Fishing Pressure Down At Monroe
Change in habitat preference foils bass busters
The inside story on Lake Monroe from biologist Schoenung

From the Hoosier Times 3/18/01

By Don Jordan

Fishing pressure at Lake Monroe was down in 2000, as it was at two of Indiana’s other large reservoirs, according to the results of creel surveys conducted by the Div. of Fish and Wildlife last summer.

"There was a decrease in fishing pressure. It was not a Monroe-specific phenomenon. There were similar corresponding decreases at Patoka and Brookville," said district fisheries biologist Brian Schoenung.

At Monroe fishing pressure dropped from 56.4 angler hours per acre in 1994 to 33.7 angler hours per acre from April to Oct., 2000. That’s a major decrease, and neither the biologist nor his fellow scientists have been able to come up a good explanation.

"There were some changes in the lake, but more than likely the decrease is related to weather. But I am sure it is a number of things," he continued.

"There were some complaints last summer that largemouth bass were getting hard to find or hard to catch. The (bass) tournament folks weren’t real happy last year. But a lot of that could be reflective of a change in habitat at Monroe over the last few years.

"Starting in 95 water levels were fluctuating all across the map. In 2000 the Corps decided to keep water level at summer pool no mater what. The end result was water level in the lake was extremely stable. Vegetation just took off. I tend to believe that should have been a tremendous boon to recruitment of young fish. Panfish should have had really good year classes last year, and that provides forage for larger fish. I am expecting bigger populations. It will be good for the lake overall."

What he described as one "difficulty" for bass fishermen in particular, and why bass fishing dropped off last year is what the biologist called "a shift in bass habitat preference." In the past, bass fishermen may have spent more time fishing rocky points or ledges on creek channels. The vegetation bloom at Monroe moved largemouth groceries like small panfish into the protective cover of this vegetation, and he thinks that’s where the largemouth should be now.

"It may be that anglers haven’t caught onto that shift in habitat preference by bass," he said. "We will know more when we do a fishery survey at Monroe this summer. We do also have some bass sampling scheduled for the next couple of years to get a better handle on bass out there. We are going to increase our focus on largemouth bass."

If bass anglers found fewer fish, the average angler surveyed in the survey at Monroe last year actually caught more fish while fishing less. Anglers harvested 141,104 fish last season, and that is 15 percent fewer than in 1994 creel survey, a statistic clearly related to decreased fishing pressure. However, the people who did fish Monroe last year caught more fish per outing than in 1994, said Schoenung

Crappie were the most numerous in last summer’s creel survey, followed by bluegill, yellow bass, hybrid stripped bass, channel catfish and largemouth. As Schoenung said, "almost all fishermen release their largemouth bass" and largemouth were the most sought-after species.

Here are some of the survey’s other results:

Crappie: The average crappie in last year’s survey was nine inches. That compares to 8 inches 1994. Crappie over 10 inches made up 27.8 percent of the harvest, compared to 9 percent in 1994 and 5 % in 1991. "There is steady improvement in the crappie population," he added.

Bluegill: Bluegill are not likely to ever be big at Monroe again because of overwhelming numbers shad, said Schoenung. Monroe’s average bluegill went 6.8 inches in 2000. Compare that to bluegill at West Boggs Creek near Loogootee. There, 15% of the bluegill population is 8 inches or larger. Schoenung said there were still a lot of bluegill in Monroe, just that they aren’t reaching the size they did before the shad explosion.

Yellow bass: These scrappy little relatives of the stripped and white bass averaged 7.2 in anglers’ catch last summer. Some were bigger, up to 13 inches. Schoenung says: "Yellow bass will never attain a really large size, but their average length isn’t horrible. "

Hybrid Stripped Bass: "Wipers" in anglers’ creels last year averaged only 12.7 inches, and that small size is a "red flag" according to Schoenung. "There are a lot of people out there who are keeping very small wipers. Our creel clears said that anglers may be keeping them, thinking that they are yellow bass. We’ve been dumping wipers in by the bucketload. Our target is 50,000 fish a year. We should have a really good population out there right now. The high harvest of small fish was probably that 1999 cohort (wipers stocked in 1999)." Only 5,000 wipers went into Monroe last year, because the Oklahoma hatchery where Indiana trades saugeye and sauger for wipers failed to produce in 2000.

Schoenung said that the state is going to continue both stocking programs, those for wiper and walleye.

The average channel cat caught and kept last year at Monroe was 18.3 inches but ranged up to 33 inches. The average walleye caught and kept was 16.8 inches with the largest walleye at 26 inches, or about 8 lbs. The average largemouth bass kept by anglers at Monroe last year was 16.5 inches. Schoenung said "another 28,000 largemouth bass were caught and released, and roughly 8,000 of those were over 14 inches."

Finally, Schoenung mentioned the economy of all this fishing activity at Monroe. According to a U.S. Dept. of Interior formula, anglers at Monroe average $50 spent per fishing trip. This includes everything from cost of boat and motor to gasoline, food, bait, tires, and lodging. Multiply that $50 per trip by the number of fishing trips made to Monroe in 1998 (the most recent year data is available), and you come up with $4.1 million generated by sport fishing at Monroe.

"In reality, I don’t think that number is that far off," he concluded.

A full-blown fishery survey at Monroe is scheduled for this summer. Beginning in July, Schoenung’s crew will be surveying Monroe for at least a three week period. They will use gill nets, trap nets and "electrofishing" in an attempt to better determine current fish population dynamics at Monroe. Results of that survey will probably not be available until next winter.

Posted 3/21/01...Indy

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