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Lake life

Weather spawning fishy questions…

Most would agree that last year was the best white perch fishing year ever on Lake D’Arbonne. And I doubt few would argue that so far, this year has been one of the worst.  Neither have anything to do with the other, though. I hate the saying with a passion, but hey, “it is what it is”.

Area white perch fishermen have been discussing not only the fact that this year’s weather is making fishing terrible, but it may now be affecting the spawn, too. Usually we expect fish to spawn in our area at the end of February and in March. We fisherpeople scientifically measure that by noting when we begin to catch big white perch full of eggs or swarms of the darker colored skinny males in the shallow water! I’m betting that is about to change in the next 7-10 days.

But this year that’s not happening so far because the water temp is still in the 40’s. What does that mean for the spawn? Well, there is no black and white answer to that, but we’ve consulted veteran fisheries biologists who we know and trust. Here are some spawning facts they’ve shared:

crappiespEggs may appear gravid (ready to be laid) now in some of the fish being caught, but warm water fish are not ‘ready to spawn’ when the water is 40-50 degrees.  Why?

o   Fish are genetically programmed to spawn when there are reasonable prospects for success. It’s that “Mother Nature” thing again…

o   Crappie eggs in 60 degree water will hatch in about 2 days.  In 50 degree water… forget it.  Fungus and nest predators get those.  It’s a mistake to mix the characteristics of individual crappie with those of the crappie population.  Who can know why an individual crappie decides to spawn?

 – But… we do know that crappie within a population begin the process when conditions are right.  Those conditions include the right mix of temperature, water fluctuation (we’ve  had plenty of that this year), photoperiod (daylight/dark), etc. 

 – We also know that ‘the spawn’ may start early, but it actually extends for a couple of months, with a peak probably sometime in March.    

 – Early nests are a gamble for fish because conditions (cold front, drop in water level, etc.) are more likely to cause nest failure.  But, if they survive, early fry have a tremendous competitive advantage. 

 – If the early nests are a bust, other fish will move in later to spawn.  The odds are never in favor of a successful hatch… nor that the fry will survive the first topminnow that try to make a meal of him… or that he can outswim a hungry cormorant or turn down a really tempting jig.  That’s why crappie have so many eggs to start with.  Fortunately, out of about 50-100k eggs per female, enough of the little guys seem to make it for it to all work out.”

The bottom line is that it gives us something to talk about, but there’s nothing we can do about it.   We can make sure that mand-made efforts to manage our lake levels are done to prevent causing undue strain on the spawn as much as possible, but we have no control over water levels caused by rain and, yes, melting snow…. We also have no control over temps or the daylight/dark. There’s no guarantee there will be a good spawn this year with all the variables, but it is also a bit early to give up as well.

One final thing: realizing that the chart below may resemble one of those “when to plant tulips” charts that you find in Southern Living magazine, I still want to share it. It is obviously not an absolute (as witnessed by the comments above), but it is an average of when crappie are expected to spawn across the country if conditions are normal. If this chart is correct, the time is near…

crappie-map

 

 

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