In conjunction with Jeff Boxrucker of Reservoir Fisheries Habitat Partnership, WesternBass.com has hooked up with Craig Bonds Inland Fisheries Region 3 Director of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to bring their most common bass fishing Q&A’s to the pages of Western Bass.
Here is the first installment of the series:
Question: Can a fisherman tell a pure Florida bass by its appearance?
Bonds: Florida and native largemouth bass are impossible to tell apart visually. It requires genetic testing. Additionally, most largemouth bass in Texas are genetic intergrades. Texas public waters contain very few (typically less than five percent) pure Florida or native largemouth bass. External coloration within largemouth bass has more to do with water clarity than genetics.
Q: Can you look at a bass and tell it is a male?
BONDS: Unless you catch a largemouth bass larger than five pounds, or a fish that is obviously guarding a nest in the spring, it is very difficult to determine gender of largemouth bass visually. Trained biologists can look at the shape and coloration of the urogenital opening during the spring and correctly determine gender most of the time, but outside this period, it is almost impossible.
Q: If a fish caught in early summer has eggs, is it going to be a late spawner?
BONDS: Not all female bass spawn each year. If environmental conditions or the fish's individual health is not adequate during ideal spawning conditions, female fish may not spawn. They will eventually reabsorb their egg mass. Conversely, some female fish spawn multiple times in one spring, and may deposit eggs in multiple nests with multiple male partners.
Q: Will stocking make fishing better in my favorite lake?
BONDS: Stocking fingerling largemouth bass into a reservoir with an existing population of predator fishes will not automatically result in better fishing down the road, primarily due to poor stocking survival. Bass are highly cannibalistic and many other predator fish lurk in the shallows for an easy meal. Without complex habitat (such as aquatic vegetation, woody cover, rock, etc.) available for escape cover, stocking may not be effective. Conversely, in reservoirs where natural recruitment of largemouth bass is adequate, stocking fingerlings may only result in a very small contribution (less than 10 percent) to a year class of fish.
Q: If a bass looks healthy and swims off after being taken through a weigh-in, isn't that a good sign it is going to survive?
BONDS: Many anglers still don't differentiate between initial from delayed mortality. Initial mortality in bass tournaments is typically less than five percent. However, during warm months when water temperatures are over 75-degrees, more than 30 percent of the fish die within 72 hours of release from a cumulative list of stressors. Warm water temperatures hold less oxygen. A five-fish limit can drain the oxygen in a livewell or weigh-in bag in just a few minutes. Anglers are encouraged to follow fish-care guidelines developed by independent fisheries biologists for B.A.S.S. Information is available at http://www.bassmaster.com/tips/keeping-bass-alive.
Q: Which is better, using a net or swinging a bass onboard the boat?
BONDS: Landing nets with knotted nylon mesh can be abrasive and split fish fins. However, landing nets with knotless nylon or rubber mesh do a good job of landing fish harmlessly. Swinging fish onboard and allowing the fish to flop on boat carpet is very damaging to the fish's external slime coat and will expose the fish to pathogens in the water such as bacteria, protozoan parasites and fungi, and increase delayed mortality, especially in warm water.
Q: Will an additive take care of the fish in my livewell?
BONDS: The biggest threat to fish health in a livewell or weigh-in bag is lack of oxygen. Livewell additives do not effectively increase oxygen over significant duration, even the ones that claim to. The most important thing for anglers to do related to fish care is to ensure adequate oxygen. Livewell aerators need to be run continuously once fish are added. With multiple fish and during warm months, it's even recommended to pipe pure oxygen into the livewell water. Anglers should remember to either refresh weigh-in-bag water frequently while in line by nursery tanks or stick one of the aerator diffuser stones inside the bag. It takes less than a few short minutes for oxygen levels to plummet inside a weigh-in bag.
Q: Is catch-and-release always good for a fishery?
BONDS: In cases where fishing pressure is high, releasing some of your catch can help recycle the resource and maintain good fishing. However, catch-and-release is not helpful in all situations. In many reservoirs where slot-length limits are employed, largemouth bass are typically quite successful in producing large numbers of young in most years. These fish compete for food and may not grow well, contributing to size bottlenecks and even stunting in worst cases. In these cases, it may actually be beneficial to harvest bass smaller than the slot-length limit in order for the remaining fish to continue growing into and out of the slot.
Q: It is common for big bass to be held up by the jaw. Is that a problem?
BONDS: Holding a fish horizontally by the lower jaw can break or badly damage the jaw, impairing the fish's ability to feed upon release. For fish larger than a few pounds, always hold the fish either vertically by the jaw, or better yet, hold the fish with two wetted hands with one hand supporting the fish's weight between the belly and the tail.
Q: Are there any groups working to improve fishing quality on older lakes?
BONDS: There is a network of grassroots groups, individuals and corporate sponsors who are joining together to address declining fish habitat in our nation's reservoirs. The Friends of Reservoirs (www.waterhabitatlife.org) is a tax-exempt, 501 c3, network of a growing list of like-minded people raising funds and implementing fish habitat enhancement projects on their local reservoirs to address common reservoir habitat impairments with the end goal of make fishing better. Anglers are encouraged to visit the FOR website to learn how they can contribute to this effort.