Over the last few years, I’ve taken the opportunity to use this forum as a place to report findings on the Asian carp situation and the effects being felt around Kentucky Lake. You’re due an update.
As usual, I contacted professional angler Mark Menendez and wasn’t disappointed. Rarely do I run across a freshwater angler so engaged in the health of a resource and able to communicate his knowledge in such a professional manner. Menendez does a great service for us all, daily.
To sum up, Menendez is confident. Bass fishing at Kentucky Lake appears to be on the uptick.
“We’re seeing more bait. There’s been good spawns of crappie, bass and shad. And a recent local tournament had three stringers over 20 pounds.”
While still pale in comparison to the heyday of the system, when 20-pound bags were tossed back, fishing has been much better than it was a 5 years ago. “There’s lots of 15-inch fish in the lake,” Menendez confirmed.
Furthermore, Menendez specified an interesting phenomena. “Smallmouth seemed to be affected less than largemouth (by the carp expansion). And spotted bass are making a re-occurrence in the lake.”
In all, Menendez admits overall carp numbers are uncertain. Commercial fishermen continue to refine their methods to better catch the problem fish, and results have been dramatic. Menendez reported two commercial boats that teamed up to catch over 120,000 pounds of carp in just 2 days this spring. “They’re becoming very skilled at their craft,” he noted.
Still, what to do with the carp continues to be an issue. “It’s still tough to sell carp to the American public as a food fish,” Menendez noted, though also commenting that, in fact, Asian carp are “delightful” to eat.
The world market is quicker to try, and many fish are now being exported to Asia. Still, it’s anything but easy to process, clean and ship a bony fish that requires strict temperature control, and still make a profit.
Back in the states, another commercial market is opening up utilizing Asian carp for baiting lobster traps and feeding crawfish. And funding for the continued efforts to remove Asian carp from the system has been strong, and continues to be a top priority among lawmakers.
“This is one thing that is absolutely bipartisan,” Menendez noted. “This hit my area’s economy so hard.”
Menendez pointed out the overwhelming power of anglers to aid in the fight.
“We have the voting power,” he noted, especially when considering the sheer numbers of anglers as determined by license sales. A pause has occurred, however, in the ability of advocacy groups to lobby in Washington due to COVID concerns. Once back in action, though, they’ll find even more licensed anglers for leverage, thanks to an increase in fishing participation.
Another help may come from predator fish. Growth rates of Asian Carp push them past the attention of bass and other mid-sized fish quickly. But giant catfish continue to eat the invasives up to 8 pounds. Menendez noted more attention to this fact, and the idea of protecting big whiskered predators. And commercial netters are continuing to experiment with ways to “herd” the fish into more efficient netting areas. The idea of creating smooth-bottom areas has been discussed as well; brush-pile builders take note.
In terms of scientific population modeling, it’s reasonable to think that the worst is behind us in terms of Asian carp numbers in Kentucky and Barkley lakes. When any new specie is introduced (especially an exotic), numbers often skyrocket, then level off. “I think we’re going to find that Mother Nature will put these fish in a niche,” Menendez noted. Still, any number of these fish is unacceptable, and the current population is still grossly high.
“But I just want people to know that it’s getting better. We’re seeing a growth in both fish populations and area tourism,” Menendez confirmed. By comparing to other affected areas, he’s even more optimistic.
“The Illinois River was the epicenter of the carp issue,” he pointed out. “And bass fishing there has improved dramatically (after suffering an initial decline from carp).”
The ever-optimistic Menendez was again a breath of fresh air on an otherwise stinky subject. And I hope he’s right. Unfortunately, it often takes such a decline and financial ruin before we consider environmental issues, and how they affect so many aspects of our society.
But there’s attention to the issue across the board, and there’s been progress. Now it’s our job to keep a watchful eye.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)