The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) Inland Fisheries office in Wichita Falls recently completed a gill net survey of hybrid striped bass and channel catfish populations at Lake Wichita, and the results are very encouraging.
“The results exceeded our expectations,” said biologist Robert Mauk. “Our gill nets sampled a total of 14 different species, which is high for this gear type at Lake Wichita. The reservoir suffered a large fish kill caused by golden alga in 2009, but the survey results show the lake is coming back nicely.”
The hybrid striped bass catch rate was the second highest ever documented, but almost all the fish were below the 18-inch minimum size limit and need some time to grow before anglers can harvest them. “The hybrid striped bass population depends upon stocking to maintain numbers, since the fish do not reproduce,” said Mauk. “TPWD stocked nearly 9,000 hybrids last year, and they are doing well, averaging about 12 inches and exhibiting excellent body condition.”
TPWD’s last three surveys have not documented any white bass. “This species seems to have disappeared from the reservoir around 2005-06 when the reservoir was low and a previous golden alga fish kill affected the reservoir,” Mauk explained.
Channel catfish abundance was about four times higher than the previous best catch rate ever documented at the reservoir. “We sampled channel catfish from nine to 29 inches in length with the largest fish weighing over 14 pounds,” Mauk said. “Our catch rate of channel catfish greater than 23 inches exceeded our total catch rates in all previous surveys, so there are a lot of bigger channel catfish to be caught. There are plenty of 11- to 16-inch catfish available too, so the future looks bright.”
For someone looking to catch a record-book fish, there’s more good news. “Besides channel catfish, we caught just as many black bullhead catfish, which are known locally as mudcats or polliwogs,” Mauk said. “We sampled some trophy-sized bullheads. Most water bodies around Wichita Falls have bullhead, but they are typically around six inches. We sampled some from Lake Wichita over 16 inches in length and weighing over three pounds. This offers someone the opportunity to get his or her name in the record book, since there is currently no lake record for this species.”
While bullheads are not fished for as commonly as channel catfish, Mauk says anglers should not overlook them. “Bullheads were highly sought after for the table where I grew up in Iowa,” he says. “Under the proper conditions, they can be quite tasty. They are easy to catch with night crawlers on the bottom, making them a good species for children to fish for.”
The survey collected a few legal-sized largemouth bass. “This species hasn’t done well at the reservoir since the elevation was lowered in 1995,” Mauk said. “After the golden alga kill in 2009, the lake was restocked, and they now seem to be surviving and growing quite well. We’ve seen several when working at the lake and hear reports of several being caught by anglers. Like the other species sampled, they are quite fat, indicating there is plenty of food available for them.”
Anglers should be aware that the reservoir elevation has dropped and that using the boat ramp is becoming more difficult. If you have any questions, please call the Inland Fisheries office in Wichita Falls at (940) 766-2383 or e-mail Mauk, firstname.lastname@example.org.