Monroe Fishery Recovers From 1996-97 High Water Disaster

By Don Jordan

May 5, 2007

Lake Monroe's fishery is finally recovering from the disastrous 1996/97 season when high water killed most of Monroe's aquatic vegetation. The loss devastated young fish and the entire fishery for nearly a decade, but the comeback is on.

"That fishery is in as good shape as it has been in for several years," said Div. of Fish & Wildlife Southern Region Fisheries Supervisor Brian Schoenung, stationed at Avoca. "The 96-97 loss of vegetation really hurt the fishery out there. In the last four years we are starting to see more vegetation, some milfoil. There is actually some habitat out there."

Schoenung explained that when lake water was 18 feet over normal pool in 1996/97, no light could penetrate to aquatic plants, so they died. Water levels have been less dramatic in recent years, allowing plants to recover

As the biologist explained, most of Lake Monroe is not good fish habitat. It is bare, fairly flat bottom. Aquatic vegetation provides the only fish habitat in much of the reservoir. One of the most important things submerged vegetation does is provide places for young fish to hide. The lack of hiding places, of spots to evade bigger fish and other predators, has shown up in Monroe's largemouth bass population, said Schoenung.

"Recruitment [of young fish] is fairly low out there. The largemouth bass population is dominated by large fish," he explained.

Even when largemouth got off a spawn, their young were exposed to all manner of predators, meaning only a few young fish lived to show up in surveys. And, water level fluctuations have other drastic effects on the fishery besides destroying vegetation.

"This year is a perfect example. All the bass there are on the nest right now. Also, the lake was five feet up. From the time they started (nesting) to now, there has been a [water level] drop of four feet in elevation. So if you were a bass that was spawning in shallow water, you probably lost your nest. I would suspect this year would be a low recruitment year."

Schoenung and district fisheries biologist Dave Kittaka will know a lot more about Monroe's largemouth population in a few months, because a major largemouth research project as well as a major creel survey are underway right now.

In the creel survey, a DFW employee will ask you at the boat ramp how many fish you caught, what they were and how long you fished and more. This survey began in April and continues through October. The statistics yield fisheries harvest and angler preferences information, for example.

The other project is a massive shoreline largemouth sampling effort to cover the entire reservoir.

"We have it broken into six mile sections. Crews from all over the south region come up every week and do different sections," said the fisheries official. "We're are trying to get an estimate of the largemouth bass population, and nobody has ever done this on a reservoir this size."

One other research project underway at Monroe is a survival/mortality study of largemouth caught during bass tournaments. Such studies are sweeping the country now after the much-publicized Wisconsin incident where as many as 80 percent of the fish caught and weighed died within a week of the contest.

That bass tournament took place in 90-degree weather and has prompted Wisconsin to reconsider permitting tournament fishing in the hot months of summer. Schoenung noted that Indiana allows bass tournaments all summer long.

Next week: Monroe walleye, wiper and panfish updates

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