Stocking Largemouth Bass in Texas – The Scoop

| November 18, 2011

I kicked off a thread on a popular discussion board the other day, and it languished for a bunch of days before someone picked it up and ran with it. It was about the way Texas Parks and Wildlife Department decides where and how many largemouth bass are stocked in different Texas lakes.

What, you may ask, does this have to do with fly fishing? Well, this is Texas, and we have an abundance of lakes and a shortage of continually viable rivers to ply with fly rods. If you aren’t from Texas, and many readers of Texas Fly Caster aren’t, you may not realize we have two distinct systems in play – freshwater and saltwater. And the vast majority of Texas’ population lives off the salt. So, we find ourselves casting at bass a good part of the year.

Lake Fork is a nationally legendary Texas largemouth bass fishery located east of Dallas, Texas – just within reach of both Dallas and Houston populations. Regardless, the last time I fished there, there were bass boaters from Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, all converged on Fork and its monster bass.

Before my most recent post (yes I participate), I had been reading a thread where conventional fishers were complaining about largemouth bass productivity of Lake Ray Roberts, Texas. That’s my back yard – adopted home water. After I caught a five pound bass there in early fall shallow flats fishing, I couldn’t help but rub it in a little – by inserting a video of that fish in the post.

However, their conversation did lead me to look at the stocking records for Lake Ray Roberts, Lake Fork and various other Texas lakes. Now to a scientific simpleton like myself, the numbers were staggering. I began to wonder if the conventional guys were onto something, and that lead to my post on the stocking numbers. Not only were the numbers wildly different, when they are run out – past to future – they appear to insure total dominance of a few lakes in Texas – in perpetuity.

The TPWD also takes special pride in their Sharelunker program, a program that collects (lunkers) and distributes their fingerlings. A lake, Ray Roberts for example, has produced and donated 4 Sharelunkers, while a lake, Fork for example, has produced and donated 243 sharelunkers to the program. In return for their investment, Ray Roberts has received 0 sharelunker fingerlings, while Fork has received 52,749 fingerling so far.

Enter one Mick McCorcle. Mick is a friend of mine who shared an adventure in the Guadalupe Mountain’s McKittrick Canyon earlier this year, and is nationally involved with Trout Unlimited. More importantly for this article, Mick is chair of the TPWD Freshwater Fisheries Advisory Committee. Bingo!

What follows is the response from Craig Bonds, Director Region 3, TPWD Fisheries (uncut unedited and in its entirety):

Florida LMB stocking criteria:
1. Research
2. New Reservoir or Re-establishment of Florida largemouth bass population
3. Reservoirs with demonstrated ability to produce largemouth bass >8 lbs.

The stocking requests are generated by district biologists who regularly sample the bass populations in lakes within their districts. They make the determination if the lake should be stocked based upon the stocking criteria and their sampling data. Each biologist prioritizes their requests within their district. Requests then get prioritized on a statewide basis to ensure geographic distribution of the fingerlings. Most often the statewide request (usually around 15 million fingerlings) is greater than our production capability (currently around 9 million fingerlings). Smaller lakes high on the stocking list usually get their full stocking rate, but larger lakes usually get capped at around 500,000 the first run down the list so as to spread the resources out to more lakes. If the entire list receives fingerlings, then the larger lakes will get extra fish above 500K until all fingerlings are gone from the hatcheries. We stock fingerlings at about 1.5 inches as this is the size largemouth bass begin to start switching over to fish diet and begin cannibalizing each other. Raising fingerlings to larger sizes requires a fish diet and exponentially raises costs.

Some reservoirs rarely receive FLMB fingerlings, others periodically get stocked, while others receive fingerlings annually. The group of lakes receiving fingerlings annually is a short list. They are almost always stocked using criteria 3. Large lakes with proven production of large bass (e.g. Sam Rayburn and Toledo Bend) receive fingerlings annually, but do not receive fish at the recommended rate due to their size and our limited production. So, these lakes are stocked at a reduced rate, but more frequently in order to make an impact. Most lakes only need periodic or occasional stocking to influence genetics and get stocked at a full rate in most cases. With the exception of criteria 2, we don’t stock Florida largemouth bass to increase the number of fish in the lake as many anglers believe, but to increase the incidences of catches of large fish, either through influencing genetics of resident offspring or by the stocked fish themselves. Sometimes these stockings are timed when habitat conditions are more favorable so stocking survival is greater. The only time we stock fish under criteria 2 would be following a catastrophic drought or fish kill to rebuild a population. Lake Fork is anomalous in the fact that it has amassed a legendary production level of trophy bass that is well documented and many times greater than its nearest competitor (especially when viewed over several decades; not a boom-and-bust case). Quite frankly, it is a special case; one in which we want to extend that exceptional status as long as possible. Annual stockings have been a piece of a very complex and intensive management program there. It is not only stockings that have made Lake Fork what it is. It was a perfect combination of productivity (fertile watershed), habitat, protection from harvest, and stocking. We could and have tried to reproduce Fork-like results in other systems and have not been successful. In the Ray Roberts example, it had adequate habitat (especially in the beginning), protection from overharvest, and was stocked several times. However, the big difference between Ray Roberts and Lake Fork is in the productivity of the watershed. Ray Roberts Reservoir is mesotrophic (i.e. moderately productive) with a mean TSI chl-a of 45.88. Lake Fork is hypereutrophic (highly productive) with a Carlson’s Trophic State Index (TSI) chl-a of 55.7 μg/L. Lake Fork produces more phytoplankton (that’s the chlorophyll value), which produces more zooplankton, which produces more shad and bluegill, which produce faster-growing bass. Lake Fork has more trophy potential, so it receives fingerlings that have a better chance of achieving their genetic potential in that environment. We have to use our hatchery resources wisely and put them in places where they will have the greatest chance of making an impact. Stocking Florida largemouth bass into a system with poor habitat and/or productivity would be wasting our hatchery resources. It might make anglers and media happy if we stocked all lakes on an equal rotation, but we’d be wasting resources and removing science from the equation. Our science drives priorities to maximize the utilization of our hatchery resources.

As for the subject of ShareLunker “fry”. We don’t typically stock fry (i.e. larval fish). We stock 1.5-inch fingerlings, and occasionally 6-inch advanced fingerlings for research purposes. The vast majority of ShareLunker fingerlings get distributed to the reservoirs which contributed ShareLunker fish that year. Some ShareLunker fingerlings were stocked into public lakes as part of our OWR research program. In this case were evaluated growth and condition of age-4 female ShareLunker offspring compared to similar age/gender resident fish. A few ShareLunker offspring have been stocked into a few privately-owned research contract lakes to evaluate several research objectives. For example, we have a project evaluating pellet-reared versus minnow-reared ShareLunker 6-inch advanced fingerlings to see if we can produce greater numbers of 6-inch bass much more economically and have those pellet-reared fish perform well. We also have a project in the works to compare performance of ShareLunker offspring to our regular Florida production bass offspring. These private lakes are valuable because we can control many variables and better evaluate our research question in the absence of angler harvest and with greater control of the fish community. We can also go in later and sacrifice large numbers of fish for aging without impacting a public resource. There is only one instance that I’m aware of where we allowed the stocking of ShareLunker offspring in a private lake that was not part of a research project. But in this case, the fingerlings were auctioned off to raise money to support fisheries management and fish conservation efforts.

I apologize for the wordy response, but simple questions sometimes have complex and scientifically-nuanced answers. I hope this helps you explain things to our constituents. My final advice for the folks on the fishing forum is to make an effort to get to know their local TPWD District fisheries biologist. Developing a good two-way communication process is the surest way to truly understand what we do and why we do it. All our biologists work for the anglers of Texas and make it a high priority to be available to communicate with our constituents. We have 15 management districts across the state. Names, phone numbers and email addresses can be found on the TPWD website:
http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/business/about/divisions/inland_fisheries/offices/index.phtml#biologist

Craig Bonds
Director, Region 3
TPWD, Inland Fisheries
11810 FM 848
Tyler, TX 75707
Office: 903.566.1615 ext. 202
Cell: 903.363.3817
Email: [email protected]

NOTES

Find more on stocking philosophy of Texas waters by TWPD here, as well as the number of Sharelunkers received from lakes throughout Texas, and the number of Sharelunker fingerlings put back in Texas lakes.

A couple of followup questions I have are:
1 – Why is the Carlson’s Trophic State Index (TSI) so good for Fork and not Roberts?
2 – Can that number be affected by human means?
3 – How often is that TSI number generated / how current is that number?

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Category: Causes, Culture on the Skids, Fly Fishing for Largemouth Bass, Science and Environmental

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I write. I photograph. I fish, and I live.

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  1. shannon says:

    Does anybody else have questions? I think we can “go to the source” now.