Anglers Help Stock West Point Largemouth Bass

Hatchery fingerlings have some Florida bass genetics.

Donny Karr | April 17, 2019

Efforts continue in 2019 to improve largemouth bass populations at West Point Lake.

Georgia DNR, through its Fisheries Section of the Wildlife Resources Division (WRD), hopes to boost the number of largemouth bass in West Point Lake. The DNR has already stocked more than 350,000 bass fingerlings this year, and a different approach is being employed that anglers hope will increase the survival rate of the stocked largemouth.

“This year, we have started working with local anglers to allow them to assist us in our stocking efforts,” said Brent Hess, a WRD fisheries biologist. “We’ve had a lot of people who have asked us to let them take some of the fingerlings in coolers and place them throughout the lake in areas where they might be less susceptible to predation.”

Dozens of boats gathered near the docks at Pine Road Park on March 27 to lend a hand and, hopefully, bring West Point’s largemouth bass population back to the bustling numbers it once had more than a decade ago.

“We stocked just over 85,000 on March 27, with about 40,000 of those being stocked with the assistance of anglers,” said Hess. “The rest of the fish we put in that day were stocked the same way we usually do by placing them all into the lake at once from the boat ramp.”

Traditionally, a stocking of fish fingerlings occurs at a boat ramp directly from the hatchery truck. At West Point this spring, some of the bass fingerlings are being carried by anglers to different parts of the lake.

DNR did another round of stocking on April 4 and 5, adding an additional 178,000 largemouth fingerlings to the lake. Hess said having anglers assist with stocking efforts may not increase the survival rate more than the traditional means of stocking the fish in one place, but it’s worth a try.

“You can really argue both ways on that because the fingerlings have more safety when they are in a large school, but they will also benefit from being placed in smaller batches near cover,” said Hess.

Bryan Meadows, a local angler who helped in the stocking efforts, said that he hopes this method of stocking allows the fish to have a better chance at growing to maturity.

The largemouth bass being stocked are 1 to 2 inches long.

“There’s not a lot of cover around the lake right now because the water is a little low, but we made sure to put the fish in areas where they would be a little safer than they would around the boat ramp,” said Meadows. “I actually went to a feeder creek and walked up the creek about 50 yards and put them out. We’re hoping that this turns things around for our largemouth population at West Point.”

The fish come mostly from a Florida strain of bass and were raised at the Richmond Hill Fish Hatchery near Savannah. Hess said the fingerlings were about 1 to 2 inches in size.

“If we were to stock larger fish, it decreases the amount of fish we are able to stock,” says Hess. “You could stock about 100 bass that are maybe 6 inches, or you could stock 1,000 bass that are the size we are using. It’s much more cost effective and helps us put greater numbers into the lake.”

Hess has been overseeing the lake’s fish populations since 2001 and says that he would like to have at least 10 largemouth bass per acre at West Point.

“We started stocking largemouth fingerlings in 2016, and we determine the number of bass needed by conducting extensive studies and surveys on the lake,” said Hess. “I’m stocking as many largemouth as the state will allow me to in West Point.”

Hess noted that he understands the concerns of many anglers regarding West Point’s largemouth population.

“There are a lot of people who fish the lake and are aware that the largemouth population is not as rich as it was in the 1990s and early 2000,” said Hess. “Every lake reaches its peak—in fishing terms—around 20 years after it is impounded. Some of the water quality regulations imposed by Atlanta in the 90s really decreased the amount of nutrients flowing into the lake. It basically changed the water from a deep green color and made it much more clear. The clearer water is more suitable to spotted bass, which have really taken over a lot of the lake.”

Meadows and many other local bass fishermen are concerned that there are too many striped and hybrid bass in West Point, and that the numbers of both species could be choking out the largemouth population.

“We do stock stripers and hybrids, and we have since the lake began,” said Hess. “A lot of our larger lakes in Georgia have stripers and hybrids in them. One of the reasons we stock these fish is part of our restoration efforts of stocking the Gulf Striped Bass species. It’s also another kind of game fish for people to catch. The stripers and hybrids don’t have as much of an effect on largemouth as some people think because these fish tend to hang out in the middle of the lake while largemouth typically stay around the edges of a body of water. They don’t really mingle with each other very much.”

DNR is also planting water willow in West Point and adding brushpiles and other materials that will act as fish attractants to provide more fish habitat across the lake. Hess said DNR plans to continue stocking more largemouth fingerlings this year and next as part of an overall effort to bring back the West Point’s once thriving largemouth population.

In addition to the West Point stockings, largemouth bass from WRD hatcheries were stocked in Lake Jackson, Lucas Lake, Flat Creek PFA and the lake at Indian Springs State Park.

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