An Alaska state record largemouth bass was pulled from Anchorage’s Sand Lake over the Labor Day weekend. It measured about seven and a half inches and was a first-ever catch in the 49th state.
No one is happy.
The angler who caught the never-before fish turned it over to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game where the bass spawned plenty of angst. Popular though largemouths are across most of the country, they are not welcome in the salmon state.
“Definitely an introduced invasive (species),” said the Department’s Katelyn Zonneville.
A “favorite of anglers, the largemouth bass has made its way around the world because of the excitement of catching them. They tend to put up a good fight on the line, and that’s because they’re tough fish — tough enough to take on and beat native species,” wrote reporter Jaymi Heimbuch.
“Their big appetite and position at the top of the food chain mean that other native fish species are driven to extinction. They are responsible for the decline of native frogs in California as well as the California tiger salamander, the Chiricahua leopard frog in Arizona, and a wide variety of fish species across the world.”
The native range of the species ended at Minnesota’s Red River, but over the years the fish has been introduced to every other state but Alaska. Hawaii, however, believes to have rid the islands of the largemouths in 1984, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Already hard hit
Alaska is all too familiar with the problem of non-native predatory fish. Northern pike, which are not native to the Cook Inlet region of the state, showed up in Bulchitna Lake in the Yentna River north of Anchorage in the 1950s.
Fish and Game blames illegal stocking. High water later allowed the pike to escape the lake and enter Lake Creek, a Yentna tributary, and from there they spread into the Susitna River drainage and began to occupy suitable habitat everywhere.
“Pike is our number one problem,” Zonneville said. “We’ve never seen a bass.”
Pike are now established in more than 100 lakes and rivers in the region, according to the state, and in systems with their preferred habitat – shallow, slow-moving water thick with vegetation – they have taken over.
A bass outbreak would only compound the situation.
Zonneville said Fish and Game has no idea where the bass came from, but it had to have been dumped illegally in the lake. There are no known natural or accidental ways it could have moved to Alaska.
The nearest known bass populations are in central British Columbia, Canada – more than 700 miles to the south. Bass are, however, readily available online.
A “largemouth, 10 pack (of) live 3-4 inch bass” is available on Amazon for $99. The fish are shipped FedEx overnight. The shipper guarantees the arrival of live fish.
“These fish are both male and female, and they will breed,” the company adds.
That would be Fish and Game’s worst nightmare.
“Sand Lake is one of our best lakes,” Zonneville said. It is annually stocked with rainbow trout, which would make for tasty fare for largemouth bass, and it has plenty of weedy shallows that would provide good habitat for the bass as was once the case for pike.
Sand Lake was treated with rotenone, a fish-killing poison, in 2009 to rid it of those predators. It was later restocked with rainbows.
The bass, Zonneville said, was caught by a float tube angler using “poppers for rainbows. We have it (the bass) in our refrigerator now.”
The agency plans an assessment to see if there are more bass in the lake. If there are, another eradication program will likely be considered.
Predatory, invasive fish popular with anglers in the Lower 48 have been a nightmare in the Cook Inlet region. Pike destroyed a hugely popular king salmon fishery on Alexander Creek, only about 30 miles north of Anchorage, in the late 1990s.
- “Very productive King fishery prior to 2000.
- “(Pike) discovered in lower river in late 1990s.
- “Nine lodges and float plane charters operated there.
- “King numbers crashed.
- “All fisheries now closed.”
The lodges are history. What was a tight, little community near the confluence of the creek and the Susitna is gone. Fish and Game has been trying since 2004 to control the pike population and restore the king salmon run. The fishery remains closed.
“The largest of the three main college leagues, the FLW Outdoors College Series (FLW stands for Fishing League Worldwide), has over 700 registered bass clubs — up from just 90 a few years ago — with 8,000 student anglers competing in 17 annual events, including a national championship with a $29,000 grand prize and an automatic berth in the $100,000 professional Forrest Wood Cup,” writes John O’Connor. “The Carhartt Bassmaster College Series has 235 clubs with 1,161 anglers. Cabela’s Collegiate Bass Fishing Series, run by the Association of Collegiate Anglers (ACA), has slightly more than that. Since many anglers fish in all three leagues, however, the total number of active college fishermen is around 9,000.”
There is also a professional bass fishing circuit. The Bassmaster Classic, the sports Super Bowl, has a $300,000 top prize, which sort of makes the payout for the grueling Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race look like dog food.
Given all this bass mania, it was probably inevitable bass would show up in Alaska.
Now the big hope is that there was only one. If there are more, the big question is going to be how to get rid of a #paininthebass in Alaska.