S eptember 1, marked the start of a new fiscal year for the folks at Texas Parks and Wildlife Department—the beginning of a new budgetary timeline for the state agency and the time when new fishing and regulations voted in by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission early last spring become effective.
There are only two changes that freshwater anglers need to be aware of this go-around. One of them is particularly noteworthy, because it establishes a brand new records category in the state’s Angler Recognition Program for a black bass species that many anglers are not very familiar with and some may have never even heard of — the Alabama bass.
Here’s the deal:
Alabama bass are native to the Mobile River basin of Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi, but they have been stocked in some lakes outside their home range. Some stockings have been performed by state agencies, including TPWD, which stocked the fish in Lake Alan Henry in Lubbock in 1996 as part of an experiment. It is believed that illegal stockings carried out by anglers have occurred in some other states.
For years fisheries scientists recognized Alabama bass as one of three species of spotted bass. This included the northern spotted that is native to much of Texas and the Wichita spotted bass, which was eventually invalidated after scientists determined through genetics testing that it was actually a hybrid.
Similar DNA research showed that Alabama bass and northern spotted bass (sometimes called Kentucky bass around here) are entirely different animals, particularly when it comes to growth potential.
Biologists say true northern spotted bass rarely grow larger than 2 1/2 pounds. Alabama bass, however, have been known to reach the double digits.
As a result these findings, the American Fisheries Society designated the Alabama bass as a species unto its own in 2013. Established in 1870, the AFS is a non-profit organization comprised of fisheries professionals nationwide. Their goals are to advance fisheries and aquatic science and to promote the development of fisheries professionals.
TPWD moved to create the category for Alabama bass after several big fish, including a lake record 5.98 pounder, began showing up at Lake Alan Henry a few years back. Genetics testing showed the fish to be pure an Alabama bass, linking it to 150 adult Alabama bass TPWD stocked in the lake roughly 21 years ago.
As earlier mentioned, even bigger Alabama bass are believed to be showing up in other lakes. In fact, fisheries scientists at Auburn University believe several double-digit fish that have been caught from Bullards Bar Reservoir in California and identified as spotted bass in recent times were actually Alabama bass.
The lake produced an 11-pound, 2-ounce beauty in February 2017 that was recently certified as a new world record spotted bass by the International Game Fish Association. The record may be reclassified as an Alabama bass world record, according to Jason Schratweiser, IGFA conservation director.
California Department of Fish and Wildlife fisheries biologist Max Fish says Alabama bass were introduced to Bullards Bar in 1983-84. Fish says there are no records of northern spotted bass being stocked into that lake. Black bass are not native to California.
Some may be wondering whether TPWD has plans to stock Alabama bass into more Texas lakes given their genetic potential to grow significantly larger than spotted bass. According to Craig Bonds, TPWD inland fisheries director, future stockings are not in the cards right now.
“At this time, TPWD does not plan on stocking Alabama bass in more Texas lakes,” Bonds said. “We do not want to risk potential negative inter-specific competition with recreationally and economically important largemouth bass fisheries, nor do we desire to risk hybridization with other endemic black basses in Texas, especially in areas where active restoration efforts are in place for native Guadalupe bass. In general, there is less support and acceptance within the broader fisheries management profession for further range expansion of black basses.”
Scientific research shows that Bonds’ concerns about hybridization are on the mark. According to a paper authored by Steve Rider with the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Fisheries and Michael Maceina with the School of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences at Auburn University, the introduction of the Alabama bass outside its native range “has led to deleterious effects with endemic populations of black bass species.
“In Keowee Reservoir, South Carolina, a unique reservoir population of Bartram’s Bass existed for more than 30 years but may be lost as a result of hybridization with Alabama bass,” the paper says. “Hybrids of Alabama Bass and Bartram’s Bass have also been detected in the lower extent of its range in the Savannah River.
“In Tennessee, Alabama bass/spotted bass hybrids have been detected in Parksville Lake and Chickamauga Reservoir. In Lake Chatuge in Georgia/North Carolina, nearly 28 percent of the black bass tested were Alabama bass/smallmouth bass hybrids, resulting in the severe decline of smallmouth bass abundance.”
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Email Matt Williams at [email protected]