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DGIF working to improve Claytor fishing

By DAVID GRAVELY

editor@southwesttimes.com

For those who have been hoping to catch bigger and stronger fighting fish at Claytor Lake, the Virginia Department of Game and inland Fisheries has been hard at work trying to make that a reality.

Tuesday it was announced that the biologists had released a large number of the F1 Largemouth Bass, also known as “Tiger Bass” in some cases, in five bodies of water which included Smith Mountain Lake, Lake Anna, Lake Chesdin, Beaverdam Swamp Reserviour and Claytor Lake.

At Smith Mountain Lake there were 75,000 of the fingerlings stocked, but no mention was made of any previous stockings or how many may have been released into Claytor Lake. A conversation with VDGIF Fisheries Biologist III John Copeland provided some very interesting answers.

“We stocked 12,500 F1 Largemouth Bass at Claytor Lake on June 11 in eight locations on Peak Creek and three locations in Clapboard Hollow,” Copeland said. “This is only the third year stocking F1 Largemouth Bass at Claytor Lake, so we are still in the preliminary stages of this work there. The success of the project will be evaluated after six years of stocking the lake.”

This stocking was not, however, the first time these fish have been introduced to Claytor Lake.

“In 2018, we stocked 4,700 F1 Largemouth Bass,” Copeland said. “In 2019, we stocked 8,350. In 2020, we stocked 12,500. In order to determine the effectiveness of these stockings, the stocking sites have been restricted to eight sites in Peak Creek and three sites in Clapboard Hollow where I have long-term bass sampling data for comparison.”

So why are they stocking this particular fish and what is the longterm goal?

“Keep in mind that this program is entirely experimental,” Copeland said. “The goal is to enhance the trophy Largemouth Bass potential of Claytor Lake, but there are no guarantees that it will work. Each reservoir where this work has been done is different in terms of resident bass species and populations, so results have varied. Early information from Smith Mountain Lake suggests it can work, but that reservoir is known much more for its trophy bass potential than Claytor Lake. Claytor Lake has a large population of Spotted Bass that could compete with these stocked F1 Largemouth Bass for food resources, potentially dampening the effect of the stocking.”

“Another point I want to emphasize is the nature of these F1 Largemouth Bass,” he continued. “Tiger Bass is just a marketing name. That is actually a registered trademark name for F1 Largemouth Bass of theAmerican Sportfish Hatchery in Montgomery, Alabama. That’s where we purchased these bass for stocking here in Virginia. These bass are a hatchery cross between a Florida Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides Floridanus, a subspecies of Largemouth Bass) and a Northern Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides salmoides, a subspecies of Largemouth Bass), what we call a Florida x Northern Largemouth Bass intergrade. Because of this cross, these bass exhibit “hybrid vigor,” typically growing faster and feeding more aggressively than naturally spawned Largemouth Bass. The growth and aggressiveness advantages of this cross is only for the life of the bass produced and stocked. In other words, any genetic advantage does not get passed on to other bass in lakes where they are stocked when the F1 bass begin to spawn with bass already in the lake where they are stocked. Any growth or aggressiveness advantage of F1 Largemouth Bass is only maintained through an annual stocking program.”

That hybrid vigor allows the F1 Largemouth Bass to grow faster than other bass. Typically, that means instead of the taking between two to three years to reach 9.5” to 12” they could reach that size sooner. Bass are capable of spawning when they reach around 10”, which means the F1 fish will begin adding to the bass population quicker. It also means the fish who were stocked have a better chance of growing larger.

“In terms of growth of F1 Largemouth Bass, fisheries biologists primarily evaluate growth by change in length,” Copeland said. “If F1 Largemouth Bass have a growth advantage over naturally spawned bass in any lake it may be a matter of inches per year that ultimately results in a size advantage of a couple of pounds over a 10-year period. It is more likely that F1 Largemouth Bass are an effective tool for smaller lakes due to less competition for food resources.”

“Florida x Northern Largemouth Bass intergrades are already found in Claytor Lake based on our Department’s genetic studies there,” he added. “Florida x Northern Largemouth Bass intergrades are also known to inhabit many Virginia reservoirs. It is likely that the growth advantage of the F1 Largemouth Bass may provide a trophy boost that the naturally spawned bass in Claytor Lake don’t possess after years of spawning with each other.”

While the biologists are still working to gather information on the first year spawn, fishermen can be excited about the possibilities. Meanwhile, those who have spent so many years complaining about how tough fishing is at Claytor Lake need only show up at a weigh-in for one of the regular tournaments to see that many quality fish already exist in Pulaski County.

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