Lake Fork - 2004 Survey Report
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Prepared by Kevin W. Storey and Aaron K. Jubar
Inland Fisheries Division
District 3-B, Tyler, Texas
This is the authors' summary from a 41-page report. For a copy of the complete report, use the download link in the sidebar.
Lake Fork was surveyed from June 2004 to May 2005 using electrofishing, an access point creel survey, and an aquatic vegetation survey. This report summarizes the results of the surveys and contains a management plan for the reservoir based on those findings.
Lake Fork is located in Wood, Hopkins, and Rains counties, Texas on Lake Fork Creek, a tributary of the Sabine River. It was constructed by the Sabine River Authority to provide water for municipal, industrial, and recreational uses. Angler access is good with four public boat ramps and numerous private boat ramps and marinas. Limited bank access is available at public boat ramps, a day-use area operated by the controlling authority, and through a number of marinas. Littoral zone aquatic habitat is diverse with timber, native emergent plants, and native floating plants occurring along 50%, 46%, and 22% of the lake shoreline, respectively (Storey and Myers 2002). Bulkhead, concrete, and rip-rap are present along less than 6% of the shoreline, and boat docks in combination with other habitat types occupy 9% of the shoreline (Storey and Myers 2002). Total coverage of hydrilla (Hydrilla verticillata) accounted for 13.4% of the lake surface area, up from 6.6% in 2003. During the last year, lake elevation has remained within 1.5 feet of conservation pool elevation. Water hyacinth coverage has increased compared with the previous year and surveys and treatments should be continued on an annual basis.
- Prey species: Lake Fork contains abundant and diverse prey fish populations. The size structure of the gizzard shad population has remained consistent. Threadfin shad are present and serve as important prey due to their small size. The bluegill and redear sunfish populations are dominated by moderate sized individuals (4-5 inches). Prey fish populations in Lake Fork are adequate judged by the excellent body condition of largemouth bass.
- Sunfish: Sunfish (redear sunfish, bluegill, and longear sunfish) provide a limited recreational fishery. Angling effort directed at sunfish accounted for less than 0.5% of the total angling effort expended in 2004–2005. Angler catch (5.87/hour) and harvest (4.42/hour) rates were higher than in previous years.
- Catfishes: Lake Fork provides an excellent quality channel catfish fishery. In 2004-2005, angling effort directed towards catfish (1.35 hours/acre) accounted for 4.7% of the total angling effort, a lower level than the previous year (1.47 hours/acre). In 2004-2005, angler catch rate (1.29/hour) was lower than in 2003-2004 (1.44/hour) but higher than in most other years (range: 0.05 – 1.44/hour). Harvest rate (0.84/hour) was greater than in previous years (range: 0.05 – 0.84/hour). Total catch of catfish amounted to 2.74/acre during 2004-2005 and 73% of these fish were harvested (2.01/acre). Compared to previous years there has been an overall reduction in the lengths of harvested fish as proportionally fewer quality (>16 inch – 38%) and preferred sized (>24 inches - <0.5%) individuals were caught. Other catfish species, including blue catfish, flathead catfish, and yellow bullhead are present, but they contribute little to the total fishery.
- Temperate basses: There is a limited fishery for yellow bass in Lake Fork accounting for less than 0.5% of total angling effort. Fish harvested by anglers in 2004-2005 ranged from 6 to 11 inches total length. A small population of white bass exists in Lake Fork and a single specimen was collected during 2004 gill net surveys. The lake record increased to 3.73 pounds in February 2005. A number of white bass x yellow bass hybrids are also caught each year. The current lake record white bass x yellow bass hybrid, weighing 4.01 lbs, was caught in March 2003. It is unlikely that the presence of white bass, or their hybrids, will have any kind of negative effect on Lake Fork’s largemouth bass population since their numbers are low and prey fish populations remain abundant. These fish provide alternative fisheries resources in this reservoir.
- Black bass: Electrofishing surveys conducted during the spring and fall show the presence of a stable, high-quality largemouth bass population. Largemouth bass in Lake Fork exhibit rapid growth, and above-average condition. They grow to 16 inches during their fourth year. Mean relative weight of fish within the protected slot limit was above 90 in both spring and fall. Annual stockings of Florida strain largemouth bass (FLMB) have maintained the FLMB allele frequency above 30%. Lake Fork continues to receive high directed angler effort for largemouth bass. In 2004-2005, largemouth bass angling effort accounted for 77.8% of the total effort. In 2004-2005, largemouth bass harvest was comparatively high (0.98/hour) as a result of the inclusion of a large number live release tournament fish being transported from ramps to weigh-ins. Since March 2003, a total of 4,285 largemouth bass have been reported in the Lake Fork Trophy Bass Survey (Appendix 10) by anglers from 42 states. The top 5 states of reporting-angler origin were Texas (60.5%), Oklahoma (6.4%), Missouri (6.2%), Louisiana (5.3%), and Arkansas (4.6%). As expected, most trophy fish catches occurred during spring. By far, the vast majority of entries were 7 (38.9%) and 8 pound (30.0%) class fish. Anglers weighed 86% of their entries, and of these fish, 16.9% were 10 pounds or heavier. Anglers measured 50.8% of their entries, and 31.6% of these were 24 inches or longer. Fish in the 22 and 23 inch classes were most abundant of the measured entries, representing 27.4% and 26.9% of the total respectively.
- Crappie: Lake Fork supports a quality crappie fishery that is monitored by an ongoing annual creel survey. Results indicated a declining trend in catch rates, and directed pressure, and changes in size composition and seasonality of harvest of Lake Fork’s crappie population. Crappie were Lake Fork’s second most popular species with annual directed angling effort (4.73 hours/acre) representing 16.6% of the total effort in 2004-2005, down from 20.9% in the previous year. Fishing effort varied little by season. Total crappie harvested has declined from 7.51/acre in 2000-2001 to 4.22/acre in 2004-2005. The majority of harvested fish (75%) were black crappie. The most common size class of harvested crappie (black and white combined) was the 10-inch class which accounted for 33% of the total annual harvest. Angler compliance with the minimum length limit, in effect from March through November, was high with illegal harvest accounting for only 0.2% of all crappie harvested. In the winter quarter, when there is no minimum length limit, 49% of harvested crappies were less than 10 inches.
Largemouth bass are vital to Lake Fork and the local economy (Hunt et al. 1996), so management strategies are geared to maintain and enhance this prestigious fishery. The harvest regulation for largemouth bass changed on September 1, 2000 to the current 16-24 inch slot length limit with a 5-fish daily bag limit of which only one fish can be >24 inches total length. Data from the Lake Fork Trophy Bass Survey indicates 32% of trophies reported since March 2003 were longer than 24 inches, an indication of the effectiveness of the slot-length limit regulation. Since 2001, Florida largemouth bass have been stocked annually in a 5,000-acre embayment of Caney Creek, north of the Highway 154 Bridge at an effective rate of 100 fish/acre to increase the frequency of FLMB in the largemouth bass population. Electrophoretic analysis of age-1 largemouth bass collected in fall 2003 and 2004 indicated no significant difference in genetic composition between stocked and un-stocked areas of the reservoir. In fall 2005, a sample of age-1 fish from stocked and un-stocked areas will be compared again for differences in genetic composition. Monitoring of water hyacinth distribution and coverage will continue and recommendations will be made for further treatment as needed.
Performance Report as required by Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act Texas Federal Aid Project F-30-R-30 Statewide Freshwater Fisheries Monitoring and Management Program