PORT ARTHUR —
By Chester Moore, Jr.
Largemouth bass are the most popular sport fish in the country and Texas is in my ever so humble opinion the top bass state.
California may have us beat a bit on size and Florida holds its own with overall strong fishery but no state has more quality fisheries and better management than the Lone Star State.
I am semi-obsessed with huge bass and thought it would be fun this week to check out some fascinating and baffling facts about them.
Did you know the only thing stopping a bass from swallowing something is the distance it can open its mouth?
Biologists call this the “gape width factor”.
They eat baby ducks, snakes and there is even a YouTube clip of a bass engulfing a ground squirrel.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) biologist Craig Bonds said as a graduate student, he conducted a study examining bass dietary habits using clear plastic tubes that could be inserted through the mouth, worked into the stomach and used to extract the contents without hurting the fish.
“I found everything from snakes to small turtles, a baby duck and all kinds of fish from sunfish to other bass.”
Plastic fishing lures were a common item and once he found a bunch of worms of the exact same color and length in one bass.
“I don’t know if someone dropped over a whole bag of worms but this bass had a bunch of them in its stomach all the same color and size. They are opportunistic predators and that shows they will eat pretty much anything.”
The University of Illinois (UI) conducted a fascinating study on largemouth bass that shows just how well adapted some bass are at avoiding fishing pressure.
According to UI officials, the study began in 1975 with the resident population of bass in Ridge Lake, an experimental study lake in Fox Ridge State Park in Charleston.
The fishing was controlled. For example, anglers had to reserve times, and every fish that was caught was put into a live well on the boat. The fish were measured and tagged to keep track of how many times each fish had been caught. All fish were then released.
"We kept track over four years of all of the angling that went on, and we have a total record there were thousands of captures," said David Philipp, ecology and conservation researcher in a statement published by UI.
"Many fish were caught more than once. One fish was caught three times in the first two days, and another was caught 16 times in one year."
Then after four years, the pond was drained, and more than 1,700 fish were collected.
"Interestingly, about 200 of those fish had never been caught, even though they had been in the lake the entire four years.”
A few years ago I wrote about the fact Florida largemouth bass seem to be more elusive than our native strain of northern largemouth and how scientists in Texas have uncovered other genetic secrets.
This was from a study conducted by Gary P. Garett of TPWD’s Heart of the Hills Research Station.
“Two generations of selective breeding for vulnerability to angling in largemouth bass Micropterus sallnoides revealed that this trait is heritable. Fish selectively bred for angling vulnerability were more likely to be caught multiple times than were those bred for wariness,” Garrett wrote.
“…analysis showed the trait was associated with subspecific differences and that northern largemouth bass were innately easier to catch than were hybrids between Florida bass and largemouth bass. These differences will be exploited by fishery managers in a Texas reservoir with a goal of providing high catch rates and trophy potential in largemouth bass.”
Garrett noted that avoidance behavior as well as the ability to discern
natural prey from artificial replicas likely would be best developed in those not harvested (fish caught and released to breed again.)
“Selective pressure, however, will influence future generations only if a trait is heritable. If angling vulnerability has a genetic component and there is genetic variation in the trait, succeeding generations would be made up of a greater proportion of those less susceptible to angling.”
Isn’t it ironic that we imported Florida bass to increase the quality of our fishery and yet it has probably made bass fishing more difficult?
It would be difficult to argue the introduction was a mistake because it has done such great things for the size of our fish. I for one am glad TPWD did this so many years ago.
It is interesting to note that science backs up the assertions of so many anglers who have long said fishing pressure even in what is chiefly a catch and release fishery has a dramatic impact on how the fish bite.
Technology is giving us a more intimate look at fish and wildlife than we ever thought possible. It will be exciting to see what they uncover about largemouth bass in the future.
(To contact Chester Moore, e-mail him at email@example.com. You can hear him on “Moore Outdoors” Fridays from 6-7 p.m. on Newstalk AM 560 KLVI.)