An old saying—“It’s an ill wind that blows no one good”—points out that there are two sides to almost everything. Bow fishers are finding that despite an extensive fish kill at Lake Fairfield in August, 2010, that devastated the largemouth bass, catfish and red drum fisheries, there are still recreational angling opportunities to be had.
Bow fishers on Lake Fairfield are taking advantage of an unexpected bonanza of tilapia. The lake is home to an abundant population of tilapia, which make excellent table fair. Tilapia have a rapid growth rate and can reproduce year around, which has allowed them to recover quickly from last August’s fish kill.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) Kills and Spills Team biologists reported an estimated 1,255,674 fish were killed due to low dissolved oxygen levels in the reservoir in August 2010. A majority of the fish killed were threadfin and gizzard shad, tilapia, sunfish and common carp, but a large number of red drum, largemouth bass and catfish were also killed in the event.
Sampling of the fish populations in fall and spring of 2011 by TPWD management biologists revealed that largemouth bass and red drum are still present in the lake, but most were below legal size. It may take several years for their populations to return to what they were before the kill.
TPWD is working to restore what has long been a popular fishery. In fall of 2010, 650 adult largemouth bass up to 16 inches in length were stocked into Lake Fairfield. These bass are descended from Toyota Sharelunker offspring that are part of the Operation World Record research program and were collected from a nearby research lake.
In addition, 103,000 Florida largemouth bass fingerlings were stocked in early May. Almost 108,000 bluegill fingerlings were stocked at Lake Fairfield in late April to help restore the prey base for game fishes. Stocking of 407,000 red drum fingerlings is scheduled later this spring.
Tilapia are a warm-water tropical species not native to Texas and are actually on the state’s prohibited species list. Therefore, there is no minimum size or bag limit for tilapia in Texas. However, this also means it is unlawful to transport or possess the fish alive, and the fish are required to be partially cleaned before leaving Lake Fairfield State Park.
In addition to bow fishing, tilapia can be collected by seine or cast net and occasionally by rod and reel. Anglers have reported harvesting more than 100 fish per day while bow fishing for tilapia on Lake Fairfield.
It is not known how tilapia came to be in Lake Fairfield. The specific species of tilapia in Lake Fairfield is the blue tilapia, which has the highest cold tolerance of any tilapia species. They can survive in temperatures down to about 45o Farenheit. Because Lake Fairfield is a power-plant cooling lake, the water is artificially heated year around. Tilapia often congregate at the hot-water outflow from the power plant in winter.