AUSTIN – The official state fish, Guadalupe bass, has been restored to the South Llano River. To celebrate, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), the Llano River Watershed Alliance and Bass Pro Shops are partnering on a prize giveaway program.
Beginning Oct. 17, 2017, and continuing until Dec. 31, 2018, any angler who catches a tagged Guadalupe bass from the South Llano River will receive their choice of prizes from an assortment of fly fishing gear donated by Bass Pro Shops.
“We’re incredibly appreciative of the Llano River Watershed Alliance and Bass Pro Shops for sponsoring this prize giveaway,” said Craig Bonds, TPWD Inland Fisheries director. “It showcases a conservation success story for our state fish that has resulted from eight years of extraordinary efforts by a passionate and committed network of public and private partners.”
The prize giveaway aims to raise awareness about the success of an ambitious conservation project launched in 2010 by TPWD, the Llano River Watershed Alliance, and the Texas Tech University Llano River Field Station to restore Guadalupe bass to the South Llano River.
“Guadalupe bass are endemic to the South Llano River and other clear, spring-fed rivers of the Texas Hill Country,” said Preston Bean, TPWD conservation biologist. “Guadalupe bass populations are threatened by habitat alteration and hybridization with non-native, introduced smallmouth bass. These threats are enormously challenging to address, but recent outcomes in the South Llano River demonstrate what can be achieved when partners rally around a shared conservation vision.”
The story begins in 1934, the first year that smallmouth bass are known to have been brought into Texas. With 30,000 smallmouth bass fry provided by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, the Texas Game and Fish Commission attempted to establish a smallmouth bass production program at the Tyler and Dundee State Fish Hatcheries. Water in the hatchery ponds proved too warm; the brood stock couldn’t survive the Texas summers. That program was abandoned in 1937, and the remaining smallmouth bass were stocked in Caddo Lake and Tyler Post Office Lake.
Efforts to establish smallmouth bass fisheries in Texas laid dormant until summer 1958, when Texas Game and Fish Commission biologists stocked 6,500 two-inch smallmouth bass fingerlings in the South Llano River from Telegraph downstream to Junction. Those fish were supplied by the Tishomingo National Fish Hatchery in Oklahoma. The stocking effort was profiled in the July 1958 issue of Texas Game and Fish in an article titled “Smallmouth Bass, Visitors to Texas, Give Spirited Fight on the End of a Line.” Authored by two Texas Game and Fish Commission aquatic biologists, the article references historic difficulties establishing smallmouth bass fisheries in Texas, but then poses the question, “Now you ask, why try again?” In response, the biologists share that “smallmouth is a good fishing game fish which will add greatly to the sport of catching fish. Second, there is adequate desirable food in the Llano River to support this additional species. Finally, the Llano River is one of the most suitable, if not the most suitable stream in Texas for smallmouth.” The article goes on to discuss concerns with high summer water temperatures in the South Llano River but theorizes that deep pools and areas of the river adjacent to springs will offer thermal refuge for smallmouth.
The experimental introduction of smallmouth bass to the South Llano River continued thru 1960 and proved unsuccessful in establishing a smallmouth bass fishery. Meanwhile, the stockings resulted in an unforeseen and unintended consequence of creating a hybrid population of Guadalupe bass and smallmouth bass. This hybridization went unnoticed in the South Llano River until similar situations resulted from stocking of smallmouth bass in other Hill Country rivers.
Between 1974 and 1980, smallmouth bass were stocked in the Blanco, Guadalupe, Medina and San Gabriel rivers, and in Cibolo and Onion creeks. Once hybridization was detected and threats to Guadalupe bass were recognized, the Department ceased efforts to establish smallmouth bass fisheries in Hill Country rivers and instead began to devise a strategy to prevent the local extirpation and possible extinction of Guadalupe bass. Initial conservation efforts included establishment of a refuge population of genetically-pure Guadalupe bass in the Sabinal River in 1988. In 1992, TPWD initiated a Guadalupe bass hatchery program that has since produced and stocked 2,355,807 Guadalupe bass in Hill Country rivers. The Department has also partnered with local landowners, non-governmental organizations, fishing clubs, river authorities, and other partners to restore and preserve habitat conditions for Guadalupe bass in rivers throughout the Hill Country.
In 2010, TPWD focused its attention on the South Llano River and the hybrid population that resulted from those historic smallmouth bass stockings that occurred from 1958 to 1960. In partnership with the Llano River Watershed Alliance, the Texas Tech University Llano River Field Station, areas landowners, and an extensive list of other local project partners, a plan was hatched to restore Guadalupe bass to the South Llano River. Between spring 2011 and spring 2017, more than 700,000 genetically-pure Guadalupe bass were stocked in the South Llano River. Today, less than 2 percent of the Guadalupe bass population now consists of hybrids.
In addition to the South Llano River stocking program, project partners organized river conservation workshops attended by approximately 750 landowners and local community partners in the watershed. Over 78,000 acres of ranchlands implemented stewardship practices to help preserve fish habitats. Restoration projects in the watershed restored 7,754 acres of spring, stream and riparian habitats, directly benefiting water quality and habitat conditions for Guadalupe bass.
“These and other conservation efforts in the South Llano River watershed have successfully restored Guadalupe bass populations and helped promote local stewardship practices that will ensure the river is able to sustain Guadalupe bass populations into the future,” said Megan Bean, TPWD conservation biologist.
“Restoration of Guadalupe Bass has provided a great mechanism to help landowners and the general public visualize the connection between good land stewardship and the aquatic health of our rivers,” added Tyson Broad, Watershed Coordinator at the Llano River Field Station and co-founder of the Llano River Watershed Alliance. “Taking care of our lands has benefits far beyond our fence lines.”
In addition to being ecologically important and a symbol of pride as the official state fish, Guadalupe bass is a prized sport fish of Hill Country anglers.
“Through our recent economic impact study conducted in partnership with the Texas Tech University Llano River Field Station, we found that river fishing in the Hill Country generated $71 million over a sixteen-month period,” said Stephan Magnelia, Director of River Studies for the TPWD Inland Fisheries Division. “Forty-two percent of anglers surveyed specifically targeted Guadalupe bass, which speaks to the recreational value and economic impact of our state fish on local communities in the Hill Country.”
The South Llano River prize giveaway spotlights the ecological, recreational, and economic importance of Guadalupe bass, and helps set the stage as TPWD and partners seek to replicate this successful conservation approach in other rivers and watersheds of the Hill Country.
“Our goal is to restore and maintain at least 10 self-sustaining populations of Guadalupe bass throughout its native creeks and rivers,” said Tim Birdsong, Chief of Habitat Conservation for the TPWD Inland Fisheries Division. “Since 2010, we’ve reintroduced Guadalupe bass to portions of the Blanco and San Antonio rivers, restored a hybrid population in the South Llano River, and helped conserve habitats for pure populations of Guadalupe bass in the James, Pedernales and lower Colorado rivers. In spring 2018, we plan to launch new projects to restore hybrid populations in the North Fork and South Fork of the San Gabriel River and to conserve habitats for the pure population of Guadalupe bass in Brushy Creek.”
To learn more about the South Llano River prize giveaway and efforts to conserve the state fish of Texas, please visit the following website: https://www.llanoriver.org/guadalupe-bass.