pound for pound, much more challenging fighters than northern bass. A big Florida is like a mean smallmouth with a belly. And I’ve seen 12-pounders tail walk.

Count me as one who is not troubled by the occasional finickiness of Florida bass or the fact that they are being introduced into manmade fisheries in Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, and perhaps other states outside their native range. I’ve been blessed to catch a few double-digit Floridas, and I’d like to see more opportunities for other anglers to do so as well.

Whether Chickamauga and Guntersville are two of the fisheries capable of growing those genetically enhanced big fish likely will be revealed soon.

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

Monday
Jan232012

TrophyCatch to 'Promote and Celebrate' Florida Bass Fisheries

Activist Angler with a TrophyCatch-size largemouth of 8-5 that he caught on Lake Okeechobee in October. (Photo by Dave Burkhardt)

Twenty-five years ago, the first largemouth bass entered in Texas’ fledgling ShareLunker program also proved to be a state record, weighing 17.67 pounds.

Since then, anglers fishing Texas waters have caught more than 500 bass weighing at least 13 pounds, including 50 that weighed 15.38 pounds or better. Among them, an 18.18 record caught in 1992.

It’s almost a certainty that all of those fish were either Florida-strain largemouths or carried Florida genes that enabled their trophy stature.

Coincidentally, Florida’s state record, weighing 17.27 pounds, also was taken in 1986.

Since then, anglers fishing Florida waters have caught . . . Well, we don’t know how many trophy largemouths that they’ve caught. Texas has done a great job of recording and promoting Florida bass in its waters. But the state for which they are named?

Not so much.

That’s all about to change with TrophyCatch, set to commence in October 2012.

“We do mirror the ShareLunker program in some ways,” says Tom Champeau, fisheries chief for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

“A lot of anglers like the Sharelunker program so we sent some of our staff to Texas to see what they’re doing.”

A key difference, though, is that the Lone Star State uses those big bass in its hatcheries to create even more lunkers for its reservoirs. Florida bass are not native to Texas.

By contrast, many of the Sunshine State’s lakes, ponds, and rivers are naturally populated by Florida strain bass. In other words, breeding stock is not needed.

A golf course lake, a retention pond, a canal, just about any body of water in Florida could be home to a state-record bass just waiting to be caught --- and entered into TrophyCatch.

As a matter of fact, in this state that the Florida bass calls home, dozens of fish of state-record proportion --- and possibly even a world record or two --- have been caught but were not verified by FWC personnel. At RiverBassin.com, you can see a list of “unofficial” big bass, including several of more than 20 pounds and more than two dozen heavier than the current record. 

Appropriately, then, FWC states proudly on the TrophyCatch website that “no other place on earth has this largemouth bass promotion opportunity.”

If bass aren’t needed for reproduction, what is the value of offering incentives to anglers who catch, document, and report their catches of bass weighing 8 pounds or more?

Genetic research certainly, to find out more about the unique strain of bass that soon might by reclassified from a subspecies to a separate species of black bass. But also to “promote and celebrate our fisheries,” says Champeau.

“We want to promote fishing, catch and release, and environmental stewardship to keep our fisheries healthy,” he explains.

That’s one of four cornerstones upon which TrophyCatch was created as the “promotional engine” for the state’s new Black Bass Management Plan. Use of sound science, public involvement in management of the resource, and adaptive management are the other three. The latter involves constant monitoring and periodic adjustment to reach an end point, as opposed to inflexible policy.

To make TrophyCatch a success, sponsors will be needed, along with angler input and participation. Champeau is looking to businesses both in and outside the sport for prizes to offer participants.

“The response that we got from industry at ICAST (annual fishing industry show) to TrophyCatch was very positive,” he says.

“If we can get a truck manufacturer onboard, we could offer a truck (for biggest bass of the year),” he says. “We want to make it newsworthy.”

And how about $1 million for a new state record?

“If we can afford an insurance policy to offer that, it would be awesome,” the fisheries chief says.

“We get lots of reports of bigger bass out there, and we can’t disprove them. But we want to make sure that record-size fish are certified and legitimate.”

By starting at 8 pounds for entry, TrophyCatch could be documenting thousands of bass annually once it’s up and running. With tourists, guides, and resident anglers all participating, biologists theorize several hundred of those fish could weigh between 10 and 13 pounds and an impressive 30 to 50 could be heavier than that.

Not long ago, an 8-year-old caught and released a 15-pounder in Polk County.

“Those big fish are out there,” says Champeau. “And it’s a shame that people aren’t getting credit. With TrophyCatch, we want to document and reward them for their effort.”

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

Friday
Jan202012

Growing a World Record Bass in Texas

Photo by Larry Hodge, Texas Parks and Wildlife.

Big bass are plentiful in Texas waters. That’s because of an aggressive stocking program for Florida-strain largemouths and an innovative ShareLunker project that both publicizes and perpetuates the state’s trophy fisheries.

Since ShareLunker began in 1986, anglers have donated more than 500 bass weighing 13 pounds or better. Before being released by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), the big fish spawn in a hatchery, with their offspring then used for more stocking.

Except for a fish caught in a private lake in 1981, the state’s 50 largest bass, all weighing more than 15 pounds, were taken after ShareLunker began. By all accounts, the program seems an unqualified success.

Still . . .

The Texas state record is just 18.18 pounds, more than four pounds off the world record, and it was caught in 1992.

Are Lone Star State waters incapable of yielding the 20-pound-plus bass caught in California waters? Certainly Texas bass will never enjoy a high-calorie diet of rainbow trout as they do in California.

But maybe there’s another way. That’s why TPWD biologists initiated Operation World Record (OWR). For Texas waters, they’re hoping, genetics rather than forage might be the key.

“We have reason to believe that these fish (entered in ShareLunker) have unique genetic characteristics,” said Dave Terre, chief of management and research for Inland Fisheries.

“What they are exactly, we don’t know. But we’re hoping to maximize them.”

From 2005 to 2008, biologists bred female ShareLunkers with the male offspring of other female ShareLunkers.  They then stocked their offspring into six Texas fisheries.

“None of these big fish were being used for the good of the hatchery program, and it was frustrating,” said Bill Provine, Terre’s predecessor.

He added that selective breeding programs had been used successfully in other areas, including livestock production and deer management “to obtain certain desirable traits.

“It made sense that it would also work with fish.”

And it seems to be, according to Michael Baird, one of four investigators who monitor the selectively bred bass.

Four years after they were stocked, OWR fish had an average weight of about 7 ounces more than resident fish of equivalent age. They also were about one inch longer.

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

But the biologist cautioned that all that has been proven so far is that OWR offspring are larger up to age four. What happens after that remains to be seen.

Possibly, the heavier average weights are due to a genetic advantage, and that advantage will be sustained throughout their lives. But it’s also possible the perceived advantage will be lost after age four.

“Only a much longer-term study, utilizing many more stocked fish, could determine this,” Baird explained.

The biologist added that he believes that bass up to 20 pounds can be grown in Texas, but whether genetic selectivity will be responsible is uncertain. “I think there is a good chance it will happen in my lifetime,” he said.

But evidently, not everyone thinks that growing a world-record bass is a good idea. An interesting discussion about that is at Texas Fish & Game.

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

Wednesday
Jan182012

TrophyCatch Program Coming for Florida Bass Anglers

Activist Angler with a TrophyCatch-size largemouth of 8-5 that he caught in October on Lake Okeechobee.

Twenty-five years ago, the first largemouth bass entered in Texas’ fledgling ShareLunker program also proved to be a state record, weighing 17.67 pounds.

Since then, anglers fishing Texas waters have caught more than 500 bass weighing at least 13 pounds, including 50 that weighed 15.38 pounds or better. Among them, an 18.18 record caught in 1992.

It’s almost a certainty that all of those fish were either Florida-strain largemouths or carried Florida genes that enabled their trophy stature.

Coincidentally, Florida’s state record, weighing 17.27 pounds, also was taken in 1986.

Since then, anglers fishing Florida waters have caught . . . Well, we don’t know how many trophy largemouths that they’ve caught. Texas has done a great job of recording and promoting Florida bass in its waters. But the state for which they are named?

Not so much.

That’s all about to change with TrophyCatch, set to commence in October 2012.

“We do mirror the ShareLunker program in some ways,” says Tom Champeau, fisheries chief for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

“A lot of anglers like the Sharelunker program so we sent some of our staff to Texas to see what they’re doing.”

A key difference, though, is that the Lone Star State uses those big bass in its hatcheries to create even more lunkers for its reservoirs. Florida bass are not native to Texas.

Florida-strain bass don't start large, but all have the potential to reach TrophyCatch size.

By contrast, many of the Sunshine State’s lakes, ponds, and rivers are naturally populated by Florida strain bass. In other words, breeding stock is not needed.

A golf course lake, a retention pond, a canal, just about any body of water in Florida could be home to a state-record bass just waiting to be caught --- and entered into TrophyCatch.

As a matter of fact, in this state that the Florida bass calls home, dozens of fish of state-record proportion --- and possibly even a world record or two --- have been caught but were not verified by FWC personnel. At RiverBassin.com, you can see a list of “unofficial” big bass, including several of more than 20 pounds and more than two dozen heavier than the current record. 

Appropriately, then, FWC states proudly on the TrophyCatch website that “no other place on earth has this largemouth bass promotion opportunity.”

If bass aren’t needed for reproduction, what is the value of offering incentives to anglers who catch, document, and report their catches of bass weighing 8 pounds or more?

Genetic research certainly, to find out more about the unique strain of bass that soon might by reclassified from a subspecies to a separate species of black bass. But also to “promote and celebrate our fisheries,” says Champeau.

“We want to promote fishing, catch and release, and environmental stewardship to keep our fisheries healthy,” he explains.

That’s one of four cornerstones upon which TrophyCatch was created as the “promotional engine” for the state’s new Black Bass Management Plan. Use of sound science, public involvement in management of the resource, and adaptive management are the other three. The latter involves constant monitoring and periodic adjustment to reach an end point, as opposed to inflexible policy.

To make TrophyCatch a success, sponsors will be needed, along with angler input and participation. Champeau is looking to businesses both in and outside the sport for prizes to offer participants.

“The response that we got from industry at ICAST (annual fishing industry show) to TrophyCatch was very positive,” he says.

“If we can get a truck manufacturer onboard, we could offer a truck (for biggest bass of the year),” he says. “We want to make it newsworthy.”

And how about $1 million for a new state record?

“If we can afford an insurance policy to offer that, it would be awesome,” the fisheries chief says.

“We get lots of reports of bigger bass out there, and we can’t disprove them. But we want to make sure that record-size fish are certified and legitimate.”

By starting at 8 pounds for entry, TrophyCatch could be documenting thousands of bass annually once it’s up and running. With tourists, guides, and resident anglers all participating, biologists theorize several hundred of those fish could weigh between 10 and 13 pounds and an impressive 30 to 50 could be heavier than that.

Not long ago, an 8-year-old caught and released a 15-pounder in Polk County.

“Those big fish are out there,” says Champeau. “And it’s a shame that people aren’t getting credit. With TrophyCatch, we want to document and reward them for their effort.”

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

Thursday
Dec292011

Lake Fork Yields First Big Bass of ShareLunker Season

Andrew Watson of Highland Village caught this 13.51-pound largemouth bass from Lake Fork December 27. The fish was 25.5 inches long and 21.25 inches in girth. It is now Toyota ShareLunker 524. TPWD Photo © 2011, Larry D. Hodge

Not surprisingly, Lake Fork yielded the first entry in Texas’ 26th Toyota ShareLunker season.

On Dec. 27, Andrew Watson of Highland Village caught the 13.51-pound largemouth while crappie fishing with his father under the Texas 154 bridge.

Of the 15 largest bass caught in Texas waters, 12 came from Lake Fork, including the state record --- 18.18--- back in 1992. Like Watson, Barry St. Clair was fishing for crappie when he hooked the lunker on a live minnow.

Watson said his bass broke 8-pound line twice before he hooked her a third time and was able to play her around the boat for several minutes before bringing her to the net.

In explaining the ShareLunker program, Texas Parks and Wildlife says the following:

Anyone legally catching a 13-pound or bigger largemouth bass from Texas waters, public or private, between October 1 and April 30 may submit the fish to the Toyota ShareLunker program by calling program manager David Campbell at (903) 681-0550 or paging him at (888) 784-0600 and leaving a phone number including area code. Fish will be picked up by TPWD personnel within 12 hours.

The person who catches the largest entry of the season will be named Angler of the Year. If that person is a Texas resident, he or she will receive a lifetime fishing license. The Angler of the Year will also receive a prize package from G. Loomis worth more than $700, including a G.Loomis NRX 854C JWR casting rod and a Shimano Chronarch 200 E7 casting reel.

ShareLunker entries are used in a selective breeding program at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens. Some of the offspring are stocked into the water bodies from which the lunkers were caught. Other ShareLunker offspring are stocked in public waters around the state in an attempt to increase the overall size and growth rate of largemouth bass in Texas.

Anglers entering fish into the Toyota ShareLunker program receive a free replica of their fish, a certificate and ShareLunker clothing, and are recognized at a banquet at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens.

For complete information and rules of the ShareLunker program, tips on caring for big bass, a list of official Toyota ShareLunker weigh and holding stations, and a recap of last year’s season, go here. The site also includes a searchable database of all fish entered into the program along with pictures where available.

Information on current catches, including short videos of interviews with anglers when available, is posted here.