How To Make A Golf Course Useful

Former Texas Golf Course Becomes Nature Park That Detains Floodwater, Cleans Runoff
(seems to me this is a good way to Make A Golf Course Useful! Ronnie Garrison)

This is a good use of a golf course!


Editor’s Note: Today’s feature was sent to us from Texas A&M University. We’re going to guess this new park will grow some pretty outsized largemouths in a few years, besides it’s great contribution to flood control.
Paul Schattenberg
from The Fishing Wire

CLEAR LAKE – The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, working in collaboration with area residents, the Clear Lake City Water Authority, or CLCWA, and Exploration Green Conservancy, have been collaborating to transform an about-to-be paved golf course into a new kind of nature park that provides recreation while protecting thousands of homes from flooding such as that caused by Hurricane Harvey.

“We were involved in an innovative overhaul of a slated-for-development golf course in Clear Lake City, helping repurpose it into a green space with water detention areas and places for recreational activities,” said Dr. John Jacob, AgriLife Extension specialist with the recreation, park and tourism sciences department of Texas A&M University.

Jacob, a Houston resident, lived in a neighborhood near the golf course when it was sold to a developer in the early 2000s.

“Area residents were very concerned about the possibility of additional flooding resulting from the new development, and they were also worried about increased runoff pollution,” Jacob said. “We participated in a push-back effort against the removal of a green space that virtually everyone in the area wanted to keep.”

The CLCWA eventually condemned the property for flood impact reduction and asked for residents’ input on other uses of the old golf course that would be compatible with floodwater detention. An oversight committee was formed and Jacob was named co-chair.

“We formed citizen committees to explore aspects such as athletic and ball fields, walking trails, native vegetation, stormwater wetlands and other possibilities,” Jacob said. “Local residents were intensely involved in this process and were diligent in exploring the many options for use of this green space. Their contributions formed the basis for a master plan developed by SWA Group Houston.”

He said the resulting plan was for a new nature park, Exploration Green, designed to detain and slow floodwaters and clean the runoff from 95 percent of the storms that occur in the area. Additional provisions were added for a walking trail, lake, wetlands areas and other features.

Jacob said the 178-acre golf course ran alongside large drainage ditches constructed by the original developer, providing a perfect setting for accommodating additional floodwater detention volume.

“Almost as soon as the master plan was completed there was additional resident participation. An Exploration Green conservancy was formed to oversee all facilities over and above floodwater detention,” he said. “The first phase of Exploration Green was about 80 percent completed when Hurricane Harvey hit and the detention area held enough stormwater runoff that even houses that habitually flooded with 5-inch to 10-inch storms didn’t flood with the 45 or so inches that came with Harvey.”

AgriLife Extension continued to participate by leading the way in the design and integration of stormwater wetlands into the overall plan, he said.

“The Texas Community Watershed Partners program of Texas A&M AgriLife was instrumental in this effort,” he said. “Texas Community Watershed Partners provides education and outreach to local governments and citizens on the impacts of land use on watershed health and water quality. It operates on the land-grant model of integrated university research, education and extension to help make Texas’ coastal communities more sustainable and resilient.”

Additionally, AgriLife Extension is participating in a statewide effort to help Texans recover from Hurricane Harvey. Last September, Gov. Greg Abbott asked Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp to coordinate state and local recovery efforts of the Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas. Sharp then tasked employees of AgriLife Extension with serving as his local liaisons with the impacted communities, reporting on local recovery needs and providing a pipeline for information and recovery resources.

Dr. Monty Dozier, AgriLife Extension special assistant for Rebuild Texas, said the agency will continue to be involved in a variety of recovery efforts throughout the Rebuild Texas effort.

“AgriLife Extension personnel will continue to serve as liaisons between local jurisdictions and state and federal agencies in the most severely impacted counties,” he said. “And we will continue to help communities recover from Harvey and work to be more resilient for future events. Our involvement in the Exploration Green project will certainly help protect this community from flooding brought by future storms.”

Mary Carol Edwards, AgriLife Extension program specialist with Texas A&M’s Texas Community Watershed Partners, or TCWP, is a Houston native who grew up in the Clear Lake area and has been working on the stormwater wetlands portion of Exploration Green.

“This will be one of the largest stormwater wetlands initiatives ever undertaken by the TCWP, with nearly 40 acres of wetlands when all five phases of the initiative are completed,” she said.

According to the Clear Lake City Water Authority, the project’s five detention ponds are expected to help keep potentially 2,000 area homes from flooding through a collective water-holding capacity of a half-billion gallons, providing protection against a significant amount of rainfall and runoff.

Edwards also has been promoting the incorporation of constructed stormwater wetlands into urban drainage systems elsewhere along the Gulf Coast of Texas. Stormwater wetlands clean the stormwater that flows through them, including removing 99.99 percent of the nitrates that make their way into the runoff.

“Properly designed stormwater wetlands are beautiful and also attract a diversity of wildlife, including water and song birds,” she said.

For Exploration Green, Edwards develops planting plans and educational materials, leads a Texas Master Naturalist-based volunteer program, manages the wetland plant nursery and coordinates stormwater wetlands design and implementation with the Exploration Green Conservancy and other agencies involved in creating the park.

“Planting of the trees and wetlands in Phase 1 began in 2016, even while the detention pond was under construction,” she said. “As a result, about an acre of wetland is already approaching maturity and delighting visitors with displays of native water lilies and irises, and attracting wading birds and turtles.”

Edwards said an on-site wetland nursery supplies the aquatic plants for Exploration Green. The nursery has an approximately 30,000-plant capacity — enough to plant 5 acres at a time.

“ During weekly workdays, plus special workdays for students, native plants are collected and propagated in the nursery,” she explained. “Over 300 volunteers assisted in the 2018 spring wetland planting events, which created 1.25 acres of new wetland. Over a dozen organizations, from the Girl Scouts of America to the NASA Sustainability group, have participated in this effort.”

A 1.1 mile concrete hike-and-bike trail loops the lake in Phase 1 and is proving to be popular with area residents, Edwards said. Each of the five phases will be connected by trails, providing approximately 6 miles of off-road recreational trails through a natural environment.

Water quality studies, funded by a grant from the Texas General Land Office Coastal Management Program, will begin in October 2018 to monitor and document water quality changes provided by the stormwater wetlands. A groundbreaking for Phase 2 of the stormwater wetlands portion of the project is slated for May 2018. All phases of the project are expected to be completed in 2022.

“This is a great example of residents, water management agencies, and others working together to save an important green space for recreation and to do so in such a way that it serves a vital environmental purpose that also helps improve the quality of life within that community,” Jacob said. “Other flood-prone communities in the metropolitan Houston area have shown interest in implementing this type of project, and we have also had inquiries from other states.”

Georgia Bass Slam

How many kinds of bass have you caught? What are the differences between striped bass and black bass? How about the differences between largemouth and smallmouth bass? Some differences are very noticeable, others not so much. And scientifically, some of what we call bass in general are not related at all.

Georgia fisheries biologists classify ten different species of black bass in our state. Black bass species include largemouth, smallmouth, shoal and spotted bass that most of us are familiar with, but the others are very similar.

We also have Suwanee, Redeye, Chattahoochee, Tallapoosa, Altamaha and Bartram’s bass. To make it even more confusing, largemouth are divided into Florida largemouth and common largemouth and spotted bass are divided into Alabama and Kentucky spots.

The way scientists classify fish into genus and species is confusing, even to me. I taught life science for seven years way back in the 1970s so maybe it has been too long for it to make sense to me. Put simply, all in one species and interbreed, but those in the same genus usually can not.

All black bass are in the genus Micropterus but that genus also includes bluegill and other sunfish. White and strip bass are in the genus Morone, and they can be crossed to create the infertile hybrids that biologists stock in our lakes.

Hybrids, like mules that are a cross between a horse and a donkey, most hybrids are infertile and cannot reproduce. But many crosses between black bass species happen in the wild. Spots and largemouth do interbreed in Georgia and produce a hybrid offspring.

Of more interest to fishermen, Georgia has a “ Georgia Bass Slam” awards program. If you document catching five of the ten different species in one calendar year you get awards from the state. As their web site says, you get “a Personalized Certificate, Two passes to the Go Fish Education Center, Some fantastic and fun stickers (for vehicle windows/bumpers) to advertise your brag-worthy achievement, All successful submissions for the calendar year will go into a drawing for an annual grand prize, and Anglers will be recognized on the state website, at the Go Fish Education Center, and through a variety of social media platforms.”

There is good information about the different species of black bass and all other Georgia fish at https://georgiawildlife.com/fishing/identification. It includes areas each can be caught and the state record. Rules for catching and entering your catches for the Bass Slam program are at https://georgiawildlife.com/fishing/angler-resources/GeorgiaBassSlam

This is a fun program and four of the included species are within an easy drive of Griffin. We can catch largemouth and spots at Jackson, shoal bass in the Flint River and Altamaha bass are in the Ocmulgee River from the Jackson dam to Macon.

For redeye, the best place to catch one is Lake Hartwell. You can catch smallmouth in Blue Ridge Lake and below the Clarks Hill dam in the Savannah River where they have been stocked, and Bartram’s are in the Broad River above Clarks Hill.

All species of bass will hit a variety of baits, but some baits are better for certain ones. I caught spots, largemouth and redeye bass at Hartwell, all on a Carolina rigged Baby Brush Hog. I should have documented them as the rules require and would have been three-fifths of the way to meeting the requirements this year.

I caught a spot and several largemouth at Eufaula on a shaky head worm, but I don’t think they would have counted since I was on the Alabama side of the lake, in Alabama waters.

Many of the species are native to only small parts of Georgia but have been midnight stocked by bucket biologists in places they should not be. Stocking non-native fish often causes problems. Spotted bass are the worst. They are native only in the Tennessee River basin in far northwest Georgia but have been put in most of our lakes and rivers.

Spots are more aggressive than largemouth, spawn deeper so they are not affected as much by changing water levels during bedding, and often take over a lake, hurting the largemouth population. And they don’t get as big as largemouth. They are fun to catch but can really mess up a good largemouth fishery.

At Jackson, spots started showing up at our club weigh-ins in the early 1990s. Before that time, any tournament we had from October through March there usually produced at least one six pound largemouth. And often we had several big ones weighed in. In one tournament I had an eight-pound, four ounce bass and it was third biggest, two bigger eight pounders were weighed in. And in another my seven-pound, four ounce largemouth was fourth biggest. A seven-pound, twelve-ounce bass beat it as did two nine pounders!

I often say where there used to be 100 largemouth in an area weighing from one to eight pounds at Jackson, now there are 100 spots weighing one pound each. That is the kind of change stocking non-native species can cause.

Spots are even a worse problem at Blue Ridge Lake. Before spots were illegally introduced, it was common to catch several smallmouth on a trip there. Now you can fish for weeks without ever catching one, the spots have taken over from them.

If becoming a Georgia Bass Slam winner interests you, check out their web site for the rules, go fishing and get your rewards!

How Old Is That Fish

Using New Technology To Answer An Old Problem…How Old Is That Fish?

Salmon Scale


Figure 1. This is a scale from a 3-year-old landlocked salmon.

By Tyler Grant and Merry Gallagher, Maine DIFW Fisheries Biologists
from The Fishing Wire

One of the more important tasks for fisheries biologists when making management decisions is figuring out how old a fish is. In our last fisheries blog, we discussed how we age fish utilizing fin clips. In this blog, we will focus on two different methods that can be utitlized to age fish.

Fish can vary in age quite substantially from one species to the next. Some species can live to be many decades old whereas others may be fortunate to reach 3 or 4 years. Complicating the matter even further is growth rates of fish can vary tremendously from one waterbody to the next due to variation in environmental conditions and food supply. Comparing fish growth at different ages can give you a good idea of the overall productivity of the system, as well as the overall condition and density of the fish population. In an ideal growth situation like a fish hatchery, a one year old brook trout can reach 8-10″ inches long, while that same one year old fish in the wild may be less than two inches long due to the vastly different growth conditions experienced in the wild. For hatchery fish that have been marked or fin clipped, it is easy to determine a fish’s age because certain fin clips or marks signify a given year that fish was produced or stocked, but for wild fish, it becomes much harder.

Two otoliths


Figure 2. On the right is an otolith taken from a 14” white perch. On the left is an otolith taken from a 40” Northern Pike. Different species have very different sized and shaped otoliths.

For shorter lived species such as brook trout and landlocked salmon, a useful aging method is to age the fish by using it’s scales. Scales are easy to collect and can also be collected without having to kill the fish. Scales grow from the center out and lay down concentric rings like how a tree grows. Tight winter growth rings and wider summer growth rings give you a reasonably accurate method of aging some fishes. However, longer lived species like Lake Trout and Lake Whitefish present a problem. They can easily reach 20 years old and often can be much older and scale aging becomes less reliable for fish species that are slower growing and longer lived. For these fish species, a different method is needed.

Lab equipment for aging fish


Figure 3. The new age lab equipment.

On the right is a sectioning saw with a thin diamond blade for cutting sections of the otolith. On the left is a camera with a microscope lens and a very powerful light for reading and photographing the sectioned otolith. On the computer screen, you can see a sectioned otolith from a Northern Pike.
Otoliths are small bones located at the base of the skull or top of the spinal column in fish, and are commonly used for determining the ages of long lived fishes. Like scales, otoliths have annual growth rings that can be counted to give an estimated age of the fish. However, these bones must be extracted from a dead fish to be used for aging purposes.

Determining the age of a fish from an otolith is still a complicated procedure, and it requires specialized equipment to be done properly. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife recently acquired the equipment necessary for a Fish Aging Lab that is now located at our Bangor, Maine office.

Lake Trout otolith


Figure 4. A Lake Trout otolith is visible embedded in an epoxy block. The otolith below has been sectioned already and a 0.8 mm slice was taken from the center.

Before the otolith can be sectioned, it must be suspended in a 2-part epoxy within a silicone mold. The epoxy holds the otolith steady so it can be thinly cut by the sectioning saw. This is the most important part. The otoliths are very small, and the first cut must be made precisely or an accurate age cannot be determined. Once the otolith is sliced, the 0.8 mm slice is glued to a microscope slide and sanded and polished to remove the saw marks.

Once the section is prepared, the otolith is magnified under the Aging Lab microscope and by counting the annually-produced rings the biologist can determine the age of the fish. This new technology is already being used to determine the ages of the Lake Trout that were collected in Sebago Lake as part of the Sebago Lake Region’s Summer Profundal Index Netting (SPIN) and it will continue to be a valuable tool for aging long lived fish species, estimating growth rates, and assisting Regional Biologists with valuable age and growth information for their priority populations.

S sectioned otolith


Figure 5. A sectioned otolith glued to a microscope slide and ready to be photographed. The fish number is engraved on the slide for identification purposes. This gives you an idea of the size of an otolith. This microscope slide is 3 inches long.

Lake Trout otoliths

Figure 6. Two prepared Lake Trout otoliths. The top fish was 12 inches long and was 4 years old. The bottom fish was 24 inches long and was 17 years old.

Tips on Fishing Topwaters

Tips on Fishing Topwaters from a Top Pro Angler

Cliff Crotchet and son


Cliff Crotchet and son. (Photo courtesy of Bassmaster.)

By David A. Rose
from The Fishing Wire

When I daydream about catching bass, my initial vision is of mist rising off a lake’s dead-calm surface, followed by the most primeval eruption as a big ol’ bucketmouth viciously attacks my topwater lure. And I’m guessing it’s a very similar image for most anyone that loves catching largemouth bass.

Without a doubt, the feeling of your heart skipping a beat results from an instant infusion of adrenalin, induced by the sudden surface assault. And while that feeling of exhilaration is the very reason so many anglers love catching bass that way, there is also a major problem when it happens… the impulsive quick hookset comes so naturally that we end up pulling the lure away from the fish’s face before it’s gobbled it up. It’s happened to all of us. But it doesn’t have to be as common of an occurrence.

Three primary factors influence your topwater success once a fish has committed: your chosen line, hooksetting technique, and rod in your hand.

Seaguar bass pro Cliff Crochet is known for his topwater proficiency. The Pierre Part, Louisiana, resident has been fishing the Bassmaster Elites and Opens for 9-plus years, with 104 tournaments under his belt. He’s won one, and has numerous top-10 and -20 finishes, earning him near a half-million in winnings. And he knows all too well the frustration of being too hurried to set the hook when a fish blows up on his bait.

“I’ve had the bad habit of setting the hook too quickly and aggressively in the past,” says the 35-year-old angler. “But it was learning to use the right line for the topwater situation that helped me land more fish with topwater baits.”

Generally, Crochet uses all three line types for topwater – braid, fluorocarbon and monofilament. And which line he chooses isn’t just dependent on the lure he’s using, but the situation in which that lure is being presented.

“Monofilament is the best line choice overall in open-water areas because of its stretch and how it floats rather than sinks,” Crochet claims. “The elasticity of the line allows the lure to hesitate just enough that the fish has a better chance of getting it in its mouth as soon as it strikes. So the line compensates for the mistakes I make if I set the hook to fast.”

Crochet’s go-to monofilament is Seaguar Rippin’ Premium Monofilament, with 20-pound test his first choice for waking, popping and chugging baits.

“The monofilament made today is nothing like the lines I used while growing up, some of which was stiff and brittle, while others stretched like a rubber band,” Crochet states. “Rippin’ is superior to any monofilament I have ever used. It’s super strong, yet, soft and thin in diameter; this means I can cast my topwater lure further, which is crucial in shallow water situations. And when my bait gets hit, it has just the right amount of stretch that the fish can suck it up right away.”

Wake me up

Running mere inches below the surface, some consider wake baits, ChatterBaits and gurgling spinnerbaits the descendants of topwater baits. Regardless, they, too, require specialized gear and techniques.

Crochet’s choice when going subsurface is a 7-to-1 reel spooled again with 20-pound Rippin’ Monofilament for open water or short weeds, but to the same pound test in Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon when fishing over thicker grass, stumps and rocks. The near-neutral buoyancy and low stretch of fluorocarbon allows you to swim your baits at the precise depth below the surface. Crochet says two inches off where you want your bait running is huge, and fluorocarbon can assist in precise bait placement.

Cliff’s notes

One of the biggest mistakes many anglers make when it comes to topwater fishing is thinking it’s a warm-water, early-morning or late-evening-only bite.

Crochet says no matter where you’re fishing, once the water reaches the mid-50’s bass will start looking to the surface for forage. You just may want to stick with lures that can be fished at a slower pace. And it’s during the spring period when the middle of the day can be the best surface bite as the water will be at its warmest.

Lures that are fished at a fast pace, however, such as buzzbaits, will get bit more once the water temperatures tickle the mid-60’s and above.

Lastly, Crochet says to let your fishing situation dictate what line to use. Monofilament in areas where you don’t have to worry about losing fish around structure; braid where getting fish up and out is necessary (just remember to pivot, lean back and keep reeling as a hook set); fluorocarbon for subsurface when a little extra “oomph” is needed, or, when the fish are being picky about how far under surface they want you lure to be presented.

May Eufaula Tournament

In the May Sportsman Club tournament last weekend at Eufaulaq, 13 members fished for 18 hours in two days to land 58 bass weighing about 126 pounds. Five of the keepers were spotted bass. There were eight five-fish limits and two members did not catch a fish.

I won with ten weighing 27.35 pounds and had a 4.30 pound largemouth for big fish. Raymond English placed second with ten weighing 24.64, his partner Kwong Yu had ten at 24.52 for third. Wayne Teal had nine weighing 18 pounds for fourth.

I got real lucky, spotting some birds feeding in grass along the shoreline at first light the first day. When I went there I was surprised to see gizzard shad spawning. I though it was too late for that.

In the two days I caught five bass early on frogs in the grass, then caught some on worms. Saturday, I had a good limit at 9:40, including two over four pounds each, and Sunday had my limit at 8:00 with two three pounders. So as the sun got up and hot I got under the bridge, staying somewhat cool and trying to catch a bass big enough to upgrade my limit.

I stayed under that bridge for more than nine of the 18 hours we fished and caught exactly four keepers. Two of them did help my weight, but it got kinda boring fishing the same place so long. But at least I was not out in the sun!

What Is the Lahontan Cutthroat?

Bringing Back the Lahontan Cutthroat

By Helen Neville
Senior Scientist, Trout Unlimited
from Griffin Daily News

Do you know this trout?


I think it’s safe to say that rarely in my life have I been inspired performing grant reporting. But in a recent effort to compile progress toward metrics for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Lahontan Cutthroat Trout Keystone Initiative, which funds much of TU’s work on LCT, I had one of those wonderful “Wow!” moments in seeing—distilled into just a few numbers—what TU has been able to bring to the table for LCT conservation since the Initiative’s inception in 2010.

Back then, NFWF approached me to help develop a “Business Plan” to establish this new funding initiative, because they felt that the federally threatened Lahontan cutthroat trout was one at-risk trout where additional strategic funding could foster collaboration and innovation to help move the needle toward effective conservation (spoiler alert: they were right). I first worked with TU’s Amy Haak to apply the Portfolio approach she and Jack Williams had refined for inland trout to be certain we enveloped important aspects of LCT diversity, and pulled together the primary agency, university and tribal partners involved in LCT management and research to detail threats, goals and strategies for the business plan.

Once the LCT Keystone Initiative was established, I coalesced this group into a steering committee to ensure that proposals under the program hold true to the business plan and match the LCT recovery teams’ priorities. We quickly hit on an efficient and productive model where we, the steering committee, prioritize needs each year and TU writes ‘core grants’ requesting funding for all the needs in one proposal—some of the funding relates to TU’s work while much is given out to partners, but all meets the steering committee’s collective priorities for LCT conservation needs.

When I came to TU in 2006 after having completed my graduate work on LCT, I served on one of four LCT management teams (GMUs/RITs for Geographic Management Unit Teams or Recovery Implementation Teams, depending on the geography) and TU’s relationships with the LCT agencies weren’t always good. In fact, TU had previously threatened to sue over the declining state of the fish. But this collaborative process has since built a tremendous amount of trust and synergy, pushing us all to think creatively on how to get good things done for the fish—because, of course, that is the goal we all agree on.

For instance, a key need that had been identified by the agencies was developing safe harbor agreements with private landowners; these agreements provide legal assurances for landowners that encourage them to allow us to reintroduce Lahontan cutthroats to their lands. One of the steering committee’s first actions, then, was to ask for NFWF support for TU to fund a new position at the Nevada Department of Wildlife for a dedicated Lahontan cutthroat trout safe harbors biologist. The resulting private land agreements have enabled some of our most ambitious recovery work on stream-form LCT (see below).

As another example, we’d often hear from state agencies, “we would love to do that (field project) but don’t have the resources on the ground”. So, we started requesting funding for an annual ‘range-wide field crew,’ with an unusual twist: the crew is hired and run by TU’s LCT Coordinator Jason Barnes (also NFWF-funded), but their work plan is developed by the steering committee partners and they are loaned out to these partners for prioritized work across the entire range of LCT. Since 2013, they’ve worked for all three state agencies managing LCT (Nevada, California, and Oregon), the Summit Lake Paiute Tribe, The Nature Conservancy, the Forest Service, BLM, and TU; they have helped with baseline biological monitoring for safe harbor agreements in 26 streams, sampled LCT populations in 28 streams, assisted with non-native trout removal in 18 streams, monitored habitat in eight creeks, installed stream temperature thermographs in 39 streams, and sampled for non-native trout environmental DNA (eDNA) in nine streams. With NFWF funding, TU’s California and Sportsmen’s Conservation Project staff have also, among other things, run multiple youth Trout Camps in California and Nevada, undertaken a highly collaborative and successful land protection campaign that opened up new Lahontan opportunities, and outreached to thousands of people including students and veterans about LCT. We have funded several LCT displays and “Know Your Natives” day camps at Reno’s Nevada Discovery Center, which serves over 500,000 people a year, helped build barriers to protect several large existing and future metapopulations, and completed and published multiple research projects on LCT – with more in the works – that are guiding conservation planning. We are also now a member of all four LCT Recovery Implementation/Geographic Management Unit teams.

So back to those metrics: what’s the outtake of all this collaboration?

Since 2012, the GMU/RITs have reintroduced LCT to eight historical streams encompassing 65 miles; another 28 miles have been treated and cleared of non-native fish and are waiting for reintroduction/expansion. Because of successful safe harbors agreements, some of these waters include 36 miles of interconnected ‘metapopulation’ habitat, much of which is on private land. We are in the final planning phases for two more metapopulations, which will span 25 and 55 miles each when finished, and we are beginning conversations with key landowners to see if we can’t reconnect two major river basins and join a networked stream system that provides over 100 miles of some of our best LCT habitat.

There’s my “Wow!” moment on what good will, good collaboration, and a lot of hard work can do.

Helen Neville is TU’s senior scientist. She is based in Boise.

Alligators

This gator knew to go to the boat ramp for a meal

In five days fishing Lake Eufaula, I saw no soft-shell turtles and only a couple of painted turtles. There is a good reason they are not as common there as they are at Hartwell. Another resident of the lake keeps the turtle population very low.

Alligators abound at Eufaula. During my trip, I seldom fished more than an hour without seeing one, especially when near the bank. Around shoreline grass and lily pads, as my boat eased up the bank, every few minutes a log-like body would glide toward deeper water.

Alligators and turtles have inhabited our waters since long before people were around and have adapted well to man-made waters. When we build in areas where they live, they become a problem, especially when folks feed them. They get used to hand-outs and get lazy and are no longer afraid of people.

Turtles, fish, birds and anything else that gets in the water can be food for gators. And they learn where to get easy food. A few years ago, while doing an article at Eufaula, we were fishing a point early in the morning where shad were spawning. Bass and other fish were feeding on them, as were the birds. And gators were everywhere. They were eating shad, bigger fish and birds.

At Lakepoint State Park where I stayed there are tournaments every weekend and even during the week. Many weigh-ins are held in the basin where the boat ramps are located. A few bass die in tournaments and the live ones as well as dead fish are usually “released” near the ramps.

A big gator has learned there is easy food there many mornings. I was fishing under the nearby bridge and a gator slowly sawm by me headed into the boat basin. I followed it on my trolling motor. It went straight to the corner of the basin where several dead bass were floating against the bank.

I watched from a few feet away as it eased up to one, opened its huge jaws and grabbed a dead fish. It then raised its head out of the water, chomping and swallowing the fish. That gator was at least ten feet long, half as long as my bass boat, and its head was a foot wide.

After eating a couple of dead fish it slowly swam back around and under the bridge. I am sure it has a place where boat traffic is lower than it is in the boat basin, so it can doze the day away without being disturbed.

Gators are ugly and scary. The first one I saw in the wild scared me. Kenneth Hattaway and I were fishing a Flint River Club tournament at Eufaula in March 1980 and fished back into a narrow slough up the river. A gator about eight feet long was sunning on the bank about half-way back.

As we fished by it we looked at it but it did not move and did not really bother me. But after we passed it I looked back and it had eased into the water, moved to the middle of the slough and floated there watching us. We were in a 15-foot bass boat and I got real nervous.

I told Kenneth we needed to go, and he agreed. We went by the spot where the gator had been on plane!

Another time while at Eufaula I had been watching gators for two days. My boat was in the water in the campground with the nose on the bank. My battery chargers were hooked up at the back of the boat. The battery compartment was right at the back and the lid opened forward.

I went down to unhook them before the tournament that morning in the dark. To unhook them I had to squat on the very back of the boat with part of me hanging over the water as I reached inside. As I did that, I kept remembering how silently gators moved in the water, and that they liked to feed in the dark.

It was the fastest I have ever unhooked my chargers!

Gators usually won’t bother you during the day unless you bother them, or if you get near their nest or young. And they are seldom seen near Griffin, rarely moving above the Fall Line.

Sheepshead

Deep Thoughts for Sheepshead Success

tasty sheepshead


Abundant and aggressive, the sheepshead is one of the sea’s tastiest fish.

By David A. Brown
from The Fishing Wire
Bucktooth bandits with a frustrating habit of stealing ill-presented baits. That’s one way to describe sheepshead; but you might also call them sporty, abundant and oh, so tasty.

Indeed, the striped member of the porgie clan with pearly white meat often compared to lobster, is highly regarded as a prized inshore catch throughout southeastern waters. Their capture requires a few strategic details, but one of your most valuable tools is something not commonly considered for inshore species — electronics.

Your Raymarine Multifunction Display (MFD) unit can tell you a lot about what lies beneath the surface. Spoiler alert: We’re not talking about those shallow flats where redfish tail and speckled trout hug the potholes. Rather, we’re gonna look at something far less obvious, so read on

WHERE THEY LIVE

To set the stage, sheepshead like structure, because that’s where their forage preferences live. Those protruding incisors are made for cracking shells, so crabs, barnacles, shrimp, mollusks are all fair game.

Docks, seawalls, piers, bridges and jetties offer dependable sheepshead opportunities — especially during their winter-spring spawning aggregations. Elsewhere, coastal marshes often find sheepshead roaming spartina grass edges or poking around Louisiana Roseau cane. Oyster bottom and noticeable shell bars are the sweet spots, as the crustacean count increases; but if you’ve ever idled a low-tide marsh, you’ve probably seen fiddler crabs waving those oversized claws on every sandy point you pass.

Residential docks offer yet another highly-productive sheepshead scenario, especially the ones with multiple slips, extended walkways and lots of pilings. The more habitat, the better and if you come across a dock crumbled by time and tide, or perhaps, tropical storm damage — jackpot. The debris that falls into the water below catches all sorts of trash and flotsam to form a briny log jam of sheepshead potential.

While all of these will certainly offer you abundant sheepshead opportunities, the visible spots get a lot of fishing pressure because anyone can find them and fish them. Nothing wrong with standing atop a land-based structure — maybe with a little Aqua Vu camera recon; but savvy anglers in search of the bigger sheepshead will target the shallow reefs and wrecks scattered throughout bays and estuaries. Here, in these less-trafficked areas, sheepshead enjoy plenty of cover, food and seclusion — usually with less congestion than the inshore stuff.

Raymarine Axiom’s RealVision 3D comes in handy here, as the ability to scan a structure site reveals all the relevant features sheepshead like. You’ll want to look for undercut areas where they can tuck in tightly when the current runs swiftly, as well as the high spots where the biggest and most aggressive fish often hold during peak feeding periods. And, of course, locating groups of fish and noting the bigger marks helps dial in your presentations.

You’ll also do well to look for those sneaky little rock piles along channel edges. Run the ditch and monitoring SideVision will reveal isolated structures that could be bristling with ‘heads.

TACTICAL TIPS

Once your Raymarine electronics reveal your target zone, bolster this intel with the following considerations:

Optimal Conditions — Because sheepshead are mostly sight feeders, sunlight helps them spot your baits. Current always stimulates feeding, but the peak of a hard tide makes it tough to keep your baits on point and out of the snaggy stuff. Even if you do hit the mark, sheepshead won’t fight a heavy current, so feeding usually tapers until the water slows.

Rigs — Whether you’re fishing shrimp, fiddler crabs or shucked oysters, ditch the old fish finder rig, as it’s far too snag-prone for the sheepshead habitat. Also, because the sheepshead bite is nanosecond quick, reaction time is key. A heavy split shot rig is one option, but you’ll find a 1/8- to 1/4-ounce jig head, like the Z-Man Trout Eye, a better option, as it keeps bait and weight efficiently packaged. Easier in and out for the tight spots, plus direct strike response.

Another option — the dropshot. Take a page from the bass angler’s playbook and rig a hook perpendicular to your main line with a drop leader and weight below. Match your leader length to the depth that your fish are showing on your Raymarine unit’s high-definition screen and use just enough weight to hold your rig in place.

Prominent front teeth and sharp dorsal spines are notable sheepshead traits.

Tackle Tips — You’ll do more vertical dropping than long casting for sheepshead, so a 7-foot rod, such as St. Croix’s Tidemaster Inshore heavy-power, moderate action spinning rod is ideal. You’ll want plenty of backbone for quickly separating fish from fortress, but a moderate tip allows just enough “give” for the fish to get the bait and hook. The second you feel steady pressure, you’ll want to come tight like yesterday, so your Seaguar Smackdown braid is a must here.

Watch the Points — A sheepshead’s crushing style teeth pose little biting hazard, unless your finger ends up inside the mouth (but, that’s what needle nose pliers are for. Just sayin’.) The real threat are those knitting needle spines on the dorsal fins. Get too close and you’ll receive a memorable poke in the palm.

Safest grip is below the chin, ahead of the ventral fins. Hold the leader to suspend the fish vertically, grip the fish firmly with its chin resting in your palm and safely remove the hook. If your sheepshead is short, send him on his way; if not, take him home for one of the best seafood dinners you’ll ever enjoy.

Acoustic Tagging Program for Tarpon

Bonefish & Tarpon Trust Details Acoustic Tagging Program for Tarpon

Tagging Tarpon


The Tarpon Acoustic Tagging Project is a collaborative, five-year program designed to broaden our understanding of tarpon movement and habitat uses. The results will help shape future conservation measures, including the protection of critical habitats and improvements to fishing regulations. The project is generously sponsored by Maverick Boat Group.
Tarpon Acoustic Tagging is addressing the following questions:

Is the tarpon population large and robust or small and vulnerable? If anglers in a particular location are fishing for the same fish every year, then the tarpon population is probably smaller than we think, and issues like shark predation will become a bigger concern. If fish move among regions every year, and anglers are fishing for different fish each year, the tarpon population is probably relatively large.

Do tarpon gather in the same areas for spawning each year or move among areas? On average, ocean currents will carry the larvae from a spawning site to juvenile habitats in a specific geographic region. If it’s the same adults at the spawning site every year, then local adult losses will cause local declines in juveniles. If tarpon move among spawning sites, then the population will be more resilient.

How do changes in freshwater flows into coastal waters influence tarpon movements? Do the problems with Lake Okeechobee and Everglades restoration impact tarpon? Are the water issues in Apalachicola causing changes in tarpon movements?

What are the movement patterns and habitat use of mid-size tarpon (20-50 pounds)? How will these tarpon be impacted by coastal water quality issues? This size class, which is the future of the fishery, is very vulnerable to changes in coastal habitats and water quality.

Until the Tarpon Acoustic Tagging Project began, there was little information available to answer these questions. Satellite tagging provided spatial and temporal data that was limited to tarpon weighing 80 pounds and larger. After a few months, most satellite tags detached from the fish, making it difficult to study their movements over the important multi-year time frame. Acoustic telemetry has helped to combat these limitations.

Why Acoustic Tagging?

Acoustic tags provide the ability to track tarpon for five years. They are also small enough that they are being used on tarpon as small as 5 and as large as 200 pounds!
Acoustic telemetry has helped to broaden the scope of tarpon research. When deployed, a tag is surgically implanted in the fish’s abdomen before safe release. The tagged fish swims within range of an underwater receiver, which detects and stores the tag’s unique code. BTT and collaborators have approximately 100 receivers deployed, but we are also able to take advantage of the network of receivers being used by collaborators studying everything from redfish to sawfish. This vast network exceeds 4,000 receivers deployed from Chesapeake Bay to the Gulf of Mexico. As scientists detect tagged fish on their receiver networks they share data with other scientists, effectively expanding the study area.

How You Can Help

Sponsor a Tarpon: Sponsor an acoustic tag for $3,000. You can name your tarpon and will receive a certificate with its name and initial capture info (general location and measurements). Sponsors will receive access to a password protected site where they can see periodic updates of their tarpon’s movements.
Sponsor a Receiver: Sponsor and name an acoustic receiver (listening station) for $3,000. Sponsors will receive periodic reports summarizing the tarpon detections it has recorded.
Help us tag tarpon: Prior to every tagging trip, our team of scientists will notify sponsors about when and where they will be working, along with contact information. If you are fishing in that area on tagging dates, all you need to do is call us when you catch a tarpon. We’ll come to your boat, transfer the tarpon to our sling, and take implant a transmitter. Remember to always keep the tarpon in the water!

For more information and to sponsor a tag or receiver, please contact Mark Rehbein, Director of Development at 703-350-9195 or mark@bonefishtarpontrust.org

Fishing Lay Lake and Blue Ridge Lake

I love my job. Who would not love going fishing and getting paid to write about it? But it does get hectic at times. I have been on the road so much the last two months I met myself on the highway Monday – twice!

After a five-day trip to Clarks Hill I got home a week ago Monday then went to Lay Lake in Alabama Wednesday for two days to get information for my June Map of the Month article in Alabama Outdoor News. Then I got up this past Monday at 4:30 AM to drive to Lake Blue Ridge for my article in Georgia Outdoor News for June.

Lay Lake is a Coosa River lake south of I-20 near Birmingham. It is different from our Georgia lakes, with shorelines covered with grassbeds. And the Coosa Spots grow big and fat and fight harder than you would think possible.

I met 21-year-old David Gaston, a tournament fisherman and guide on the lake. We got out at daybreak and found shad spawning in the grass and bass feeding on them. Unfortunately for us, they were feeding on very small threadfin shad and we had a hard time catching them on our bigger baits.

I did manage to catch a spot weighing about 2.5 pounds on a swim jig, my first fish ever on that bait. Swim jigs have a bullet shaped head to come through grass and, with a trailer on them, look like a fleeing baitfish.

Those jigs work great on any lake with grass, but we just do not have grassbeds on many of our lakes. I do not fish that bait much, so it is unlikely for me to catch fish on a bait in my tacklebox. Fishermen tell me they work good around docks and shallow brush, cover we have here, so I am going to learn to fish it more.

Another difference with those lakes is the current in them and the relatively shallow ledges where flats run out to the river and creek channels. Most of our channels are in much deeper water and harder to fish. There, you can cast crankbaits up to five or six feet of water and bump the bottom with them out to the drop into 25 to 30 feet of water where the bass hold.

David showed me many such ledges on our trip since that is the best kind of places to fish after the sun gets high in June. We caught several bass on out trip.

Even more impressive was the pond on David’s family’s land. They feed the bass in it bologna and crawfish. The bologna surprised me, I had never heard of that, but David said I could easily catch a ten to 12-pound bass if I wanted to. He had one over seven pounds for pictures.

I didn’t fish the pond. There is something about catching easy bass that does not give me a thrill. That is the same reason I have never gone shiner fishing in Florida. Although I have always wanted to catch a 12-pound bass, and my biggest ever is one that weighed nine pounds seven ounces, I just don’t think I would really fulfil my goal with one that I did not make much personal effort to catch.

Lake Blue Ridge is totally different. A beautiful mountain lake near the Georgia/Tennessee/North Carolina junction, it is deep and clear, with little shoreline cover. It is the lake in Georgia where you have the best chance of catching a smallmouth bass, but their population has been decimated by the introduction of spotted bass.

I met Barron Adams who grew up in Mineral Bluff near the lake and now fishes tournaments and guides on Blue Ridge. The water was also much colder than on Lay and the shad had not started spawning. Neither had the bass. We saw one on a bed but many more cruising the shallows getting ready to spawn as soon as the water warms a little more.

This has been a crazy spring, with warm weather in February that made many central Georgia spawn early, then cold weather that stopped everything. Now the shad are starting to spawn and so are the herring, so fishing should be fantastic for a few weeks. I am afraid the water will get hot fast, shorting the time bass are in the shallows this year.

At Blue Ridge David caught a nice three pound largemouth and a two-pound spot, as well as some smaller bass. He also caught a big crappie and a small trout that was either a rainbow or brook trout. Neither of us know enough about trout to be sure which one it was.

We marked ten spots with deep brush and rocks where the bass live and feed in June. The baits to use are very different for June on Blue Ridge than Lay, with the best baits those that you can drag along the bottom 25 to 35 feet deep.

The fishing can be good there, but it is worth a trip just for the scenery. And there are many local points of interest in the area to visit other than the lake.

Either lake would be a good weekend trip for a fisherman and family. But traffic to Blue Ridge is awful since you have to go through downtown Atlanta. It took me 2.5 hours to drive up but over three to get home.

Downtown traffic was not bad that morning since I got through town before 6:30 AM but southbound traffic on I-75 and I-575 was already backed up by 6:30. And coming home it was bumper to bumper at less than 20 miles per hour from the junction of I-85 and 75 on the north side of town all the way to I-285 on the south side. And I saw four wrecks in that area.

If you go to Blue Ridge, plan your trip to avoid rush hours. I do not see how people stay sane driving in that mess daily to go to work!