Patoka Lake gets infusion of larger bass fingerlingsMarch 17, 2021
By LARRY LAGRANGE
When I talk to other bass fishermen not from around here, I usually get asked about how I do at Patoka Lake. They’re surprised when I tell them I never fish there. I’ve found that I do much better at smaller private lakes, but I suspect the potential is there at the big lake. Patoka is large and tough going, according to reports I’ve heard. I recently consulted YouTube to see if someone had a Patoka fish tale to show and tell. The video I saw was well made, but the catch rate was small. I recall the guy fishing most of the day to catch two bass, one a decent size. That’s tough fishing. The stocking that the Indiana Department of Natural Resources has been doing should help. I asked DNR District 6 Fisheries Biologist Andy Bueltmann about the bass stocking and other fishing prospects at Patoka and summarized his responses.
How about the gizzard shad and lack of vegetation issues?
Since Patoka’s creation in 1977, the most notable changes have been the establishment of gizzard shad and the dying off of aquatic vegetation. When the shad become established, bass abundance declines but largemouth growing larger than 18 inches increases, which happened at Patoka. The frequent prolonged flooding events have caused the vegetation to die off because light can’t penetrate deep enough.
Can anything be done?
A total fish renovation restarts the fishery by killing off everything and restocking with desired sport fish, but this process is involved and expensive, and the size of Patoka makes that option out of the question. The next idea is to stock fish. Experiments with stocking in gizzard shad lakes have failed to increase the overall abundance of bass. In these studies, three-to-four-inch bass were stocked, so we are experimenting by stocking larger sizes. We’ve been working with the Indiana Bass Federation, who purchased all of the bass and some of the Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tags used the mark the fish. These have unique codes which allow managers to identify individual fish. In 2020 we did two stockings, in spring and in fall. In the spring we stocked 914 bass ranging in length from 6.2 to 9.9 inches. In the fall we stocked 2, 364 bass from 4.9 to 11.2 inches with an average of 7.8 inches. In total we stocked 3,278 largemouth. We’ll do electrofishing for the next three years, checking for PIT tags and seeing how well the stocked fish are contributing to the overall population. By 2023, the stocked bass will be of legal size (15 inches) and could show up in tournament weigh ins. If during the surveys we collect a sufficient number of stocked bass, a subsample will be checked for tags during 2023 tournaments to track the stocking contribution to catches.
How about habitat enhancement?
This project started in 2019 with many partners and donors. To this point, we have placed 261 artificial structures and felled 253 trees along the shoreline which were hazardous and/or dying. This project will continue through March of 2022 with the goal of placing over 400 artificial structures in the lake. (The most recent build occurred on March 13, 2021). Once completed, a final map with coordinates will be posted at https://www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild/7665.htm. This website also has more information about the program including lake plans and finalized maps. More about the structure project can be found in the DNR Fishing Guide.
How about other species than bass?
The crappie continue to be overabundant with most stunted around seven-eight inches, but there are a good number that reach larger sizes. In 2019 we stocked 32,779 hybrid stiped bass fingerlings and an extra 150,000 fry, 1,000 striped bass fingerlings, and 6.3 million walleye fry. In 2020, we were unable to stock walleye and striped bass, but we did stock 44,000 hybrid striped bass fingerlings. The hybrid fishery is doing well and should lead to a high number of fish exceeding 20 inches by 2023.
“Thanks goes out to the Indiana Bass Federation,” said DNR South Region Fisheries Supervisor Dan Carnahan, “for their fundraising efforts and making this research project possible. We look forward to evaluating the results of this survival study.”
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