Friday, February 24, 2012

The 2012 B.A.S.S.National Conservation Summit.

The Angler Advocate is attending the B.A.S.S. National Conservation summit in Shreveport, La. This event is a gathering of the Nation's leading fresh water conservation leaders, and state and Federal resource managers. The agenda is loaded with great presentations and topics. Training and mentoring of our State conservation directors is also a big component. I will update the blog through ought the weekend.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Wildlife Draws the Short Stick at Conroe Again

Habitat is again under attack on Lake Conroe, and those responsible have little regard for fish, wildlife, or public safety. A group of local anglers have discovered some large areas of standing timber that have been recklessly removed by yet unidentified individuals in Live Branch on the South end of the lake. There are some videos posted on the Fishing Across Texas forum which you can view here.

TPWD District Biologist Mark Webb surveyed the lake, and here is his report.

"While on the water today we investigated reports of stumps being cut in Live Branch in the south end of the lake.  With the exception of 3 small stumps at the mouth of Live Branch in open water the Richardson's contractors were not operating in Live Branch.  What we found was that some person or persons cut a large area of timber off at or near the water line from the middle of Live Branch to further back in the cove.  The cutting appears to have been done with a chainsaw from a boat.  Again, this cutting was not done by the Richardson's contractors nor was it approved by TPWD or SJRA.  SJRA is investigating to try to determine who is responsible.  We don't have an accurate count of the trees damaged yet but it is certainly a significant number!  If you know of anyone who witnessed this cutting or witnessed cutting in other areas of the reservoir besides what was done by the Richardson's contractors (Stump Busters stump cutting barge or Deep Six stump cutting divers) please let me or Blake know."

Members of the Fishing Across Texas Forum attended the SJRA Board meeting and testified before their commission. You can listen to that portion of the meeting here.
SJRA Recording.wmv - YouTube

It is great to see anglers standing up to fight for their home lake. The individuals who took it upon themselves to destroy habitat on a public body of water without authority from SJRA or TPWD need to be brought to justice. By cutting the stumps off at the waterline, they are threatening public safety and could potentially be held responsible should an accident occur.

SJRA needs to ultimately develop a stump removal policy which maintains a balance between protecting habitat and public safety. I encourage the SJRA to adopt a policy similar to the one recently implemented by the Guadelupe-Blanco River Authority which can be found here.

If anyone has any information as to the identitiy of those responsible for the stump cutting in Live Branch on Lake Conroe, please contact SJRA.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

TPWD Seeking Input From Lake Jacksonville Anglers

TPWD proposes regulation changes for lakes from time to time based on scientific data and public input. If you fish Lake Jacksonville, please take just a couple minutes to fill out this quick survey.

Here is some background information from TPWD.We have been hearing discontent from some of the anglers in the Jacksonville area regarding the 18-inch minimum length, 5-fish/day daily bag limit for largemouth bass in effect since 2000. With changes in habitat following release of grass carp in 2006 and 2007 and the floods of 2007 these anglers are concerned that although 14-16 inch fish are still abundant, fish over 18” are hard to find and this interferes with their ability to conduct several very popular night time tournaments. This was such a concern that at least one of the tournaments has temporarily moved to Lake Palestine. These angers have requested that TPWD consider a modification to the current regulation. Craig Bonds, Dan Bennett, and myself met with the anglers before Christmas to try to understand their concerns. Although they wanted to revert the regulation to the statewide 14-inch minimum length, 5-fish daily bag our concern was that doing so would cause the size distribution of largemouth bass to pre-2000 conditions where the population truncated at 14 inches with few fish over 14. The 18-inch minimum length limit has been successful in restructuring the population and maintaining fish up to 18” in length but has never produced a real surplus of fish over 18” (see attachment). This is understandable and is a function of how a minimum length limit works on relatively infertile systems like Lake Jacksonville. Although the anglers could understand what we were saying about the current regulation they felt that it still interfered with tournament activity. During the meeting we discussed several possibilities including changing tournament format to a “paper” tournament or a format similar to TTBC where fish could be weighed in the boat and immediately released but they did not think these were workable options. They also asked about a tournament exemption to allow them to temporarily retain fish 14-18 for later release but this is just not an option available in our regulation tool box at this time. We did discuss a compromise regulation that would remove the minimum length limit; however, only two largemouth bass less than 18 inches could be retained each day. Combined daily bag limit for all species of black bass would remain 5-fish/day; (this regulation is currently in effect at Lake O. H. Ivie in West Texas). Because the compromise regulation is already in use it is much easier to justify than an entirely new type of regulation. Although they would have preferred the 14”-minimum length they could see the benefit (to them) of the compromise regulation and they are currently preparing a petition to propose it. They understand that there are potential risks associated with revision of the regulation, including the possibility of fewer fish over 18 inches, but they believe the benefits to tournament activity resulting from the ability to retain two fish below 18 inches justify those risks.

We attempted to carry this request through our Senior Administration for the 2012 regulation cycle but the Commission had already been advised of all proposals for this year so the earliest it could be considered is for the 2013 cycle. In the mean time the Senior Administration would also like us to investigate whether the proposed change is agreeable to the majority of Jacksonville anglers or just this sub-group. To do that we are preparing an on-line survey that anglers can access to voice their opinion about this regulation change and to provide some demographic information about themselves that will help us better understand their reasoning for that opinion.
We will keep the survey active until June to allow anglers to cast their votes. The way the survey works is that only one vote can be accepted from each individual IP address so stuffing the ballot box is minimized. If it appears that most anglers are in favor of the change we will propose it at the beginning of the next regulation cycle in July.
This is sort of an experiment in new technology for us and we hope we can better inform anglers of proposed changes before they see them in the Fishing Guide.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

What Stewardship Looks Like.

The fishing industry lost a man larger than life this week with the untimely passing of Ray Murski. Ray was not just a legend, but a one of a kind type of guy who was a friend to everyone and a tireless advocate for our sport. I was privileged to know Ray through our shared appointment to the TPWD inland fisheries advisory board. Ray has been a fixture in the fishing world from the early days where he fished Ray Scott's first event on Beaver lake in 1967. He has been a professional angler, businessman, and a philanthropist to all things outdoors. He lists one of his greatest accomplishments as introducing over 50,000 children to fishing and the outdoors, but I tend to think that number could be 5 million if you count every young angler who caught his first fish on a Strike King lure. As a successful businessman, Ray contributed untold amounts of money to support programs like the Texas Brigades and focused his efforts on programs which benefited youth in the outdoors and conservation. Ray gave his time tirelessly to serve on many advisory boards and help influence the direction of many outdoor related programs. Without question his legacy will live on through his family, friends, and the Ray Murski Memorial Fund set up through Inwood National Bank in Dallas.  For details call 214-451-7250.

You don't need to be the owner of a multi million dollar company to be a steward. I know many and Andrew Oliver, the owner of Get Five Lures is one of them. Get Five is the definition of a start up company with the introduction of The Dinero in early 2011. Andrew has demonstrated his company philosophy of BE GREAT ON AND OFF THE WATER by supporting many programs and charities in the company's short history. "It’s not just a slogan" says Andrew "It’s a philosophy that goes to the core of why I started Get Five and how I want it to operate as a company." In the last year, Get Five has supported Fishing for Freedom, Warriors on the Water, March of Dimes, Seven Coves Bass Club Habitat Project, the Dell Children’s Hospital Kid Fish Event, ALS Therapy Development Institute, and countless club events and benefit tournaments across the country.
Andrew believes anglers need to give back more than they take from the sport we all love. Giving back can be monetary, involve donating your time at a youth event, working on a habitat project, or attending a public hearing defending anglers rights or resources.

Ray Murski's presence will be missed by many, but I am confident that others will step up to fill his shoes and Andrew Oliver is just one such young man who will make a difference.

The Stumpy Stumps of Lake Dunlap

If it seems like I have a lot of stump stories on my new blog, it is not by coincidence. In Texas we have a lot of lakes which have been hit hard by the drought leaving lakes low and the timber which is normally well under water in plain view. I have received reports from all over Texas reporting incidence of trees and habitat being removed by lake front property owners. Currently river authorities and resource managers across Texas have different policies regarding tree removal, and we are working with TPWD to implement a more reasonable and uniform policy across the state to protect habitat.
Lake Dunlap's story started not as the result of drought, but rather a scheduled draw down to make repairs to the dam. Lake Dunlap is a 410 acre river lake located between New Braunfels and Seguin on the Guadalupe River. (MAP). Carl Adkins who serves as the Water Policy Coordinator for the Texas B.A.S.S. Federation Nation was tipped off by a friend that a group of  Preserve Lake Dunlap Association members were pushing to have large areas of timber cut in the lakes lower end to improve the area for skiing. Carl reached out to TPWD district biologist John Findeisen and director of research and management Dave Terre making them aware of the plans. TPWD contacted the river authority GBRA and a meeting was established which allowed all parties to discuss the project. A series of trips to the lake were made by boat with anglers and lake association members on board along with TPWD and GBRA to identify areas which would be left alone and marked. Stumps which posed navigational hazards were also identified for removal. The project was shaping up to be a textbook example of how anglers can get involved with resource managers and other lake users and work together to meet the needs of each group. Unfortunately things did not turn out quite as planned.
On a rainy day in December just days after work had been completed by GBRA cutting and marking the identified areas, individual property owners took it upon themselves to modify the plan, and with 3 boats they managed to cut 80 or more stumps at the water level which at the time was 3 1/2' below normal pool.  The brazen actions of these individuals created a public safety issue and once GBRA became aware of the work of these individuals they took immediate action to close the lake to all boats and prevented more habitat destruction. (GBRA emergency directive)
The Texas B.A.S.S. Federation Nation has since been working with TPWD and GBRA pushing for mitigation by these individuals for the habitat loss as well as developing a plan which will limit skiing in this area given the newly cut stumps which are now at an unsafe depth below the surface for skiing. I will keep you posted as to how this develops.

Conroe Navigation Project Update

One the great things that comes out of a controversy sometimes is the communication created by people with different views. Myself and Ron Gunter my assistant CD have begun chatting with a group of anglers on the Fishing Across Texas Forum. While often I go into a meeting trying to represent all anglers, I admit that sometimes my perspective as a tournament bass angler may not parallel the views of a cat fisherman or crappie angler. Its not that we are that different in our perspective, but rather our experiences on the water may lead us to different concerns. I am used to roaring up the lake in my bass boat dodging skiers and cigarette boats forgetting that a guy in a 12 ft Jon boat running trot lines or tied to a tree may have a different perspective of those larger recreational boats.
The upper end of Lake Conroe above the 1097 bridge is considered by many Conroe anglers to be a refuge from the crazy congestion of the lower end of the lake. Some anglers are concerned about the prospect of boat lanes which may open up the upper end to skiers and pleasure boats making it nearly impossible to tie up to a tree and enjoy a relaxing day on the lake wetting a line. I think this is a valid concern, and while I still support the creation of marked navigational channels, I believe that some serious discussion must occur regarding the management of these areas. Since this project was begun with public safety in mind, there needs to be consideration given to the use, speed, and wake created in these boat lanes as to minimize risk to smaller craft which frequent the upper end. Ski areas should be restricted or designated to certain areas and it may be necessary to consider some no wake restrictions for larger vessels and wake board boats. I have always been of the opinion that anglers need to have a unified voice and work together more effectively. By doing so, we can represent our interests more efficiently. I intend to share these concerns with SJRA and TPWD and encourage these other angling groups to share their views as well.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Stumped on Lake Conroe

As many anglers in Texas know, Lake Conroe is one of those fisheries with a colorful past. Known for producing giant bass and more than a few ShareLunkers, anglers treasure this fishery. Lake Conroe also has had its share of controversy through conflicting priorities centered around hydrilla and management of aquatic vegetation. Hydrilla came, then it went, came back again, then went again along with thousands of acres of native vegetation planted by TPWD and angling groups including TBBU, TABC, and Seven Coves Bass Club. Home owner associations have been very effective in pressuring resource managers into keeping hydrilla in check and as a result, it has been difficult to maintain a balance between maintaining native vegetation and keeping hydrilla at bay. Through the process of working through conflict and balancing the needs of anglers and lake front property owners came the Lake Conroe Advisory Board. The LCAB, hosted by the San Jacinto River Authority is made up of representatives from the Lake Conroe Association, Bentwater, and other homeowner groups as well as angler associations including TBBU, TABC, TBFN, B.A.S.S. and Seven Coves Bass Club. This group met very effectively for several years while the plan for hydrilla control was being implemented. A relationship between property owners and anglers was forged and good communication prevailed.
Fast forward a year or two later, and Lake Conroe is feeling the brunt of a record Texas drought. The lake is 8 ft low and lake front home ownership is more of a concept than reality. Access is severely impacted and a cause for frustration for many anglers and homeowners alike. With the new found real estate between their dock and the water, many homeowners have discovered just how many stumps and trees inhabit Lake Conroe. In the early days, it is my understanding that the lake filled quickly and much of the standing timber was not removed. Many of the trees have broken off below the water's surface at normal pool, but with the lake as low as it is, much of this timber is now visible. It is likely that low lake levels will be common in the future given competing uses for Lake Conroe water.
The stumps which are perceived as hazards are now the target of a new project in the name of public safety. The project opportunity arose when a stump removal contractor from Georgia had some downtime from a project he was hired by a developer to do on Lake Livingston. A plan was hastily developed, money was appropriated, and permission was given by the San Jacinto River Authority. The stump removal project developed by a local marina owner and the LCA however is a case study in how not to begin a large project which impacts habitat on a public water body. I share the homeowners concerns for public safety. I have lost my share of lower units due to underwater hazards and safe navigation is something all anglers can get behind. The problem however, lies with the oversight to properly involve TPWD in order to evaluate the plan's impact on habitat. The communication regarding where and how many stumps to be cut was also a problem and a last minute deal to cut the price per stump by the contractor increased the number of stumps to be cut from around 250 to 400. All of these plans were made without consideration for the impact on habitat, fish, or wildlife.
Once word got out about this poorly conceived plan, TPWD and angling groups got involved and asked that the plan be reviewed, and impact on habitat be considered prior to any work being done.
I am now happy to report we will likely see a project which in the end, will be a benefit to all boaters on Lake Conroe.
The best meetings always have
law inforcement invited
The LCAB was convened at the invitation of SJRA and a plan was proposed which would identify hazardous stumps to be cut, and others to be marked. A highway of boat lanes is being proposed that will be cleared, mapped, and marked to the benefit boaters for years to come. With the involvement of TPWD comes the realization that there may be tens of thousands of matching dollars available from USFWS boater access grants making this project far more beneficial than what the homeowners association could have done on their own.
One of the most important lessons learned from this is the reminder that when everyone works together, we can accomplish far more than what we can do on our own. I will remain involved with this project and post updates as they become available.

You can view a copy of the PowerPoint presentation given at the meeting here