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Big Muddy Refuge Improves Fisheries through Partnerships
Midwest Region, May 28, 2005
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The Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife refuge has recently improved its recreational fisheries with assistance from the Columbia Fisheries Office, the Missouri Master Naturalist program and a substantial donation from a private individual. The refuge has numerous scour lakes in the floodplain of the Missouri River that were created by the floods of 1993 and 1995. These scour lakes have never been stocked with fish except for the occasional flood of the river that recharges them and provides an exchange of fish species from the river. Recent drought conditions have not allowed this exchange for over four years. ?The habitat conditions of these scour lakes provide for limited reproduction success,? commented Refuge Manager Tom Bell. The most notable species that are absent from these scour lakes are largemouth bass and sunfish. In order to make these lakes more desirable for a recreational fisheries, Fisheries biologist Wyatt Doyle and Project Leader Tracy Hill of the Columbia Fishery Resources Office proposed a stocking revelation.

Doyle was aware of a large private lake that was experiencing an overstocking and stunting of largemouth bass due to high reproductive rates and uneven age classes that did not provide for a productive balance. ?This private lake needed over 4,000 largemouth removed in the 8-12 inch range to help provide a balance of age class and to reduce recruitment rates? stated Doyle. Upon permission from the landowner Doyle and Hill set up two electro-shocking projects in early May with help from refuge staff. ?We should be more effective if we catch the bass before they spawn? stated Hill. The first night of shocking revealed the lake also contained an overstocking of large sunfish. With permission from the landowner it was then decided to take several hundred of these sunfish out of the lake to help balance the lake conditions and to provide an additional species for the refuge fisheries.

Captured fish were measured and recorded, those outside of the desired size range were released. Largemouth bass and sunfish within the desired range were placed in holding nets and then transferred to tanks on vehicles and delivered to the refuge scour lakes. Over 1,500 largemouth bass and over 300 sunfish successfully made the transfer to the refuge.

Without adequate cover in these scour lakes the new fish were vulnerable to predators such as gar and flathead catfish, and could expect limited reproductive success. This is where the Missouri Master Naturalists lent a helping hand. Just recently completing there coursework the Master Naturalists were eager for volunteer projects. Creating habitat on the refuge appealed to seven of a class of 20 naturalists. On the Saturday before Memorial Day the future naturalists were out cutting invasive cedar trees on the refuge and sinking them into the scour lakes. In addition, they cut and hauled large logs from the Missouri river shore and placed them in the scour lakes not only providing habitat for the fish but also basking platforms for the numerous turtles found in the lakes. Before the days end, the turtles were already basking on several of the placed logs.

In all it was a win-win situation. The refuge improved upon its recreational fisheries and created some better habitat in the works. A private landowner was successful in reducing his numbers of bass and sunfish, and the Missouri Master Naturalist interns moved one step closer to reaching their Master Naturalist status.

Contact Info: Larry Dean, 612-713-5312, Larry_Dean@fws.gov



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