On Monday, a cooperative effort amongst local anglers was begun. Belton Anglers Stocking Hybrid (BASH) was formally established this past week. BASH exists to purchase and stock hybrid striped bass into Belton Lake whenever the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is unable to procure or produce enough hybrid striped bass to meet their own stocking goal on that body of water.
Hybrid striped bass anglers just endured their most difficult season in the last three decades in 2021 after those fish stocked in 2018 generally failed to survive. The reason for that failure is subject to speculation. The leading causes for stocked hybrid striped bass failing to thrive is thermal shock (due to a sharp drop in water temperature shortly after stocking), and lack of food (these tiny fry depend upon eating even smaller creatures called rotifers).
The news gets worse before it gets better. Due to flooding downstream from the dams at the several reservoirs where egg-laden female striped bass are normally collected by TPWD for hybrid production, Belton Lake missed its annual stocking entirely in 2019. That missed stocking will negatively impact the hybrid fishery here in 2022 when those would-be three-year-old fish would normally grow beyond the 18-inch threshold and be able to be lawfully included in an angler’s five-fish daily limit.
On the positive side, many of the 600,000 fry stocked in 2020 appear to have survived and thrived and have now grown out to approximately 11 inches in length based on my own observations in routinely catching these fish as a bycatch while fishing for white bass on Belton Lake.
In order to prepare for the establishment of BASH, I laid the groundwork by first obtaining permission from TPWD to come alongside them in this manner. Thanks to the solid working relationship I enjoy with TPWD’s Inland Fisheries Management District Supervisor John Tibbs, that permission was granted in the spring of 2021.
Next, in order to get a grip on budget and logistics, my wife and I traveled to Keo, Arkansas, just east of Little Rock, during the summer of 2021 to meet with the management and staff of this fish farming operation which will provide the hybrid striped bass fry when needed.
There are two varieties of hybrid striped bass. The palmetto strain results when a female striped bass is crossed with a male white bass. The sunshine strain results when a female white bass is crossed with a male striped bass. The Keo Fish Farm will provide sunshine strain hybrid.
TPWD initially began stocking palmetto strain fingerlings (which are larger than fry, and more costly to raise and transport), but has more recently begun raising and stocking sunshine fry, while continuing to stock palmetto strain fish, as well.
The current cost for a sunshine strain hybrid striped bass fry is a half-cent. The fry come packaged in oxygen-rich water inside thick, doubled plastic bags placed within an insulated, rigid foam box. There are 50,000 fry per box. Hence, the cost of a box fry is approximately $250, with another $45 of cost per box incurred for air transport from Little Rock to Austin.
In establishing the fundraising goal for BASH for 2022, we looked back at the maximum number of hybrid stocked in a given, recent year. That number was 1.2 million fish. At current prices, and assuming TPWD was not able to stock a single fish in 2022, BASH seeks to be prepared to purchase those 1.2 million fish at a cost of just over $7,000.
TPWD’s ideal goal for 2022 is 1 million hybrid for Belton. If, for example, TPWD was only to be able to come up with half of that, then BASH would purchase the balance and roll its remaining funding over to 2023 while also seeking to replenish its account so as to be prepared to purchase a full year’s stocking at any point in the future, if need be.
Under no circumstances would BASH stock hybrid such that TPWD’s target number of stocked fish for a given year would be exceeded.
BASH is neither for-profit nor a non-profit. BASH is an entity which simply exists to raise funds, which are earmarked only for purchasing fish. All efforts are unpaid volunteer efforts, and all administrative costs are borne by BASH participants. Other than the small transaction fees which platforms like Square, PayPal and Venmo charge to use their money-moving technology, all money goes to buying and stocking fish.
BASH organizers began receiving donations as the organization went live earlier this week. Organizers are currently planning a fund-raising raffle to raise the majority of the proceeds needed to purchase any needed fry. Late February will be the most likely date for that event.
Those interested in following and/or supporting the efforts of BASH may do so by phoning me, Bob Maindelle, at 254-368-7411. There are intentionally no membership requirements, no board of directors, no politics, no red tape and no bureaucracy associated with BASH. This was done to keep the organization as nimble and responsive as possible in order to make Belton Lake’s hybrid fishery as good as it can be.
BASH promises full financial transparency so donors will know exactly where their donations went.
If, as you read this, you have a desire to help, please consider two things. First, simply spreading the word is of great value, and, secondly, if you are able to provide products or services to the raffle, please contact me at the number above.
If you are a Belton Lake angler, one other practical thing you can do is to be sure you know how to tell the difference between a white bass and a hybrid striped bass, and make every effort at releasing undersized hybrid unharmed. The use of a 6-inch, curved-tipped pair of forceps/hemostats is the single best tool for this job, far exceeding the usefulness of straight needle-nosed pliers for hook removal.
TPWD has worked hard to develop Belton’s hybrid fishery, but nature has dealt us all some tough hands these past few years. The time has come for working with, and cooperating with, one another to be good stewards of our natural resources and make the most of what we have.