I was first made aware of this through a Facebook post by Terry McWilliams concerning an interesting stocking program using bass anglers and tournaments as a mechanism for distributing fingerling bass into more areas of a lake than what most DNR programs could do on their own. This is happening down on Toledo Bend where Brent Chapman recently filmed the following video.
Then today I received the following piece out of Arkansas that is doing a very similar stocking program. Does this have any merit or possibilities here in Indiana?
100,000 Bass Go in the Drink
Simmons Bank Big Bass Bonanza participants partner with Game & Fish, Department of Corrections to rebuild fabled bass fishery.
– With a $50,000 check and tens of thousands of dollars in other winnings up for grabs during the state’s largest amateur fishing tournament, it’s no secret that the Simmons Bank Big Bass Bonanza is all about numbers. And while anglers are fishing for a shot at life-changing sums of money June 24-26, thousands of other lives will be changing in the process— the lives of some 100,000 black bass fingerlings.
“20,000 fingerlings go to each weigh-in location,” said Arkansas Game & Fish Commission (AGFC) biologist Joe Gladden, of the five weigh-in locations spread along the Arkansas River from Fort Smith to Desha County. “As some anglers come in to weigh their fish hourly, we give them bags of fingerlings to stock on their return trip.”
The result, Game & Fish biologists say, is part of the solution to the decline of spawning grounds along the Arkansas River’s backwaters. “The river has seen a dramatic decline in backwater spawning and nursery habitat,” explains Colton Dennis, the Black Bass Program coordinator for the AGFC. “That, coupled with years when the river experiences high flows and flooding during the spring when bass are trying to spawn, make programs such as this very important.”
This particular program consists of a joint partnership between the Simmons Bank Big Bass Bonanza, Arkansas Game & Fish, and the state’s Department of Corrections, which houses and collects the fingerlings that are released during the tournament.
Fishery experts have been actively attempting to maintain the black bass population on the Arkansas River since at least 2001, when AGFC biologists began working with the Army Corps of Engineers in Little Rock on long-term solutions to population decline that included habitat restoration, the notching of dikes and—crucially—increased stocking efforts.
Now, thanks to tournament participants, black bass are returning to backwaters like the creeks and bayous that feed not only the main river itself, but popular fisheries like Mud Lake near Pendleton, Lake Longhofer near Pine Bluff and Ozark Lake near Fort Smith.
From a stocking standpoint, biologists say the Simmons Bank Big Bass Bonanza presents a perfect solution for distributing fingerlings, as the “baby bass” are carried by anglers from weigh-in locations to all corners of the river’s ecosystem. “They’re spreading out and placing fingerlings in the backwaters and areas they fish,” Dennis says. “It’s going to be a more favorable habitat than if we backed up a truck at a ramp and released thousands into an area with a less complex habitat.”
In the past four years, biologists say that over 373,000 fingerlings have been distributed by anglers at the Simmons Bank Big Bass Bonanza, giving the Arkansas River ecosystem a shot in the arm. Dennis says that research from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff shows that stocked fingerlings contributed between 10 and 15 percent of the wild population of largemouth bass in the river.
It’s a wildlife impact that parallels the human aspect of the Simmons Bank Big Bass Bonanza. Since 2001, tournament participants have collected well over $1 million by fishing the river’s waters. But— perhaps more importantly—biologists say they’ve released over 1 million lively fingerings back into the great waterway that breathes so much life into The Natural State, turning Arkansas’ largest fishing tournament into a win-win for both humans and fish.
The Simmons Bank Big Bass Bonanza runs from June 24-26. Weigh-in locations are located at Fort Smith, Russellville, North Little Rock, Pine Bluff and Dumas. For more information, previous results and registration forms, visit ArkansasBigBass.com.
I took this Humminbird screenshot Thursday afternoon. The weekend before, I had been out on this same lake and immediately noticed the same thing on the graph, something not normally seen this time of year. I also immediately thought I knew exactly what was going on, as I've seen this happen on this lake and others before. Turned out I was right. Here's the deal.
As you can see, almost all the fish are stacked into the top 12' or so of the water column, especially at the bottom of that band of water. For those that guessed thermocline, you have the right idea, but not quite the right answer. So our waters are definitely starting to heat up as suggested by the 81 degree surface temps, but it is still early in the year in the big scheme of things. Yes, the thermocline is starting to develop, but I don't think many anglers quite fully grasp the entire concept around this. Much of the online bassing sites and articles don't help in this regard.
The thermocline is basically equivalent to the middle layer of the water column, also known as the metalimnion. It is in this layer that you get the quick drop in water temps. Technically, a thermocline is defined as the area of water with the fastest drop in temperature, usually at least 1 degree Celsius per meter, or just over half a degree F per foot. The upper layer of water is the epilimnion, and the lowest layer of water is the hypolimnion. In these two bands of water, the temperature stays relatively stable regardless of depth. As such, the thermocline can be a pretty wide band of the water column, especially early in the year when we are first getting separation of layers. That is what is currently happening on most Indiana reservoirs at the moment.
As the year goes on, that middle layer will get squeezed and become smaller and smaller, and also get pushed to the shallower side. In the screenshot, as on most other Indiana waters, the bottom layer of the thermocline is beginning to form around that 20-25' range. This bottom level of the thermocline, the one most commonly seen on sonar units, is due to the settling of particles, aquatic organisms, and the like. Right now, the top of the thermocline is forming around 10-15' on these same waters. Normally, the warm water fish such as bass, bluegill and catfish will tend to stay near the upper level of the thermocline or shallower, while the cool water fish like trout, stripers, pike and walleye will tend toward the bottom layer of the thermocline. So why are pretty much all the fish in this screenshot staying around that 12'-13' depth band without any being graphed deeper?
The answer is the lake I was on had received an algae treatment about a week and a half ago. As the algae have started to die off and settle, their decomposition has started consuming all the oxygen in the water. To confirm this, I borrowed a YSI ProODO dissolved oxygen meter and went out on the lake to test/confirm this. Sure enough, at the surface, there was 8.75 ppm of oxygen, and the water was about 110% saturated. This oversaturation occurs during the day while the plant life is producing oxygen as part of it's photosynthetic process. It actually puts more oxygen into the water than what that water at the same temperature would hold otherwise. But as we lowered the probe down to about the 10' level, the oxygen dropped to 5.8 ppm and a 71% saturation level.
Slowly, we dropped the probe down a few more feet to the 13.5' level, and the oxygen level continued to dive. At that point we were down to just 1.75 ppm and only 22% saturation. Biologists generally consider 2 ppm as the lower level of oxygen content that can safely sustain fish life for any extended length of time. Once you hit the 15' level, for all intents and purposes, oxygen was gone from the water column. So the reason you don't see any fish pushing further down into the developing thermocline, even though those temperatures are perfectly suitable for fish life, is because they have been stripped of oxygen. This was not the case last year, where at this same time, you could easily find fish down to 20'-22' of water or more.
So the mystery is solved. This exact situation can occur on any of our reservoirs where algae treatments take place. For those who might remember over a decade ago, the initial large treatment at Eagle Creek Res. did the same thing, not only wiping out the oxygen levels to a worse degree than this, but also lead to the death of a lot of fish that were copper sensitive (copper in some form is the active ingredient in many algae applications). That experience, plus a lot of research by local universities, have led to a change in how we now treat these algae outbreaks in most of our state waters.