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Current and Future Largemouth Bass Management in Texas
By Todd Driscol

 

District Fisheries Biologist
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

As part of a series of meetings held across the state, Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPWD) Inland Fisheries Director Phil Durocher presented a summary of largemouth bass management programs in Texas to an interested crowd of anglers in Lufkin. A summary of the history of bass management in Texas and how methods and philosophies have changed over the years was provided in the last column. In this issue, current and future bass management issues are discussed, as presented by Mr. Durocher at this meeting.

As discussed in the last column, regulations are very important to largemouth bass management. In order for our fisheries regulations to work, whether they are minimum length limits or slot limits, catch and release of fish in the protective size groups must be effective. Although we recognize that survival of fish caught and released is not 100%, there is no doubt that fishing has improved since implementation of more restrictive length limits (i.e., 14-inch minimum). There is also no doubt that catch and release of fish eligible for harvest is very important to the current and future quality of Texas fishing.

Currently, TPWD strives to manage largemouth bass for both total numbers and maximum size. In other words, we try to provide lots of mid-size bass while at the same time giving anglers a chance to catch a trophy fish. When we look at what affects total numbers of bass on our larger reservoirs, it is generally mother nature and involves two biological principles. The first concept is reproduction, which is simply the amount of small fish that are produced by spawning adults. This is relatively stable from year to year. It is what biologists refer to as recruitment that tends to vary. Recruitment is essentially the amount of young bass that survive and replace those lost due to mortality. To a large extent, successful recruitment largely depends on the amount of habitat available during the late spring and summer. Water levels during this time period affect survival of young bass. High water levels during the spring and summer provide lots of habitat for young bass to hide, while low levels make them more susceptible to serve as food for another predator.

There are really three things that affect the potential to produce large bass: genetics, adequate food and habitat, and survival to older ages. Florida bass have much greater growth potential than our native bass. Our Florida bass stocking program is designed to alter the genetics (not to increase numbers) to provide increased numbers of trophy bass. The number of bass that reach older ages is affected by causes of death, which include natural mortality, hooking/handling mortality, and harvest. As fisheries biologists, the only factor in which we have direct control over is harvest. We control harvest through length limit restrictions. But to produce trophy bass, we typically utilize wide slot limits (e.g., 14-21 inch slot), catch and release only regulations, or rely on anglers to practice catch and release. Our statewide 14-inch minimum is just not designed to produce lots of big fish. For example, it typically takes 7-10 years, depending on genetics and food availability, to produce a 10 pound bass in our area.

If we look into the future, we definitely believe that the increasing human population is going to affect several aspects of our bass management. Given that our bass populations are a limited resource, both catch and release and restrictive regulations are going to play even bigger roles in managing bass populations. Increasing demand for water means that water rights and allocation issues are going to be very important. Because of this, it is our desire to acquire economic impact information from our reservoirs to document the importance of recreational fishing. Although we recognize that many of our reservoirs contribute greatly to local economies, we need dollar value estimates to become involved in water allocation discussions. In this area, one of these studies is being completed on Toledo Bend and one is currently being planned for Sam Rayburn.

If you have questions concerning the fisheries of our area lakes, stop by the Inland Fisheries office at the Jasper State Fish Hatchery or contact us by phone (409-384-9572) or email (todd3d@jas.net). Good luck and good fishing!

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