TWRA to take DNA samples at BASSfest

Fisheries officials from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency will be at the weigh-ins during next week's ZIppo BASSfest at Kentucky Lake presented by A.R.E. Truck Caps, collecting DNA samples from select largemouth bass.

By taking small, harmless fin clippings from several fish, they hope to learn how prevalent the Florida-strain largemouth bass gene is in the fishery.

"We began stocking Florida-strain largemouth into Kentucky Lake this year," said Bobby Wilson, chief of fisheries for TWRA. "Those fish are only about 2 inches long right now, so we know they won't be caught in the tournament. But we want to see how prominent the Florida-strain gene is in the lake before those new fish start contributing to the gene pool."

Florida-strain largemouth are a popular stocking option for public and private lakes because they grow larger and faster than the Northern strain. The two strains often cross-breed, causing various levels of hybridization.

TWRA officials are stocking hundreds of thousands of Florida-strain largemouth fingerlings into several Tennessee fisheries this year, including Kentucky Lake, Nickajack, Watts Bar and Fort Loudon. They're hoping for results similar to what they've seen recently at Chickamauga Lake, another Tennessee River fishery.

Florida-strain fingerlings were first released into Chickamauga in 2000. Though mostly unsuccessful for the first five years, the stocking program was tweaked in 2010 and better results soon followed.

Testing on Chickamauga in 2010 revealed the Florida-strain gene had increased from less than 5 percent across the lake to more than 30 percent. Another round of testing in 2013 showed the number at 45 percent.

"Our original goal was to increase the percentage of Florida bass genes to 15 percent on Chickamauga, and it is currently about 45 percent," Wilson said. "But more importantly, these stockings have led to a significant increase in the number of larger bass in the lake."

In 2012, a tournament on Chickamauga was won with five bass that weighed 45 pounds - an incredible average of 9 pounds per fish.

The Tennessee state largemouth record, which had stood for more than six decades, was shattered in February when Tennessee angler Gabe Keen landed a 15-pound, 3-ounce bass from Chickamauga. Test results on clippings taken from Keen's fish are not yet available, but Wilson said he is confident the fish is carrying the Florida bass gene.

In 2009, TWRA fisheries biologists found a largemouth bass that weighed nearly 17 pounds during an electrofishing study on Brown's Creek Lake - another lake in West Tennessee where Florida-strain bass have been stocked. The fish was weighed, photographed and released.