ATHENS (KYTX) - Texans normally associate fall with the start of hunting season, but it is also a busy time for fisheries biologists.
When you are on your favorite lake during the next few months, you may encounter a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Inland Fisheries crew conducting one of several kinds of surveys.
Information from these surveys is used to guide management decisions for the reservoir, such as what kind and how many fish to stock.
Take Lake Bridgeport as an example. TPWD biologists will be conducting a creel survey on Lake Bridgeport beginning this September and wrapping up in May of 2014.
Creel surveys are conducted by contacting anglers in person while they are on the lake fishing or when they are at a boat ramp. The creel survey will determine harvest of all fishes from the lake, especially largemouth bass and Palmetto bass, during the period. (As part of an every-other-year stocking plan, 59,756 Palmetto bass fingerlings were stocked in May 2013.)
Other information such as monetary value of the fishery, sizes of fish harvested and caught and angler residence will also be determined. After all the data are compiled and analyzed, a management report will be written which summarizes the results and recommends strategies to improve or maintain the fishery. The report will be available late summer of 2014.
An electrofishing boat (also known as a shocking boat) will be used to sample the fish in Lake Bridgeport in early November.
Electrofishing works best at night in six feet of water or less. Biologists expect to collect a wide range of sizes of largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and spotted bass from Lake Bridgeport.
The fish are collected using long dip nets on the bow of the lighted electrofishing boat during the sampling. All bass are weighed and measured. A small sample of largemouth bass will be checked for the presence of Florida largemouth bass genes. All forage species are measured and released.
Records are kept of all fish collected. Comparing numbers and sizes of fish collected over a period of years shows population trends and growth rates.
Bridgeport's crappie population will be sampled in December with a piece of gear called a trap net. It works like a minnow trap and funnels the crappie into the net, where they cannot escape. The net is set in the afternoon and taken out the next morning. The crappie are weighed, measured and released.
Finally, in March or April, channel catfish, Palmetto bass and white bass will be sampled with gill nets. Gill nets are 125 feet long by 8 feet deep and entangle fish with varying mesh sizes. Gill nets are set in the afternoon and taken out the next morning. Once again the target fish will be weighed, measured and released, if possible.
Not all lakes are surveyed every year, but chances are good that TPWD boat you see on the lake this fall and winter will not carry a game warden but a fisheries biologist working to make fishing better. Your cooperation will be appreciated.
The goal of all this activity is to make sound management decisions based on the best data available. Many times anglers ask, Why not stock (kind of fish) into (name of reservoir)? The answer may be that the reservoir does not contain habitat suitable for that species of fish. Or it may be that survey data show that fish of that species already in the reservoir are growing at less than a desirable rate, which may indicate there is not enough forage in the reservoir to support more fish.
On the other hand, survey data may show that a reservoir has a forage base capable of supporting a different predator sportfish, in which case biologists may recommend stocking that species.
Stocking requests from biologists across the state are compiled and ranked. TPWD's fish hatcheries are then requested to produce fish to fulfill as many of the requests as possible.
So while you are sitting on a comfortable couch in a warm room watching sports on TV this winter, remember that fisheries biologists are out there working to see that when you go fishing, there will be fish to catch. If you have questions about the management of a lake, contact the fisheries biologist in charge of it.
Contact information for TPWD fisheries biologists is at http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/business/about/divisions/inland_fisheries/offices/index.phtml#biologist.
Meanwhile, if you catch a fish you think is a lake record, you can go online at http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/fishboat/fish/programs/fishrecords/ to check the current records and download an application. Take good pictures to aid in identification, and weigh the fish within three days of the catch on certified scales.