Tennessee Lake Management and Tennessee Pond Management: Florida largemouth bass

If you really want to understand largemouth bass management in Tennessee, there’s a lake in Virginia that you need to know about. Briery Creek Lake is not a sprawling reservoir; it covers only 845 acres. It lies at a latitude of 37.19, just slightly more northern than the 37.08 latitude of Paducah, Kentucky.

What does a Virginia lake have to do with largemouth management in Tennessee? The second- and third-largest bass ever caught in Virginia both came from Briery Creek; one weighed sixteen pounds, three ounces and the other weighed sixteen pounds, two ounces. In one two-week span in April 1995, eight largemouth over thirteen pounds were caught from the lake.

And those big bass are Florida largemouth. The state of Virginia stocked the lake with Floridas from the time it filled in 1986.

But what about the state record for Virginia? That fish weighed sixteen pounds four ounces, and was caught from Lake Conner…which was stocked with Florida largemouth in the early 1970’s.

Landowners regularly ask me, when I recommend they stock pure Floridas: “Won’t they die in our Tennessee winters?” There is indeed information out there that states that anywhere in the state is borderline for stocking them. And that information is about as accurate and helpful to pond owners as the recommendation to not stock coppernose bluegill in this state, which I have addressed at length in a previous blog post replete with several photos of Tennessee coppernose between twenty-two and thirty-two ounces in weight.

I just now, in preparation for writing this post, found an online article published by a respected multi-state publication, in which an evidently otherwise-credible outdoor writer informs Tennessee readers that Florida largemouth won’t survive in the northern half of this state. He doesn’t cite any scientific basis for this, of course – he just mentions it as though it’s accepted scientific fact. There’s a group of online pond enthusiasts that has widely circulated the idea that interstate 40 is the dividing line above which Florida largemouth and coppernose bluegill will not do well. Mind you, these people are not citing any remote basis in the way of scientific studies that corroborate this claim – they’re just stating it expecting pond owners to accept it on blind faith.

And, many do, and lose out on realizing the full potential of their pond.

What about F-1 largemouth, you might say? After all, everyone knows pure Florida largemouth are completely impossible to catch on artificials, and what good is stocking them if you can’t catch them? F-1s are so aggressive that half the time they’ll jump out of the water to intercept your lure before it ever touches down in the water.

Or so the sellers of F-1s would tell you.

Not once, but several times, I have had landowners complain to me about not being able to catch their F-1s. I even had a landowner who owned a ten-acre pond that he had stocked with nothing but F-1s from the start, and had managed intensively for years for trophy largemouth, tell me he had just had his pond electrofished a few months earlier because he suspected all his bass had died or been caught out by poachers, only to discover the pond was full of very big bass. “I just can’t get them to bite, “ he lamented.

We lost a large-lake account once directly because of the difficulty the landowner was having catching his F-1s. The landowner had told us when we began managing the lake that he wanted both bigger largemouth and bigger bluegill; when we began working with the lake, it had northern-strain largemouth, and the biggest bass that had been caught from the lake was six pounds. One of the several changes in management strategy that we employed was to stock 1,000 6-8” F-1s within three months of when we began working with the lake. Three years later, two friends of the landowner caught thirteen largemouth between four and nine pounds in one afternoon and the next morning of fishing, and six of those fish were over seven pounds each. But the landowner fished exclusively with a fly rod, and he couldn’t get those big F-1s that we had stocked to take his flies. The lake had to be drained completely for dam repairs three years after we began managing it, and when it refilled two years later the landowner stocked northern-strain largemouth from a different supplier so he could catch lots of one-pound bass on his fly rod…which is what he had before we ever began managing the lake.

But those Floridas must be a thousand times harder to catch even than the F-1s, right? If 50% Florida makes F-1s more difficult to catch, surely 100% Florida must mean you’ll never get one on the hook?

The catchability difference between pure Floridas and pure northern-strain largemouth is not just exaggerated: it’s grossly exaggerated. If pure Floridas were as difficult to catch on lures as some pond managers would tell you, there would never be a bass tournament held in the state of Florida. How many thousands of bass tournaments, between large Bassmaster events and small local ones, are held every year in Florida? I’d be willing to bet that every person who happens to read this blog post has seen at least one TV fishing show that was filmed in Florida where the host was catching big, pure Florida largemouth on lures. Did the host tell his audience that this was a once-in-a-lifetime event, catching a Florida largemouth on a lure? Of course he didn’t, because it isn’t. There’s a 46-acre public lake managed by TWRA ten miles from my house that has been stocked with pure Floridas since TWRA began managing it over twenty years ago. I have fished it a handful of times for bass, and have caught them every time I fished; I lost one of the largest bass I have ever hooked in October of 2010 on that lake, and I hooked it on a spinnerbait.

The state of Texas has an aggressive selective breeding program called “Share a Lunker” whereby anglers can donate a largemouth over thirteen pounds to the state to help the state biologists further improve the genetics of bass they stock in state waters. Texas is trying to grow a world-record largemouth. Their overriding criterion for all of their broodstock at the state hatchery for largemouth? They have to be 100% pure Florida.

Texas began stocking Florida bass in 1971. At the time, the state record largemouth was 13.5 pounds, a record that had stood since 1943. Since 1986, 50 largemouth over fifteen pounds have been caught from Texas waters, including the present state record of 18.18 pounds.

The state of California had had largemouth bass for over a hundred years, and the state record had stood at fourteen pounds since 1948, when the state began stocking Florida largemouth in a handful of public lakes around San Diego in 1959. Ten years later, the record was shattered with a bass just over fifteen pounds.

If you know anything about bass fishing, you know that was only the beginning. 78 of the 100 largest largemouth bass that have ever been documented have been caught in California since 1973, including fifteen of the top twenty and three of the top five.

Here’s another set of numbers for you pertaining to that list of the biggest largemouth: 4th, 5th, 7th, 9th, 10th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 19th. Want to guess what all of those bass have in common? They all came from lakes stocked heavily or exclusively with Floridas…

And they were all caught on lures.

The world-record largemouth weighed twenty-two pounds, four ounces, and was caught on a wooden plug; because the area of southern Georgia where George Perry’s fabled bass was caught has a natural introgression of Florida and northern largemouth genes, biologists believe the fish was likely an intergrade, i.e part Florida. Spring Lake is a 74-acre lake in Santa Rosa, California that was drained in the mid-1980’s for hydrilla control, and stocked with pure Florida largemouth upon refilling. In March 1997, Paul Duclos caught a largemouth in Spring Lake that weighed twenty-four pounds on a bathroom scale but was not weighed on a certified scale. Duclos caught his fish on a 6.7-ounce trout imitation – i.e., a lure. In 2003, Leaha Trew caught a twenty-two-pound, eight-ounce largemouth from Spring Lake. That fish was weighed on a certified scale but was not witnessed by a California Fish and Game officer; it was considered by IGFA for the record but ultimately lost out due to inadequate documentation.

It was caught on a seven-inch swimbait.