Guy Harvey Magazine

SPR 2017

Guy Harvey Magazine is focused on fishing, boating, scuba diving, and marine conservation. Portfolios from the world's best fishing photographers, articles on gear, travel, tournaments, apparel, lifestyle, seafood recipes, sustainable fisheries.

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www.GuyHarveyMagazine.com | 49 T here are plenty of headliners when it comes to stories about invasive species. Depending on your home turf, the fight against invasives might be focused on lionfish, asian carp or zebra mussels. Like other states, South Carolina has its battles, too. Lionfish and tiger shrimp are affecting offshore waters, and on the freshwater side, invasive aquatic plants are pushing out the native flora. From a layman's perspective, it's easy to see that invasive species are a bad deal. In many, if not most, of these cases, the invasive species is either changing the natural habitat to make it less suitable for natives or they are consuming a particular food source that native species need. But sometimes an invasive species takes a different approach—one known both to ancient world empires and futuristic cyborgs. In a word, it's assimilation. And that's the threat faced by South Carolina's redeye bass. If you're not familiar with it, the redeye bass (sometimes called Bartram's bass) is a feisty game fish and top tier predator that can be found in the Northeast part of the state, specifically in the middle to upper Savannah basin as well as some tributaries of the upper Saluda and the Broad rivers in the Santee basin. Redeye are a black bass, related to largemouth, and average around a pound in the river systems, perhaps two pounds in the reservoirs. The state record is a whopping 5 lbs., 2.5 oz., caught in Lake Jocassee. But don't let the size of those river bass fool you. Pound for pound these fish put up a ferocious fight and are worthy adversaries on light tackle and especially on fly. They also offer a unique twist on bass fishing because they prefer moving water and occur naturally in rivers and streams with a lot of structure, such as undercut banks, vegetation, boulders and submerged logs. Pursuing them often means wading or paddling the upper parts of some of South Carolina's most scenic rivers. Flyfishing for redeye has become especially popular on the Chattooga. But the redeye are in danger of being wiped out, and it's not from overfishing, disease or habitat loss. They are being assimilated! Okay, actually the term is hybridization. Not as dramatic sounding but just as sinister. It seems back in the 1980s, some unwitting fisherman released non-native Alabama bass into lakes of the Savannah and the two species have been sharing genes ever since. Today, river and stream habitats represent those areas where true redeye bass can still be found. Studies by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources are documenting the change. Since 2004, DNR biologists and partners at University of South Carolina have been using DNA analysis to follow the population dynamics. The work has documented the near total loss of redeye bass in some Savannah lakes where they once thrived, including Lakes Keowee and Russell. Dramatic declines have also been seen in Lakes Jocassee and Hartwell. Study efforts are now focused on streams in the redeye's native range, as Alabama bass and their hybrids have been found in some stream sites as well. "Hybrids, or at least their genes, are spreading from the reservoirs into the stream populations," says DNR biologist Jean Leitner. "We have, at this point, some waterways that are heavily impacted, some where there are hybrids closer to the reservoirs, but further upstream, the population of Bartram's bass is still pure, and somewhere we have not found hybrids at all." The goal for the immediate future, says Leitner, is to clearly identify how far hybridization has spread and then look at a possible response. "I think it's inevitable that we will have to take some conservation actions to protect Bartram's bass. Conservation of those habitats that are shown to support pure populations will certainly be important," she says. "Another vital point is education to protect the populations that are not impacted." By protecting current populations, Leitner means making sure anglers understand that releasing non-native species into any body of water is detrimental, and according to South Carolina law, it's also illegal. Anglers can only release back into a body of water what originally came out of it. That goes for mature fish as well as live bait. "I also want to encourage our anglers to go out and fish for this bass," says Leitner. "Sometimes the only way for us to collect samples is to catch them on a rod and reel, and I can tell you it's a great experience. The more people know about these unique fish, the more they are likely to want to protect them." Not the whiskey...the bass! BY DARYL CARSON www.GuyHarveyMagazine.com | 49

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