By Jim Low
If heaving big treble hooks all day and doing battle with man-sized fish is your idea of fun, you will love this year’s paddlefish season.
From March15 through April 30 Missouri offers some of the world’s best paddlefish action. These survivors from the age of dinosaurs sport outrageously elongated snouts and grow to weights topping 130 pounds. They filter tiny plants and animals out of the water for food, making it impractical to entice them to a hook with bait or lures. Instead, anglers use stout rods and reels to jerk three-pointed hooks through the water in hopes of snagging one. This strategy works because paddlefish swim upstream in early spring in response to their spawning urge, gathering in large numbers at the upper ends of Lake of the Ozarks, Table Rock and Truman lakes, and the stretch of the Osage River below Bagnell Dam.
Missouri’s paddlefish season depends on artificial propagation and stocking. It takes a paddlefish approximately seven years to grow from stocking size — 10 to 16 inches — to the legal minimum length of 34 inches at Lake of the Ozarks, at Truman and Table Rock lakes, and their tributaries. By the time a cohort of stocked paddlefish has been in the wild 11 years, their numbers dwindle, but the survivors, which can live 20 years, are tackle-testing monsters.
The Conservation Department’s Blind Pony Hatchery produced bumper crops of paddlefish in 2001 and 2008. That means that a larger-than normal number of fish weighing 50-plus pounds are out there waiting for snaggers this year. The 2008 cohort was the biggest in history, more than a quarter of a million in all. Members of this mega-cohort are just coming into their own and should provide amazing snagging action at Lake of the Ozarks, the Missouri River, Truman Lake, Table Rock Lake, and the Black River.
Water temperature determines when snagging action heats up. The best time to go is when warm spring rains raise the water temperature to 50 degrees, prompting the big fish to swim upstream on their spawning run.
Paddlefish must measure at least 34 inches from the eye to the fork of the tail to be legal at Lake of the Ozarks, Truman, and Table Rock lakes. Smaller fish must be released immediately. Paddlefish reach legal size a little sooner in other Missouri waters, where the legal minimum length is 24 inches.
If you want to try paddlefish snagging but don’t know how, consider enrolling in the Discover Nature-Family Paddlefish Clinic April 19 in Warsaw. Participants will learn about paddlefish biology and snagging techniques and then go out for hands-on experience. Registration begins March1 and ends April 11. The clinic has room for only 40 participants, so register now by calling 660-530-5500.
Ongoing research in northeast Missouri is aimed at updating biologists’ understanding of turkey population dynamics. The Conservation Department has traditionally relied on research to provide the information necessary to manage the state’s wild turkey population. This information has served Missouri well, providing a solid scientific basis for setting seasons and bag limits that permitted the flock to grow while providing superb hunting opportunities.
However, biological systems are dynamic, and some of the facts of life for turkeys have changed in the past several decades. For one thing, they have occupied available habitat in every corner of the state. Following a post-restoration peak in abundance, turkey numbers have declined in many parts of Missouri. Many of the characteristics of the state’s turkey population have changed as well.
To ensure that future management decisions are based on a solid understanding of turkey population dynamics in this new era, the Conservation Department is trapping and radio-tagging turkey hens and gobblers. Biologists will follow these birds to determine survival throughout the year, including during the spring and fall hunting seasons. Biologists will also note when hens begin incubating eggs, when they finish, how many eggs hatch, and how many poults survive the critical first month of life. At the end of the five-year study, the Conservation Department will use the information to determine the appropriateness of current and potential hunting regulations. Results of the research project will have important implications for the future of wild turkey management in Missouri.
The ultimate goal is to continue the careful stewardship of a resource that has enormous economic value and is priceless in the connections it provides with our families, our history, and the natural world.
Partners in this effort include the University of Missouri, the University of Washington, and the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF). Funding for the project comes from a grant from the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Program and a grant from the George Clark Missouri State Chapter of the NWTF.
Bowhunters checked 50,507 deer during archery deer season, bringing the total 2013–2014 deer harvest to 252,575. That number is down from the 10-year average of 293,308.
Resource Scientist Jason Sumners attributes the decline to two factors. One is increasing pres-sure on does in an effort to reduce deer numbers across much of central, northern, and western Missouri over the past decade. The other is losses to blue tongue and epizootic hemorrhagic dis-eases in 2012. A return to normal acorn production across southern Missouri also contributed to the lower deer harvest in 2013–2014. He says these factors and comments from hunters will be considered when drafting recommendations regarding 2014–2015 deer hunting regulations.
A series of public meetings this summer will allow Department biologists to gather additional comments and update hunters on deer management plans. Dates for the 2014–2015 hunting season were set in December to enable hunters to plan vacation time. The Conservation Commission still has time to adjust deer hunting regulations, but solving the current deer management challenge is not as simple as it might seem at first glance. 2013–2014 harvest figures and hunter comments indicate that deer populations differ significantly from county to county and even within some counties.
“When managing for stable populations, we know a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t fit every situation,” says Sumners, “but we want people to know that we are hearing their concerns and are committed to finding the right balance of keeping regulations simple yet effective at meeting population management goals.”
Sumners notes that restoring deer to Missouri took 50 years of cooperation between the Conservation Department, landowners, and hunters. It wasn’t until 1995 that Missouri’s annual deer harvest topped 200,000. It took a few more years to increase doe harvest to a level needed to stabilize deer numbers in parts of Missouri where deer had grown too numerous. Maintaining stable deer numbers in the face of increasing hunter numbers, disease outbreaks, and annual harvest variations is a balancing act.
“We have seen dips and bumps in total harvest before and expect the ebb and flow will continue in the future,” says Sumners. “We reduced the availability of antlerless permits in 12 counties last year in response to hunter and production landowner surveys, public comments, and population data. In the future, we plan to enhance our data gathering and analysis techniques and work with hunters to better meet their expectations and protect the $1 billion industry that our deer herd supports.”
To improve blue catfish populations in Lake of the Ozarks, Truman Lake, and their tributaries, three new regulations apply to these waters. Blue catfish 26 to 34 inches long must be returned to the water unharmed immediately after being caught. An angler’s daily limit may not contain more than two blue catfish longer than 34 inches. The daily and possession limit for blue catfish on these waters will be 10.
Refer to theWildlife Code of Missouri or theMissouri Code of State Regulations for complete rules at sos.mo.gov/adrules/csr/current/3csr/3csr.asp.
The January Commission meeting featured presentations and discussions regarding Missouri’s Comprehensive Conservation Strategy, the Table Rock Lake National Fish Habitat Initiative, and white-tailed deer management. A summary of actions taken during the Jan. 23–24 meeting for the benefit and protection of forest, fish, and wildlife, and the citizens who enjoy them includes:
The next Conservation Commission meeting is March 6 and 7. For more information, visit mdc.mo.gov/node/3430 or call your regional Conservation office.
Great blue herons are top predators in their aquatic environments. Other predators frequently prey upon the herons’ eggs and chicks, but not many animals hunt the adults. From the tip of its bill to the tip of its tail, the great blue heron can reach lengths of up to 46 inches. Herons are found statewide and gather in large nesting colonies near water and food. Each pair of great blue herons typically lays 3–6 eggs, which are incubated for nearly a month. The chicks hatch one at a time, with the first to hatch growing more quickly than the others. They wade and forage in shallow pools, edges of lakes, and similar areas for aquatic prey, including frogs, small fish, and many other animals that can be swallowed.— photograph by Noppadol Paothong
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