Spring Bayou Lake Is Back To Its Former Glory Thanks To Some Hungry Fish
story by TREY ILES, LDWF Public Information
Spring Bayou Lake was a 1970s hit, as big as disco, bell bottom jeans and shag carpet. The 2,718-acre waterbody located in Avoyelles Parish drew anglers and other outdoorsmen and women throughout central Louisiana because of its fertile fishery and plentiful waterfowl action.
Unfortunately, invasive exotic aquatic plants in the 1990s quickly took over and crowded out the various user groups.
IN THE BEGINNING
The reservoir that makes up the Spring Bayou Lake complex was formed by the Red River and is part of the river’s backwater system. Historically, the area was dependent on backwater from the Red River and annually underwent a cycle of flooding and drying. A 100-foot concrete dam was built on Little River in 1955, which stabilized water levels within Spring Bayou and curtailed annual backwater flooding.
In the early 1970s, it was closed off and took off as a popular fishing destination. But because it is a shallow system, only 3 to 4 feet deep in most areas, vegetation came in and, because of Louisiana’s temperate climate, flourished through the years.
The waterbody has also accumulated an excessive amount of silt through the years, producing a less than suitable spawning substrate for nesting fish. In 1988 and ‘89, a channel as deep as 12 feet was dredged four miles long, connecting the major lake systems in the complex. The channel provides deep water of adequate quality to sustain fish during summer and fall drawdowns.
The exotic and invasive aquatic plant hydrilla encroached on the popular venue in 1994. By 1996, it covered approximately 75-80 percent of the lake. Other invasive plants, most notably American lotus, also began to spread throughout the complex around the same time.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) uses an integrated management approach in controlling unwanted aquatic plants. This strategy includes drawdowns, herbicide applications and biological controls. The drawdowns and herbicides were mostly ineffective on the hydrilla.
The problem continued for about a decade until the group that would become the Spring Bayou Restoration Team, along with the LDWF, the Avoyelles Parish Police Jury and other partners, opted for a new approach.
In January of 2008, a little more than 11,000 triploid grass carp, purchased by the Avoyelles Parish Police Jury and measuring 10-12 inches in length, were stocked into Spring Bayou in an effort to reduce hydrilla coverage in the system.
This is a sterile form of the white amur, a vegetarian fish native to the Amur River in Asia. Sterile grass carp are used because they are non-native and could potentially alter the vegetation communities of non-target sites if they got out of Spring Bayou and established reproducing populations elsewhere. They prefer young, soft hydrilla and have proven to be very effective at reducing submersed plant growth when used in waterbodies that contain ample complex cover to provide refuge for other fish.
To make sure that the fish remained in the lake, 50 were implanted with transmitters and telemetry devices were used to track their movement. This study found the carp remained in the lake during high water periods.
In 2011, the Spring Bayou Restoration Team purchased 5,000 carp along with 5,000 purchased by LDWF. The department added an additional 20,000 grass carp in 2013 and, 20,000 in 2014. The last carp stocking occurred in 2015, when 1,500 were released for a total of approximately 62,500. Grass carp have a life span of 10 to 15 years and have the potential to provide effective long term control of the submersed vegetation.
Though grass carp can grow to between 60-80 pounds, most in Spring Bayou are in the 30- to 40-pound range. Fishing for the grass carp is prohibited.
By December of 2014, hydrilla coverage decreased to 450 acres throughout the lake, and was down to only 200 acres by December of 2015.
By 2016, the hydrilla was gone thanks to the ravenous appetite of the grass carp. LDWF also maintained a hold on other invasive plants thanks to herbicide spraying, which it still conducts. In the November 2016 survey, 200 acres of the lake complex were covered by water hyacinth, with other aquatic plants inhabiting just over 300 acres combined.
“At this time, we don’t have any hydrilla in the lake,’’ said LDWF Inland Fisheries Biologist Manager Jody David. “The grass carp ate it all. It was an excellent way to reduce it. The grass carp did their job.
“Spring Bayou is such a diverse habitat, that bringing in the grass carp didn’t really hurt our gamefish populations. People are catching fish. They’re happy now. Everybody is all smiles.’’
Spring Bayou Lake is part of LDWF’s Spring Bayou Wildlife Management Area, a 12,500-acre complex about two miles east of Marksville. It’s a popular WMA, with camping available, and the lake is a major part of the draw.
Unlike 10 years ago, when navigating the waterway was near impossible because of the hydrilla, fishing has returned to its glory days. Bass fishing is popular with tournaments throughout the year. David said the top catch was a bass weighing better than eight pounds, with 17- to 18-pound stringers being landed. You can also catch crappie, bream and catfish.
“It really is a good story because the lake was down in the dumps and it’s back on top again,’’ David said. “It was a big fishery back in the 1970s. It was very, very popular. They caught a lot of fish in there. Now you have more and more people coming back to Spring Bayou, including waterfowl hunters and other user groups.’’
As with most inland water bodies in the state, Spring Bayou still faces challenges. Controlling invasive plant species will be paramount, and staying ahead of the growth is the goal. Giant salvinia, a scourge in other parts of the state, has been found in the complex. David said that herbicide applications helped LDWF to keep it from getting out of control.
“Right now, knock on wood, we’re okay,’’ David said.
Keeping out invasive fish species is another goal of LDWF biologists. The flood in the spring of 2011 brought in the infamous silver and bighead carp which, unlike their grass carp cousin, are bad for Louisiana fisheries because they aren’t vegetarians and they can compete for forage with other fish and alter the natural balance of a system.
“(The invasive species) are not a bad problem yet, but it is a problem,’’ David said.
LDWF has continued to stock Spring Bayou with Florida largemouth bass fingerlings to establish the gene in the bass population. From 1993 through 2016, a total of 451,756 fingerlings were added. In 2014, LDWF stocked the lake with more than 575,000 sac fry bass, the stage in a bass’ life cycle before it reaches fingerling status. The enhanced habitat also improves the chances that the Florida bass stocking program will be successful.
David said that working with the Spring Bayou Restoration Team has been a great partnership. The not-for-profit group with almost 200 members continues to work to make Spring Bayou the treasure it has become.
“We work with them closely,’’ David said. “They’ll let us know what’s going on. They enjoy using Spring Bayou, too, so they have a very big stake in it.’’
For more information on the Spring Bayou Restoration Team,
go to www.sbrt-online.com/about_us.
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