Browsing the weekly bass fishing news, I had to go back over what I’d just read. Surely, these guys weren’t talking about hydrilla.
“It’s great news to see it grow like it is now” reported Texas Parks and Wildlife biologist Todd Driscoll.
Great to see? Hydrilla?
Yep. There it was. In the recent report by the Daily Iberian, circulated here on BassFan, biologists and anglers alike were rejoicing over the comeback of hydrilla to Toledo Bend reservoir, one of the country’s original bass fishing holy lands.
Scientists and managers on both the Texas and Louisiana side of the waterbody monitored the process of the grass and rooted it on, no pun intended. Some even included hydrilla in a study where protective enclosures were being used to monitor growth. Yes, you read that right – fish and game managers interested in protecting hydrilla.
Contrast that to other locales where it seems aquatic plant managers hang “Wanted” posters in their offices displaying photos of hydrilla. The thoughts of putting up with the plant, yet alone welcoming it, totally foreign to their seek-and-destroy mentality.
Make no mistake: hydrilla is a dangerous plant. But, I wonder, are we finally seeing some enlightened acceptance of the plant’s benefit? It appears so.
First, let’s discuss the negative. Hydrilla can be totally catastrophic to waterways. In the case of bass fishing, I’ve personally seen hydrilla decimate what once may have been the best bass lake in the world. Join me for a brief memory.
When I first moved to Florida, a large piece of property had been purchased by a local resource agency for environmental protection and outdoor recreation. Hiking, horseback riding and the like. The property contained a small lake which was designated for permit fishing. A couple boats a day max, and trolling motor use only. I remember the first time I went there.
Clear waters revealed dozens of bass, oversized panfish and thousands of golden shiners. During my first few fishing forays, it was uncommon not to catch or lose a bass over 8 pounds on every single trip to the lake. My largest bass to date came from there. One day, I caught three 7-pounders on three different lures, then followed it up with a 10, all before noon.
Hydrilla overtook the lake. The mats were so thick that it made it nearly impossible, even for me, to fish. And I don’t back down, believe me.
An aquatic war was waged. The lake lost, as did the bass. The last time I visited the lake, it was brown and frothy. I caught zero fish. It appeared that the lake professionals – employed, mind you, by a conservation group dedicated to water management – had no clue how they could ever manage the grass. Maximum depth on the lake was about 12 feet, and hydrilla easily grows that deep in Florida.
So there’s the bad side. Wiped out. Total loss.
On the positive, we’ve all seen the benefits of hydrilla. Increased habitat for adult bass is important, but even more vital is the uptick in nursery habitat for small fish and prey species. It’s a proven fact: waterbodies with large areas of shallow cover simply produce more fish, as a whole, than those without. The carrying capacity of the lake is much higher.
Occasionally, we’ll hear lake managers talk of how big numbers of bass still occupy a lake once hydrilla has been removed. The old argument that “the fish are still there, just not in the places with fishermen."
This, as well all know, is BS. Yes, if all the grass is responsibly removed from a water body, the bass will still be there. But not for long. Aquatic invertebrates, insects, crawfish, small fish; all will soon be gone with the disappearance of the grass. I’ve tested and proven this myself while sampling habitat in Florida. Next in line to crash will be forage fish, followed by game fish. Biology, yes. Rocket science, no.
So grass, specifically hydrilla, can, and is, a good thing for bass and bass fishing. Period. But, as we’ve seen, there can be too much of a good thing.
How do we adapt? First off, it’s important to recognize that certain bodies of water can never be overrun with hydrilla as we know it today. The famous reservoirs in Texas, for example, have vast areas of water too deep for hydrilla. Toledo Bend is built well for a hydrilla, with natural “borders," Lake Apopka, however, is not.
There’s a balancing act that needs to be done. Also take into consideration that hydrilla is now growing farther north than ever (it was reported in New York’s Cayuga Lake), is now fending off certain types of herbicides once used to control the plant (sound familiar?) and is easily transferred from lake to lake by us bass-boaters, even as we ramp up efforts to reduce this occurrence.
To summarize, the idea of zero hydrilla is futile. Really, that ship has sailed. Its time area managers came to this realization. Not only is it impossible to eradicate hydrilla from public water bodies, it’s not at all beneficial to the resource. But neither is completely ignoring the threat.
The answer lies somewhere in the middle. In a place where area managers, like those in Texas and Louisiana, understand and recognize the benefits of the plant, and work with all stakeholders on education and management of the exotic.
I’d like to think we’re slowly moving toward that middle ground.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)