ATHENS, Texas — A first-of-its-kind meeting between fisheries biologists and bass fishermen was an unqualified success, according program organizers.
"This meeting was our third attempt at getting anglers involved with biologists and, by far, the most successful," said Tim Cook, conservation director for the Texas BASS Federation Nation (TBFN) and a driving force for this new format.
"We incorporated many components that are hot topics for anglers right now, such as tournament fish care and habitat for fish," he continued. "Bringing a fishing component to the gathering was also a big draw and put anglers in the same boats as the biologists in a fun tournament atmosphere."
Craig Bonds, Region 3 director of Inland Fisheries for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), also was pleased with the response, including attendance and interaction of the participants.
In years past, anglers were invited to seminars in San Antonio and Grapevine. "Both of these meetings comprised presentations and interaction, but angler attendance was much lower compared to the recent meeting in Athens," the biologist said.
This time around, anglers and biologists gathered Saturday, Aug. 7, at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center (TFFC) for a full day of presentations and discussions, followed by a dinner and silent auction, with proceeds benefitting the TBFN's conservation program.
Bassmaster Elite Series angler Alton Jones provided one of several highlights of the evening, sharing his strategy for learning about a lake he hasn't fished before. Additionally, state directors honored BASS National Conservation Director Chris Horton with a parting gift — a shotgun — as he prepared to start a new job with the Congressional Sportsman's Foundation, and TPWD recognized Cook and the Seven Coves Bass Club for their work on behalf of fisheries conservation.
Then on Sunday, a half-day tournament was followed by a session on tournament fish care and fizzing. Saturday's session was attended by 115 people, Bonds revealed, while the auction of donated fishing trips, art and other items raised $3,565 to use for improved tournament fish care practices and enhancing habitat in state waters. Cook also initiated the National Bass Conservation Rod Program, collecting another $150 for conservation.
"The program has been a dream of mine for several years, after seeing other organizations, like CCA [Coastal Conservation Association], adopt similar programs," Cook said of the project, in which $25 from each rod sold goes toward the cause.
"Anglers can visit www.conservationrod.com for more information about purchasing the rods. This program is open to any state Federation nation or club interested in raising funds to support their conservation efforts."
Saturday began with anglers and biologists providing the audience with examples of successful collaborative projects. (Presentations can be viewed online at http://www.sdafs.org/tcafs/Angler_Bio_Meeting_2010.) Topics included Fish Attractor Programs in Central Texas Reservoirs, Lake LBJ Native Aquatic Plant Enhancement Project, Sam Rayburn Giant Salvinia Roundup, and Partnering with Bow Anglers to Reduce Grass Carp Numbers in a Public Lake.
Ron Gunter of Seven Coves revealed how his club has worked with TPWD, the San Jacinto River Authority, and lakefront property owners to improve bass fishing on Lake Conroe. The strategy involves controlling hydrilla with grass carp and other means, while establishing beneficial native vegetation.
"We wanted to show anglers that you don't need hydrilla for a healthy fishery," said Gunter, whose club maintains a plant nursery.
"This is not just a long-time thing," he added. "We have a system in place, and we are committed."
In the afternoon, anglers and biologists discussed future opportunities to work together via the National Fish Habitat Action Plan,habitat partnerships and TFFC's native aquatic plant nursery.
One key component to a successful angler-biologist meeting is an energetic and committed angling partner," Bonds said. "Tim Cook and the Texas BASS Federation Nation, along with Texas Parks and Wildlife, made for ideal partners in this endeavor."