Water Critical For Health Of Fisheries
Galen Jons, Fisheries Biologist

We are well into our electrofishing season with two important lakes completed. These lakes, Sweetwater and Ft. Phantom Hill, have produced very different results in our surveys, and these can be attributed to the ongoing drought.

As many of you know, Lake Ft. Phantom Hill had a rise in water level several times over the last year. These rises started in June 2000 when the city of Abilene pumped water from the Clear Fork of the Brazos River. This pumping, combined with inflows, raised the lake level approximately six feet. The lake level continued to rise with heavy rains during fall 2000. Then, several heavy rains throughout 2001 have raised the lake level a few more feet.

Lake Sweetwater, on the other hand, continues to drop to historically low water levels. It hasn't had any significant increases in water level in the last several years.

The plight of these two lakes is well presented in our fisheries data. Lake Ft. Phantom Hill has an abundance of bass from four to eleven inches long. These fish represent reproduction and recruitment from the last two springs. The rise in lake level during June 2000 was enough to protect the fish hatched that year and carry them through the winter into 2001. For the same reason, an abundance of flooded vegetation ensured good protection of baby bass hatched out during spring 2001. This should mean excellent fishing in a few years for this lake.


Survey results from Lake Sweetwater weren't quite so promising. The drought has certainly taken its toll on this bass factory. There are still plenty of bass in this lake, and many of them are quite large; however, fishing is tough right now due to the extremely low water level, and will probably be less than stellar for a few years to come. Although there was successful recruitment of bass last year, we've seen no such indications for this year.

The only saving grace for Lake Sweetwater is its inherent fertility. When it does fill, we expect the lake to bounce back quickly. Because of this, we suspect that the new 14- to 18-inch slot limit on this lake will not have any detrimental effects due to the drought's impact on the fishery. In fact, the slot limit may actually greatly enhance the recovery of this awesome bass lake.

In conclusion, Lake Ft. Phantom Hill is well on its way to recovering, whereas Lake Sweetwater is approaching critical condition, but can quickly be nursed back to health with a good rainfall. I think the really telling point here is how much impact water levels can have on fisheries. As we all know, not only do good fisheries make for fantastic fishing, but they can also be a telltale sign of the environment's overall health. With this in mind, let's all try to conserve a little more water in the future.








Texas Parks and Wildlife Dept.
5325 N. 3rd
Abilene, TX 79603
(915) 692-0921

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