Where are the fish in Old Rivers?Published 12:01am Sunday, September 15, 2013
The lack of game fish in the Old Rivers left many people puzzled until now. My phone constantly rings. My e-mail box stays full, and I receive dozens of text messages daily.
People are asking where to catch fish, and what is wrong with our Old River lakes. Where are the fish? Normally, the Old Rivers get us through the hot summer months with nice limits of bass, bream and white perch.
That has yet to happen this year. Some fish were caught by a handful of people, but the majority are having a tough time locating and catching fish of any species other than catfish from the Old Rivers. Catfish always bite to some degree.
The popular topic this week is still about the Old Rivers, and why we are not catching fish from these waters.
My first thoughts were the river stayed at a much higher level than normal, the highest level many of us can recall for June, July and early August. The higher level should have been a plus factor, not a negative factor, so that sort of killed my theory.
The next “guess” was the river level dropped real fast in early August, the hottest month of the year. The water coming from the barrow pits draining into the Old Rivers ranged from 90 to 95 degrees. That’s hot water, and that is not good, but we caught fish for decades from water above 90 degrees, so that theory does not hold water.
Last Saturday, I launched on the Old River at Vidalia not to fish much, but to run sonar over the deeper waters just to see where the shad were located. Normally when we locate the depth, the shad are holding the white perch and bass can be caught at that depth.
I ran the length of the Old River and was amazed at the number of dead fish floating. Thousands of fish are on the surface dead or dying.
The good news is not a single fish I saw were game fish. They are all silver carp which is a non-native invasive species that has destroyed the game fishing in many waters within the Mississippi River Valley.
The silver carp were imported from Asia by catfish farmers to help control algae in the catfish pounds. What a huge mistake that was! Silver carp are prolific spawners. This fish can spawn three to four times a year, if not more.
Several decades ago, some catfish farms were flooded and the silver carp entered the Mississippi River which, of course, introduced these bottom feeders to all the adjoining waters.
The Ohio and Missouri Rivers as well, as all the live oxbow lakes, connected to these rivers are now populated with this useless non-native fish. The silver carp eat algae. Shad eat algae. The silver carp are basically destroying the bottom of the food chain in our river lakes.
After seeing so many dead carp floating, I ran sonar for two hours over the deeper holes in the Old Rivers. From 15 to 25 feet, the sonar screen blacked out with fish. I lowered a big jigging spoon with a sharp treble hook to the bottom and snagged carp after carp.
Even though many silver carp are dying, there are still thousands left in our Old Rivers. I do believe we can now throw out all the other theories as to why the fishing is tough this year out the window. The culprit is the silver carp.
I was also wrong thinking these fish could survive low-oxygen content and hot water much like a gar fish can. They can’t and that is why we are seeing this die off. I am not sure if Mississippi or Louisiana has a plan to do something about this, and I am not sure there is anything that can be done.
The good news is the Mississippi River level at Natchez is at 16 feet today and falling. Once the level hits about 13 to 14 feet the Old Rivers will be landlocked. When this happens the oxygen content will drop even further, which will certainly kill more of these invasive, good for nothing silver carp. With cooler nights in the forecast, we should start seeing better fishing on all our waters.