Story by Rachael Rourke
DPW Environmental Fisheries Biologist

Spring is officially here and sports enthusiast are putting away their firearms and breaking out their fishing tackle.

This past fall, the Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield Fish and Wildlife Branch collected information on the fish populations in managed recreational fishing ponds.

Data was collected from anglers via the iSportsman program and the annual fall electrofishing population sample. The information indicates a great year for fishing on the installation.

Just like hook-and-line fishing, electrofishing provides a small indication of the overall health of fish populations. During the process, fish are netted, weighed, measured, and then released back into the pond they came from.

The fall 2018 population survey had some expected results and one large surprise - really big fish.

If you are looking to catch large numbers of largemouth bass, check out ponds 1, 21, 29, 32, and 35. All of these ponds contained large numbers of this hard-fighting fish species. If you tend to target trophy bass, you should plan to fish in ponds 2, 19, 21, 28, and 35. The fall electrofishing survey showed many large-mouths that exceeded five pounds - with a few fish pushing 9 pounds. Ponds 19 and 28 having the highest numbers of bass over 5 pounds.

For those looking for a nice mess of sunfish to take home, ponds 1, 17, 21, and 26 look very promising according to electrofishing results. These ponds not only had lots of pan fish, but some big ones, too. Bluegill were over nine inches and redear sunfish over 10 inches long. The largest bluegill encountered was from Pond 26 and was more than 10 inches long. Pond 1 had the largest redear at nearly 11 inches long, weighing more than a pound.

Crappie are typically found in deeper, more open water than electrofishing can effectively sample; but a few sometimes venture into shallow water and are captured during sampling. Crappie were found in ponds 1, 2, 3, 26, and 28. Some of the larger crappie surveyed were more than 11 inches long and weighed about a pound.

The biggest surprise during the entire fall 2018 fish population electrofishing survey was a 23-inch long, 6.93 pound hybrid striped bass. Hybrid striped bass have not been intentionally stocked in any installation pond in more than a decade. This fish was likely mixed in with other fish stocked from the Richmond Hill hatchery. It is possible that others are present, but the odds are low. Instead of ruining the surprise for everyone, it will just be said that this prize was found in a pond that is rarely closed.

The iSportsman data adds another piece to the puzzle of the fish population. This data reveals fishing pressure as well as fish harvest at each pond. A variety of data was collected through iSportsman, including number of check-ins and number of fish caught.

For large mouth bass, anglers reported the total number of bass caught, plus the number of bass kept and the lengths and weights for up to five bass. For other fish species, only the total number of each species are reported.

Anglers reported catching bass measuring 20 inches long in 16 of the 20 managed ponds. There were reports of bass longer than 24 inches being caught in ponds 3, 26, 28, 29, and 32. Some weighing more than 10 pounds. Pond 1 had the most bass reported, with more bass being reported than there were number of check-ins for the pond.

Anglers reported catching the most bluegill sunfish, catfish, crappie, and redbreast sunfish in Pond 3. The high number of bluegill were reported in ponds 1, 19, and 30. Ponds 24 and 30 also had high numbers of catfish. The ponds with the most crappie reports were Ponds 1, 28, 30, and 33.
Remember, to fish on Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield, a Georgia state fishing license and installation iSportsman fishing or combo permit is required. For more information on fishing or hunting on the installation, purchase permits, or check into areas - check out the Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield iSportsman website https://ftstewart.isportsman.net.