Just received the most recent report on the Eel River initiative. The tagging program is still going through the first half of this year up there. Catch a tagged smallmouth and get BPS reward cards. Below is the Executive Summary from the report, but the full report is attached for download.
A black bass survey was conducted on 46.4 miles (74.5 km) of the Eel River of north central Indiana from 24 June 2013 to 16 August 2013.
Full report: download
If you've spent any time fishing our rivers and streams for smallmouth bass, then you likely know that the benchmark by which all smallies are compared is that "magic" length of 20 inches. Anything less is simply a nice fish. Anything greater is an accomplishment, very similar to the 10-lb. benchmark we commonly use for largemouth. Cliff Gerwick just crushed that standard over the weekend by landing this 22" smallie, and on a fly rod no less. Cliff was fishing Sugar Cr. using a topwater popper, and after a few heart-pounding runs, was able to subdue the beast. Cliff stated that the fish completely engulfed the popper. A quick photo on the damp streambank, and then this smallie was babied back into the river to fight again another day.
By R. Ziert
In any environment the first priority of survival is food. In order to understand the source and thereby catch what eats that food, we first have to understand the niche makeup of the food chain web supply. What do Smallmouth Bass in the Great Lakes Chain of Lakes eat? What do any predators eat in any lake – what is most plentiful and when – which is easiest to catch? Invasive species will out sometimes, and unfortunately overcome other species; squeezing others to less prominence. But does the word “unfortunately” really have to apply over Adaptation? Is adaptation the real key? All living things adapt throughout their life cycles.
While this article centers on The Great Lakes of North America, it applies to any body of water and all species therein. Zooplankton being the primary source of food for fry of many species, that’s where we need to start. After growth from eating zooplankton, Gobies, Perch, Rainbow Smelt, Shad, Salmon, Lake Trout, Pike, Large and Smallmouth Bass, and so on all eat each others fry, and young of the year’ sometimes they eat their own even after the “young of the year” stage. The most predominant species in numbers for the Great Lakes is the Rainbow Smelt – and therefore are the most likely to be eaten by other species most often. So then, we need find out about their habits and move forward/up the food chain ladder.
Zooplanktons occur in one or more blooms throughout the year and in most lakes; more so in some than in others. Zooplankton eat phytoplankton.
UWSP.EDU: “Each lake has a distinctive “personality,” or set of physical and chemical character which may change over time. Lakes or parts of lakes exhibit chemical changes on a daily basis while other changes, such as plant and algae growth, occur seasonally”. Plankton are born of Lake Bottom content and water column mix categorization; older lakes have more of this activity than younger ones. While the possibility of deeper water birth can exist, the type of Lake Bottom most likely to have plankton blooms are largely within the layer of water averaging from 5-20 feet deep. After the blooms, zooplankton, unlike vegetable/ algae/ phytoplankton, have some lateral movement ability but like all plankton, they are largely subject to water current/wind fetch for long range transport. All plankton being photo sensitive to light intensity, rise in the water column under overcast or darkened periods of day or night and sink during day under blue bird sky’s.
“Gov.On.Ca”: “The rainbow smelt is a predatory fish native to the north Atlantic coastal regions of North America and a few lakes in the Ottawa Valley in the St. Lawrence River watershed. Deliberate stocking in Michigan in the early 1900s led to established rainbow smelt populations in lakes Erie, Michigan, Huron and Superior. The fish likely invaded Lake Ontario from Atlantic coastal areas through the Erie Canal. More recently people have illegally introduced rainbow smelt to inland lakes.
In their native habitat, rainbow smelt spend most of their lives at sea and migrate into fresh water to spawn. Rainbow smelt that have invaded Ontario waters cannot return to the sea, but they still follow old behavior patterns. In the spring they move in large schools from lakes into streams and along shorelines to spawn. Rainbow smelt eat plankton – small animals and plants found in the water – as well as the young of native fish species.
Outside its native range, the rainbow smelt can be found in the St. Lawrence River watershed, the Great Lakes, other lakes such as Simcoe, Nipissing and Nipigon, and many smaller inland lakes. The fish has also been introduced to the Hudson Bay watershed, lakes in northwestern Ontario and Manitoba, including Lake Winnipeg, and many American states.
Impacts of Rainbow Smelt: By competing with other fish for food and eating the young of other species, rainbow smelt have had a serious impact on native species that eat plankton, as well as those that eat other fish.
What time of year do Rainbow Smelt Spawn and where specifically do they go to do so?
Many but not all Smelt die after they spawn. Post Spawn and Acute Thermal Shock (which will be addressed later) account for the majority of smelt deaths. The beaches of the Great Lakes scattered with smelt bodies - stinking in the sun - will confirm such.
“Teaching Great Lakes Science”: “Spawning: Smelt spawn in tributaries over gravel beds at night and return to the lake by morning. Spawning is related to “spring thaw”, water temperature and warming spring rains and usually lasts about three weeks.
Spawn Habitat Water Temp: Cool, dark waters. Optimal water temperature is 43-56 degrees F.
When returning to deeper water of the watershed smelt prefer water temperatures of 61-70 degrees and do not often either go deeper than 20 feet nor one mile from shore. Accompanied by the need for food and thermocline formation, all normal or averages can be altered to fit specie needs.
Diet: All fry and small of the year prey including but not limited to - Opossum shrimp, a small shrimp-like crustacean, insects and insect larvae, other aquatic invertebrates, fish such as smaller smelt, emerald shiners, sculpins, juvenile burbot and whitefish and so on. Understanding the food chain web, overlaying and reasoning one niche with many others is vitally important to angling (catching fish); the who/which, what, why, where, and when.
Fishing strategy: Relative to the smelt spawn, the best fishing for predators such as abundant Small Mouth Bass (don’t forget to look up their niche for come together purposes) is in the main lake openings to tributaries and into tributaries or harbors proper at night between 10 p.m. – 2 a.m. during the spawning run. Smelt are not strong swimmers so look for the lesser of water flow. While some harbors may not have a natural water flow, boat traffic can generate same.
At times other than the spawn, look for the – as close to - favored water column temperature range (deep water temperature probe needed) which will most likely not be affected by warmer water temperature swings causing the thermal shock mentioned earlier. Triangulate (there may be more than three sides to investigate) that estimate with known prey item habits/movements, and favorable basin strata. I.E. As an average look for 65 degree water at depth and add the other two features to the triangle. If that temperature specific is at 20 feet and a large storm moves through causing big 15 foot swells, the temperature range relative to depth will change from day to day. This same depth to temperature change will occur with the deepening thermocline as the season progresses. If any one part of the triangulation pulls the others sides in a specific direction as to temperature changes, the smelt will follow their food as much as they reasonably can. Of course, larger, heartier predator fish will pursue the smelt accordingly. Small Mouth Bass in particular may need basin relativity to associate them to their territory and niche. This detail will not hinder them from following their food source if need be.
One last tip would be that while alive and in water, Rainbow Smelt are said to give off a smell similar to cucumbers. Therefore, presenting baits at the periphery of and slightly under smelt schools and using bait that looks and smells like a smelt can’t hurt your angling effort.
Where to get more information: Department of Natural Resources Fishing Report Hot Line (517) 373-0908. Or if you feel confident after the activity, test your science detective skills.
For an expanded look at what’s going on here, refer to the following;
> Biologists continue to monitor the state of cisco (Species of Special Concern) in Indiana lakes. From 2012-13, staff have sampled 22 of the 45 lakes known to have had ciscoes in 1955. Data suggests just 7 of those lakes still have cisco populations.
> Black crappie consistently ranks second or third in our (northern Indiana) angler preference surveys.
> Biologists have been working to standardize ~250 June glacial (natural) lake fish surveys going back to 1985. These standardized datasets will allow them to quantify and trend various metrics.
> In 2013, district biologists conducted a muskie survey, four largemouth bass surveys, four status and trends surveys, seven standard surveys, 14 vegetation surveys, a river survey, a cisco survey, a wiper survey, four walleye surveys, and one summer creel.
> There were three reports of pacu being caught from Cedar Lake in Lake County. These are the tropical fish commonly (and erroneaously) claimed to be piranha.
> 2013 produced a near‐record summer and fall steelhead run on the St. Joseph with over 7300 steelhead being counted at the South Bend fish viewing window.
> Over 3400 trout and salmon caught by Indiana anglers this year have been examined, collecting valuable data for the federally‐funded Mass Marking program.
> In August, a public meeting was held at West Boggs to discuss the timeline of the 2014 renovation plan. Biologists have began assessing private ponds in the watershed for threats to the success of the project. To date, 78 of the 148 ponds identified in the watershed have been checked and no undesirable species have been found.
> Bass sampling occurred on the Flatrock River as part of a statewide black bass management plan. Smallmouth bass as large as 19 inches were collected.
> Biologists also collected bass from the East Fork of the White River. Bass tournaments are a weekly event throughout the summer in this stretch. The survey will act as baseline catch data for monitoring the (new) protected slot size-limit. They collected 56 spotted bass from 3.0 to 13.3 inches inlength, and four largemouth bass from 9.3 to 14.8 in total length.
> A Sullivan Lake creel survey was completed at the end of October. Data includes angler creel stats, a fish community survey, and largemouth bass and channel catfish surveys.
> Did you kow there are American eels in Indiana? Though not overly common, there were several reported in the state this year.
> Vegetation surveys at Salinda Lake, Hardy Lake, and Pride’s Creek Lake were carried out. Electrofishing samples at Huntingburg Lake for saugeye and Patoka Lake for walleye were also completed. Bryant's Creek Embayment had a general survey done to assess the fish community, and a shovelnose sturgeon survey on the Wabash River was also finalized.
> Trap netting at Hardy Lake was done to help assess a possible crappie length limit in the future.
> A lot of time was spent collecting and tagging bass for this years tag reward study. This study covers three river systems which include the West Fork White River, St. Joseph River and the Eel River. A total of 406 bass were tagged throughout these three rivers. Tagging began in June, and already they've had 11 tags reported, and most of them have been returned.
> Indiana's urban fishing project from this year is being evaluated. Preliminary creel results for the nine urban lakes surveyed from April to August showed over 24,000 anglers that fished more than 44,500 hours. The total catch of all urban fishing program lakes was over 11,000 fish, of which ~6,000 were harvested. Bluegill and catfish made up 85% of the total harvest in these urban areas. The most heavily used areas were Garvin Pond and Diamond Valley Pond in Evansville, Terre Haute’s Dobbs Park Pond, and Krannert Lake which is located in Indianapolis. Fishing pressure was highest in the months of May and June and went down after stocking of catfish stopped in early June.
Purdue’s Bass Fishing Club participates in at least three fall tournaments. The students involved get the opportunity to be a part of what the club describes as a “real bass fishing tournament atmosphere.”
I am unbelievably impressed with our local kayak fishing community. Kayak fishing is a fairly new and growing sport in this area, and as such the community is not well established. This event was the first of its kind in our area.
“We collected some of the best smallmouth I’ve ever seen in a river,” said Hoosier biologist Neil Ledet who headed the project. “We saw a few in the 18-inch class, a 20-incher and several other nice fish.”
“We’ve always been able to catch 6 or 8 sublegal and maybe one legal fish (15-plus inches),” noted Ukele. “But this season has been different. One week this summer, I was catching 8 to 10 keepers and 6 non-keepers. It’s been fantastic all year.”
Dove will be making back-to-back appearances at the Classic. He went last year as the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship overall winner, and he’s going back in 2014 as the Northern Division champ. He also qualified once before in 1997.