By Louie Stout
Indiana biologists spent time conducting snapshot surveys on a couple northern Indiana area lakes and both provided some interesting data.
We’re talking about Stone Lake, just east of Bristol, Ind., and Lake Webster in North Webster, Ind.
Stone is the lesser known of the two while Webster is best known for its trophy muskie fishery. Biologists were there to look at the bass and crappie populations while adding a casual looksee at the bluegill populations.
Stone is located just off Ind. 120 and sports one of Indiana’s newest public launch sites. Until the past couple of years, it has produced quality bass fishing, but that’s diminished considerably the past couple of years.
During the mini surveys conducted last month, biologists shocked the shallows for bass for an hour and ran trap nets in deeper water for the crappie. Although they aren’t thorough surveys, these “status and trends” surveys provide fish managers with a periodic look at bass and crappie populations. The results are compared to previous surveys on those lakes and with other natural lakes in the area.
District Biologist Larry Koza said the early May Stone survey indicated the lake has a ton of bass but most are small. In fact, based upon the state average, Stone has high bass population.
“But only 7 percent of what we saw were 12 inches or longer,” he said. “That’s similar to what we saw there in 2009 in a similar survey.”
Koza said there could be slow growth because of the high numbers of small bass and he will know more once scale samples have been analyzed.
“If we see a (slow growth) issue, we might recommend a slot limit there, but we won’t know until we have all the data,” he said.
Crappie populations were low, which Koza said is typical for that lake.
“But the bluegill and redear population was pretty good,” he said. “We didn’t see any giants, but we saw quite a few 8-8½ inchers.”
Biologist Jed Pearson conducted a similar survey on Webster where he found a lot more quality bass than a 2006 survey showed on that lake.
“Historically, we have found 4 to 8 bass between 14 and 18 inches during an hour of shocking, but this year we found 35,” Pearson said. “In the 12- to 14-inch size range, we shocked up 51 per hour and normally only see 5 to 11 at Webster. So there are a lot more intermediate size bass there now.”
Some might claim that’s because muskie numbers have been down the past couple of years. Previous surveys conducted when muskie numbers were higher showed fewer bass.
“But when I look at the data of other lakes that have muskies compared to those that don’t, there isn’t a lot of difference in our hourly catch rates,” Pearson offered. “But what is interesting is that the lakes with muskies tend to produce more bigger bass. The bottom line is we don’t think muskies are harmful to bass populations but they do thin out some of the smaller bass and that leads to bigger bass that survive.”
Crappie numbers during the survey remained about the same as in the past.
“Webster has always been known as a pretty good crappie lake,” he said.
Even though bluegill weren’t being sampled, the population looked very good based on the number of gills biologists saw in the crappie nets.
“Most were 7 to 7½ inches, which is what we usually see there,” Pearson said. “Not sure why they don’t have more big bluegills since the lake is so productive.”
One reason could be attributed to the abundant shad in the lake, a nuisance fish that competes with bluegill for food and doesn’t make good table far. Bass and crappie will eat shad, but once they get to a large size, only the muskies with their giant mouths can consume them.
“That’s one of the reasons we stocked muskie there long ago, to help control the shad,” Pearson added. “And we know the muskies are eating shad.”
Balancing a fishery is no easy task, which is why biologists like to do periodic spot checks on the lakes in their districts. Given the improvement in muskie fishing and the positive signs Pearson saw in the recent survey, Webster is a pretty good one for a variety of sportfish.