Report Released: Post Tournament Release Movements of Black Bass in Lake Champlain

The popularity of black bass (Micropterus spp.) fishing tournaments on Lake Champlain has risen over the past few decades. Since the early 2000s, the City of Plattsburgh, NY, has hosted numerous large-scale competitive tournaments including the Wal-Mart / FLW tournament series as well as the ESPN / Bassmasters tournament series. These national circuit tournaments play an important role in the local economy. Due to the relatively recent emergence of Lake Champlain as a popular bass fishing lake, there is a need for more scientific information about the bass fishery, in particular, information is lacking as to how fish respond to relocation and release as a result of tournament activities.

Fish stress levels and dispersal patterns were assessed at nine tournaments in 2011 and 2012. Results indicated there was a positive relationship between fish stress and distance traveled in a live-well; the further fish traveled, the more likely they would become stressed. Average immediate mortality was under 5% for both species. Dispersal results showed delayed dispersal (fish leaving Cumberland Bay) using both T-bar tag return and telemetry methods. In general, it took fish at least two weeks, and often several months to disperse beyond Cumberland Bay. Many fish ultimately dispersed from Cumberland Bay with 56% of radio-tagged smallmouth bass and 44% of radio-tagged largemouth bass leaving the bay during our study. Dispersal patterns were similar for T-bar tags. As time post-release increased, higher proportions of tag returns came from outside of Cumberland Bay; however, tag returns from the bay continued throughout the study. One tagged fish and none of the radio-telemetry fish returned to their original capture locations following release in Plattsburgh. One dispersal pattern that became
apparent was the tendency of fish to disperse to the northern regions of Lake Champlain. No study fish observed exhibited dispersal South of the Ausable River in NY and Winooski River in VT when released at Plattsburgh.

The data collected in this study provides a much needed starting point for further bass research on Lake Champlain. In addition, results give managers some insight into Lake Champlain bass tournaments, and their potential impacts on bass populations. This report contains detailed information on fish stress and mortality (using a method developed by the Lake Champlain Research Institute) and fish dispersal (using both T-bar tagging and telemetry). This information was used to make recommendations to improve tournament practices and for further research projects to better maintain Lake Champlain’s high quality black bass fishery. Recommendations include better communication of existing scientific research to tournament organizers and anglers, moving the release point away from the Plattsburgh waterfront, and the establishment of a long-term monitoring program of the warmwater fishery in Lake Champlain. Finally, ideas for continuing research on black bass on Lake Champlain are listed.
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