Lakecaster Online

"Angels on the Bend"
By Ed Snyder

Toledo Bend Lake, Louisiana/Texas.

"Thank God for these people, stated the angler who had just hustled his "hard-earned" catch of bass into the waiting hands of the Shimano/SRA-LA fish Recovery Krewe, who were busy collecting, separating, and treating todays tournament catch for live release back into the lake. "Today, this fish recovery krewe managed to recycle over 4,000 lbs of tournament caught bass from a major fishing event that would be returned back into Lake Toledo Bend.

At most of the larger bass fishing tournaments that operate on Lake Toledo Bend today, you'll most always spot a large pontoon craft sitting nearby which will have a lot of activity "hovering" around it. Looking much like a swarm of bee's servicing their queen, a long line of anglers will often be seen arriving to & from their staging area, where their bass catches are weighed for tournament records, then quickly hustled to the pontoon barge where they are then placed into specially aerated holding tanks for treatment and preparation for live release back into the lake from where they were caught.

"Those guys do a tremendous service for this lake, praised the tournament Director as we watched the 35' pontoon boat with the auqua markings of "Sabine River Authority Fish Recovery", slowly ease out with its live cargo of recovered bass for transportation to deeper waters for release. "We really do appreciate what they do for us, the tournament Director further related, adding that his tournament group donated $1,000 to be used for the Louisiana Toledo Bend Lake Association's bass restocking programs. "And if it wasn't for them, further enlightened the Director, "the bass tournament's that operate on this lake would probably suffer some negative extreme's in their catch & release format percentages.

Designed, built, and operated by the Shimano Corporation back in the early '90's for the purpose of helping to recover, treat, and live release tournament caught bass back into the waters from where they were caught, the Shimano live release system quickly earned its place in the sport fishing industry as one of the most innovative conservation projects ever developed for the operation of Bass Tournaments, as "Catch & Release" formats became just as important as the bass tournament's themselves.

As previous bass tournament releases involved the fish being "jammed" into holding vats before being "dumped" or "shot down" long PVC tubes back into the waters edge, it became obvious that something else was needed to help in the live release of tournament caught bass. Jerry Moon, a concerned angler from Lake Fork TX, quickly stepped forward with an idea that would develop into the "Shimano Live Release Boat". Jerry's design involved a pontoon type craft being reinforced and outfitted with large holding tanks with aeration systems for air or oxygen insertions. The bottom of each of the 3 to 4 holding tanks were fitted with specially designed trap-doors with quick release systems which allowed for separate releases of the fish in the holding tanks for being dropped into different areas of the lake. This helped to avoid the "dumping" of the tournament catch into just one spot on the lake which allowed the boat operators to transport their recovered catches to several areas for live release.

The fish recovery operators were also trained, as Jerry Moon, and Mike Mills, of the Shimano Corporation, schooled the operators in the proper proceedures for the handling of recovered bass, which involved the use of special fish recovery additives, water temperature controls, and air bladder decompression techniques-(where bass suffer inflated air bladders due to stress, or extreme depths, their bladders must then be vented down to allow the bass to swim back to its normal depth). Holding seminars throughout the lake systems where bass tournaments were held, the Shimano Bass Recovery teams also helped to enlighten the bass anglers on improved fish handling techniques and better live well controls for keeping their catches alive and in good "releasable" conditions. This was to be a very important lesson for the tournament anglers as most bass tournament trails had dead fish de-merits that could cost them a tournament win.

These special recovery craft were also found to be ideal for the fish restocking projects as re-stock fingerlings could be safely held in these tanks, where the tank-water could then be "climatized" to within 5 degrees of the lake water temperatures before the fingerlings were then released-(which avoided shock stressing the fry)-. The release boats would also allow for the fingerlings to be placed into heavily structured areas, such as thick grass-beds of hydrilla mats, or heavily timbered areas which would greatly increase their survival rates. The vessel also allowed for better distribution of the fingerlings as they could now be "placed" into most any area of the lake that needed an increased bass population instead of being dumped off at the boat-ramps.

In 1993, the Shimano Corporation, greatly impressed by the restocking and fish recovery projects of Lake Toledo Bend's, Sabine River Authority, of Louisiana, awarded the hard working organization with one of its finest live release crafts, a 35 foot "state of the art" fish recovery barge which had a value of $35,000. Since then, the Shimano/SRA-LA Fish Recovery Barge has become an "icon" on the lake as it represents the conservational values of todays fish management projects and bass tournament operations. Over the years, several fish recovery teams, or "Krewe's", have been trained to operate this barge for the recovery of tournament bass, as well as for the insertion of "millions" of bass-fry into Toledo Bend Lake.

"We probably average "about" 800, 000 pounds of fish recovered from bass tournaments each year, stated Dan Sumner,"as he explained the extensive conservational impact of the Shimano/SRA-LA fish recovery barge. Dan Sumner, of Many LA, and Paul Green of Zwollie LA, are the present "Krewe" who now fly the colors of the live release boat, and are often seen at most tournaments which are held on a "year round" basis around Toledo's expansive 194,000 acres of bass fishing water. "This is a "free" service provided for the tournament organizations by the SRA-LA, informs Dan, further explaining that the boat is owned, operated, and maintained by the Sabine River Authority of Louisiana, as he, and paul, employ with the SRA-LA as its part-time boat handlers. "There's hardly a weekend that goe's by that we aren't kept busy operating at a tournament, Dan informs, "as we always strive to attend the larger entry tournaments who've scheduled their events with us. "Which is what the tournament organizations have to do in order to obtain this service, Paul Green explains, adding that most of the tournament groups know of this and will usually book their events early enough so as to take advantage of our "first come-first serve" bass recovery service.

"Even though our #1 primary function is to attend and service the major tournament events on this lake, Dan Sumner noted, our other functions are just as important as we are involved with the recovery of the Lunker Bass program entries for recovery and release of the ten (-plus-) pound bass, which helps us keep our prime broodfish in the lake, Dan explained. "We also aid in the release of the bass-fry from our LTBLA and LA Wildlife & Fisheries restocking programs, such as the 850,000 Florida Bass fingerlings which were recently released into this wonderful "Sportsmans Paradise" that we call Lake Toledo Bend, informed Paul. "But, bass aren't the only fish species that we deal with, Dan advised, "as we also work with other important fish species, such as the Crappie that the Louisiana Toledo Bend Lake Association is about to purchase for re-stocking Toledo Bend with this coming October.

The Shimano/SRA-LA Fish Recovery program deserves our applauds and support for the service that they do for "all" of us, stated one tournament angler who had just finished weighing his catch, "for without them, "he emphasized, "the live release system for tournaments would be a lot different and with very different results. "Amen on that brother, spoke a group of nearby anglers as they voiced their opinions, "besides, they added with heartfelt appreciation, "these guys are like angels to us.

(Editors note)-Although there has been some negative debate as to the value of the Shimano/SRA-LA fish recovery & release program, the facts are that if the live release barge hadn't been operational these past years, Toledo Bend would've experienced far less positive percentages on its tournament recycled bass. "Besides, having the effects of positive fish management programs due to its involvement with fish restock and lunker bass projects, the Shimano/Sabine River Authority of Louisiana fish recovery barge has become a public relations "icon" to the touring anglers and visiting public, who attend the year round fishing tournament events which are now common weekend attractions for Lake Toledo Bends tourism draw. In the view of this context, the Shimano/SRA-LA fish recovery "krewe" have become true "Angels on the Bend".

For more information on this important program or on how to obtain this "free" service for your up-coming event on Lake Toledo Bend contact the SRA-LA at (318)-256-4114.

Dan Sumner prepares a Toledo lunker for release

You're never too young to learn conservation
< photos by Ed Snyder >

Release "krewe" takes on bass-fry for restocking Toledo Bend

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