Forty-four Oklahoma lakes received a genetics boost this spring.
The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation stocked 44 lakes with a record 2.22 million tiny fry and fingerling-sized Florida strain largemouth bass, which grow faster and larger than the largemouth bass native to Oklahoma waters.
ODWC officials have been stocking Florida bass in Oklahoma lakes since the ‘70s, getting fish from federal hatcheries.
Since 2000, the department has been spawning Florida bass at its Durant Fish Hatchery and stocking the fry and fingerlings in Oklahoma lakes where the agency thinks it gets the most bang for its buck.
Lakes that consistently produce trophy bass (8 pounds or better) — for example Sardis, McGee Creek, Broken Bow, Arbuckle, Sooner and Cedar — get the shot in the arm of Florida genetics each year.
Other Oklahoma lakes that might produce big bass occasionally will get stocked with Florida genes every two or three years.
“We have put them in every place that we thought had any potential,” said Clif Sager, a senior fisheries biologist at ODWC. “Those top lakes, we are going to give them fish every year. The other lakes, we are going to get to them when we have fish available.
“Florida bass are not an easy fish to maintain and to spawn. They are very finicky.”
Grand Lake, considered by many to be the best largemouth bass fishing lake in the country because of its numbers, isn't a good candidate for the Florida strain because of its location, Sager said. Florida bass don't do as well in colder climates, he said.
“North of I-40 it gets real questionable,” he said. “Florida bass are basically a subtropical species. We (Oklahoma) are right on the line of being too far north for them being able to thrive and survive.”
However, there are exceptions. Bixhoma is a lake north of I-40 where Florida bass have thrived, and biologists really don't know why.
“Bixhoma is an oddball where this happens,” Sager said. “We don't always know the recipe.”
Sooner Lake is north of I-40, but it is a power plant lake where the water stays warmer year-round.
For big lakes such as Eufaula and Texoma, two lakes very popular with anglers but not necessarily for largemouth bass, ODWC is stocking fewer Florida fry but now targeting only quality areas with good bass habitat.
ODWC is not trying to increase the number of largemouth bass in lakes through the stocking of Florida bass, Sager said. The agency is trying to improve the quality or size of fish in the future, he said.
“All we are trying to do is simply influence the genetics of the population,” he said.
The success of the program is measured by the number of big bass caught by anglers or by ODWC officials in its spring electro-fishing surveys. Tissue samples are often taken to determine if a fish's DNA is from a Florida bass.
Of the last two state record largemouth bass caught from Cedar Lake, the first was a pure Florida bass and the latter and current state record was a hybrid, a cross between a Florida and a native largemouth.
Typically, it will take six to eight years for a Florida bass to grow into what is considered a trophy-size.