Many private landowners in Texas conduct an annual census on their deer population every fall by helicopter to measure growth of the population. They use this census data to manage deer populations by setting harvest and culling recommendations. Much like deer, a thriving fishery needs to be monitored and adjusted. We conduct fall surveys to measure the annual biomass created during the growing season. This data is then used to set culling and harvest recommendations. By doing this we insure the carrying capacity and population balance of each lake is not compromised. The fall is one of the optimum times of the year to conduct surveys because it is at the end of the growing season. Each year during the fall, natural baitfish production and spawning comes to a halt until the water temperatures rise into at least the high 60’s. At this time, all the natural habitat that houses all the baitfish recruitment begins to lay down and the baitfish loose their protective cover.
There are two key factors that we look at during each fall survey. Number one: bass population abundance. This is a great time for bass to bulk up for the winter due to all the available forage. However, if the bass population is excessive, they will go through their complete food source and spring baitfish populations will struggle to rebound. Number two: protective habitat that will house the baitfish through the winter. The more permanent, productive cover (habitat) a lake has, the higher the carrying capacity. Most lakes do not have ample, permanent habitat to keep baitfish recruitment adequate enough to kick off a great spring spawn. During the fall surveys we create slot limits for harvest, based on the existing bass population. While we are conducting the survey, we will collect all the slot bass to move to other lakes. This helps establish bass populations in elsewhere. Many landowners have several different lakes that we use to can develop the new bass we harvested. Eventually these bass will benefit the entire lake system for private landowners.
Biological Control of Aquatic Vegetation
In trophy bass lakes, we normally cull juvenile bass at higher head count. As the lake and its bass fishery matures, we can increase the length of the slot bass we are culling. In high yield lakes, where the landowners want to catch many bass per outing, we normally cull much less aggressively. The high yield lakes can be quite a juggling act to keep the population high enough for high catch rates but also not exceed the carrying capacity and baitfish production. Fall is also the best time to add supplemental habitat in the form of Christmas tree reefs, cedar trees, or other indigenous tree species to the ranch that can be used to house baitfish populations during the colder months. Most landowners see big tree stumps, large rocks and commercial poly fish habitats in the bottom of the lake as sufficient habitat, however it is not.
To protect baitfish species, we use very fibrous materials so they can elude predation from bass ambush. Christmas trees and native cedar do the job best. In our experience they hold up the longest with slower decay than other indigenous trees/ brush and are the most effective. This habitat should also be placed along the margin where the water meets the land. This is the zone where the baitfish are making a living. The zone between zero and six feet water depth is a crucial area for habitat placement as well. In this area, the small baitfish want to live and thrive. Also, during colder months and in more northern climates we will place additional habitat in the deeper water as well. By placing tree reefs in the eight to twelve feet depths it allows for baitfish to get out of the colder marginal water temperatures.
Taking Care of Your Bass
Of all the lakes we conduct fall electrofishing surveys on, the ones where we balance populations, and add supplemental habitat outperform the others. When bass carry great relative weights throughout the fall and their body condition is in peak condition we experience strong spring spawns and the adult female bass carry very high egg mass. These lakes will provide incredible late winter and early spring fishing. With abundant egg mass fisherman may catch bass that weigh 30% to 50 % more than their standard weight, equaling more potential for catching a trophy size bass. Lakes that are managed in this way also have much higher natural baitfish recruitment, leading to abundant brooder size sunfish ready to spawn in the spring. In turn this type of management plan offers more biomass of bait to the bass and the summer weights remain strong.
We strive to keep relative weights well above a hundred percent all year around for optimal gains in the bass population and this leads to elevated growth rates. The fall fishery and habitat checkup is paramount for proper production and goals are easily met if the surveys are completed each year.
We are currently in North Texas conducting surveys. Each year around October 1st the waters begin to cool enough to properly conduct surveys. We will then move south as water temperatures naturally cools through the fall season. At this time we will harvest, and transfer slot size bass. Call Clearwater Consulting 1-800-622-6899 to schedule your fall electrofishing surveys and get your lake and its fishery surveyed and balanced this fall & early winter.