Lake Welsh - 2003 Survey Report
Prepared by Michael J. Ryan and Michael W. Brice
Inland Fisheries Division
District 3-A, Marshall, Texas
This is the authors' summary from a 22-page report. For a copy of the complete report, use the download link in the sidebar.
Lake Welsh was surveyed in 2003-2004 using gill nets, frame nets, and electrofishing to survey the fish community. Aquatic vegetation and access facilities were also assessed. This report summarizes the results of the surveys and contains a management plan for the reservoir based on those findings.
Lake Welsh is located on Swauano Creek in the Cypress River Basin. It was constructed in 1976 by American Electric Power Company (AEP) as a cooling reservoir for lignite-fueled power generation. The reservoir lies within the East Texas Timberlands Land Resource Area. It has a drainage area of approximately 34 square miles. Shoreline length is 27 miles. Water levels are relatively stable; average annual fluctuation is < 3 feet. Supplemental water is pumped from Lake O’ the Pines to maintain water levels. Littoral area (water depth less than 15 feet) accounts for 34% of the reservoir. Thermal stratification occurs at a depth of 20 feet from June through September. Structural habitat is comprised of inundated timber, brush, and creek channels (Ryan and Brice 2000). Aquatic vegetation is present in low densities and covered < 5% of the basin in 2003. Occasional fish kills have occurred during summer months when power production and discharge temperatures are at their highest. High water temperatures associated with adverse weather conditions contributed to a fish kill in the lower end of the reservoir in August 1999 (Ryan and Brice 2000). Threadfin shad, largemouth bass, common carp, channel catfish, flathead catfish, and gizzard shad were killed. The outage of two cooling towers was believed to have contributed to this fish kill. No major fish kills have been reported since the cooling towers were repaired and put back into operation in 2000. A fish consumption advisory issued by the Texas Department of Health (TDH) in 1992 for selenium contamination (all species) was rescinded in October 2003. Access to the reservoir is limited to one public ramp; the parking area is in need of maintenance.
- Prey species: Gizzard shad have not been collected in fish community surveys since 1993. Threadfin shad and bluegill comprise the majority of the prey base. The electrofishing catch rate (fish/hour) of threadfin shad was 209.0 (2001) and 279.0 (2003); much higher than in 1996 and 1997 (< 50 fish/hour). High fluctuations in electrofishing catch rates of bluegill have been observed since 1996. For example, the electrofishing catch rate (fish/hour) was 992.7 (1996), 130.0 (1999), 643.0 (2001), and 86.0 (2003). Thermal stressors during summer months and other environmental factors may be contributing to the variability in abundance of bluegill and absence of gizzard shad. Although population densities of threadfin shad and bluegill have fluctuated since 1996, largemouth bass condition (Wr) has remained at an acceptable level (> 95).
- Catfishes: Channel catfish and flathead catfish are present in Lake Welsh. The gill net catch rate of channel catfish was 25.4 fish/net night in 2004; far exceeding catch rates from previous years. Channel catfish ranged from 11 to 23 inches in length. The catch rate of channel catfish > 12 inches was 25.2 fish/net night indicating high numbers of legal-size fish available for harvest. Based on 2003 gill net data, channel catfish reproduction and recruitment has been excellent. Condition (Wr) for most inch groups of channel catfish approached or exceeded 95. An attempt was made to age channel catfish using otoliths however, annuli were not distinguishable. Age estimates from pectoral spines indicate channel catfish reach legal size (>12 inches) during their second or third growing season at Lake Welsh. Flathead catfish have not been collected in fish community samples since 1996 and they likely do not contribute significantly to the sport fishery.
- Largemouth bass: The electrofishing catch rate of largemouth bass was 93.0 fish/hour in 2003; higher than catch rates in 1999 (25.0 fish/hour) and 2001 (65.0 fish/hour). The catch rate of stock size (> 8.0 inches) individuals also increased in 2001 and 2003 suggesting that the population may be recovering from a fish kill that occurred in 1999 (Ryan and Brice 2000). The catch rate of < 8.0-inch individuals was also higher in 2003 compared to 1999 and 2001, indicating an increase in reproductive success and survival of young largemouth bass. Largemouth bass condition (Wr) was good and exceeded the optimum range of 95-100 (Anderson and Neumann 1996) for all inch groups > 8.0 inches. Growth of Age 0 to Age 2 fish was similar to previous years. Largemouth bass at Lake Welsh typically reach legal size (> 18 inches) during their fourth growing season. The genetic composition of this population could not be determined in 2003; however, the percentage of pure Florida bass in the population has historically been high, ranging from 46 to 62 % since 1989.
- Fish community surveys suggest that the largemouth bass population is recovering from a fish kill that occurred in 1999. It is likely that the special 18-inch minimum size limit, in place at the time of the kill, helped to speed recovery of the population by protecting adult bass from harvest. We recommend that no changes be made to existing harvest regulations at this time.
- The TDH rescinded a fish consumption advisory for selenium in 2003. This provides an opportunity to promote the fishery and increase angler utilization of available species, especially channel catfish and largemouth bass.
- Existing access is adequate but repairs to the parking lot and ramp are periodically needed. No ADA facilities are available to encourage utilization of the resource by physically-challenged anglers. The staff will continue to work with the controlling authority to make recommendations, as needed, to improve these facilities.
Performance Report as required by Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act Texas Federal Aid Project F-30-R-29 Statewide Freshwater Fisheries Monitoring and Management Program