Stoked to be stocking: Baby bass making their way to area ponds and lakes

Hatchery biologists Talon Jeppson and Chase Chatelain, from left, sift through largemouth bass fingerlings at the Natchitoches National Fish Hatchery. Any unwanted species, such as crawfish, are removed from the vats before the fingerlings are released into area lakes. Photo by Juanice Gray.

Juanice Gray | Editor

Add bass to your list of things affected by the late snows and freezes of 2021. Don’t worry, the quality or quantity doesn’t seem to be affected according to biologist Talon Jeppson and his supervisor Chase Chatelain. The timeline, however, is a different story. “It’s been an awkward year,” Jeppson said. “We should have been done (lake stocking) in early May,” Chatelain added. “The freeze set us back and we do have slightly lower numbers. We’re having to leave the fish in the ponds longer but they are bouncing back.”

This article published in the June 5-6, 2021, print edition

The biologists with the Natchitoches National Fish Hatchery are stocking local lakes and public ponds with Florida strain largemouth bass. Fishermen like them because they get bigger faster. Chatelain said their goal is to have the Florida strain spawn with native bass to make a hardy F1 bass. Haul trucks have been making steady trips to Grand Bayou, Saline Lake, Black Lake and Toledo Bend.

Talon Jeppson and Chase Chatelain inspect the 2-inch long fingerlings as they remove them from the vats. Photos by Juanice Gray

They come from the hatchery’s main office in Forest Hill, water up, load up the fingerlings, which are approximately 2 inches long, then head to the lakes to stock. The 2 inch fingerlings have the best chance of survival. In some instances the Forest Hill ponds have surplus stock so they will take the fry, which are just hatched and put them directly into lakes and ponds. Their survival rate is lower than with fingerlings, after all they number 300 per gram. One gram is approximately the weight of a paper clip.

A penny is used to compare the size of the fry.

“It’s better to go ahead and put them in the lake even if the survival rate is low, there is still a survival rate. Anytime we can we will,” Chatelain said. Saline Lake got the majority of the fry with three stockings numbering approximately 1,779,000 fry according to biologist Villis Dowden. While that number seems huge, remember the size and survival rate of the fry. Some 630,000-650,000 fingerlings made their way into area lakes.

Dowden said stocking of Black Lake was just completed with approximately 100-120,000 fingerlings total released at Chandler’s Camp on Hwy 9 and at Sandy Point. Grand Bayou in Red River Parish received approximately 30,000 while Toledo Bend got the lion’s share at around a half a million fingerlings released into its waters.

A healthy fingerling ready to be distributed to a pond or lake.

So, with the fingerlings being released approximately one month later than a normal year, fishing should be good longer and no one can complain about that.

The Natchitoches National Fish Hatchery only stocks public bodies of water but are available to consult on private ponds by analyzing water samples and offering tips and advice.  To reach the hatchery call 357-3214.

Cool Bass Facts

•Recreational sport fishing for largemouth bass has become extremely popular in the United States. This sport is now a multi-billion dollar industry. Largemouth Bass fishing has significantly expanded from its humble beginnings in the late 19th century. This new industry is now driving the development of new types of fishing gear specifically designed for catching largemouth bass, electronic “depth” finder and “fish” finding instruments, drift boats, float tubes and specialized bass boats. argemouth bass have been introduced widely as a recreational fish species throughout the world.

As a result, competitive bass fishing has now spread to the countries of Japan, Korea, Italy, Australia and South Africa. Some countries have reported negative impacts resulting from the introduction of largemouth bass in non-native waters. The maximum reported age for largemouth bass is 23 years. The heaviest reported weight for was 10.1 kg (22 lbs.)

•SIZE: Common length for largemouth bass is 40 cm (15.7 inches) with the longest recorded specimen being 97 cm (38.2 inches).

•RANGE: The range of largemouth bass within North America extends from the St. Lawrence River, the Great Lakes, Hudson Bay (Red River) and into the Mississippi River basin. Largemouth bass are also found in Atlantic drainages from North Carolina to Florida and into northern Mexico.

•HABITAT: Largemouth bass inhabit clear, vegetated lakes, ponds, swamps, and the backwaters of pools, creeks and rivers. Largemouth bass prefer spawning areas with a firm bottom of sand, mud or gravel. Adult largemouth bass utilize submerged aquatic vegetation as cover to ambush prey and juvenile or young largemouth use aquatic weeds, tree limbs or submerged log or stumps as cover to escape predation. Dissolved oxygen is also an important hydrological condition essential to largemouth bass habitat.

•DIET: Adult largemouth bass feed on fish, crayfish and frogs. Young largemouth bass will feed on crustaceans, insects, and small fish. Some largemouth bass can be cannibalistic just like northern pike. Largemouth bass normally do not feed during spawning or when the water temperature dips below 5 degrees Celsius (41 degrees Fahrenheit) or above 37 degrees Celsius (98.6 degrees Fahrenheit).