Virginia Isn’t Alabama
By Steve Chaconas
Finger pointing is rude but, in the case of the introduction of the Alabama bass into Virginia water by anglers, it’s poking a finger into the eye of the entire bass fishing community. All because of the ignorance of an angler or two who thought adding a new species would enhance their fishing efforts. Moving fish around, called Johnny Apple Seeding, is illegal. Now it’s gone way beyond spreading disease or adding another predator, it’s put us on an unimpeded course to ruin bass fishing in Virginia.
This time, the sky is falling. The introduction of Alabama bass in Virginia waters is creating imminent danger to largemouth and smallmouth bass fisheries. While Alabama bass may be nearly identical in appearance to largemouth bass, their presence leaves a lasting impression on fisheries where they are nonnative. Virginia waters are being invaded by a fish that looks like a largemouth bass, swims like a largemouth bass and can be caught like bass. However, this fish is not a good neighbor to the more native largemouth bass.
Aggressive Alabama bass outcompete with native largemouth and even small mouth, and they hybridize with them. They dilute the gene pool of larger northern bass and can wipe out entire smallmouth populations. As an invasive species, Alabama bass can cause declines in largemouth populations. Once Alabama populations establish, stunting occurs, resulting in greater abundance of smaller bass. Fisheries are likely to shift from being dominated by 2–3 lb. largemouth or smallmouth bass to being dominated by 1 lb. Alabama bass. Hybridization and declines in either population will result in the loss of sportfishing opportunities and the million dollar economic benefit.
Destruction of quality largemouth fisheries doesn’t take long! Well known North Carolina lakes, like Lake Norman, saw a decline in largemouth. Lake Chatuge saw a loss of smallmouth following the introduction of Alabama bass in less than a decade! In Georgia, Alabama Bass have spread and hybridized with native Shoal bass and Chattahoochee bass to the point where both populations are endangered and have been labeled by Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources as Species of Special Concern.
Smallmouth populations in the James River could be decimated with no chance of rebound! While every system is different, outcomes are reliably the same. The effects of an Alabama bass invasion might not be realized initially but don’t take long for the interbreeding process to wipe out the preferred largemouth genes at a rapid pace. Unfortunately, DWR is finding Alabama bass in several fisheries, including the New River and Claytor Lake, which many consider to be the best fishery in Virginia with native smallmouth bass. Largemouth abundance declines are more likely in lakes that are relatively clear, and which have limited vegetation such as Smith Mountain Lake, Lake Anna, South Holston Reservoir, and Lake Moomaw if Alabama Bass are introduced.
Making this disaster even more complicated is how difficult it is to identify them. Even fisheries biologists are challenged to differentiate Alabama bass from spotted bass and most anglers can’t discern a largemouth bass from an Alabama bass, making it very difficult for angler or biologist intervention and removal of the undesirable bass. DWR offers a quick differentiation…Alabama bass jaws line up with the middle rear of the eye. Largemouth Bass jaws extend past the eye. Alabama bass have a dark, blotchy lateral band from head to tail, and have spots below this band. Largemouth bass have a more continuous lateral band. Alabama Bass also typically have a tooth patch on their tongue, which is rare in Largemouth Bass. Alabama and Spotted Bass are differentiated by differences in lateral line scale counts or genetic analysis.
The DRW strategy is focusing on education and engaging bass anglers. In addition, Alabama bass have been added to the undesirable list, expressly prohibited stocking of spotted bass because of appearance similarities.
Maryland is keeping a watchful eye as several of their prized fisheries could have the habitat where Alabama bass could flourish and destroy Deep Creek Lake, Prettyboy, Loch Raven, and Liberty Reservoirs, the nontidal Potomac River and its major tributaries, and some areas of the tidal Chesapeake Bay.
There’s no bag or size limit and anglers are encouraged to harvest all they catch. Alabama bass are on Virginia’s Predatory and Undesirable Species List. Live possession is unlawful outside of the body of water of catch. Violations of this regulation are a class III misdemeanor. This is the time for anglers to act! Report any violations immediately! 800-237-5712 or WildCrime@dwr.virginia.gov
Bottom line, anglers must stop now and not stock any fish. The future of bass fishing in Virginia is now compromised and we will lose our valuable resource due to the selfish and ignorant acts of a few. Don’t be one of them.
Potomac River Bassing in APRIL
April is one of the best months for big fish and a lot of them. Lipless crankbaits in red, chrome, and shad patterns. Tie to 12 pound test Gamma Edge fluorocarbon line. Gravel points in creek mouths and bays are great targets. Make long casts and slowly retrieve red baits, keeping them on the bottom. In areas with grass, keep the bait in contact with grass and snap free with a slight hesitation. Fast reels are important.
Also, old school Carolina rigs can cover water in the same areas. The 1 ounce weight keeps baits on the bottom. Use 16 pound test Gamma Edge fluorocarbon line with a 12 pound test Edge leader is the set up. Leader length varies, 18-24 inches covers most conditions. Longer in very clear water.
Fish are moving to docks. Target docks closer to the creek mouth or deep water. Jigs and creature baits will yield good fish.
Spinnerbaits slow rolled along the bottom will get big bass to bite. Best when water has some color or there’s chop. Gold blades and white skirts.
About the Author: Capt. Steve Chaconas is a Potomac bass fishing guide & freelance writer. Potomac River reports: nationalbass.com. YouTube channel NationalBassGuide.