Talkin' Outdoors

For the better part of the past four decades, Mike Wood has been the main source I turn to when I want to know something about freshwater fisheries as it relates to our area lakes. Wood retired recently after logging in 37 years as a biologist with the LA Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. For the past several years leading up to his retirement, Wood was Director of Inland Fisheries for the state agency.

We caught up with Wood recently to talk about his years with the LDWF and Caney Lake, one lake in particular that has held a good measure of his interest and work.

“I made a trip down to Caney recently and I have been very pleased with what I’m seeing and hearing from fishermen. The bass fishery,” Wood declared, “is essentially back.

“We’re starting to see a few more bass in the double digit range showing up and the bream and crappie fisheries are also doing great. In a word, Caney is back,” he said. “We went through a several year dry spell period because the habitat was missing. Grass carp had pretty well knocked vegetation back to virtually nothing, giving the fish little cover. The numbers of record book bass just about disappeared. ”

Reflecting on the history of what happened on Caney during those dark days, I researched an article I wrote several years ago. Here’s a quote from that article, explaining the problem.

“Coincidentally, about the time all the big bass were coming to the scales, something was happening beneath Caney’s still waters. The lake had developed a serious problem with a profusion of aquatic vegetation, primarily in the form of the exotic species, hydrilla. After several attempts failed to reduce the grass, the decision was made to introduce an exotic species to control the hydrilla. Sterile triploid carp, more commonly known as White Amur, or simply, grass carp, were released into the lake in 1994.

“The carp did their job efficiently and in the minds of many, the job was too efficient. Much second-guessing has gone on over the past decade about the prudence of using an exotic species of fish, at least in the number of carp released, to curtail the submerged vegetation. In a couple of years after 12,500 grass carp were released into Caney Lake, the hydrilla was essentially gone, along with other native species such as coon-tail. The lake, which has no standing timber, had offered bass plenty of habitat in the form of aquatic vegetation but once it was gone, the fish had no place to hide. It wasn’t long before numbers of big fish began a decline and as the big bass disappeared, so did the fishermen.”

Today, the situation looks much brighter and is due in part to two components. The carp are no longer an issue and aquatic vegetation is returning.

“There are only a few old carp left in the lake and they are no longer having an impact on the fishery. In addition,” Wood said, “grass is coming back. We planted eel grass that is growing quite nicely. It’s a native plant and we getting good reproduction.

“With the return of suitable habitat, it wouldn’t shock me to see a 15 or 16-pound bass caught in Caney. Without cover, the fish had to expend lots of energy chasing down forage which doesn’t allow them to put on weight as opposed to hiding in vegetation and slurping down forage fish that swim by.”

Although retired from the state agency, Wood won’t spend all his time fishing and relaxing. He plans to continue doing what he really loves, and that involves working with the state’s fishery.

“I am starting my own consulting business to help folks with questions and problems with their lakes and ponds. Anyone with problems or needing management advice can contact me at 318.376.3474, or my e-mail address at mikewoodservices@gmail.com.”