By Bruce Ingram
Photos by Bruce Ingram
The western reaches of Virginia host some of the state’s best smallmouth and trout angling. Jeff Williams, regional fisheries manager for the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR), covers some of the issues most of interest to local anglers, starting with the presence of rainbows and browns in native brook trout waters.
“These two non-native species have been introduced into some of the waters that contain native brook trout populations and they, especially the brown trout, do have the potential to negatively impact this native species,” he says. “DWR, however, has implemented protocols to reduce the potential for additional impact to native brook populations.
“We do not stock brown trout where they could establish a wild population within a drainage that contains native brook trout. Also, in drainages where we want to maintain the genetic integrity of an existing native brook trout population, we will only stock triploid brook trout, which are essentially sterile. Given their more piscivorous nature, we also generally will not approve private stockings of brown trout in waters containing threatened or endangered fish species.”
Another relevant issue is how the lack of angler harvest in some instances limits biologists’ ability to effectively manage fisheries. Williams relates that this is especially true with largemouth bass populations in smaller impoundments, which for the most part are “bass crowded.” To remedy these types of situations, DWR typically implements slot limit regulations in an effort to thin out the over abundant smaller fish and improve the size structure of the population. However, without sufficient angler harvest, the regulation is basically ineffective.
“I think agencies were very effective in pushing the catch-and-release ethic back when it was necessary,” Williams continued. “And there are instances where catch and release is still needed. But in the situation I outlined above, the harvest of fish within the legal size/creel limits will not crash the population and may actually aid biologists and managers in achieving management goals. I realize this message may not alter an angler’s inclination to harvest fish, but I think it is important to let anglers know that it is okay to harvest.”
In Southwest Virginia, Williams said that some of the impoundments that would benefit from increased harvest of black bass include Bark Camp Lake in Scott County, Lake Keokee in Lee County, Bear Creek Reservoir in Wise County, and Lake Lincolnshire and Falls Mills Lake in Tazewell County.
Perhaps the most worrisome news in this region is the presence of Alabama bass in Claytor Lake and both the upper and lower New River.
“DWR did not release Alabama bass into Claytor Lake or the New River,” Williams said, “and their presence is likely the result of unauthorized stocking by anglers. Where similar illegal introductions have happened, in states like Tennessee, Georgia, and North Carolina, popular largemouth bass fisheries have either declined or tanked because of competition with Alabama bass. In lakes where that has happened, there have also been declines in pure smallmouth bass. Complicating matters even more is that the Alabama species often hybridizes with spots and smallmouths so there is the potential to lose the pure native strains of these species, especially smallmouth bass.
“Anglers like Alabama bass because they are pretty aggressive and will grow to a bigger size than Kentucky spotted bass will. But the introduction of Alabama bass could really harm the largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass fishery in Claytor, and, of course, the very popular smallmouth bass fishery in the New.”
Finally, Williams encourages fishermen to catch, keep, and eat any Alabama bass they land. It is very difficult for both anglers and biologists to make in-the-field identification concerning whether an Alabama or Kentucky spotted bass has been caught or captured. Because of this and the serious nature of this fish’s introduction, DWR has lifted all creel and length limits for Alabama and spotted bass.