Elites Help Out With Restocking Program That Will Benefit Toledo Bend Reservoir
MANY, La. — During Sunday’s final round of the A.R.E. Truck Caps Bassmaster Elite at Toledo Bend, Hank Cherry of Maiden, N.C., landed a 14-inch bass that was easily one of his smallest fish of the week to that point.
“That must be one of those fingerlings they released this week,” Cherry joked. “They grow fast.”
Actually, they don’t grow that fast.
But the 10,000 Florida-strain largemouth bass fingerlings released by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries on Saturday, May 14, could definitely be a big part of the next generation of big bass at Toledo Bend.
The fish were released in select areas by a group of volunteers that included pros from the Bassmaster Elite Series, B.A.S.S. staff members and locals who care about the future of their fishery. The pros were allowed to pick the best spots.
“Typically, fingerlings stocked into areas of good habitat will have a better chance of survival,” said Kristi Butler, biologist manager for the LDWF. “Our goal with producing and stocking Florida largemouth bass is to increase anglers’ chances of catching larger-than-average bass and the Florida/Northern hybrid largemouth bass grow larger than Louisiana’s native Northern largemouth bass.”
Photo by Trip Weldon/Bassmaster
Anglers who didn’t make the Top 50 cut to fish during Saturday’s semifinal round collected the fingerlings at Cypress Bend Park where they were bagged safely with water and oxygen. The fingerlings, which were produced by Booker Fowler Fish Hatchery in central Louisiana, were about 2 to 2 1/2 inches long — still small enough to be eaten by predator fish, but large enough to find shelter that will aid their survival.
“With this water up so high on Toledo Bend, there should be plenty of good places to put them,” said Alabama pro Randy Howell, who helped with the stocking. “The little fish will have a lot of places to hide, and that’ll just mean even more big fish on this lake in the future.”
Other anglers who helped with the project included Kelly Jordon, Brent Chapman, Mike McClelland, Cliff Crochet, Cliff Prince, Alton Jones, John Crews, Carl Jocumsen, Russ Lane, David Williams, Dean Rojas, Greg Vinson, Todd Faircloth, Jared Lintner, Fabian Rodriguez, Marty Robinson, Casey Ashley, David Walker, Fletcher Shryock and Jonathon VanDam.
In 2015, Toledo Bend Reservoir claimed the top spot on Bassmaster Magazine’s list of 100 Best Bass Lakes in the Nation — and that hard-earned status was due largely to the efforts of the many organizations that work to keep the lake in top form.
Since 1990, LDWF, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Toledo Bend Lake Association, Sabine River Authority and the Sabine Parish Tourist Commission have released more than 28 million Florida-strain largemouth fingerlings into the reservoir. In 2016 alone, LDWF will produce and stock over 820,000 Florida largemouth bass fingerlings into the lake.
To reward anglers for catching big bass — and to ensure those bass are released — the Toledo Bend Lake Association has started the Toledo Bend Lunker Bass Program. Under program rules, anglers who catch a bass that weighs 10 pounds or more can bring it to one of several pre-determined locations to receive a free replica mount — as long as the fish can be released unharmed back into the lake.
After awarding 81 replicas in 2015, anglers have already weighed in 139 qualifying bass this year. Elite Series pro Boyd Duckett caught a 13-pound largemouth during practice for last week’s event, but he released it immediately in hopes of catching it again once the tournament started.
The largest bass caught by an Elite Series pro during competition days was a 9-5 by Stephen Browning. He earned $1,500 as winner of the Phoenix Boats Big Bass award.
The tournament was the 700th all-time event held by B.A.S.S., and daily crowds for takeoffs and weigh-ins totaled more than 15,000. Michigan angler Kevin VanDam won with a four-day total of 96-2, furthering his own record for victories with his 21st.
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