Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Preliminary Review of a Nameless Bag

OK ,  here's the story :

I have a wonderful sister. We're close , talk a few times a week and get together when we can to hang out. One of the cool things about that is ; she knows I like to fish and has fished with me several times. That adds up to cool presents on birthdays and holidays. I'd love her either way , but she got me an awesome new fishing toy this year that I want to show everyone here on the blog.

It doesn't have any fancy embroidered logo , so I'm not sure where it came from. I think it will work great on the beach or pier. It holds 5 rods , which in practice would work out to 3 rods for me. A 2 piece 7' MH rod for lures , an 8' MH for light bottom fishing and  a 9' H for big fish.


It reminds me of a small golf bag and that's actually a pretty good thing. When carrying it the weight is on the bottom , making it easier to carry like a backpack.The rods go on the outside and there is a great deal of storage inside. It works great for bigger saltwater or lake fishing rods. Smaller rods used for trout and panfish , and 1 piece rods in general , would be awkward because of length and flexibility issues. I can see softer light and ultralight rods bending and making a mess or breaking when you shoulder the bag. Longer rods would be tougher to transport and carry. My guess is 10 12 ' two piece rods are about the maximum , with 12 being on the outside of the comfortable range. It feels nice with an 8 & 9 on the outside and a 6 1/2' inside.

Yes , I did say that I had a 6 1/2' rod inside of this bag. Also packing 2 rigging/lure boxes and a few spools of leader. I attached a pair of pliers/cutters to the bag on a D-hook with a clip and I'm good to go. On a pier I'd probably take a hoop net or a rope gaff , but I can get most of what I need in there and it's still pretty light.

Overall , I think it's a pretty neat setup for fishing light at the beach. Lots of guys have big carts and tons of equipment , but I think this might be a way to get by with less. It would be cheaper and easier than pulling a cart , but would still allow you to be flexible in different situations.

My main complaint is the lack of a cooler full of beer....

Thanks sis , for the awesome presents and for always listening to my fish stories! Love Ya!


Have a great week!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Simple Things

I hope everyone has enjoyed the holiday season! This time of year always reminds me of humble beings that have evolved to appreciate the simple things in life. Bacon , ham , a kind word or a little scratching behind the ears are always enough to snag a smile or a satisfied groan out of our trusted companions. I hope you remembered your four legged friends over the holidays. My trusty lab mix is hanging out in the man cave tonight , as my way of saying thanks for going fishing with me and being there when I need a little unconditional love. The brazen hussy also had a nice big chunk of venison tonight.




That's almost as good as fishing....

Have a great week!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Intimidating Nature of Saltwater Fishing

Just popping in for a second to direct you to a guest post of mine over at The Functioning Fishaholics. I had a great conversation with Func on G+ a few weeks back about breaking into the saltwater scene and this post is an extension of that. You can find it here : The Intimidating Nature of Saltwater Fishing.

There's also a great follow up to my post over at Fly & Gin , which is an excellent addition to the subject at hand. Find it here : On Salt.

On another matter , I'll be taking a break from blogging over the next several weeks as I celebrate the holidays with family. Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 9, 2011

A True Story About the Collapse of a Fishery and It's Recovery : Part 4

*Disclaimer* What follows is my own personal experience in a sad situation. I have talked to local biologists about this , but I may not get all the facts absolutely correct. I hope my personal experiences shed light on the severity of a fish kill that hit very close to home for me and serve as a cautionary tale to those who don't follow rules intended to protect our waters from invasive species. Several factors could align and almost any body of water could experience something very similar or even worse.

You may want to read Part 1 , Part 2 and Part 3 first.

Part 4 : The Road to Recovery

As I write this  , it's almost mid December of 2011. Nearly a full decade has passed since the tragedy that left Smith Mountain Lake without a strong population of it's claim to fame , the Striped Bass. Regular readers will recall that I had several decent catches this year , just a month or two back. My son even got in on the action , something I had my doubts about when he was first born just a few years ago. I won't go so far as to say the fishery has recovered , but I will venture that up to this point VDGIF has done a good job at trying to restore a fishery to it's former greatness. It's been a tough journey , this road to recovery , but it's better than I ever expected. We've had to adapt to new regulations that have changed several times , but I don't feel like I'm wasting my time when I teach my son how to target these fish.

After the fish kill , biologists went into overdrive gathering data. They wanted catch reports. They wanted otolith bones. Gill net data and electroshock studies soon assessed the fishery. As did fish journals and anecdotal reports from anglers. The young fish had survived! We did lose multiple generations of fish to the parasites and starvation , but the bread and butter of fisheries management , 3-4 year old fish who have potential to turn into "quality" fish , had survived. Under the circumstances , it was the best news possible. Many of us had assumed that they were all gone.

The majority of fish 24 inches and smaller survived. A certain percentage of bigger fish survived , but not in any quantity. I would estimate our "average" sized catch , at 6-10 pounds survived at a 50/50 rate , with the most heavily infested fish dying. Anything bigger was effectively gone.

Right away , VDGIF ramped up stocking efforts and implemented a slot limit that goes into effect in the Fall and lasts through late Spring. The slot protects fish 26-36 inches during the time they are most likely to survive when released. The slot is removed during the Summer when mortality is very high for released Stripers and VDGIF encourages anglers to quit fishing after catching their 2 fish limit. Many anglers , including myself , don't fish for Stripers in the Summer now to give the fish a chance to recover.

The numbers of fingerlings stocked almost doubled , going from 250,000 in 2003 to 450,000 in 2004. It's been adjusted yearly to account for survival rates , but most years have seen a minimum of somewhere around 300,000 fingerlings stocked. The late 90's and early 2000's produced a survival rate averaged at 53% and in 2004 this jumped to 62% , possibly due to a decrease in predation.

It's an uphill battle for sure. The number of citations turned in each year has steadily increased from a low of 7 in 2004. I heard a report this year of a 37 pound fish caught on the Blackwater side of the lake. So it is possible for a fishery to recover from near devastation , but it takes time.

Smith Mountain Lake is my home water. It is not perfect , but the amount of life it is capable of supporting and VDGIF's commitment to manage it for trophy Stripers has given me something I lost during the fish kill - hope for the future.


Have a great weekend!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A True Story About the Collapse of a Fishery and It's Recovery : Part 3

*Disclaimer* What follows is my own personal experience in a sad situation. I have talked to local biologists about this , but I may not get all the facts absolutely correct. I hope my personal experiences shed light on the severity of a fish kill that hit very close to home for me and serve as a cautionary tale to those who don't follow rules intended to protect our waters from invasive species. Several factors could align and almost any body of water could experience something very similar or even worse.

You may want to read Part 1 and Part 2 first.

Part Three : " Dead fish everywhere..."

Dead fish everywhere. That's what a friend told me in the Spring of 2003. We had seen the parasites. We knew there had been a winter kill of shad. We did not know the extent of the damage.

At the time it was unthinkable. The Striper fishery had been very good to us over the years. It was reliable and predictable , but also something we had taken for granted. Over a two month period during the Spring of 2003 almost all of the fish over 24 inches died. Parasitic copepods infested the big fish in astounding numbers , making it hard for them to eat. Coupled with a shad kill that made food increasingly hard for the fish to find , this brought about a massive kill that reduced the fishery to a shadow of it's former self.

Near the dam , there were ACRES of dead fish. Not one or two , but thousands of dead or dying fish. It was one of the saddest things I've ever seen. The smell was horrific. A rumor at the time claimed that the mass of fish had clogged the turbines at the dam , which was believable due to the number of dead fish. Forty pound fish could be seen floating , some looked to have been close to 50 before their untimely demise after months of malnutrition. Most of us were surprised by the number of big fish. We knew the fishing had been good , but were surprised by the potential that had been there. This only served to stoke the fires of our misery and anger.

Fingers were pointed , tempers flared. A lot people blamed it on various companies upstream that had possibly done some illegal dumping of one chemical or another. I think that would have been easier for some of us to accept than the sad truth. Our fish had been killed by a perfect storm of natural occurrences. Compounding our sense of helplessness was the fact that nothing could have been done to prevent this tragedy and there was no one to blame.

The big schools of trophy Striped Bass in Smith Mountain Lake had been reduced to a mass of putrid flotsam. I was heartbroken. I thought of selling my boat. I thought about taking up bass fishing. I even contemplated giving up fishing altogether. My favorite species , in my own backyard , was gone.

As Spring turned to Summer local anglers became increasingly distraught. Many quit fishing or targeted other species , believing that the Stripers were gone for good. As I thought about what I wanted to do , a sliver of hope appeared. Most of the small fish and a handful of bigger ones had survived the massacre. Was it possible? Should we try? Could we rebuild the fishery after such a huge setback?

Come back tomorrow for Part 4 to find out!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A True Story About the Collapse of a Fishery and It's Recovery : Part 2

*Disclaimer* What follows is my own personal experience in a sad situation. I have talked to local biologists about this , but I may not get all the facts absolutely correct. I hope my personal experiences shed light on the severity of a fish kill that hit very close to home for me and serve as a cautionary tale to those who don't follow rules intended to protect our waters from invasive species. Several factors could align and almost any body of water could experience something very similar or even worse.

You may want to read Part One first.

Part Two : A Two Headed Monster

Courtesy of arkansasstripers.com
The Fall of 2002 began like any other year here on Smith Mountain Lake. We fished. We caught fish , but as the month of October wore on , we began to notice something wasn't right. Some fish had sores in their mouths. Others had worms. Or more precisely , parasitic copepod ( Actheres ) infestations.

How they ended up in Smith Mountain Lake is and will remain a mystery. One theory holds that they occur naturally in the water and only started to attack Stripers as the fish became stressed. Another tells a different tale that begins with the parasites being introduced on the upper end of the Roanoke River arm of the lake and spreading throughout the system from there. I won't go into my opinions on the matter. For my purpose here we just need to know that the copepods are here to stay.

Like any parasite , copepods are opportunistic. They will attach themselves onto just about any species of fish without hesitation. Generally they are found in the fish's mouth and gills. A study done in Europe indicated that a heavily infested fish had , on average , 7 copepods in its mouth/gills. I wish our fish had been "heavily infested". One fish taken from the lake in late 2002 had up to 400 copepods in its mouth!

Why so many? Several factors worked in unison to allow the Striped Bass population to become so heavily infested with copepods. While Stripers are a hardy fish that thrives in both salt and freshwater , forcing them to live in freshwater takes it's toll. They are far more susceptible to stress from warmer water temperatures than their saltwater brethren. This certainly played a roll in the infestation , because the summer of 2002 was hot and dry across much of the nation , including Virginia. Little rain combined with intense heat allowed SML to warm rapidly and stay that way , increasing the likelihood of stress in the Striped Bass population.

Another factor to consider is that our SML Stripers apparently had little or no natural defense against the parasites. Many parasitic infestations are self limiting in that their life spans and the host's immune system combine to keep an infestation from getting out of hand. It's counterproductive to kill the host. Because our fish lacked the ability to ward off the copepods , whether through natural immunity or stress , the problem quickly got out of hand.

Complicating things further , the harsh winter of 2002/03 caused a winter kill of shad. Being unable to find enough food weakened and stressed the Stripers to a point that allowed the copepods free reign. Actheres and a wicked combination of weather related problems would cripple the trophy Striped Bass fishery at Smith Mountain Lake in just a few short months.....

Check back tomorrow for Part 3 !

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A True Story About the Collapse of a Fishery and It's Recovery : Part 1

*Disclaimer* What follows is my own personal experience in a sad situation. I have talked to local biologists about this , but I may not get all the facts absolutely correct. I hope my personal experiences shed light on the severity of a fish kill that hit very close to home for me and serve as a cautionary tale to those who don't follow rules intended to protect our waters from invasive species. Several factors could align and almost any body of water could experience something very similar or even worse.

Part One : The Golden Years and The Beginning of the End

Smith Mountain Lake , one of the most beautiful lakes in Virginia. Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains the 20,000 + acre hydroelectric project has approximately 500 miles of shoreline dotted with beautiful flora and million dollar homes. The dam was completed in 1963 , forming the upper reservoir of a pumped storage hydro project operated by American Electric Power. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries manages the fisheries and makes recommendations to AEP and counties bordering the lake based on their findings.

The lake is home to a wide variety of game fish , including Striped Bass , Largemouth Bass , Smallmouth Bass ,  Crappie , Catfish and several other species not listed. The deep waters are also home to big populations of forage species like Gizzard Shad and Alewives. Threadfin Shad are occasionally caught , but are deemed undesirable by VADGIF and many anglers.

Stocking of Striped Bass began shortly after the lake was formed and continues today because of limited spawning success in the lake. These fish contribute a great deal to the local economy and earned Smith Mountain Lake a reputation for big fish. During the 80's and 90's catches of 10-15 pound fish were common and you had a very real chance of catching a 30-40 pound trophy every trip. It was without a doubt one of the best Striped Bass fisheries in the nation. Large schools could be found breaking almost anywhere on the lake and the fish could be taken using a wide variety of baits , both real and artificial. Smith Mountain Lake and it's sister in the pumped storage hydro project , Leesville Lake , both produced state records for freshwater Striped Bass in the late 90's. Leesville still holds the record due (in my opinion) to a series of tragic events that brought about the decimation of the fishery in Smith Mountain Lake.

It was too good to last. Once a fishery has reached it's potential there is a precarious balance of fish to forage that must be maintained or the consequences can be dire. The story of Smith Mountain Lake in the past decade is a testament to the importance of good populations of forage species in any fishery.
A SML Gizzard Shad (Photo and hand courtesy of Jody White)
One of the main contributing factors to the collapse of the Striper fishery on SML was a winter kill of Gizzard Shad that happened during the 2002-03 winter. Populations were reduced by a minimum of 60% for an extended period and this was a big setback. The full effect on the fishery wouldn't be understood until several months later , when fish began to die.....

Look for Part Two tomorrow!