Gillnets

The more Asian carp removed from Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley by commercial fishermen’s gillnets, the more secure sport fish populations will be.

As more sport fishermen take to the big waters of Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley, they can help themselves as well as others by not tangling with commercial fishing operations.

Those in pursuit of crappie or bass would help their favorite resources by not impeding commercial netters out there to remove Asian carp from the sister lakes. It is legal — and beneficial to the game fish populations — to have commercial gillnetters on the reservoirs year-round nowadays.

Commercial fishermen place gillnets below the surface, strung across open water areas where Asian carp can be intercepted and ensnared for removal. Those nets should be marked with yellow flags and/or marker buoys at each end.

Those markers, which may be identified with lettering ACHP (Asian Carp Harvest Program) are clear indicators for boaters encountering them to go around the net sets. Passing between the yellow flagging and buoys well could mean catching boat propellers and lower units in netting.

Those entanglements could prove impeding, damaging and costly to both boat operators and commercial fishermen.

There are scads of Asian carp in the big lakes, but there could be untold numbers more. These exotic invaders, if they grow to scary numbers, threaten to stress native game fish populations by reducing the microorganisms in the waters. Those zooplanktons and phytoplanktons upon which they feed also support populations of forage fish (especially shad) and juvenile game fish.

Asian carp do not reproduce well in reservoirs, apparently because of the low level of current as compared to the rivers. However, when they experience an occasional spawn, their numbers can grow immensely in short order.

Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources managers as well as other agencies are working diligently to minimize the impact of the Asian carp presence, and the best tool with which to reduce the invaders’ population seen so far is commercial fishing with gillnets.

Not only do regulations allow it, management greatly encourages it by subsiding and facilitating harvest to greatly increase the literal tonnage of Asian carp from the lakes that is sold on the market.

In years past, gillnetting was often associated with illegal game fish harvest, but as done now, the mass-catch method is blessing game fish by removing the competing invasive species.

Still, some anglers have questioned if the netting of unwanted carp is yet damaging populations of preferred fish species. KDFWR managers say regulated gillnetting has minimal negative impact on sport fish species, while the relief it provides in reducing Asian carp numbers is well more than worth any trade-off.

Shannon Harris of the KDFWR’s Western Fisheries Division said the “bycatch” of game fish in Asian carp-targeting nets is small, and short net setting times allows most non-targeted fish caught to be removed from nets and released alive.

Harris said bass almost never are caught in carp-seeking gillnets. Some crappie are caught by accident in the nets, but regulations that prohibit small net mesh size allow most crappie encountering the nets to pass through without catching them, he said. Larger carp, meanwhile, are caught and held by these bigger mesh net sizes, Harris said.

All considered, sport fishermen stand to gain much more by letting the commercial netters to their jobs unimpeded. Keep your props out of their nets and give them a tip of the cap as they remove gremlins from the waters.

• The Land Between the Lakes’ Woodland Nature Station along with other attractions is open to visitors for the new season after its annual winter shutdown.

The wildlife center is in the northern LBL, located off Silver Trail Road on the Lake Barkley side of the national recreation area. It houses a variety of live native wildlife, including a breeding pair of endangered red wolves, and a range of exhibits on the region’s fauna and flora.

The WNS is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday (closed Mondays and Tuesdays) through the remainder of March. Beginning in April, the nature center is open every day during the same hours.

Admission for regular operations is $7, $5 for those ages 5-17, and free for younger children. Special events may carry different admission charges.

Next Saturday, March 21, brings Girl Scout Day at Woodlands. Special activities and programs are planned 10 a.m.-3 p.m. for young scouts to earn Daisy, Brownie, Junior and Cadette badges and meet Girl Scout journey requirements.

Animal and insect programs are on the schedule, and scouts are recommended to plan at least three-hour visits to participate in multiple events. More information and a detailed schedule of programs and activities can be obtained by phoning 270-924-2299.

All Girl Scout Day activities are free with regular WNS admission.

• Based on study of data and hunter preferences, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources is proposing waterfowl hunting dates for Illinois for seasons over a five-year period, 2021-2025.

The five-year proposal will be reviewed by the IDNR Natural Resources Advisory Board at a March 30 meeting in Springfield.

Compared to waterfowl seasons during 2016-20, those concluding with this year’s hunting, the proposed five years of seasons would call for an adjustment in dates for Illinois South Zone, that covering the southernmost counties.

South Zone season dates are proposed to shift to begin on either the Saturday following Thanksgiving Day or the Saturday following Thanksgiving weekend to better match waterfowl migration and hunter preferences to maximize January hunting days.

IDNR managers recommend no changes to existing waterfowl hunting zone boundaries.

According to the proposal, the duck season dates in Illinois’ South Zone would be Nov. 27-Jan. 25 in 2021, Dec. 3-Jan. 31 in 2022, Dec. 2-Jan. 30 in 2023, Nov. 30-Jan. 28 in 2024 and Nov. 29-Jan. 27 in 2025. The proposed Canada goose seasons during that same period calls for starting dates that conform with the duck seasons, while the goose season each year is to run to Jan. 31.

Steve Vantreese is a freelance outdoors writer. Email outdoors news items to outdoors@paducahsun.com or phone 270-575-8650.

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