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2005 BAIT Report with 2004 Data Too

Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division

by Jay B. Haffner

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Results and Discussion

Bass clubs submitted 490 tournament reports during 2005, a slight increase from the 471 received in 2004 (Tables 1 and 3). Club representatives did an excellent job filling out the cards and few reports were rejected due to incomplete or erroneous information. We want to again, thank all of the participants of the B.A.I.T. program and urge them to keep up the good work! One hundred and ten clubs or tournament organizations provided data in 2005. Two hundred and seventy reports from Alabama waters were received from Dr. Carl Quertermus of the University of West Georgia, who summarizes tournament data from the Georgia B.A.S.S. Federation. Without their support, several Alabama reservoirs would not have been well represented in the quality indicator rankings (Table 2). Once again we must stress that reports from more locations increase the capability of the summaries to reflect actual fish population conditions and not just a good or poor day's fishing by one or two clubs. In 2005, tournament reports were received for 32 bodies of water that were fished 80,799 hours. B.A.I.T. anglers caught 19,526 bass that weighed 34,921 pounds (Table 1). A total of 252 bass five pounds and larger were reported for an overall catch rate of one bass five pounds or larger for every 321 hours of fishing. Tournament anglers weighed in eight bass 8 pounds and larger in 2005 (Table 5). From 2001 to 2004, as few as four and no more than seven bass 8 pounds or larger were reported. The largest bass caught in 2005 came from Upper Bear Lake and weighed 10.50 pounds. With 59 bass weighing five pounds or larger, Guntersville led this category, followed by Weiss with 43.

The average catch rates in 2005 for both number (2.42) and pounds (4.32) of bass per angler-day were substantially higher than in 2004, and both were above their respective 20-year averages (Figure 1). Compared to 2004, fifteen lakes improved in overall fishing success in 2005, only five lakes declined and three lakes remained about the same (Appendix A).

More tournament reports in 2005 were received from Guntersville (55) followed by Weiss with fifty-four. Eufaula (47) and West Point (47) tied for third. Martin, Jordan, Neely Henry, and Logan Martin each had 20 or more tournament reports (Table 1). A good distribution of reports provides more representative catch statistics from which meaningful summaries can be prepared. All club representatives should understand that every tournament report is important if this program is to continue to be successful.

Of the 32 reservoirs from which reports were received, 23 had five or more tournament reports (Table 1). The following comments deal with these 23 reservoirs, which are ranked by quality indicators in Table 2. The percent of successful anglers (those with one or more fish) ranged from 60% at Demopolis to over 88% at Logan Martin. The average weight of bass caught ranged from 1.31 pounds at Martin to 2.74 pounds at Guntersville (Table 1). Catch rates expressed as bass per angler-day ranged from 1.53 at Guntersville to 3.31 at Logan Martin and Wilson. Catch rates as pounds per angler-day ranged from 2.51 at Warrior to 5.50 at Wilson. The statewide average weight for bass caught on all 32 reservoirs was 1.79 pounds.

Overall, Weiss Reservoir accumulated more quality indicator points (94) than any other reservoir in Alabama. Weiss battled its way to the top spot in 2005 after finishing second to Millers Ferry in 2004 (Table 4) and settling for third place in 2003. Wilson (88) placed second while perennial contender Logan Martin (87) came in third. Readers should note that the primary intent of Table 2 was not to determine the overall "best" reservoir, but to characterize the fishery of each reservoir. Anglers should first review the quality indicator that is most important to them. The overall rating would be used to narrow choices. Bass data as expressed in the B.A.I.T. report from reservoirs with harvest restrictions or length limits will be biased since the data is a function of the restrictions. Length limits are imposed to increase the number of fish below a minimum length or within a specified length range (slot limit) which should eventually result in a greater supply of bass above the limit. Because all minimum lengths and length ranges will be above the 12-inch limit fished in most tournaments, the restrictions will reduce the total harvest in numbers and possibly pounds. However, those fish weighed in will be larger (longer) by virtue of the minimum length or slot limit. In the B.A.I.T. report, length limit lakes should rank high for average weight and near the bottom for percent success and bass per angler-day. For instance, bass per angler-day averaged 2.42 statewide in 2005 but for Demopolis it was 1.68. Statewide average weight was 1.79 pounds for all 32 reservoirs but at Demopolis, Guntersville, and Eufaula average weight was over 2.0 pounds. These average weights were higher primarily because the fish weighed in are larger due to the imposed length limits.

Length limits remained in effect during 2005 on West Point (14-inch minimum on largemouth bass), Wilson (14-inch minimum on smallmouth bass), Guntersville (15-inch minimum on all black bass), Eufaula (14-inch minimum on largemouth bass), Demopolis (14-inch minimum on all black bass), Pickwick (14-inch minimum on smallmouth bass), Little Bear Creek (13-16 inch slot on largemouth bass), Harris (13-16 inch slot on all black bass). Effective June 1, 2005, the Smith Lake slot limit was reduced from 13-16 to 13-15 inches for all black bass.

At Demopolis, the two most important quality indicators to anglers (pounds and number of bass per angler-day) steadily dropped in 2004 and 2005. Strong recruitment had bolstered these quality indicators in 2003. Since then however, recruitment and growth rates of largemouth bass at Demopolis have fallen. These same two quality indicators fell in 2004 at Wilson, but rebounded very strongly in 2005. Since 1999, there has been a significant upward trend in the number and pounds of bass weighed in at tournaments on Wilson. Additional sampling and more B.A.I.T. information will be needed to determine if the length limits at these two reservoirs will be effective. At Guntersville, the pounds and number of bass per angler-day steadily dropped in 2003 and 2004. In 2005, all five quality indicators improved. Every year since 2000, the average weight of bass has improved. The number and pounds of bass per angler-day slipped in 2004 at West Point but rebounded nicely in 2005. Though somewhat erratic at times, these two indicators have been on an upward trend since 1999. Fisheries biologists have noted a marked decrease in the fertility of West Point and an increase in the proportion of spotted bass to largemouth bass in this reservoir. Continued improvement was demonstrated in 2004 and 2005 for Harris with pounds and number of bass per angler-day and average weight somewhat higher than previous years. The length limit on smallmouth bass in Pickwick is continuing to help sustain an excellent fishery for this species; however declines in the average weight and pounds and number of bass per angler-day were reported in 2003 and 2004. In 2005, most quality indicators dramatically improved and the number and pounds of bass per angler-day reached all-time highs.

A trend that first appeared in the 1998 B.A.I.T. data that has been a major concern ever since is the dramatic decrease in angler's catch rate of bass over five pounds from reservoirs throughout the State. The average number of hours (effort) needed to catch a five-pound and larger bass dramatically increased beginning in 1998 and reached its peak of 837 the following year. Beginning in 2000 the amount of effort has steadily decreased (Table 2). In 2005, it took 321 hours of fishing effort to catch a bass five pounds and larger or about 25% more effort than it did prior to 1998. It appears now that this trend is continuing to show improvement. The decrease in large fish in Alabama occurred regardless of the river system, reservoir size, reservoir location, or type of management. Regionally this phenomenon was also documented in Tennessee, Georgia and Oklahoma. It is now generally accepted among fisheries biologists and researchers that this decrease in the number of larger fish being caught by anglers can be attributed largely to the impact on bass populations of the Largemouth Bass Virus Disease (LMBV). We are continuing to cooperate with researchers at Auburn University and other agencies to assess the presence of this virus in Alabama bass populations and to monitor any further fish mortalities caused by this pathogen. The decreasing amount of effort required to catch large bass in Alabama since 1999 is a hopeful trend and this has been interpreted by many of the researchers monitoring this disease as an indication that our bass populations are beginning to adapt to this new pathogen. There are still indications that this disease is continuing to impact our bass populations by elevating natural mortality rates above what was observed prior to its introduction but it is hoped that in time our bass populations will develop a greater resistance to this disease. In addition, fisheries management biologists and fisheries pathologists from across the country are now working together to learn more about this disease as quickly as possible in hopes of determining strategies to minimize its impact on our largemouth bass fisheries. To aid us in this effort please report any unusual bass die-offs to your district fisheries office.

Graphs in Appendix A provide you with a historical record of how your favorite waters have performed in the B.A.I.T. program. A few words of caution, these graphs are not restricted to bodies of water with five or more tournaments. Data points for some years may be represented by only a few tournaments. However, those situations are restricted to those water bodies that generally have not been included in the quality indicator rankings in Table 2. Secondly, when comparing water bodies, be aware that the scale on the vertical axes have maximum ranges that vary. You can use these graphs to predict future fishing by looking for trends.

Good luck fishing and don't forget to take a child with you and introduce him or her to your sport. Our children are our future anglers and stewards of Alabama's resources.

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