The Concerned Bass Anglers of Virginia (CBAV) are at it again. You might recall back in 2005 the group was formed by anglers concerned about the state of the bass fishing in the Chickahominy River. Through determined fundraising and meetings with Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries biologists and managers, the CBAV helped fund the majority of a three-year experimental stocking of over 75,000 F1 largemouth bass fingerlings into the Chick. Studies theorized that bass numbers had plummeted after a three-year drought drove salinity levels too high for largemouth reproduction.

  Now, nearly 10 years later data shows the restocking worked. The bass are back and thriving. The precedent-setting effort was studied all over the country.

  But this hasn’t slowed the CBAV. Past president Bruce Lee is a life-long Rappahannock River angler and currently resides on the tidal portion below Fredericksburg. He and his fellow area anglers have watched as bass in the lower section of the Rapp have suffered a fate similar to their brethren in the tidal Chickahominy.

   “There’s hardly any bass or bream in the river below Port Royal Landing. It’s sad because this area, especially Green Bay, used to have some of the best bass fishing,” Lee told W2.

    Lee organized a meeting of the CBAV on March 13 at the Fredericksburg Gander Mountain where he and 61 others voiced their concern to VDGIF District Fisheries Biologist John Odenkirk. The meeting was productive with both groups listening and offering first hand as well as scientific observations.

   Many of the older attendees like Percy Fines noted that during the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s, the Rappahannock from Fredericksburg down to Tappahannock was a “bass producing factory.” This natural resource was a bass fisherman’s paradise for a large number of dedicated and committed anglers.

   Fine told those in attendance that based on the records for weigh-ins at his club tournaments,  the average weight per Rapp River bass was 2-6. In comparison, the Pamunkey River would yield around two pounds per fish with the Chickahominy at 1-8 per fish. 

    “Comparing then to now, it can now be a struggle to boat a limit of five bass for two fishermen. It is apparent that now is the time for action to ensure that the next generation will enjoy the quality of bass fishing that we have enjoyed for years,” Fine wrote in a recent report sent to W2.

  The CBAV postulated the following factors are contributing to the low population of largemouth bass in the lower, tidal Rappahannock: drought of 2002, erosion and siltation/farming  and development, increased catfish population, water quality/salinity levels/watershed/rain runoff, extreme siltation in impacted creeks, disease, unknown pollutants, poor recruitment as a result of above factors and loss of habitat as a result of above factors?

  They further noted the following ideas to assist largemouth bass recruitment: stocking spawning  areas, opening up flooded gravel pits along the Rappahannock for spawning areas, removal of silt in creeks where possible and permissible, enact a bass slot limit requirement, restock the threadfin shad (forage) from the Potomac to Rappahannock in the Fall, transfer of bass utilizing CBAV members for transport, fund raising to purchase bass for restocking and wait on Mother Nature to repopulate.

   W2 contacted Odenkirk for his take on the situation and asked him the following questions. His responses follow.

 

 In your scientific opinion, how is the bass fishery now on the tidal Rappahannock compare to the fishery historically?

    The LMB fishery in the tidal Rapp can be/should be broken down into 2 distinct components – the section from Fredericksburg to Port Royal and the balance of the fishery below (downstream) of Port Royal.  This partition is necessary due to habitat differences which seem to be driving the fishery.  As for historical perspective, I am somewhat limited by only having data (collected annually) since 2003.  There is anecdotal evidence that this fishery may have been, prior to that time, characterized by higher abundance.  However, I can only speak to that which I have measured, and based on that; the “upper” tidal fishery looks better than I have ever seen it.   Catch rate has been steadily climbing since the low of 2003 to near 35 fish per hour in 2011.  The “lower” tidal fishery has not rebounded and still seems to be reeling from numerous consecutive years of floods and droughts several years ago. 

 

What do you guess is this issue?

    The issue seems to be habitat.  Without habitat for spawning, nursery and even for adult holding; there will be a minimal LMB population.  Other sunfish species were notably absent as well from surveys of waters below Port Royal in recent years.  The (noted above) extreme weather conditions resulted in salinity intrusion and scour (and probably changes in creek bathymetry) which, among other things, removed most of the beneficial submersed and emergent aquatic vegetation.

 

Is there a quick fix to the issue? If yes, what. If no, please explain your recommended course of action.

   There is probably no “quick fix” to this situation.  Remedial stocking may be considered if fish/funds are available, and it is determined that habitat will support stocked LMB.  Stocking, if conducted, would likely occur only below Port Royal due to the positive response/trend (noted above), as “Nature” continues to provide good natural recruitment where habitat supports it. 

 

How important is angler feedback to you?

   Angler feedback is very important to me – I work for the anglers of Virginia (and those from other states who buy licenses to fish Virginia).  I want fishing to be very good.  Thus, I value and solicit angler’s views so that I/we may integrate their desires into our management strategies and philosophy.  I also strive to educate anglers so that their expectations are realistic based on what the resource can sustain/offer. 

 

   While we don’t know what will happen with the management of the bass fishery on the tidal Rappahannock, we do note both parties are talking and that usually starts the process toward recovery. Both CBAV and VDGIF want good bass fishing the river, so this common goal should prevail.

  There will be a fund raising tournament held May 26 and 27 out of Tappahannock to relocated bass from Occupacia Creek up to Leedstown and Green Bay. For more information contact Lee at 540.226.2047. There is a $10 entry fee per boat per day with a 10 fish limit per team.

  The CBAV are also accepting tax deductable donations that will be earmarked for restocking the Rappahannock River in 2013. Make checks payable to CBAV (Rappahannock Fund) and mail to 19507 Ware Creek Rd., Rappahannock Academy, VA 22538.