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Big Country Gets Big Rains
ATHENS, Texas — Every time there are widespread rains of half an inch or more across West Texas, the San Angelo Standard-Times puts a drawing of a crowing red rooster, General Rainz, on the front page.
Following flooding rains in mid-August, General Rainz is probably hoarse and looking for high ground.
"The rains were good news for fish and wildlife," says Bobby Farquhar of San Angelo, regional director for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's Inland Fisheries Division. "We got about 10 inches above our average rainfall last year, and so far this year we are running about four inches ahead. This puts us in really good shape for rains we may get this fall, which is normally our rainy season."
After nearly a decade of drought, rain began returning to the Big Country last year. In the fall of 2004 E.V. Spence Reservoir caught about six feet of water, and O.C. Fisher Lake rose 12 feet. The August 2005 rains augmented the levels of those lakes and caused catastrophic flooding around Lake Stamford, which rose 14 feet in less than three days. Up to 10 inches of rain fell from Big Spring to Temple, causing several deaths from highway flooding.
Many lakes within a 100-mile radius of San Angelo caught at least a foot or two of water. Others saw much bigger rises: Champion Creek, 3.5 feet; J.B. Thomas, six feet; E.V. Spence, eight feet; Oak Creek, seven feet; and O.C. Fisher, 12 feet.
"We will put the lakes that caught water on the priority list for stocking," Farquhar says. "Some that caught water last November were stocked this past spring. If a lake has new flooded habitat, we will put it on the list to be stocked again next spring. While those fish won't be catchable size for a year or two, people are already seeing improved fishing in the lakes that caught water last November. We're hearing that anglers on E.V. Spence are catching limits of white bass and lots of small stripers for the first time in four or five years. That's really good news for them."
Farquhar tempers his optimism with a bit of West Texas humor — "Like the old-timers say, the next drought starts the day it stops raining"-but the effects the rains have had on the Big Country are apparent even to the casual observer. Normally dried and brown in August, roadsides and pastures are verdant, and stock ponds are brimming.
Timing of the rains may be particularly important, says Mandy Scott, assistant fisheries biologist. "When we have heavy rains in the winter, we sometimes have an outbreak of golden alga," she says. "The fact these rains came in the summer may mean that won't happen."
Fisheries biologist Craig Bonds says monitoring of fish populations and golden alga status will be stepped up to enable TPWD to make the most of the situation. "We will be doing more than routine monitoring to determine where the greatest need is and use that information to prioritize our stocking requests and to keep anglers informed on where the best fishing is," he says.
Scott added that anglers can help in the rebuilding of the fishery on O.C. Fisher by practicing catch-and-release. "We have stocked 9-inch channel catfish and adult largemouth bass, and we encourage anglers to release them so they can spawn," she says.
Rising water levels have also improved access at O.C. Fisher, where the three-lane boat ramp is now usable, and Oak Creek, where the ramp near the dam again reaches the lake.
Lakes receiving stocked fish in the last three years are shown as follows.
|Lake||Nearest Town||Year||Species Stocked||Number Stocked||Size|
|Abilene||Buffalo Gap||2004||Blue catfish||59,893||Fingerling|
|2004||Florida largemouth bass||45,277||Fingerling|
|Coleman City||Coleman||2003||Channel catfish||33,584||Fingerling|
|2004||Hybrid striped bass||9,998||Fingerling|
|Colorado City||Colorado City||2003||Bluegill||162,739||Fingerling|
|2004||Florida largemouth bass||143,915||Fingerling|
|E.V. Spence||Robert Lee||2003||Channel catfish||132,861||Fingerling|
|2003||Florida largemouth bass||148,516||Fingerling|
|2004||Florida largemouth bass||124,706||Fingerling|
|Fort Phantom Hill||Abilene||2003||Hybrid striped bass||63,209||Fingerling|
|2004||Hybrid striped bass||64,777||Fingerling|
|2005||Hybrid striped bass||63,400||Fingerling|
|Graham||Graham||2004||Hybrid striped bass||16,816||Fingerling|
|2005||Hybrid striped bass||12,867||Fingerling|
|Nasworthy||San Angelo||2003||Hybrid striped bass||19,410||Fingerling|
|2004||Hybrid striped bass||19,386||Fingerling|
|2005||Hybrid striped bass||6,933||Fingerling|
|New Ballinger||Ballinger||2005||Gizzard shad||196||Adult|
|Oak Creek||Blackwell||2003||Blue catfish||77,124||Fingerling|
|2003||Florida largemouth bass||71,789||Fingerling|
|2004||Florida largemouth bass||62,048||Fingerling|
|O.C. Fisher||San Angelo||2003||Florida largemouth bass||71,426||Fingerling|
|2005||Channel catfish||20,018||Advanced fingerling|
|2005||Florida largemouth bass||239||Adult|
|Proctor||Proctor||2004||Hybrid striped bass||67,985||Fingerling|
|2005||Hybrid striped bass||67,524||Fingerling|
|Twin Buttes||San Angelo||2004||Channel catfish||41,950||Fingerling|
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