As demonstrated by the incredible catches at the Chevy Open, the Potomac River is one of the nation’s finest bass fisheries. The Potomac yielded a near-record catch of 1,706 bass weighing 3,917 pounds, 2 ounces on the first day of competition. The only tournament in Wal-Mart FLW Tour history to yield more bass was the 2004 stop on Lake Champlain, which produced over 1,800 fish.
Don Cosden, chief of regional operations for Maryland’s Inland Fisheries Department, classified the bass population in the Potomac as stable and said the fishery is in good health.
“We’re seeing real good reproduction,” Cosden said. “We don’t see fish that are quite as large as impoundment fish, however. Fish that dwell in impoundments can find habitat and stay there all their lives. These tidal-water fish have to move and adapt. The 4- and 5-pound fish are abundant and are in excellent shape.”
Growing for the future
Despite the encouraging state of affairs, the Maryland Inland Fisheries Department continually searches for ways to augment and enhance the bass population on the Potomac. Their latest efforts involve an extensive bass-tagging study in the tidal freshwater portion of the river.
A donation of $5,640 from FLW Outdoors, administered through the FishAmerica Foundation in conjunction with the June 22-25 Chevy Open on the Potomac River, made this project possible. The primary beneficiaries are the anglers in La Plata, Md., and nearby communities.
“We stocked somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 fish earlier this month,” Cosden said.
The fish that were stocked were marked with the use of calcein. Calcein is a chemical agent that shines brightly in the presence of calcium. A variety of procedures have been used in the past to assess the hatchery contribution to the adult bass population with varying degrees of success. The calcein markings provide a quick, nonlethal method of differentiating between wild and hatchery fish.
“You can track smaller fish with calcein, which is an advantage,” added Cosden. “We don’t have to sacrifice fish with this method.”
Does size matter?
Fishery biologists have long operated under the belief that larger hatchery fish will have better survival rates than smaller fish. However, raising larger fish is extremely expensive and can quickly exhaust a hatchery’s resources. In years past, the department typically stocked bass that were approximately 2 or 3 inches in length. The bass that were recently stocked were less than half an inch.
“I would call them early fingerlings,” Cosden said. “They were well beyond fry fish.”
Within the next month or so, a crew assigned to the project will conduct an adult-stock assessment. Using a special black light, the surviving tagged fish will be easily identifiable. These assessments will continue into the fall as the final data is processed, analyzed and reported on in Federal Aid Reports.
The goal of the project is to maximize stocking efficiency by determining survival rates as a function of size. The marked bass will also be used to verify aging procedures, which will lead to better estimates of growth and mortality.
“Are we going to be successful in stocking these fish at a smaller size?” Cosden asked rhetorically. “Are we going to get an adequate survival? If it is equal, then presumably it makes more sense to stock the smaller fish, mainly because we can stock more fish and because it’s less expensive. We’ll be tweaking our procedures in the future to be as efficient as possible.”
Reeling in the resources
In addition to FLW Outdoors’ standard $5,000 donation, the June 22-25 Chevy Open on the Potomac River yielded another $640 for the bass-tagging project through fans and competitors who purchased special wristbands.
New in 2005, FLW Outdoors, FAF and BP-Castrol are administering a conservation program through which the wristbands, which signify support for the preservation and restoration of America’s great fisheries, are sold for a minimum of $1 each. Proceeds are donated to a local fisheries-enhancement project. To date, more than $3,900 has been raised through the wristband program alone.
The next opportunity to support the new conservation program will be at the Forrest L. Wood Championship July 13-16 in Hot Springs, Ark., on Lake Hamilton. All donations received at the tournament will benefit a local fishery.
As it has in the past, FLW Outdoors will continue to donate a minimum of $5,000 at each of its seven FLW Tour events in 2005 as well as at a variety of its other tournaments.
In 2000, FLW Outdoors announced its partnership with the FishAmerica Foundation, the conservation arm of the American Sportfishing Association. Since then, FLW Outdoors has directly donated nearly $250,000 and helped to generate more than $1 million for local conservation projects.