Fishing's Greatest Myths
Galen Jons, Fisheries Biologist
Florida bass vs. northern largemouth bass. There is only one sure way to tell a Florida bass from a northern bass, and that is through genetic testing (either electrophoretic blood tests or microsatellite DNA analyses). YOU CANNOT (repeat after me) You cannot tell a Florida bass from a northern bass by looks or color or behavior or anything else short of blood tests! Strangely enough, even professional bass anglers who should know better will swear that they can tell these fish apart! Florida bass are not darker in coloration (that is caused by the clarity of the water that the fish is taken from), and they are not stockier or more prone to schooling behavior than northern bass. Without genetic testing, your best bet for determining if a bass has Florida genetics is if the fish weighs more than ten pounds, as northern bass rarely reach that size. We won't even get into the mixed strains of Florida and northern largemouth bass - these intergrades are by far more common in Texas lakes than pure Florida or northern bass!
Hybrid stripers are eating all of the crappie and bass. This myth is persistent primarily with anglers who are experiencing poor fishing success. Rather than chalk it up to the nature of fishing, they feel a need to blame something for their poor success, so they naturally accuse predatory fish that they do not care for (unfortunately, gar suffer this same fate). Research has shown that hybrid stripers (and gar, for that matter) will feed on the most prevalent forage in a lake, which is nearly always shad. In fact, hybrid stripers generally prefer fish that are less than five inches in length. If there are that many sub-five-inch crappies in a lake that the hybrids are feeding exclusively on them, then they are doing us a favor by thinning out the crappie population so the rest can grow to keeper size. Crappie are notorious for overpopulating and stunting! As for bass, they typically don't even inhabit the same area of the lake that hybrid stripers do, and they are certainly far less common and harder to find than crappie.
Florida bass grow faster than northern bass. This is untrue, and in fact may be the opposite of what really happens. Research has shown that northern bass may outgrow Florida bass for the first few years, but then the Florida bass will catch up. Although growth rates will never be faster for Florida bass, they will reach an ultimately larger size, which is what they are famous for.
Stocking solves all fishing problems. Very rarely does stocking solve any immediate problems that concern anglers. We typically stock fish to
If you are catching lots of small fish in a lake, stocking more of that species will actually worsen the problem by causing the fish to grow slower and stay smaller longer. See the Summer 2001 edition of "The Big Country Review" for a more in-depth explanation of why we may or may not stock fish.
Bullheads and carp bury themselves in the mud when a lake dries up, only to return when the lake refills. This myth is persistent among owners of smaller ponds that tend to dry up during years of drought. The fact is bullheads and carp need water to survive; at best, they can stay alive out of water for a few days as long as their gills are kept wet. But, they are not going to survive a week or two in a pond with no water. The reason they show up so readily in a refilled pond is usually due to contamination from ponds or water holes upstream that the fish have escaped from. It's also possible they could have been introduced through contaminated fish stockings.
Birds carry fish eggs on their legs. This myth is related to the one above in that it helps explain how fish got into a pond. The problem is that fish eggs cannot survive the drying that would occur if transported by birds. Additionally, most fishes in our area have non-adhesive eggs, so they wouldn't stick to the birds' legs in the first place!
Divers encounter catfish larger than themselves. I've heard this story in every part of the country I've been in. It is heard in California, Florida, the Dakotas, Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma, etc. The story is that some divers cleaning the intake screens on the dam accidentally rub up against catfish that are larger than themselves; they are so shaken that they vow to never dive in that lake again. The story might actually be believable if 1) it wasn't told almost word-for-word about every major reservoir in the country, and 2) if there were ever any credible evidence offered rather than a story from somebody's cousin's sister-in-law's ex-husband. For what it's worth, blue and flathead catfish can exceed 100 pounds, and may look even bigger than they actually are when viewed underwater.
Water skiers fall into a nest of water moccasins (cottonmouths). We shouldn't even have to mention the fact that water moccasins don't nest! Like the catfish-diver story, this one is told throughout the southern U.S. (I've even heard it told as far north as Nebraska). Somebody's cousin's brother-in-law was out water-skiing with a group of friends, and one of the skiers fell into a nest of moccasins and was bitten to death in short order. Again, the story is the same for many different lakes and no proof is ever available. There is even a variation of this story played out in Larry McMurtry's made-for-TV movie "Lonesome Dove", although the victim falls from horseback rather than a water ski.
That lake is infested with water moccasins! Water moccasins aren't nearly as common as most people would like to believe. In fact, in this area, the only place you're even remotely likely to run across a moccasin would be the extreme southeastern Big Country (such as below Lake Proctor), or possibly below Lake Nasworthy. Even then, your chance of finding one is quite rare. These are the only two areas that have credible reportings of moccasins. What most people encounter when on the water are actually common water snakes. Their coloring varies greatly and can be very similar to a moccasin. Moreover, common water snakes can be quite aggressive, another trait which leads people to believe they are moccasins.
All anglers are liars except for you and me, and I'm not so sure about you
Texas Parks and Wildlife Dept.
5325 N. 3rd
Abilene, TX 79603
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