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A Fish Study On The Fly

July 2, 2012, 10:00 PM by Shawn Neisteadt

A Fish Study On The Fly
YANKTON, SD -

Silver Carp are literally making a splash on lakes and rivers all across the country.

A quiet day of fishing is exactly what Chris Buresh and his friends are looking for at Gavins Point Dam near Yankton.  The group drove three hours from Nebraska to put their lines in the water of the Missouri River.

"Yeah, this is where we come.  We try a couple times a year. We love it up here; maybe retire up here some day.  I just love everything up here," Buresh said.

Just a couple hours into the fishing adventure, the Nebraska crew is calling their trip a success.  But between baiting hooks and landing fish, they're discussing some changes going on in the water.  Invasive Asian Carp have traveled up the Missouri River all the way to this dam.

"I think I might have seen some earlier here surfacing.  A couple years back I'm pretty sure my brother shot one with his bow," Buresh said.

Seeing one of the fish is one thing; taking to the water is another.  A crew of biologists from the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department used to spend their time studying the endangered sturgeon.  Now they spend part of their time tracking Asian Carp, including the jumping Silver Carp.

"As a biologist, it’s very challenging because you're working under pressure and on the fly and you don't know what the effects of these fish are going to be," biologist Sam Stukel said.

Stukel and this team have worked the water for seven years.  They used to see one or two of the Silver Carp. Now they see hundreds on one stretch of the James River near the Missouri.

"From an ecological standpoint, they're a disaster because they feed on plankton.  Plankton, of course, is the base of the food chain," Stukel said.

Above the water, the Silver Carp put on quite a show.  But in the water they are non-stop eaters.  They're now competing for the same food that our resident fish need to survive.

"The entire food web sits on top of that plankton layer.  When you affect the bottom layer of that food web, you make changes that are going to be very difficult to predict and will take years to manifest themselves," Stukel said.

While the ecological effects are studied, it's already apparent that the fish can be dangerous. Many of these fish are in the four to six-pound range.  But they can grow much larger.

"You can imagine the problem that would be for a water skier on a lake like Lewis and Clark or Lake Poinsett," Stukel said.

And fishermen are also taking note of the new fish in the water.  And to say they're worried would be a major understatement.

"Anything they can do to keep them out of here. I mean, they get big.  They overpopulate the lake.  They eat all the other baits around.  They make it for people who travel all this way up here for fish hard to do," Buresh said.

That's why the South Dakota GF&P has instituted new rules about trapping bait.  They also want to educate people about the fish and not to transport them to new waters.

"There's a lot of research being developed and done on the fly all over this country, the Great Lakes region especially.  We have to learn about this fish, where they spawn, what they eat, before we can develop solutions.  There could be poisons that might selectively knock their population back or the type of barriers that might work and be cost effective to keep them out of our lakes," Stukel said.

But until those solutions are found, barriers like the Gavins Point Dam and responsible fishing are South Dakota's best line of defense from the fish calling more lakes and rivers their new home.

The Silver Carp jump as a defense mechanism when spooked by the noise and vibrations of a boat.  The fish have traveled all the way to North Dakota in the James River.

Their traveling cousins known as Big Head Carp are invading the same waters.  And while they rarely jump, they can grow to more than 100 pounds.

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