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  Go back to the News List! Biologist Confirms That Classic Will Be Tough 07/23/2005 Document  
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Mon The Best Bet?
Biologist Confirms That Classic Will Be Tough

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Photo: Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission
Most fish caught at the Classic will be small, but these smallies were shocked up from the Allegheny River in June 2004.

The pros complained about the fishery and the fishing during Bassmaster Classic practice in Pittsburgh, Pa. Nothing new there. But how legit are those complaints? According to a state fisheries biologist, they're pretty much on the mark - but that doesn't mean he thinks this will be a lame Classic.

We threw some questions at Dennis Tubbs, an aquatic resources program specialist for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, and here's what he said.

BassFan: All the pros say the bass fishery is bad. Is that true?

Tubbs: A lot of fish are less than 12 inches. Our legal limit is 12, and a lot of times when they get over that, people take them. (Classic competitors) will catch fish, but getting them over 12 inches will be the issue.

How about the fishery as a whole?

We have a decent-size population about 95 percent smallmouths but (not much) habitat. They're located in the rocks. Because of flowing water, there's not a lot of vegetation.

Are there a lot of rocks or are the rivers silted in?

Anyplace you have moving water there are going to be rocks. At the calm places above locks and dams it's silted in, but the biggest bass populations are within a mile of the locks and dams. In surveys, that's where the highest concentrations (of bass) are.

That's because of oxygen and temperature. These are larger, slower rivers, so the dissolved oxygen levels are higher the closer you get to locks and dams. That's the only turbulence on the rivers. Water going over the dams raises the oxygen levels. That will be key in the warmer waters we have right now.

But there are a lot of rocks, especially below some of the locks like in the wash, in the middle, where it's only a few feet deep. The fish stay at the lower end, below the gravel piles below the locks and dams.

The piles are below the no-boat buoys, so they're fishable. Locals will go to the buoys and cast above them, but (Classic competitors) can't do that.

What's the primary forage?

The primary forage is gizzard shad. I was looking at a school (Thursday) that probably had 2,000 to 3,000 shad in it. They're about 2 inches right now.

No crawdads?

If they find rockpiles, there will be crayfish and the jig fishermen could do well. But crankbaits and spinnerbaits (will be the primary baits) something moving like a shad.

I you find a crawdad hole, that's a bonus. That's where you'll find a big fish. I'm a jig fisherman myself, so I know some of the spots. If you can find rocks below the locks big chunk rock more than likely there's good population of crayfish there.

What will be the most important factor?

The big thing here is if someone can find cooler water. An inflow, creek, stream, another river, a discharge look at the temperature difference, if it drops a couple of degrees. Right now the water is so warm that a slight variation in temperature will hold the fish.

Last weekend on the Ohio we had a (water) temperature of 85. For Pennsylvania that's unbelievable. We're in a hot streak right now. We've been having 90-degree weather and scattered thundershowers. They're calling for a cold front to come through next week, which may help.

How about docks. Do they hold fish?

Docks and bridge piers hold fish, but creek channels, inflows, discharge pipes we have enclosed streams around the city (that dump) cooler water. Anything with moving (and cooler) water will be key.

There were drought conditions in Pittsburgh. Is that still the case?

We haven't had a lot of rain, but it's not that bad. It's not a drought. But the water is a lot clearer than what would be normal for Pittsburgh. Topwaters seem to be working well this year, but normally you don't have that clarity.

Visibility was 18 to 20 inches and now it's 30 to 40 inches, which is odd for the rivers. Usually there's a lot of turbidity in the water.

But there's still barge traffic. Doesn't that stir up the water?

Barge traffic does stir it up, but it clears up fast. The big thing is we don't have much water flow right now because of the lack of rain.

Some people think that since they're fishing around rusty pipes and industrial areas that the water quality is bad, which is hurting the fishery. Is that the case?

You will find that 98 percent of the banks are pretty good, but there are some hotspots. Those are old industrial sites that look beautiful, but there's no life. Most of those are gone, but a few are left.

Overall the health of the rivers is really good. We just had a mayfly hatch, and we've had several real significant hatches the last couple of years. And again, you can walk down to the river's edge and see large schools of shad.

How do the three different rivers fish? Is one better than the others?

This will be a thinking-man's tournament. The Monongahela has a lot of fish. It has probably the highest density, but the fish will be 12 to 14 inches they'll just be legal.

The Ohio has bigger fish. We've done studies where we've found 8-pound largemouths, but very few. There's just not the population there. The Allegheny is in-between.

Then you have locks to contend with. You have to decide whether to go to the Ohio for big fish and lose 20 to 30 minutes in a lock, or be safe and go to the Monongahela, catch five legal fish and then travel to find bigger fish.

Hopefully they'll have good gameplans coming into next week. You could gamble and lose or come out way ahead. This is a unique fishery because it has three distinct rivers.

Does that mean that each river can be affected differently by weather?

If we get a rain up north it does affect the Allegheny, and rain in West Virginia does affect the Monongahela. So little storms in the area don't affect the whole river system, but one river could be very muddy and another very clear because of wherever the storms hit. That's what makes it unique in Pittsburgh. All three rivers could have different conditions at the same time.

In view of that, how does the fishing hold up day to day? Can the fishing in one river shut down for some reason?

Any river can shut down any day. Something could happen upriver. A lot of storms down south could raise the water in the Monongahela, but it won't affect the Allegheny. You have to look at the whole regional weather patterns, not just Pittsburgh.

You could be on a spot that's hot one day and catch a limit, then go there the next day and not catch a single fish. They do move a lot in river systems. Now, you may find a cool spot that holds fish a couple of days, but normally that doesn't happen.

We will have a true angler come out of this. You'll have to fish a lot of techniques and you'll have to move a lot.

The pros are predicting that just catching a limit of keepers every day might win it. What do you think?

If you can get a legal limit of 2-pound fish, that's what it will take. And if you can get a kicker, you'll be in real good shape.

But the final weigh-in will be extremely close. The Top 10 could all be within a pound.


> He predicted that more than one technique will be needed to catch a limit.

> He also noted that "all marina operators have been contacted, so they know it's legal to fish around (their marinas) as long as (competitors) are not casting on docks and boats and damaging anything."

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