Cold Winter, Drought May Mean Poor Fishing In Spring

Ed Hunter (352) 392-1773 x 278

Mike Allen, (352) 392-9617

View Photo
View Photo

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — This year’s unseasonably cold winter and continuing drought conditions in the Southeast may lead to poor fishing come spring for anglers partial to the popular black crappie as well as other sport fish, according to a University of Florida researcher.

Mike Allen, an assistant professor of fisheries and aquatic sciences with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, said his research into the black crappie (pronounced croppie) indicates that low temperatures can have a negative effect on fish reproduction.

“In Florida, we found that crappie that hatch early in the spring, when it is still cool, have slow growth and poor survival,” Allen said. “Fish that hatch later in April and May tended to have good survival and growth and are most likely to reach adulthood.

“Potentially a really cold winter like the one we are experiencing could cause problems not only with crappie but with all fish,” he said.

Allen said the unusual combination of a cold winter and continued drought could result in a double hit on sport fish populations.

“Low water conditions this year will reduce fish habitat and will likely be even more detrimental than the cold winter for crappie and other sport fish populations,” Allen said. “Low water levels combined with a cold winter could lead to poor fish survival this year.”

Allen said the crappie, also known as the white perch or the papermouth bass, is the second-most popular freshwater sport fish in Florida. The black crappie and the closely related white crappie, better known as the speckled perch, are found in most parts of the country and as far north as Canada, he said.

“Millions of people fish for crappie,” Allen said. “White crappie are found more in the northern regions of North America, while black crappie are predominantly found in the Southeast regions, but the two fish are very similar.”

Allen said in addition to being a popular sport fish, crappie make an important contribution to the overall ecology of the lakes they inhabit.

“Crappie are part of the whole lake ecosystem, they serve as food for other predators, including the largemouth bass when the crappie are young,” Allen said. “Then they grow outside the size range where most of our native predators can use them and after that pretty much their main predator is man.”

Allen has been looking into crappie populations and the environmental factors that can affect the abundance of fish during spring fishing seasons.

“Crappie populations are characterized by drastic fluctuations,” Allen said. “You can get a strong year with really abundant fish and good fishing, and then some successive years of really poor fishing due to poor survival of young fish.

“We are trying to understand why crappie populations fluctuate the way they do and come up with management recommendations to try and make the fishing more consistent,” he said.

In the lakes being studied, researchers are following crappie from birth through most of their first year, said Kevin Dockendorf, a fisheries and aquatic sciences graduate student involved in the study.

“We trawl the lakes with a net and are able to collect the young fish essentially from the time they hatch in the spring and follow them all the way through the summer,” Dockendorf said. “We can look at food availability and the survival and growth of these fish.

“This allows us to follow each year’s class and determine if it is a strong or weak class depending on the abundance of fish that year,” he said.



Posted: January 25, 2001

Category: UF/IFAS

Subscribe For More Great Content

IFAS Blogs Categories