What's up with Yellow Bass?
Mari Phelan, from the Fairmont Lakes Foundation Inc., had a conversation with Nate Hodgins, from the Windom DNR (Department of Natural Resources) fisheries office on February 1, 2022.
Mari: During our FLF Inc. Ice fishing contest, on Saturday, January 29th, I realized I was hearing a lot of new and varied information (maybe myths?) about Yellow Bass! They are new, they are prolific, several spawning’s in a season, invasive, native, not native, etc. etc. So, I was hoping you could help me out and clarify a few things.
Nate: Yes, there is a lot of talk going on right now about Yellow Bass. We don’t want to have things happen here like what is happening in some places in Iowa where Yellow Bass are really overpopulating!
Yellow Bass ARE a native fish, just NOT native to the Fairmont Chain of Lakes. They are native in the Mississippi River, yes! But not necessarily here. We are at the northern edge of the Yellow Bass native range. Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri, the mid-tier states, are where they thrive.
Mari: How and when did they get in our lakes?
Nate: Our Windom Area DNR office THINKS what happened here, is that someone dumped a bucket load in one of the lakes at some point. Ice fishermen first noticed them in 2012.
Mari: Are they taking over the lakes?
Nate: The DNR does a survey of 1 out of our 4 Fairmont lakes each year. They treat Amber Lake separately, and survey that one the same time they survey Hall, of which we will be doing those next summer (2022).
The last survey showed that George Lake had a good population of Black Crappies, but the Yellow Bass were off the charts (293 per gill net)! They are getting big and are in large amounts. The Yellow Bass grow fast. They can overpopulate but then their populations stabilize. When overpopulated, their growth may slow but when there are too many, they could actually become stunted. Yellow Bass adults will normally be 9 to 11 inches at the top of their growth potential, but if stunt they may not reach 7 inches.
The initial thought right now is that the population will reach very high levels and as time moves on the population will stabilize and then reach a level that is more easily regulated and much lower than it is now. This is typical of invasive species ecology. The populations won’t always be so large, the abundance will come down in time.
Mari: How do Yellow Bass compete in the Fairmont Lakes eco-system?
Nate: We are watching things. It seems like the Yellow Bass are going to compete most with the Yellow Perch. But yet, we are still seeing good numbers of Yellow Perch (near 20 per gill net in George Lake in 2021).
There also has been local speculation that they can spawn up to three times in a season, but the MN DNR has only been able to document one spawning event each summer season. The book “The Fishes of Missouri”, which is written by Dr. William Pflieger who is an expert fish biologist, indicates that Yellow Bass only spawn 1 time during each year, and this happens during the spring months as water temperatures warm to near 70 degrees. The MN DNR has only seen one size group of Yellow Bass for each year indicating 1 spawn. On the other hand, the Bluegill are a species that spawns multiple times in a season. And as an indication, you will see all different sizes of young Bluegill within one age group of fish. We are seeing a good population Bluegill, but the most abundant sunfish species right now are Yellow Bass in the Fairmont Chain.
The Iowa DNR is trying to decide if Yellow Bass should be regulated or not. If no regulation, people can take as many as they want. And if regulated, the evidence so far suggests that we can’t seem to regulate a way out of this problem as they are so prolific. We want to be sure to see healthy populations of “other” species too.
Top predators for Yellow Bass are: Muskies, Northern Pike, Walleye and large Channel Catfish. And we are starting to see robust populations of each of these species. We want to have a healthy predator population. It is really important to have a healthy predator base.
Mari: Are there plans to manage the Yellow Bass population?
Nate: Part of our DNR management plan for the Fairmont Chain of Lakes will be to stock LARGER walleyes – that’s on our plan for next year (2022). 16-to-17-inch sizes will eat much of the Yellow Bass sizes present in the lakes. We have seen Walleye up to 30 inches at times in the Fairmont Chain of Lakes, but rarely in high abundance when they reach upper-20 inches.
We are continuing our stocking of Muskies too. Muskies and Pike play the same role, both as top predators. One will out compete the other. But they both will eat the Yellow Bass.
Mari: Is there any upside to Yellow Bass?
Nate: Clear Lake Iowa has a large Yellow Bass Population. Scott Grummer, the area biologist responsible for Clear Lake in Iowa, said he has seen Yellow Bass there for over 20 years. People like fishing them and will come from many miles away to fish for Yellow Bass alone. So, there is an economic impact resulting from Yellow Bass angling in Iowa.
They are very good to eat too! You should search on Google for some Yellow Bass recipes. They are similar to Yellow Perch and have the consistency of Crappie filets. VERY good and very abundant… not a bad problem if Yellow Bass fit well within the Fairmont Chain of Lakes fish community.
I suggest taking out the ‘Mud Vein’ – the darker part of the fish fillet that runs down the middle of the fillet on the skin side of the filet. Just cut that out as that is where ‘the fishy flavor’, that some people can taste, comes from. You should remove that out of most fish. This is the fatty tissue that can collect most contaminates like mercury and PCB’s – (a construction and agricultural ‘forever’ chemical).
‘Catch and Release’ has been the slogan and the way things have been done for years, but now, this might be a situation where you don’t want to ‘release’. They are good eating. Ultimately, it’s the fishermen’s prerogative of whether to catch and release or to catch and keep. But it may be beneficial to encourage catch and keep for all Yellow Bass.
Mari: Thanks Nate! Lots of good information you gave me here. This helps clarify a lot of speculation that will help our overall understanding. Maybe we can now say ‘Catch and Eat’!