Sleeping with the fishes

For several months I have been helping my friend, J.P. Greeson, with Texas Parks & Wildlife’s weekly “Texas Fishing Reports.” This job involves spending several hours each week collecting reports from fishing guides, bait shop owners, avid fisherpersons, and sometimes the fish themselves, and then writing down what they say. When I get all my reports together I send them to J.P. in Dallas, and he throws them in the trash and writes me a check. Not really. What J.P. does is collect these finished reports from me and a couple of other writers, and then he posts them on the internet at www.txfishing.com, so that anglers from all over Texas can head for the lake of their choice in full confidence that, if they had checked the reports first, they would know what fish are biting what baits at what depths. Sort of. I have to call some of my contacts on the phone every week, some send me emails, some send me faxes, and some don’t send me anything at all. The reports include just about every public body of water in the state that contains fish. My areas of responsibility are the central, south and southwest sections of Texas, which means that I write reports for about 35 lakes every week, most of which I didn’t even know existed until six months ago. We try to include all of the species of game fish in every lake we report on, the main ones being black bass (largemouth), striped bass (hybrids), white bass (sand bass), smallmouth bass, crappie and catfish. We usually break the catfish down into channel cats, blue cats and yellow cats. Of course, if someone wants to tell me what the drum or gasper goo are doing, I throw that information in, too. Perch (sunfish) don’t count, and there is a five yard penalty for reporting on carp or gar. As you can imagine, this is very exciting work. While talking to my contacts on the phone, I often manage to stay awake all the way through crappie, although I’m usually cutting Zs by the time they start telling me what the catfish are biting. It’s just as well, since I normally have no idea what they are talking about, anyway. For instance, I might get a report from a fishing guide that says: “Canyon Lake: Water clear; 54 degrees; 911.8′; Black bass fair to good in the north end in the creeks and coves vertically jigging white/chartreuse Bass Assassins with blue/black Johnny Jackleg trailers in 23 to 36 feet. Stripers good around Pirate’s Point early and late trolling watermelon/pumpkin seed lizard head jigs, six inch crawfish/shad Super Tubes with pepper spray, green/gray Rat-L-Traps, and Carolina- and Texas-rigged hot pink Howard Clumps with 1/8oz. tire irons in 8 to 13 feet over grass mats. White bass slow on slow-rolled red/white Horizon Perk Minnows with Jig Claw trailers, pet spoons and Charlie slabs near Hole In The Hull Hollow over submerged brush and off main points and sandbars in 2 to 5 feet, if you hold your mouth right. Etc.” When I first started doing these reports, and got this kind of barrage from some of my contacts, my first thought was “Whaaaat’ Are these people serious, or is Alan Funt going to walk in here and put his arm around my shoulders and point out the camera’ And whatever happened to worms, anyway'” Needless to say, doing the fishing reports has been an education for me. After several months of this stuff I can slow-roll and vertically jig with the best of them, at least on paper, although if somebody walked in and dropped a lizard head jig on my desk it would probably scare me to death. I’ve gotten used to the terminology and learned to spell “chartreuse,” and I can fake it fairly well as long as no one asks me to tell the difference between a Rat-L-Trap and a Howard Clump. So everything was going along fine until the other day, when I got a message from Steve McVay, who is a fishing guide on lakes Possum Kingdom, Granbury, and Whitney. Steve told me that the shores of PK are covered, literally, with dead fish, and the same thing is starting to happen at Granbury. This situation is what is known as a “fish kill.” Duh. I also talked to Bob Hood, who has been an outdoor writer since “who flung the chunk.” Bob writes for the Fort Worth Star Telegram, and has been covering the fish kill since it started around January 11, when Steve first notified him. Bob got TPW and the Brazos River Authority involved, and they have been working hard to try and figure out what is killing the fish. They have made numerous phone calls, scratched their heads, and flown over the afflicted lakes in airplanes. And after extensive deliberation, the consensus is that, hey, if you can get a government job, you’d better grab it. At this writing TPW still isn’t sure what is killing the fish, but the BRA’s official opinion is that the fish are dying of a phenomenon known as Golden Algae, which is similar to Red Tide, which is not to be confused with the University of Alabama football team. Golden Algae first appeared in Israel, and has occurred in the Gulf of Mexico in the past, but is very rare in inland waters. It has turned up in only a handful of cases in the U.S. in fresh water, always on a limited scale, and always in brackish water with a high saline content. The algae is caused when “fido plankton,” which is present almost everywhere, starts to bloom prolifically. Green algae, the common kind, usually keeps the plankton blooms in check. The green algae in PK evidently took a nose dive, and the Golden Algae started taking over. The Golden Algae kills fish by causing their open cells, such as those found in gills, to hemorrhage, which keeps the fish from being able to breathe. Since people, as mammals, have no open cells, the problem does not affect humans. The bad news is that no one knows how to stop the Golden Algae, or how far it may spread. It’s already traveled down the Brazos River to Lake Granbury, and may go even further. Even if warmer weather and sunlight kills the deadly organisms, which is hoped, there is still the problem of the fish that have already died upsetting the balance in the affected lakes. Whatever happens, you can be sure I’ll stay on top of the situation, and keep the fishing community informed on a weekly basis. As long as I can stay awake. Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist who has never learned to use a bait casting reel. Write to him at PO Box 564, Mason, Tx 76856 or email hemphill @towa.org

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