Once again we are getting into the spawning season for the fish in Lake Conroe and I once again am receiving questions about taking fish at this time of year, especially black bass off of the nest, so once again I will address the subject.
On Lake Conroe we are blessed with a couple phenomenons that no one, even the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists, has been able to explain to me, but we will all readily accept and that is we have a very large and naturally replenishing population of shad, the other is we have what appears to be a never ending supply of natural catfish restocking. The last catfish that were stocked in Lake Conroe by the TPWD was 1973, the year the lake was finished and filled.
The shad are a food source for many varieties of our game fish. The catfish that we have are channel catfish, blue catfish, and yellow catfish (also known as Opelousas and mud cat) and are fun to catch and make excellent table fare. They usually spawn later than the bass and crappie.
We have two species of crappie in Lake Conroe: white crappie and black crappie. The white crappie tends to grow a little larger than the black crappie but the black crappie are hardier and have a higher travel and restocking survival rate. Therefore the black crappie are the ones that have been stocked in the lake. The TPWD have not stock crappie in Lake Conroe since 2000, but over the years a few private organizations have purchased and stocked crappie, like the folks at Stow-A-Way Marina and RV Park have done for the past five years.
Both species of crappie will spawn and the population varies with the pressure from anglers and the habitat destruction of native plants by carp and other such devastating aquatic animals that have been introduced into our lake in the past.
Although I have no official TPWD word on the subject, but seeing a very few crappie are stocked each year, if any, catching and keeping crappie during the spawn doesn’t seem to me like a positive move for population growth. Therefore I suggest that anglers hold off taking crappie until April when the bulk of the sawn should be over.
In Lake Conroe we also have white bass (also known as sand bass) and Palmetto bass (also known as hybrid stripers). The white bass will go up creeks and the San Jacinto River up north at Stubblefield where they lay their eggs on the sandy bottom with the moving water to keep them clean until they hatch,
Palmetto Bass are hybrids produced in the TPWD fishery tanks by crossing striped bass with white bass and cannot reproduce, so stocking by the TPWD is the only way we have them in our lake. Due to lack of enough supply they have not been restocked in our lake since 2016 but the TPWD biologists that care for our lake have ordered two hundred and fifty thousand fingerlings to be stocked in our lake this year if the supply is available from the hatcheries. When I last checked with them we were in fifth place on the stocking list.
There is a perceived problem by some anglers concerning taking Largemouth Bass from the nest causing the nest to be abandoned and eggs not to hatch, thereby creating an eventual depletion of bass population. However, the biologists I have spoken with proclaimed there is no evidence to indicate any negative impact on the black bass population.
So even though male black bass may be taken off of the nest to be weighed in at the next tournament, possibly never to return to that nest, the numbers of nesting fish, the number of fry hatched, in conjunction with size of fish that can be kept and number taken dictated by regulations, have virtually no impact on numbers of bass in our lake. Add to that the fact that Florida Largemouth Bass have been stocked every year by TPWD since 1979, our black bass are in good shape.
There are other problems more urgently feared than removing the adult fish from the nest. Two of those are drastically dropping water levels, as the bass are nesting shallow, or from a sudden drop in temperature which can drive the bass from the nest.
It is interesting to note also that as soon as the fry hatch, one of the main predators they are faced with is the male black bass that has been fanning the nest. He will eat as many of the freshly hatched fry as he can easily catch. The rest of the fry that escape go on about the business of survival, eating, growing, and eventually repeating the cycle.
So this spring when fishing, don’t be too concerned about taking those bedding bass off of the nest. If you are fishing for fun, release them as soon as you can get them off of the hook, and they will return to the nest. But you know, we sure should use some common sense also, and not make an effort to strip the nest of fish, or harass them to the point that they abandoning a nest.