Fri04182014

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Stocking bass in the Rappahannock River

On the afternoon of May 20 on the Rappahannock River, seven boats operated by members of the Fredericksburg chapter of the Concerned Bass Anglers of Virginia, idled in the murky waters around Wilmont Landing in King George. The anglers were awaiting a chance to be a part of history.


The chapter of bass anglers was formed in November of 2011 with hopes of addressing a lagging largemouth bass fishery in the Rappahannock River. In the 1970s some of the members of the CBAV saw incredible bass fishing along the winding and pristine banks of the Rappahannock River from Fredericksburg to well below Port Royal, including the tributaries such as Green Bay, Baylor’s Creek and others. Many tournaments were held over the years and the stringers were quite impressive.

According to the members, that all began to change in a noticeable way in the 1980s. Stringer sizes decreased and the numbers of bass also decreased. Some feel that the introduction of blue catfish has impacted the fishery. Biologists feel that the water quality and droughts have impacted habitat and food sources. Silt from upstream development that washes into the river unimpeded each time we get a heavy rainstorm and the removal of the Embrey Dam also likely had an impact. Whatever the cause, it has been evident that the bass fishery is not what it was.

The Fredericksburg chapter stepped up to the plate and decided to do something about the problem and began brainstorming ideas. Given the success of the stocking of F1 Tiger bass (a cross strain of largemouth bass from the north for their aggressive tendencies and the Florida strain for growth) in the Chickahominy, the group pressed VDGIF to stock the Rappahannock. After waiting a few years they decided to do the work on their own and began raising money a little over a year ago. In one year’s time the group raised $32,000 to purchase nearly 60,000 two-inch fingerlings from the American Sport Fish Hatchery in Montgomery, Ala. The American Sport Fish Hatchery is well known and has a great reputation for quality fish.

The truck and driver helped Scott Herrman, a fisheries biologist from VDGIF, offload the fingerlings into plastic oxygenated bags, which were then transferred to the waiting bass boats to be run to various tributaries where cover and food are decent for the fingerlings in an effort to improve survival. The CBAV members had a GMCO map of the Rappahannock in hand and had planned stocking sites prior to the truck arriving. Various members of the group were assigned locations to stock fish. The fish were marked with OTC, a chemical marker that is not harmful to fish or humans, so that biologists can distinguish the stocked fish from native fish. Herrmann is one of the biologists that normally studies the largemouth population on this section of the river. He had completed some sampling earlier that day at another water and then beat feet up to King George to offer advice and help supervise the stocking to ensure the effort was successful as it could be.

Given decent conditions, the two-inch fingerlings can grow to seven inches by October. VDGIF hopes to sample the waters during that time period to see how well the stocking took. They generally try to sample the river each fall when time and funds permit.

I watched as Herrman weighed the bags of fish to get an accurate estimate of the fingerlings before handing them off to bass anglers. The anglers formed a line to pass the bags to waiting boats. I could tell the moment was historic for them and anyone who enjoys bass fishing. They were proud of their efforts and it showed on their faces and in their voices as they excitedly packed the bags in coolers for runs to the various tributaries. They were realizing their dream of stocking the river with high hopes it will make a big difference and jump start the bass fishery. Banter went back and forth of success catching nice bass on the Chickahominy again and future catches of bass on their home waters of the Rappahannock River.

I was able to ride with one of the CBAV members, Mr. Earl Cooper, to one of the stocking sites in Green Bay. Mr. Cooper is a deputy with Caroline Sheriff’s Office and runs a 19’ Hydra Sport bass boat with a powerful 150 hp Mercury motor on the transom. It was evident that Cooper knew his way around the river as he raced across from Toby’s Point and into the creek before safely powering the boat down off plane and slipping around a few S curves to a beautiful location full of lily pads and teaming with insects and other life in the water.

Cooper was one of many who helped raise money for the stocking of the Chickahominy and he runs the Rappahannock Bass Circuit of tournaments. Cooper is an easy going man who enjoys living life to the fullest. One of the ways he enjoys himself is to bass fish and help others learn to fish.

I noticed right away that although he loves to bass fish he also is not afraid to tell you that he has no problem putting some catfish in the boat for supper too. In fact, on his boat were several rigged rods to go catfishing later that evening.

As we found the preferred location to stock the fish, I readied myself in the rear of the boat as Cooper removed a bag of fingerlings from the cooler and was poised on the bow to release them into the water. I felt like I was seeing something very special as he slipped the fish into their new home. Many pictures were taken as we repeated that scene five more times before racing back down the river to fill the coolers again.
When we arrived back at the dock, a rainstorm broke out, but it did not deter the men. They kept right on stocking bags and running off to various locations to make their dream come true. Cooper joked that he had never had such a limit of fish in his boat at one time. I doubt anyone can top having several thousand bass in one bass boat at one time! I got to see it though and can vouch for his statement.

By fall we will hopefully have a better picture of how well the stocking went. The weather was cool enough and hopefully the conditions in the river will remain decent all summer to allow the fish to grow. Time will tell. Meanwhile know that the men did their part to get the fishery back where it used to be.

The members of the Fredericksburg CBAV include:
Bruce Lee- Coordinator/President
Shaun Tate- Treasurer
Buddy Fines-Secretary
Rondal Eller
Sammy Musselman
Greg Crowe
Terry Curtis
Roger Williams
Donald Satterfield
Earl Cooper
Kellum Brooks

 

Mark Fike

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