Well folks, here we are going into another new year. Many have pledged to eat healthier, lose weight and start exercising, and we mean well. We know it should be done, but in reality we mostly fall back into our old habits in just a few weeks. The answer is we are not committed to the thought. It sounds good, we know we should, but a change of lifestyle takes a lot of work and discipline.
My aim today is not to address good intentions of my neighbors and their New Year resolutions, but to point out some facts of interest to anglers of Lake Conroe and a positive event that has been caused by one of our local businesses.
The event that I would like to mention occurred on Tuesday, December 10, 2019 when the folks at Stow-A-Way Marina and RV Park stocked another 5,200 black crappie, measuring 4-to-6 inches, in Lake Conroe. This makes the fifth year that Stow-A-Way has had a donation jar on the counter so anglers and customers, who patronize the marina and care about the health of our crappie population of the lake, can donate their dollars and change to help purchase as many as possible. The angler and customer donations, along with a sizable donation made by Lamarr Anderson, is helping to rebuild the numbers caused by a drop in crappie population back in 2006 and 2011.
Those who participated in what turned out to be a cold weather project of putting the crappie into the lake that were purchased from and delivered by Kenneth Henneke Fish Hatchery were Vince Anderson, Richard Tatsch, Butch Terpe, Roy Hammonds, James Tucker, LaMarr Anderson, and Johnny Heneke. There is nothing like local folks and business owners helping to take care of this important outdoor resource that provides recreation and income for so many of our residents.
The decline in the crappie population from my experience and perspective is a result of three events, so I will start back at the beginning before the decline. I would also like to point out that the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department raise and stock in our Lake Florida Bass and hybrids (Palmetto bass), but no crappie have been stocked since 2000.
In 2004 our crappie population was great. One morning Butch Terpe and I went out at nine in the morning and returned two hours later with limits of crappie for each of us. With that kind of bite you can expect anglers within driving distance would flock to area to catch one of the best eating freshwater fish that cannot be bought at the grocery store. Therefore as expected the fishing pressure increased and the crappie numbers declined as the spawn could not keep up with the rate the fish were being removed from the lake.
The next negative impact that affected crappie and most other species of fish in our lake occurred in 2006 when hydrilla was found in a cove. The habitat management included using triploid grass carp was started by the TPWD using a proven approach on the number of carp that had worked in other lakes. Certain homeowners around the lake with the Chicken Little mindset of “The sky is falling,” forced the TPWD to put more triploid carp in the lake than was needed. Those triploid carp not only ate up hydrilla but unfortunately, they had destroyed native vegetation, leaving the lake without vegetation causing a drastic reduction in hiding places for fry as well as the needed nutrients and food supply for many of the aquatic animals.
On top of those events we had a severe drought in 2010-11 that dropped the level of the lake eight and one-third feet below the pool level of two hundred and one feet, causing no restoration of the aquatic vegetation. June 2011 was the driest month since 1895 and October 2010 through July 2011 was the driest period in Texas history, and worst one-year drought ever for Texas.
The long term effects of the low water on the vegetation were not all bad. While the lake was down the aquatic vegetation that had fallen victim to the ravenous appetite of the overstocked carp was temporarily replaced by dry land vegetation as it began to take over all of the new dry land left open with the lower water level. Grass, weeds and all sorts of bushes and trees started growing and thriving.
Later once the water was back up to pool the now submerged land vegetation provided a food source and shelter for the fry from the spawn and helped improve the survival rate of the fresh hatchlings. That land growth soon was destroyed by the water and we were still suffering from the destruction of the native vegetation.
There has been an ongoing monumental effort to restore the destroyed aquatic vegetation by local bass club volunteers assisted by the San Jacinto River Authority and the TPWD biologists for our area. They have been growing and then planting native aquatic vegetation in cages under the water to protect the plants from destruction by the carp. This effort has been slow but productive in restoring acres of the plants in the National Forest area of the lake.
So now you can see how the stocking of crappie in our lake is so important.