LLANO — Texas Tech University doctoral student Zack Thomas is up to something fishy.
And he’s looking for some folks who want to be a part of it.
Thomas is conducting a Hill Country Stream Survey through the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department website, www.tpwd.state.tx.us. The aim of the project is to see how anglers utilize rivers and streams in their fishing activity — predominately the Hill Country ones — and the pursuit of Guadalupe bass.
PHOTO: Guadalupe bass fingerlings swim off after Texas Parks and Wildlife officials release them in the South Llano River. Texas Tech University doctoral student Zack Thomas is conducting a survey on how many anglers pursue the Guadalupe bass. The species is only found in the Edwards Plateau region of Texas and is the state fish. Photo by Chase A. Fountain of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
“It’s really a twofold study,” Thomas said. “First, we want to see if the Guadalupe bass restoration efforts started last year are having an effect on the fish and anglers. And second, we want to gather data on stream and river fishing. We have a tremendous amount of information on reservoir fishing, but we have very little on stream and river fishing. And that’s not just Texas, that’s across the country.”
At the heart of the study is the recreational value of the Guadalupe bass, a species endemic to the Hill Country.
“This is the only place you find the Guadalupe bass,” Thomas said. “It’s our state fish. And I think one of the reasons it’s our state fish is because it’s only found in Texas.”
The Guadalupe bass is found naturally in Edwards Plateau watersheds that feed the Colorado, Guadalupe and San Antonio rivers. Some were also stocked in portions of the Nueces River system outside their native range.
Thomas said one of the biggest problems facing the smaller bass species is hybridization with the non-native smallmouth bass. In 1974, TPWD began stocking the aggressive smallmouth in parts of Texas — including river systems shared by the Guadalupe bass.
“As we’ve learned, non-natives often outcompete the native species for food,” Thomas said.
Biologist also learned the Guadalupe and smallmouth were breeding with each other and creating hybrid offspring.
Researchers believe about 30-35 percent of the Guadalupe bass population consists of hybrids.
“One of the restoration efforts includes stocking pure Guadalupe bass in part of the South Llano River,” he said.
The South Llano River converges with the North Llano River to form the Llano River which flows through Llano County before feeding into the Colorado River. Anglers find the Llano River, especially west of the city of Llano, as a prime spot for fishing.
With rippling currents and faster waters in several spots, the Llano River offers good Guadalupe bass fishing prospects.
Unlike it’s cousin the largemouth bass, which prefers deeper, calmer water, Thomas said the Guadalupe bass has adapted to quicker flows. But that has meant it’s typically smaller in size than the largemouth — seldom growing larger than three pounds.
“It’s designed perfectly for its environment,” Thomas said.
The survey will help TPWD staff and others learn how anglers view the Guadalupe bass.
“Along with the biological information, we want to find out if people fish for the Guadalupe bass and look at the impact of the Guadalupe bass,” Thomas said. “There’s a lot we don’t know about stream anglers.”
Thomas, who works out of the Texas Tech University Department of Biological Sciences Llano River Field Station in Junction, is an avid fly fisherman himself. While the Guadalupe bass is the subject of the research, he also sees the species as a worthy adversary on the water.
“Guadalupe bass put up a great fight on a fly rod,” he said. “Everybody loves to land a big fish, but there’s something special about landing a bass that’s not found anyplace else.”
While TPWD does stock rainbow trout in several places in Texas during the winter months, there isn’t a native trout to most of the state, Thomas said.
But the Guadalupe bass fills that void.
“The Guadalupe bass is the closest we have to a trout as far as its behavior,” Thomas said. “It’s often referred to as the Texas trout.”
Scientists, land owners and anglers are working together to protect and preserve the species. The restoration project is part of the equation.
Thomas said making people aware of the species and its significance definitely helps.
As a scientist, Thomas said he doesn’t like to see the hybridization of the Guadalupe bass continue for biological reasons.
But it’s also a matter of state pride.
“The Guadalupe bass is our state fish,” he said. “From a Texan’s point of view, I don’t know if the hybridization of the state fish with a non-native species is such a good thing. The Guadalupe bass is a symbol.”
Anglers can take the online survey through Dec. 20.