An invasive species of bass has been found in several Virginia lakes and could make its way to Smith Mountain Lake where it would have a major impact on sport fishing.
The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (formerly the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries) is warning area residents of the spread of Alabama bass to the region. The bass have already been detected in nearby Claytor Lake in Pulaski County and Philpott Lake just south of Smith Mountain Lake.
The bass look nearly identical to spotted bass, which has made them nearly impossible to detect, according to Mike Bednarski, biologist for the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources. He said the bass were once thought to be a subspecies of spotted bass, but were recognized as their own species only a decade ago.
“They are what are called cryptic invaders,” Bednarski said due to them looking similar to spotted bass that are native to several area lakes.
When introduced into a lake, Alabama bass can threaten both largemouth and smallmouth bass through competition and hybridization. The end result is a lake dominated by smaller fish, Bednarski said.
Alabama bass are an aggressive fish that will push out largemouth bass and outcompete them for food. At Lake Norman in North Carolina, Bednarski said largemouth bass abundance at the lake is only 8% of what it once was due to Alabama bass being introduced.
“They saw a very rapid decline in 20 years,” Bednarski said.
As for the smallmouth bass populations, Alabama bass will crossbreed creating a hybrid that is smaller than the native species. Bednarski said the native smallmouth bass have been eliminated completely in some lakes due to crossbreeding. While the Alabama bass can grow somewhat larger than spotted bass, they have a tendency to become stunted, which can result in a lake dominated by small bass.
Bednarski said spotting Alabama bass may be easier to detect at Smith Mountain Lake since the similar-looking spotted bass are not found in this lake. He is urging anglers who suspect they have caught an Alabama bass to take a picture of the fish, clip off a thumbnail-sized portion of the pelvic fins, store the fin clip dry in an envelope and contact the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources.
“At this point we don’t have any credible evidence they are in Smith Mountain Lake,” Bednarski said of the Alabama bass.
The VDWR is working to get the word out about the dangers of Alabama bass to local anglers. Bednarski said the bass have been spreading due to anglers moving fish between bodies of water, possibly thinking introducing the bass will make fishing better at their lake.
Bednarski warned anglers that it is illegal to stock any fish, including Alabama bass, into public bodies of water without VDWR authorization. Violations are a class III misdemeanor and are subject to a fine of up to $500.
Anyone with information on Alabama bass at Smith Mountain Lake can contact the VDWR at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 804-367-1293.