Puxatawney Phil may herald the onset of spring for folks in the Northeast, but for Texans there is another signal: The beginning of the annual white bass run upstream from reservoirs into rivers.

You’ll know when the white bass run is on by the pink blooms on redbud trees and the cars and trucks lining the roadsides at river crossings. When the redbuds bloom the white bass run, and anglers flock to rivers above reservoirs to harvest their share of the bounty. At Lake Buchanan, for example, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) surveys show that the white bass run accounted for about half the lake’s total directed fishing effort in spring 2011, and almost all of that was in the river upstream of the reservoir.

The generous 25-fish per day limit on white bass makes them an important food item for many anglers, but there’s an economic impact on the community as well. At Lake Buchanan, anglers spent about $2.5 million on white bass fishing trips between March and May 2011, and nearly $1 million of that came from anglers from outside the area.

What draws people to riverbanks on chilly spring days is more than the chance to catch fish. The white bass run is an annual tradition for many Texans. It’s a sign of renewal and hope, an opportunity for an outing with family or friends, a source of treasured memories about the big one that didn’t get away. It’s a perfect example of the adage that when we go fishing, it’s not just fish we seek.

Drought conditions threaten the Texas white bass fishery in a number of ways. If a reservoir drops so low that connection to the river is lost, the fish won’t be able to swim upstream where they are more vulnerable to angling. Water access for both boaters and bank anglers may be reduced or lost. More importantly, the fish may not be able to spawn, reducing the numbers of fish available. If drought conditions continue for years, the white bass fishery may decline to the point anglers lose interest. This can result in a significant loss to local economies.

“Many Texas reservoirs, including several in Central Texas, currently provide excellent white bass runs,” said Dave Terre, chief of management and research for TPWD’s Inland Fisheries Division. “Changing climate and increased water demands increase the chance that we will lose the connection between rivers and reservoirs necessary to sustain white bass populations unless we take this important fishery into account when making decisions about water management and reservoir operations.”

Terre also pointed out that the connections between rivers and reservoirs are important not just for white bass but also for a number of other species, including catfish and non-game species.

“We stand to lose these important fisheries if connectivity is not maintained,” he said. “As our reservoirs get older and suffer from siltation and degradation of fish habitat, drought conditions will exacerbate the problem. Unfortunately there is no easy or quick fix. Solving these problems will take cooperation between the agencies managing the reservoirs and the fisheries with support from the public. Water could be managed in such a way as to maintain connectivity. Physical improvements could be made in river-to-reservoir transition zones. Watershed management practices could be used to decrease siltation rates. And water conservation measures are always helpful in maintaining reservoir levels.”

Texas is part of a national movement to address the multiple problems facing reservoirs. The Reservoir Fisheries Habitat Partnership and the Friends of Reservoirs Foundation were established to coordinate efforts, generate public support and facilitate funding.

“TPWD has launched studies to demonstrate the importance of maintaining river-to-reservoir transition zones from biological, recreational and economic standpoints, “Terre said. “We are working with the public, other agencies and grass-roots partners who support fish habitat improvements in our reservoir systems.”

Logo courtesy Texas Parks & Wildlife Department

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