The Lake Fork Trophy Largemouth Bass Survey: Benefits and Limitations of Using Volunteer Angler Data to Assess the Performance of a Trophy Fishery

Lake Fork Reservoir, in northeast Texas, supports a nationally-recognized trophy largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides, LMB) fishery which the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) has managed using restrictive harvest regulations since it was opened to public fishing in 1980. De- spite a long history of annual creel and electro fishing surveys conducted by TPWD, data on trophy fish is limited. Fisheries managers' inability to collect trophy-sized LMB using traditional sampling methods is probably the result of a combination of gear biases and low relative abundance of trophy-sized fish. We collected volunteer angler survey data on trophy-sized sh >3.18 kg, with interest in the sample above the upper bound of the protective slot- length limit (>609 mm TL), and evaluated the utility of this information to supplement creel and electro fishing survey data. From March 2003 through February 2013, the Lake Fork Trophy Bass Survey was used to collect data on 12,560 trophy LMB, 14% of which were larger than 4.54 kg. Anglers re- ported lengths on 93% of the entries: 31% of these were >609 mm TL. these combined observations affirm the quality of the trophy fishery, information which was unavailable from traditional sampling. Manpower investments for the volunteer survey were low, resulting in a cost-effective method of collecting supplemental data on trophy fisheries. However, although the volunteer survey provided valuable documentation on catches of trophy LMB, the eventual decline in angler participation and the increasing tendency to report only larger fish makes these types of surveys inappropriate for long- term monitoring.

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