Better bass fishing results from LSU AgCenter research

Johnny Morgan / Special The Chief, Weekly Citizen
Alex Perret, former LSU AgCenter research associate shows off a native largemouth bass, which would be considered small compared to a Florida largemouth than are being released into Louisiana waters.

Researchers at the LSU AgCenter are looking at ways to make bass fishing an even more fun experience.

For the past several decades, William Kelso, professor of fisheries in the LSU AgCenter School of Renewable and Natural Resources, has been introducing Florida largemouth bass into Louisiana waters.

Kelso said the purpose of the project is to improve the size of native bass in ponds and lakes.

“What anglers in Louisiana would consider a very nice native fish would weigh from 7 to 8 pounds,” Kelso said. “But a good Florida bass would come in at around 15 pounds.”

Since the early 1980s, more than 100 million Florida bass have been released into Louisiana waters. But depending on the location, some of those stockings have not produced sustained catches of large fish.

“What we’ve noticed is that the Florida bass are doing well in many lakes throughout the state,” he said. “But they haven’t done as well in the Atchafalaya Basin, perhaps because they moved out of the system or because there are more predator fish there, resulting in low stocking survival.”

The work is being done in conjunction with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to help with their fish stocking programs because producing and stocking fish is quite expensive, “and you want to get the best return on your investment of time and money,” he said.

Florida bass are closely related to native largemouth bass, so there is no problem with the fish mating and producing hybrids, which often comprise much of the population.

“Florida bass genes have become established in many native bass populations around the state, but what we want to know is why some populations exhibit hybrids that are predominately of northern origin, and some exhibit hybrids that are predominately of Florida origin,” he said. “It is particularly interesting that most of the hybrids in False River have predominantly native genes, while in Caney Lake, most of the hybrids have predominately Florida genes.”

Largemouth bass are often the dominant fish predator in many aquatic systems, along with gar. They are known to eat ducklings, snakes, frogs, fish, turtles and crawfish, Kelso said. “If it will fit in his mouth, he will eat it.”

And what a mouth they have. Kelso said the head and mouth of the Florida bass are huge.

Kelso said during the next three years of the project, a graduate student will be collecting habitat data in several lakes to be used to examine factors that are affecting bass growth and genetic composition.

Previous research has shown that the fish didn’t do well in some of the places they were stocked, while they are thriving in other areas.

Because the Florida bass can grow to such a large size, they are the perfect target for competition fishermen.

“But they are also good for small ponds, where families would like for their children to catch a nice-sized fish,” Kelso said.

Working with Sabrina Taylor, a conservation geneticist in the school, Kelso and his team recently began using microsatellites to better determine the genetic composition of bass samples collected in lakes across the state.

“The questions we want to answer is why do we see different kinds of hybrids in these different kinds of lakes, and what characteristics of the lakes are influencing the genetic composition of the resident bass population?” Kelso said.