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The Skinny on Bass at Lake Cisco
ATHENS—Why are there so many skinny bass in Lake Cisco? Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) Inland Fisheries biologist Spencer Dumont explains.
Cisco historically has been a good bass lake known for giving up some big largemouth bass, including a 13.2-pounder in 2007. Unfortunately, it is also known for its many small, skinny bass. Lake Cisco is a relatively unproductive lake to begin with, and when you add in four years of dropping water levels with virtually no input of nutrients from rain events, you get a recipe for unhealthy fish populations.
The Inland Fisheries crew of TPWD’s Abilene district office recently completed an electrofishing survey at Lake Cisco with the help of one of our trusted volunteers, Chris Love. This survey, like all our electrofishing surveys, was done to determine the current status of largemouth bass and sunfish populations in the lake.
One of the first things we look at during drought years is how many young bass from the spring spawn are left in the fall. We collected only 14 young bass in one hour of electrofishing at Cisco, but the average for the lake and for area lakes is 50 young bass per hour of electrofishing. In other words, survival of young bass was very poor, because there wasn’t enough to eat and there were fewer places to hide from other predators.
Another thing we look at is how many adult bass (bass 8 inches and longer) are present. First, the good news. There were over 100 bass in one hour of electrofishing, which is the most we have seen at Cisco since 1999 and well above the average for the lake (78/hour) and the area (66/hour). The bad news is 86 percent of the adult bass were less than 12 inches long; they were three and four years old; and they were very skinny. Instead of a rounded belly and thick back, they had a sunken belly and were rail-thin across the back.
All this adds up to a stunted largemouth bass population where fewer individuals grow to a larger size. From a management viewpoint, we could put a regulation in place that allows anglers to harvest smaller bass. However, Cisco doesn’t have enough fishing effort and harvest potential for a slot regulation to work. The real answer lies with Mother Nature. A significant rain event would flush in nutrients and flood habitat, resulting in more microscopic plants and animals, then more forage fish (shad, silversides, and bluegill), then faster growth of largemouth bass.
Lake Cisco recently caught about a foot of water. While that was nice, it’s not nearly enough. The lake is still nearly 20 feet low. In the meantime, fishing can be excellent. Just expect to catch lots of skinny, small bass and an occasional big fish. However, Cisco also has some nice-sized redear and redbreast sunfish for those of you who like panfishing.
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