I have been bass fishing for 21 years and have read and heard all types of stories about bass and why certain things like slot limits and size limits work and don’t work. I have read and heard arguments on the difference between native bass and Florida bass and how they affect the numbers and size of fish we are catching. Many different anglers have different opinions on many different things and I thought why not go talk to a professional and get his side of things. The professional I’m talking about is not a pro-fisherman but rather a guy who studies fish and their habitat for a living. I set an appointment to interview a Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Biologist, Bobby Reed. I called Bobby and told him I wanted to write an article for Ultimate Bass and the interview would consist of questions that the members of Ultimate Bass had for him. Bobby gracefully agreed to do the interview and I will do my best to put his answers and views in this article.
Before I get started with the questions and answers I want to make it clear that I will not quote Bobby word for word and if I don’t express his view points in the way he wanted them expressed I apologize to him now. The one thing I learned as a police officer is reporters will miss quote you in a heart beat, not intentionally of course but it happens, and if I do that in this article I want it understood that these are not direct quotes. Also Bobby used some fancy terminology when he was talking to me and I won’t be using that because one I can’t pronounce most of it and two I wouldn’t be able to come close to spelling any of it correctly, so I will keep it simple.
One of the first questions I asked Bobby was what freshwater bodies of water were affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Bobby told me that there is about a thirty mile stretch North of the Gulf from one end of the state to the next that was affected. He said that bass can live in salt water as long as the levels of salt are not more than 8 parts per 1000 gallons. Now some bass can adapt to higher levels but for the most part that is the equation they use. This thirty mile stretch he spoke of has the salinity way higher than 8 parts per thousand. He also said that all the leaves and sticks that were blown into the water in causing oxygen depletions in many of the bodies of water. These factors are causing fish kills all along this stretch. He told me they went to the Calcasieu River this past week and tried to get some fish samples by shocking them up. Normally they shock up between 20 to 60 bass in a hour on the Calcasieu River. When they did their sample this past week they did not shock up a single fish in the hour they were out there. That should give an idea of the severity of this fish kill. He went on to tell me he believes their will be further fish kills later in the year if we do not get some significant rain this winter.
The next question I had for him was why did the state of Louisiana not have a state wide size limit on bass. He told me that you in order to place a size limit on a body of water you should have one of four conditions. The first condition would be a very slow growth rate. The state Of Louisiana does not have a slow growth rate on bass, in fact most bass will reach maturity, 11 inches, in a year or two. Now when I say they reach maturity I mean they are capable of reproducing. The second reason would be the fish in a particular body of water does not have a good spawn for whatever reason. The third reason is the bass is not the primary predator in the lake . And the forth reason is it’s a new body of water and they are introducing the new stock. They will put a size limit on the new lake to protect the new stock. He told me that marsh bass, which there are lots of marshes in this area, generally only live for about four years and that about 90% of bass in any certain marsh are in the 14 inch size range. He went on to say that a size limit puts a target size for fisherman to start harvesting fish. The problem with this is the fish that reach that size limit are harvested while all the smaller ones are not. The fish that are that target size and are not caught are now forced to compete for forage. What you end with is an over population of small fish and an unhealthy fish population. Remember there are a lot of fish under that size limit that have reached maturity and they will spawn. The target fish are being harvested, the smaller ones are reproducing and the ones that made it to a larger size can’t keep up with eating the smaller ones. This cycle continues and you end up hurting the fishery more than helping it. Think about it, if you ever fished a lake with a size limit on it you generally catch a bunch a fish just under the size limit, a few fish at or just above the size limit and a few bigger ones. Putting a state wide size limit in Louisiana would not help the fisheries.
I had a question from one of the members as to why there were seasons on bass in some of the Northern states. He told me the reason was because the fish up there have a very slow growth rate and it takes them a long time to reach maturity. They need the mature fish to be able to have a successful spawn and keep the population up. In the Southern states the fish grow almost year round but that is not the case in Northern states and they have to have seasons to have a healthy fish population.
I also asked him if slot limits were working in this state and if they weren’t why? He told me the main reason slot limits don’t work on certain bodies of water is because the fisherman don’t keep the small fish. In order for the slot to work anglers need to understand they must keep fish, especially the small ones. He said what has happened is the slot has basically turned into a size limit. Instead of keeping small fish the anglers are throwing them back and keeping the ones that are just over the slot. What has happened is we have made the upper size of the slot a target fish and you fall into the situation I talked about with size limits. Educating anglers and getting them to keep small fish is a task. With the great push for catch and release and the idea that if they throw the small ones back they will grow for the next year is having an opposite affect on slot lakes. He told me if there are people out there that don’t eat bass or just don’t want to mess with cleaning them they need to keep the smaller fish and give them to someone who will utilize them. He also told me they determine to make a lake a slot lake only if the fish can grow out of that slot in a year or two. If the lake is not capable of producing fish that grow that fast they will not make it a slot lake.
I also asked him about vegetation and what they are doing to control it. He told me that they have a big budget for weed control and they use bugs and chemicals to control it. He said due to the hurricanes they will more than likely have a lot more money to control weeds in the Northen portion of the state. The hurricanes have killed a lot of vegetation down south so the need for weed control down here will not be that great. He also told me that spraying the vegetation does not harm the fish.
Another hot topic I wanted to ask him about was Florida Bass and wether or not they are less aggressive than native bass. Here is what he had to say. He told me that Florida bass digest their food a little more proficiently than the native black bass. He got into all kinds of technical terms on this but like I said at the beginning I will keep it simple. Basically a Florida bass gets more out of what it eats than a black bass, therefor he doesn’t need to feed as often. He did say however that when the Florida bass feeds it is more aggressive than the black bass. He also said that a bass does not only feed when it’s hungry. There are three reasons a bass feeds: 1. The obvious, he is hungry. 2. He is in a feeding frenzy. What this means is he is greedy. An example of this would be if there are 5 bass just hanging around and some type of prey comes by one of them will swim out and eat it before another can. It’s not that he is hungry he just doesn’t want anyone else to have it. 3. He acts on reaction. This is where a bait comes by and he just can’t take it he has to have it.
Another thing he discussed with me was the stocking of fish in our fisheries. He said that in many cases stocking fish is not really helpful. Here is the reason for that. A single bass can produce thousands and I mean thousands of fry. If they are stocking lets say 200, 000 finger lings into an impoundment what type of impact do you think that really makes. Really and truly a few fish can do that so the actual need to stock in many places is just not there. Stocking fish in impoundments that have already been established is, from my understanding, just a way to introduce genetics into that impoundment. Now stocking new impoundments is needed just to get things rolling.
Bobby Reed had all kinds of good information and to put it all down would almost be impossible, well at least not with out messing it all up. He changed my views on many things and helped me understand things I never understood. The fact that Bobby is a biologist is not what made me change my mind. It was the way he presented everything to me with great detail and explanation. I gave him the address to the website and I asked him if he would come give a seminar at the UBCS. He said he would come to the UBCS if he did not have anything conflicting on his schedule.
In closing I would encourage you to go to you local fish biologist and ask him the questions that concern you. They are an untapped resource who are available to all anglers. Instead of believing everything you read in magazine articles written by people who think they know what going on go straight to the source. These guys study fish and their habitat for a living. I hope that some of your questions were answered and that you learned a little something, but don’t take my word for it go and do some research on your own . You may be surprised at some of the answers you will find.
Jared Leblue (rattle)
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