One thing you will never find is a bass angler happy with catching medium-sized fish. Bigger is always better. That has been the strategy for the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division for decades.
One method to achieve a larger bass is to introduce different genetic traits into the population. That occurred recently when Lake Jordan received its final stocking of Florida bass fingerlings.
WFF’s Fisheries Section took the bulk of Alabama’s Florida bass production and stocked the fingerlings into Lake Jordan, a Coosa River impoundment.
“The goal of that is not to increase the number of largemouth bass in the lake,” Nichols said. “It’s simply an effort to introduce Florida bass genetic material into that lake’s native bass population.”
The first Florida bass stockings occurred at Lake Guntersville in the 1990s. They were stocked on top of a true northern bass population. The stocking efforts shifted Guntersville bass from a pure northern bass to an integrated population with Florida bass traits. Later studies indicated that about 30 percent of the Guntersville bass population’s genetic material came from the introduced Florida bass.
“This showed that the stocking was successful, and it had some performance enhancement on the fishery,” Nichols said.
Fisheries biologists introduce Florida bass into a population in areas where that subspecies will thrive, mainly the warmer waters of the South and Southwest. Florida bass traits enhance performance, which means larger numbers of trophy bass are being caught with a larger average size.
“Florida bass are known to live a little longer, and they have the genetic propensity to grow to a larger size,” Nichols said. “They don’t necessarily grow faster, but they do seem to live longer, which allows them to grow to a larger size. However, what has been observed in situations where Florida bass have been stocked on top of northern bass is you get, at least temporarily, a population-wide hybrid vigor. Hybrid vigor is when you cross two closely related species and the offspring outperform the parents. We saw some of that in Guntersville. They’re seeing the same thing at Chickamauga in Tennessee.”
The downside is the initial hybrid vigor does not occur with subsequent stockings.
Nichols said several years ago the Mobile River basin received several Florida bass stockings, but the results were muted compared to Guntersville. Farther up the Coosa River, there was significant success with Florida bass stockings at Lay Lake several years ago.
Florida bass introductions have been conducted at lakes throughout Alabama, including Wheeler, Lewis Smith, Martin, Logan Martin, Demopolis and Aliceville with mixed results.
In the Lake Jordan stocking effort, a total of about 900,000 Florida bass fingerlings were released in the three-year period. However, Nichols said that’s not a huge introduction in the grand scheme of bass reproduction. It equates to 100 fish stocked per acre, while natural reproduction can produce 10 to 20 times that number. A small percentage of both natural and introduced fingerlings actually survive to the next spawn. Results do not become apparent for several years after the initial stockings.
Nichols said, for the last four to five years, that annual production of Florida bass fingerlings has been between 300,000-400,000. Even if the hatcheries were able to significantly boost Florida bass production, Nichols said it still would have little impact on the large reservoirs.
“It’s a numbers game,” he said. “Say we bumped up hatchery production and were able to crank out 1 or 2 million Florida bass fingerlings, and we took the entire production and stocked them in Guntersville. Guntersville is a 70,000-acre reservoir. That works out to stocking less than 30 fish per acre.”
When natural reproduction is between 2,000 and 3,000 fingerlings per acre, it does not produce much of an impact, he said.
A couple years ago, Guntersville bass anglers were afraid the bass fishery was in dire straits because of a reduction in the number of quality bass that were being caught. Nichols said that is the cyclical nature of any large body of water.
In the years following great recruitment in 2008, Guntersville was one of the best bass fisheries in the country. Then that cyclical nature of reservoirs kicked in, and those fish spawned during the super year-classes started to die out or were caught. Anglers used to the fantastic fishing imagined the worst and called for more fish stockings.
“People had the perception that the lake was collapsing,” Nichols said. “But it wasn’t collapsing. It was just going back to normal. As we have discussed over the past couple of years, we told everybody the lake was going to recover.
“And we’ve just recently had another bump in the Guntersville bass fishing. It’s not because of stocking; it’s because we’ve had a couple of strong year-classes that are just coming into the fishery.”
By David Rainer, ADCNR