Hatching Florida bass in Arizona

SEDONA, Ariz. — Visualize bass spawning in a hatchery and what do you see? Big, fat females, right? Maybe even double-digits, if you're familiar with Texas' ShareLunker program, which uses 13-pound-plus fish annually donated by the anglers who caught them.

But eager to spawn Florida bass in its own hatchery for stocking in state fisheries, Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD) decided to try something a little different.

Bubbling Ponds Fish Hatchery Manager Sarah Taylor said a "directive from above" prompted the experiment.

"I probably wouldn't have done it, and I didn't expect it to work so well," she added with a laugh. "But it did."

As a consequence, resource managers stocked the state's first 8,000 locally spawned fry earlier this year, along with 340,000 donated by Texas. The Floridas were released into Saguaro, Canyon and Apache Lakes.

"Our goal is to get our own (Florida) bass so we don't have to rely on others," said biologist Curt Gill, who added that he is hoping for a 2 percent survival rate to help those fisheries recover more quickly from golden algae kills.

Eight thousand might not seem like much, but given the spawning conditions for the parents of those fry, the results were pretty amazing.

First, the spawners were 2- to 3-year-old fish, averaging about 9 inches long and less than 8 ounces in weight. 

"They were so crowded together that they didn't have room to grow," said Taylor, adding that 400 fish were in one raceway and 300 another."

Putting in coconut fiber mats, however, provided just the stimulus needed.