On clear, sunny, spring-like days, when the redbuds are blooming and the turkeys are just beginning to talk, a virtual army of anglers heads for lakes and rivers and creeks to chase white bass.
Those small, tough cousins of striped bass typically are making their early moves upstream, getting ready for the spawn that will result in millions more of their kind for anglers to enjoy.
In Texas these days, that spawning run is more difficult than ever. The persistent drought has reduced flow in many rivers and streams leaving many white bass with no where to run. It’s bad enough that, in some areas, their populations are threatened.
“These runs can be long – up to 150 river miles have been reported in some systems,” says Dave Terre, chief of management and research for inland fisheries at Texas Parks and Wildlife. “The reason white bass move into streams and rivers for spawning is the flowing water provides the elements needed for the survival of the fertilized eggs.”
White bass are communal spawners, meaning they travel upstream to areas with shallow, running water and gravel bottoms that allow the eggs coated in an adhesive material to hold and wait to be fertilized. The moving water keeps the eggs well oxygenated until they hatch, Terre says. The best known such area in Central Texas probably is Lemon’s Camp on the Colorado River above Lake Buchanan.
Lakes with good white bass populations can survive a year or two of disrupted spawning due to poor river and creek flows. “Based on some models that we have developed, we would not want to see scenarios where a white bass population was not able to produce a year class for three or more years in a row,” Terre says. “On average, white bass only live four to five years, so you need to (grow) individuals to replace those that die.”
Rather than sit around and wait for disaster to arrive on its own, some anglers groups have received permission from TPWD to stock sunshine bass — hybrids of white bass and striped bass — in their lakes. The Lake Buchanan Conservation Corporation has done that, annually stocking thousands of hybrids to offset the losses of fish due to low lake and river water levels.
Anglers spent $2.5 million on white bass fishing trips on Buchanan during the spring of 2011, TPWD reports, and $1 million of that came from anglers outside the area. White bass, then, are an important economic indicator for the lake area, as well as an important food fish for the people who are catching them.
“Supplemental stockings of sunshine bass are occurring in several reservoirs by private partners under a permit granted by TPWD. These stockings are valued, important and are expected to continue,” Terre says. “Of course, those fish do not reproduce naturally and do not offer the same kinds of fishing opportunities that white bass offer.”
White bass stocking isn’t necessary, though, in lakes with good inflows from rivers and creeks and sustaining those is the best way to maintain and improve populations, Terre says. “Lake Buchanan, Canyon Lake, Choke Canyon, and Lake Travis are examples (of lakes with drought-related problems with water levels).”
Supplemental stockings of hybrids help short-term, Terre says, but anglers and the state have to be looking at other solutions, from water conservation to watershed improvement measures. “Advocating for the consideration of our fisheries and aquatic recreation interests in water-management planning is a great way for the public to assist the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s ongoing efforts to maintain and enhance our river and reservoir fisheries and recreational opportunities,” Terre says.
Meanwhile, there’s a 25-fish limit and the redbuds are blooming.
A 42-year-old Dallas man has pleaded guilty to killing an endangered whooping crane along the Texas coast on Jan. 12.
Worthey D. Wiles entered the plea Wednesday in federal court in Corpus Christi. He will pay a $5,000 fine and make another $10,000 community service payment to the non-profit coastal conservation organization, Friends of Aransas and Matagorda Island National Wildlife Refuges.
Wiles had been charged with one count of violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. In addition to the monetary payments, he will be on probation for a year.
Wiles was a guest hunting out of the private St. Charles Bay Hunting Club when he killed the juvenile whooper, one of only 34 that hatched this year and made it all the way to the Gulf Coast at Rockport. The endangered cranes spend the summer in Canada and the winter in Texas.