Fishing on my beloved Lake Martin, Alabama, has changed in the last ten years.
It is still great, I think. It has just changed. There have been many influences and everyone has their own opinion on whether these have been “good” or “bad” overall. I tend to try and shy away from those descriptions that sound so moral. But, I do have my own opinions.
In my heart and head I am still young enough to cringe when people lead with, “back in my day..” Yet, I am old enough that I think that my own opinions are important. Yes, I realize that is a contradiction. Like anyone, I have my biases. The older I get, the more I see the sense in sticking with native species of flora and fauna. Even in the case of rainbow trout (which I love to catch). Let’s not stock them in Alabama, though. I realize humans have made lots of changes but let’s try and stick to the native species that the Lord put here. Do we want a world where everything is everywhere? If I want to see a salmon run, I need to go to their historic range. Ditto on an Alabama sturgeon or a gulf strain striped bass. I am a supporter of numerous conservation groups like Lake Martin Resource Association, Alabama Wildlife Federation, the Alabama Chapter of Native Fish Coalition, and Trout Unlimited, to name a few.
So what? you might ask.
Recently, a really good conversation happened on Facebook on the Lake Martin Boaters page. If you are a fan of Lake Martin and are on Facebook, this group is a must-join. Anyway, I replied with a too-long comment there about this subject. I thought I would post here on my blog as well, and try and provide some citations for some of my facts.
1) blueback herrings were introduced illegally into Lake Martin several years ago. It’s still illegal to transport and introduce them. They are non-native to the Tallapoosa River watershed and anytime you introduce non-natives into any system, stuff happens.
2) herrings are more tolerant of depth and cold than are our native threadfin shad. Therefore they stay deeper. Studies have shown it is extremely unlikely that upper thermoclines affect them more than natives because they are deeper
3) predatory fish (like Alabama Bass – what we call spots) and to a much greater degree – striped bass – follow the bait. If the bait is deeper, they go deeper.
4) study after study done by the state and also fisheries biologists have been done and none show a negative correlation to striped bass populations on Martin and Alabama bass on Martin
5) stripes are stocked each year (the Gulf strain is native, once swam the Tallapoosa before the dams) and cannot reproduce. Their eggs need more “tumble time” in a river and since Lake Wedowee is above us, while they may try, they can’t reproduce. If the state quit stocking stripes, in several years they would all be gone.
6) I called a biologist at the state of Alabama with an idea on how to tackle the herring. He told me it was “too late” because they are so well introduced in to Martin.
my opinions –
1) the herrings are ONE of the major negative contributing factors of the changing fishery on Martin. They are here and are reproducing so well that they are changing – for the worse – the way Alabama Bass / spots and stripes are acting. They are staying deeper and hunting more in packs. Pro guides agree.
2) Speaking of Lake Lanier – I have talked to guides there and they say their lake has changed for the worse from herrings for the same reasons above.
3) Lake Wedowee is a huge factor – any old timer like me that talks about fishing Martin before about 1985 needs to mention that the presence of Lake Wedowee upstream has radically changed Lake Martin. The water clarity on Martin is much, much clearer post 1985 because there’s a dam above us that catches a great degree of the sediment that – pre 1985 – used to flow here in to our lake.
4) stocking / promoting herring would be a terrible idea and would make it worse, but I could get behind stocking or promoting a native baitfish like threadfin shad
5) I would want to see some studies done on all these issues so we can get more data and get beyond opinions (like mine)
6) spots aka Alabama bass are just one species in Lake Martin and my overall goal is to try and balance all species
7) I love to fish and if I could make a living at it I would, but I suck too bad!! I would starve and so would my family. Ha!
I have no conclusion right now except that I would ask everyone to please consider the impact of introducing non native species in to any ecosystem. There are just too many downsides. Will we ever get back to a North America that looks like it did before 1492? No. But let’s not make it worse.
If you’ve read this far, I will give you one more link. This is to one of my favorite videos that I have ever made. It is of David Hare with Alex City Guide Service – IMO the best striped bass guide service on Lake Martin. I did a three part series (that badly needs updating) about fishing for striped bass here on Lake Martin. We were being guided by David when my youngest son caught that monster striped bass in the picture above.