PRATT, Kansas — Hillsdale Reservoir will be the recipient of the first crop of largemouth bass produced in a new hatchery facility being built by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.
The Meade Hatchery and Bass Propagation Facility in southern Kansas is actually an addition to an existing hatchery, and construction began this winter. The facility is scheduled to produce its first bass crop this spring, according to Doug Nygren, state fisheries chief.
"We are building a climate-controlled building where we can manipulate water temperature and photoperiod and get our hatchery bass to spawn earlier than the wild bass do here in Kansas," said Nygren.
Research has shown that bass born in late spring have a lower rate of survival. "Most of our wild spawned bass are too small and are hatched too late to feed on gizzard shad as young-of-the-year so they don't grow rapidly. They don't have the fat reserves needed to ensure winter survival," explained Nygren.
By raising water temperature and lengthening daylight hours in the new facility, biologists hope they can trick native bass into spawning earlier. Indoor rearing in raceways will ensure high survival of the experimental fry.
Biologists hope to produce up to 2 million fingerlings annually. They will hold them for 21 days (about the length of time a male would guard the nest) and stock them in April. This would put the baby bass in the lake three to four weeks ahead of the wild spawn. The fingerling bass should feed on zooplankton and macro-invertebrates until they shift to an adult diet. The hope is this shift will coincide with the shad spawn and there will be an abundance of small forage available to them.
Hillsdale Reservoir is typical of many impoundments that went through a boom-bust cycle after impoundment. Once a thriving bass fishery, it has settled in as a low-density bass population with a history of only modest recruitment. Stable water levels and adequate habitat made it the best candidate lake for testing the new bass-
"We hope this new strategy will prove to be a valuable management tool for the future, but we want bass anglers to understand that at this point, this is an experiment," Nygren cautioned.
Research shows that early spawned bass are more likely to survive into the next year. If this Kansas bass factory can produce fish earlier than wild spawns and the baby bass can get a jump on the forage fish, they might get past the winter bottleneck and supplement the wild spawn to produce strong year classes.
Kansas biologists will closely monitor the progress of the stocked fish. Meanwhile, bass fishermen are guardedly optimistic, and biologists in other states will be watching as well.
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