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#293624 05/28/12 07:59 AM
Joined: Apr 2002
Posts: 3,205
Likes: 9
Editor, Pond Boss Magazine
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Editor, Pond Boss Magazine
Joined: Apr 2002
Posts: 3,205
Likes: 9
Typically, I write about travels and what I do. While that's pretty interesting, it seems some blogging about pond management is also pretty interesting. Over the past year and a half, some things have happened which have begun to change the way I look at fisheries management, especially managing largemouth bass.

For this blog session, I'll toss out the clues which have begun to make me think even more deeply about what I do, which is to help people be better stewards of their land and water.

First clue, the state record for largemouth bass in Texas is 18.18 lbs, caught in Lake Fork in 1992. 1992! That's 20 years ago.

Then, a meeting with Texas Parks and Wildlife fisheries guys last summer showed me beyond any doubt that they are only interested in private waters if they can have a perpetual lease and total control of the lake...and it must be several hundred acres. (The reason this is significant is because of their work with largemouth bass genetics). They are mandated by law to take care of the natural resources of the state of Texas, not private waters.

Part of the interest in this meeting is because one of my clients owns the first lake ever stocked with pure strain Florida bass in Texas in 1972. About that time, several private lakes received Florida bass, to see if they could be adaptable to Texas waters. In 1981, one of the lakes which received those fish yielded a new state record, which was soon broken by the same angler. If memory serves, that fish was larger than 15 lbs. After that, the state record fell regularly, until 1992.

For several years (at least 10), I've been thinking about the actual impact of genetics on largemouth bass fisheries. While it's obviously significant, is it more significant than all the other variables in a lake's fishery, such as water quality, food chain and habitat? But, I'm not in the research business...I'm in the "results" business. My clients pay to have the best fishing lakes they can have, not necessarily for me to figure out this stuff.

About that same time last summer, a visit to LL,2 by Dr. Dave Willis and Dr. Brian Graeb set the wheels in motion to do some practical investigations about these genetic things. We brainstormed to think of a practical research project that could involve fisheries students and help figure out the significance of genetics, long term.

Another thing that has my mind rolling is the "box" of largemouth bass. Inside that box are these factoids.
1) Inevitably, largemouth bass become overcrowded, which makes them tough to manage. Harvesting intermediate-sized bass is a must. But, most people simply won't do it.
2) They are cannibals, eating anything which will fit into their mouths. This is significant because it allows us virtually no control over genetic selection or their number...see #1.
3) Once in "balance", catch rates become less predictable, making these fish less desirable.
4) Bass have only so many heartbeats, therefore only so much time. If they have the best genetics and the best food chain, what can happen?
5) Only females can grow large. That means 50% of the bass in each hatch don't stand a chance to grow very large.
6) Bass tend to reproduce like crazy, with little survival of young, compared to the numbers hatched...even though they tend to become overcrowded.
7) As bass grow into different size classes, their behavior changes. Big bass tend to eat big meals.

So, trying to grow giant bass is not only difficult, catching them can be difficult, too, especially for less-experienced anglers.

Other clues are: A Bass' food chain ebbs and flows. They are opportunitistic cannibals. What they have available to eat in April and May is quite different from what they'll have in July and August, which will be different than what they'll have in October and November.

So, as my mind has begun to wrap around these different clues, I'm wondering what it will take to methodically figure out the significance of genetics, how to fill the gaps inside every single natural food chain and how to be more selective about what fish are harvested from a lake and what fish should remain behind to ensure a strong pool of recruited fish into that given fishery.

When I think of genetics, here's what goes through my mind. A great dog breeder can take his best male, say a black lab, with lineage of royalty, the attitude of the best hunter, a great disposition...the best dog ever...and breed it with a female of like lineage and character. When she has that litter, will all the puppies have the same great qualities of both parents? I think that answer is a big "No". There will be a "pick of the litter" and puppies which are passive, some aggressive, some timid, some not...

Now, look at bass. That great female, say a 13-14 pounder, obviously has the genetics to grow so large. But, when she breeds with a random male or several other males (even if they are hand selected), will all her babies carry the same potential? Right now, I can't believe they do...until someone proves me wrong. If that female lays 30,000 eggs and they all hatch, what happens next is what makes me think the odds of growing a giant bass via natural reproduction in an existing lake are greater than the odds of being struck by lightning. 15,000 are disqualified simply because they are males. The other 15,000 will have genetic diversity similar to those puppies. Some will be aggressive, some won't. Some will grow fast, others won't. Throw in the fact that they are hatched into a system where there is an active population of predators and their survival rates are nearly zero. So, IF the best bass are able to survive, AND they have the genetic potential to grow huge, will they?

Here's another clue. That long standing Texas state record is 18.18. 1992. The final closure of the gates on Lake Fork was 1980. For several years prior, ponds in that watershed were dismissed of their fish and restocked with Florida bass, so when the lake filled, it would have a jump start with its bass. If you look at the top ten bass in Texas, 7 are from Lake Fork, all caught prior to March, 1993. The significance of this clue suggests that the biggest bass caught are the ones originally stocked into that lake. I see a parallel occurance in private waters. The first stocked fish are the ones which stand the best chance to grow well into double digits. If a Florida bass lives 12-15 years, as purported by those in the know, then the records in Lake Fork were those originally stocked bass reaching their end gain. That begs the question, "Why hasn't there been larger bass caught since 1992 in Texas lakes?"

Is it really simply a question of genetics? Or, is it a question of genetics AND opportunity?

It will be interesting to watch Falcon Lake over the next few years. It has many of the characteristics of a new lake. It was extremely low for several years and then rapidly filled. What has followed has been an explosion of growth of forage fish, followed by rapid growth of bass. If those bass have the "best" genetics, some of them have the potential to grow to sizes larger than what has been seen in Lake Fork.

Here's the rub in my brain. What will it take to ensure a lake has the opportunity to recruit the "best" genetics into its mature fishery, enough to have the next generations have the opportunity to grow larger, beyond the last generations?

Teach a man to grow fish...
He can teach to catch fish...
Joined: Apr 2002
Posts: 13,791
Likes: 53
Field Correspondent
Field Correspondent
Joined: Apr 2002
Posts: 13,791
Likes: 53
Great thoughts. IMO that same thinking and philosophy applies to many other cultured fish species such as sunfishes including BG, YP, crappie, SMB, WE, CC, BC, trouts and numerous other sportfish. The trend that Bob saw with LMB in Lake Fork will also probably apply to the trophy sized fish now in Richmond Mill Lake which is a relatively newly stocked fishery. Now the question at hand is, how does one maintain a trophy class fishery for the long term? Is "nature' working for or against us producing trophy fish. And what do we do to counter act the 'natural' trend toward a predominace of smaller or mediocre sizes?

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