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Lake Fork Trophy Bass Catches Looking Up
ATHENS—Anglers seeking to catch one of Lake Fork’s legendary lunkers are off to a great start to the 2010 fishing season.
After declining big bass catches for the last six years in the Lake Fork Trophy Bass Survey, nearly as many 7-pound or bigger bass were reported caught from March through June as were reported during all of the 12-month period from March 2009 to February 2010. Anglers participating in the survey reported 733 big bass caught from March through June 2010 compared to 746 for the 12 months ending in February.
“This year’s cold winter delayed the spawn, which pushed the peak of entries into April,” said Kevin Storey, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) Inland Fisheries biologist in charge of managing Lake Fork. “As a result, this was the first year since the survey began in 2003 that the number of entries was higher in April than in March.”
The big bass boom in late spring and early summer was good news for the fabled Lake Fork fishery, which is generally acknowledged to be one of the best in the world. The seven-year average of fish weighing more than seven pounds or measuring 24 inches or more in length is 1,519 per survey year. However, that number declined to its lowest level of 746 fish reported from March 2009 to February 2010.
“The decline could be real, or it could be due to dwindling interest in the survey,” said Storey. “Reduced participant interest is a common cause of declining reporting rates in volunteer surveys such as this. The first year starts off with enthusiasm, and then people lose interest. We also considered whether the decline in numbers was due to erratic angling or changes in the bass population.”
Fisheries biologists have started to rely on volunteer surveys such as the one on Lake Fork to track trophy fish because so few are collected using the traditional method of electrofishing, often called shocking. “Electrofishing doesn’t do a very good job of collecting big fish,” Storey explained. “It’s done at night along the shoreline, generally in water five feet deep or shallower. Larger fish are seldom encountered in these areas.”
Comparing the numbers of fish caught by electrofishing with those reported in the trophy bass survey illustrates Storey’s point. During the seven-year history of the Lake Fork Trophy Bass Survey, combined catches in all spring and fall electrofishing surveys have yielded 3,137 fish, only three of which were 24 inches or longer, and 12 weighed seven pounds or more. In contrast, anglers have reported catching 11,141 fish seven pounds or heavier or 24 inches or longer in the same time period.
Storey said the figures show that TPWD’s management of the lake with a 16- to 24-inch slot limit works. “Of the 11,141 fish reported in the survey, 83 percent were weighed, and of those, 15.6 percent weighed 10 pounds or more,” Storey said. “Anglers measured the length of 64 percent of the fish, and one-third of those were 24 inches or longer. The slot limit is producing impressive numbers of fish above the slot, as it was intended to do. Lake Fork still has a remarkable bass fishery, as it has for over the last 25 years. No other lake in Texas comes close.”
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