Outdoor Corner: To Stock or Not to Stock

Lyle Johnson

I’ve been asked quite a few times about the possibility of a fish kill after hurricane Ida. I’ve had to change my answer several times because my assessment of just what happened changed.

The first time I was asked, “Was there a fish kill?,” I answered yes, because I did see some dead fish passing my pier a couple of days after the storm. “Was it bad?” was always the next question. “I don’t think so,” and I certainly didn’t think it was nearly as bad as some were saying.

This was the scene of one of the fish kills along the Amite River in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.

There were some photos on social media of some sizeable fish kills, but they were all in small canals, not in main rivers. From my perspective on the pier, there were noticeable dead fish, but not in numbers that would concern me compared to some kills I’d seen before.

I did not see more than 10 dead bass, and all of them were under 8 inches long. There were many species of fish that died, but none of them were large at all. My thoughts when someone asked were that we wouldn’t need to restock any fish.

As time went on my thought process slowly began to change. I hadn’t heard any reports of anybody catching any bass, with the exception of a couple of very small catches. My own experience of not catching a bass or a bream fishing from my pier just added to the angst.

Usually catfish survive these events because they swim far distances in their daily routine, so they can get away from the bad water. I did start catching a few a couple of weeks after the water went down. It was a bit strange, as sometimes three or four days passed without getting a bite. The numbers were quite low.

I haven’t caught any shad with my cast net in about two months, no gizzard shad at all. Usually while throwing the cast net an occasional bream or sac-a-lait are caught. Since the storm, not a one. I have a good friend who lives up the canal from me who’s an avid bass angler. He’s been on three trips bass fishing and hasn’t had a bite.

So I went straight to the horses mouth, Brian Heimann, biologist manager for inland fisheries that takes care of District 7. "It was widespread and devastating," Heimann stated. “The Amite River, Blind River and Tickfaw rivers were impacted by Ida. The Amite below Port Hudson, the Tickfaw between Lake Maurepas and LA-Hwy 42, and the entirety of Blind River suffered fish kills. It's the largest fish kill in the area since Hurricane Isaac swept through.”

As devastating as it seems to be, not all of the fish have died. Usually bass take center stage, as it is a very popular pastime. When things are normal a bass can lay up to 20,000 eggs during the spawn and less than a handful survive because of several reasons.

Bluegill and other small fish love to eat them and that’s where most of them go. If they survive that onslaught and start to grow, other fish including larger take plenty of them out of the population as well. Seems a bit cruel but that’s why they have so many of them to ensure a sustainable population.

There is an upside to the lack of fish in our waters. The fish that hatch this spring will have a much higher survival rate as most of the eggs won’t get eaten and many more will reach a size that will enable them to reach adulthood.

"What we’ve found is nature does a really good job on its own of replacing fish in these areas," Heimann said. "What happens is you lose a significant portion of the population, but you have a really good reproductive year the following year."

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has not made an official decision about restocking as more surveys are being done. But there two very good reasons why it couldn’t be done now even if we wanted to.

The first is food availability. “If we were to restock now,” Heimann noted, “there would not be anything for them to eat.” Not only is there not any shad in the Diversion but I’m not seeing any minnows as well. No food, no survival.

The second one is availability. All fish hatcheries, private as well as public, shut down in the winter.

“The brood stock of bass are just now getting ready to spawn. Our state hatcheries take a break in the cold months, so we don’t have any fish to distribute,” said Heimann. “It would be late May or June before any fish would be ready.”

There is another issue that needs to be addressed that’s not popular with bass anglers; restocking is not always the answer. I contacted Ricky Moses, another of our inland fisheries biologist managers. “The bass that live south of I-10 are a different breed. Bass that are introduced from a hatchery do not survive well there.”

When they do introduce a fish that isn't naturally occurring into the river systems, testing shows those fish haven't integrated into the population. “Booker Fowler hatchery was built to stock the Atchafalaya Basin,” stated Moses. “We put more fish in the basin than the rest of the state combined. Studies consistently show only a 7% success rate”

What that means in a nutshell is that the restocking efforts are basically negligible even after a hurricane. Toledo Bend and other lakes are totally different. Restocking there is much more successful. (My observation) Our bass are mean, and sissy bass raised in a tank just aint gonna make it down south.

“While fish kills are shocking to experience and can appear devastating, some time and it may seem like there are no fish left in those river systems,” stated Heimann, “in about two or three years without further tropical storms or hurricanes, the population should be back on track.”

David Eastridge Jr. killed this 10-point buck Dec. 13 hunting in Centerville, Miss. It weighed 170 pounds. Eastridge made a 235-yard shot with his .308.

The LDWF and Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Foundation (LAWFF) will hold the next Mini Becoming an Outdoors Woman workshop, Intro to Shotguns, on March 19, 2022 at the Waddill Wildlife Refuge just outside Baton Rouge.

This workshop will teach you how to improve your skeet shooting skill or fine-tune your bird hunting techniques. This is the fastest growing shotgun sport in the U.S. Equipment, guns and ammo will be provided. Please do not bring personal firearms.

The workshop, for women 18 and older, is from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. and is $35. All equipment will be provided and this course is a mixture of classroom instruction and hands-on activities. Registration for this event is limited and will open on Friday (Jan. 21).

Mini BOW is a program designed to introduce women 18 or older to outdoor activities. A branch from the highly popular Becoming an Outdoors-Woman workshop, the Mini BOW provides the same introductory level hands-on outdoor educational courses, but on a smaller scale. 

Come prepared for the workshops rain or shine. All Mini BOW workshops are limited and on a first-come, first-serve basis. To register and to learn more about BOW, go to https://www.lawff.org/bow or you can follow them on Facebook: BOW Louisiana Style. For more information, contact Dana Norsworthy at dnorsworthy@wlf.la.gov.

Outdoor Calendar

  • East Ascension Sportsman’s League Meeting: 7 p.m. third Monday each month in the Cabela’s upstairs meeting room. Supper will be served. warrenh3@eatel.net 
  • Hunter Education Program: Hunter education classes have resumed. Classroom, online with a field shooting day and online for students 16 years or older. Website: https://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/page/hunter-and-trapper-education
  • Squirrel and Rabbit Season: Through Feb. 28. Daily bag limit eight; possession 24.
  • Fly-Tying Classes: 9 a.m. Saturday and Feb. 5 at Ascension Parish Library. Join local fishing enthusiast Darrell Crawford as he teaches the basics of fly tying. Registration required at www.myapl.org. 
  • Fishing for Tucker Bass Classic: Feb. 5 out of Doiron’s Landing in Stephensville.  Entry fee is $100 a boat, with $2,000 first place based on 100 boat field; $500 first place Big Bass. Get all info at www.fishingfortucker.com.
  • La. High School/Junior Qualifier/West Division: Feb. 5 at Cypress Bend Park, Toledo Bend. Call Tommy Abbott (504) 722-6638. Info: louisianahighschoolbassnation.com
  • Krewe of Diversion St Jude Boat Parade: Noon Feb. 19 leaving the bridge over Diversion traveling to Manny’s on the Amite River. Grand Marshall Rep. Clay Schexnayder. Contact David (225) 939-2135 or Vivian Stevens (225) 324-5659 for details.

Need an event publicized? Contact Lyle at reelman@eatel.net