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The Scientific Angler

Determining the Trophy Bass Potential of a Reservoir

Part 1

By Ritch Taylor

Just the other day I was fueling my boat in preparation to fish my favorite North Texas reservoir, Lake Ray Roberts, with the thoughts of the new lake record on my mind. It was just this past year that a 14.39-pound largemouth bass was caught from Lake Ray Roberts. Fish like that just make you want to get on the water. I was thinking how I would put in at Buck Creek and fish the timber near the channel drops and bends. How I would watch the line melt through the water as the jig danced down along the limbs of a submerged tree. Oh no, off to the side the line goes, set the hook, set the hook. Finally, I wake up as gas floods out of the tank and onto my pants.

All of us bass anglers dream of that lake, state, or world record bass. Whether a smallmouth bass in Kentucky or Tennessee or a largemouth bass in California, Florida or Texas. It seems we all think that our favorite lake has the potential to hold that monster we’ve always been after. However, can there be any clues as to the trophy potential of a reservoir? Also, if there is, how do we go about finding the information?

To begin with, the first and easiest way to observe the trophy bass potential is to find out the size of the lake record bass (smallmouth, spotted, or largemouth bass). Usually the State fish and game agencies or agencies responsible for reservoir operations, such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, keep these records. The size of the lake record will give you an idea of the maximum weight potential of bass in the reservoir you are fishing. Not only this, but you may also find the fisherman that caught the bass and find out the general area of the lake where the record fish was caught.

Another good source of information is to simply go to local bait shops or stores and just check out the pictures. By doing this you can get a general idea of the trophy bass size range. For example, if you see mostly 6 and 7 pound class fish and one or two of 8 pounds, you know odds are you will not catch a fish above 7 pounds. To make the search more comprehensive go to several stores and write down the general maximum size range. This should give you a benchmark for fishing success. I’ll never forget the first time I went to Ray Roberts, November 2, 1997. Before I ever put the boat in the water, yes I did check out a lake map, but I went to a local store, Buck Creek Store. There I talked with the owner Ken Banks and he informed me that a 14-pound fish had just been caught and weighed on his certified scales. Now, had I not taken the time to stop I would have never known about that fish or the other huge largemouth bass that had recently been caught. Plus, it pays to stop and talk with local business owners, as they can sometimes give you vital fishing information.

One important thing we all need to do as bass fishermen is read. Most of the time, a local fishing guide magazine will be available at bait shops and local stores. These magazines not only show catches of trophy bass, but usually have articles on area lakes written by local pros. Also, it may be that the lake records for bass are posted in the magazine with lake maps and other supporting information. Likewise, online reading in the form of angler and pros reports can be vital to knowing the best times to catch trophy bass and where. Reports like these typically give us a general idea where to spend our time fishing for lunker bass.

The last major source of information we should take a look at are creel surveys, fisheries reports and research done by the inland fisheries division of your State’s fisheries agency or by universities or other organizations. Typically, these reports will be done on a lake by lake basis. For instance, if I were interested in Lake Ray Roberts I would contact the agency and request the most recent creel and fisheries reports for that Lake. In conjunction, they may inform me of recent research done by them, by local universities or organizations on my lake of interest. With that said, it is a good idea to contact the local university and ask to speak with their fisheries biologist who should be able to direct you to their most recent bass research, if any has been done. All this information should culminate to give you a good idea of the size potential and classes of bass in your lake and maybe even the genetic makeup of these fish.

Recently, I was able to get my hands on a creel survey and fisheries report for Lake Ray Roberts and Lake Fork. It was interesting to note the differences and the similarities. However, one thing really stood out. The biologists with the Inland Fisheries Division, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, found that the percent of pure Florida strain largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) was low in Lake Ray Roberts. To determine this, the agency did an electrophoretic analysis with a total of 40 bass from Lake Ray Roberts. An electrophoretic analysis looks at the genetics of each fish and by fingerprinting the genetic pattern can be used to determine the strain of the bass analyzed. Of the 40 bass analyzed from Lake Ray Roberts, 27 were Northern X Florida strain hybrids, 9 pure Northern strain bass, and 4 were pure Florida strain largemouth bass. Accordingly, due to this analysis, the state was concerned with the trophy potential of the lake. So, this type of information gives an angler detailed information not otherwise available.

In a follow up article to be done in a few weeks a detailed look at the fisheries of Lake Ray Roberts and Lake Fork will be done to address the use of scientific data in our fishing. Not only should we use all available information to determine the trophy potential of the reservoir we fish, we should learn to assess the information collected scientifically to see if it makes sense to us.

In the next article we will talk about fisheries data and how it must be viewed to determine what it really means to us the angler. Lastly, don’t forget to join a local bass club or just get to know a few local anglers. Information you pick up from others will probably be the most informative and helpful. Plus, it will probably be the most fun to obtain as you usually get a few fish tales with it.

God Bless and keep a wet hook.

Ritch Taylor

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Copyright 2002 Online Bass Fishing
Last modified: February 13, 2002