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Florida bass boost being prepared for Lake Ouachita

MT. IDA — Lake Ouachita will receive another dose of Florida bass through direct stockings for anglers, but this year will see an added boost of Florida bass through the lake’s nursery pond as well as direct stockings.

According to Brett Hobbs, district fisheries supervisor at the AGFC’s Hot Springs office, the nursery pond on the west end of the lake has been prepared with fathead minnows to serve as forage for Florida bass fingerlings when the Andrew Hulsey State Fish Hatchery completes this year’s spawning operations.

“Approximately 50,000 Florida Largemouth Bass fingerlings about 2 inches long will be stocked around late May or early June,” Hobbs said. “They can eat the minnows in the pond with no competition. By the time they are released into Lake Ouachita this fall, they will likely be about 4 inches average length.”

Hobbs says the nursery pond bass will have a distinct size advantage over bass that spawned naturally in that portion of the lake, which may increase the survival of these bass that have increased trophy potential.

Vic DiCenzo, the AGFC’s Black Bass Program Coordinator, says using the nursery pond to increase survival fills a role of many successful stocking attempts.

“Historically throughout the Southeast, the chances of successful introgression of Florida bass genetics into a system are increased if stocking is done on a year with low reproductive success,” DiCenzo said. “Adding more bass to a good year class of fish can create issues with competition that reduce survival of the stocked fish. Giving these fish a boost should help them overcome such competition.”

Hobbs says the nursery pond isn’t the only source of Florida bass for Ouachita this year. Roughly 100,000 Florida bass fingerlings will be stocked from the Andrew Hulsey Hatchery directly into the Rabbittail area on the north side of the lake. These fingerlings will be distributed by boat with the assistance of interested anglers, into areas of good shoreline cover. This is traditionally an area where aquatic vegetation grew well, offering additional cover for the fingerlings and baitfish.

“We’re also continuing to stock Florida bass directly through hatchery trucks to Rabbittail, where we’ve concentrated all other Florida bass stockings in Ouachita so far,” Hobbs said. “We have seen an increase in the Florida genetics in Rabbittail, so we are hoping the addition of the nursery pond stocking will help spread Florida bass through more of the lake.”

The AGFC began stocking Florida bass in Lake Ouachita and DeGray Lake in 2007 and 2006 respectively, in response to requests from area anglers.

Florida bass are a species of black bass that have increased potential to reach trophy sizes with the right nutrients, water conditions and growing season length. They grow at the same rate as native northern largemouth bass for their first three years, but then continue growing at a fast rate later in life as northern largemouths tend to lag behind. Florida bass thrive in shallow, grass-filled lakes in warm climates. While Ouachita is not a typical Florida bass lake, biologists have seen some positive results from recent genetic testing of large fish caught from its waters as well as DeGray.

DiCenzo says the Ouachita and DeGray stockings have prompted some excellent research by Sean Lusk, AGFC fisheries biologist, on the contribution of stocked fish to Florida bass genes.

“Research like this is important to help us best utilize future stockings of Florida bass,” DiCenzo said. “There are numerous variables that go into determining the effectiveness of Florida bass stockings, and our production of these fish is limited to what our hatcheries can produce. We have increased production of this segment of bass production on our hatcheries, but we must still be strategic and put our limited resources into those efforts that have the best chance for success.”