Virus gets the blame for poor bass fishing results.

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Virus gets the blame for poor bass fishing results.

By Tim Renken, St. Louis Post Dispatch

12/06/2001

Before the Missouri Central Open bass tournament on Lake of the Ozarks Nov. 8-10, local pro Aaron Nelson predicted poor fishing.

"It is definitely going to be a tougher tournament than we're used to at Lake of the O," said Nelson, who has guided on the reservoir the past three years. "It's going to be a far cry from three years ago when we were here and everybody was catching 20-pound limits on buzz baits."

The suspected reason was given by another lake regular - Kurt Johnson of Iowa.

"The fishing has been off at Lake of the Ozarks and throughout the Midwest all year since right after the spawn," Johnson said. "And we don't know what's going on up here. Everybody is blaming the virus, but at Lake of the Ozarks we haven't seen a lot of dead fish. But the big fish are pretty much nonexistent. Something is wrong."

"The virus" is the largemouth bass virus, or LMBV. It's a mysterious bass ailment that has puzzled biologists and spooked tournament anglers from Texas to the Carolinas. LMBV is blamed for a decline in bass fishing everywhere. Nobody knows where it came from, how it spreads or how long it has been around.

Even more mysterious is the fact that many bass carry the virus, along with at least 100 other viruses, but seem unaffected by it. Small bass seem less affected than large bass. In documented die-offs, other factors, including heat, low oxygen and heavy fishing pressure, have been present.

The virus has been detected in bass in most large Missouri reservoirs, including Lake of the Ozarks, Table Rock, Norfork and Bull Shoals.

The catch in the BASS tournament Nov. 8-10 was fairly low, as Nelson had predicted. The winning string was 26 pounds for the three days, a good 10 pounds less than in some other major tournaments on the lake.

Only six limits of five fish were weighed by 229 of the best bass anglers in the country The biggest bass weighed 6 pounds 8 ounces and it was the only fish over 6 pounds.

Was LMBV to blame?

Probably not. Greg Stoner, the Missouri Department of Conservation's biologist on the lake, had heard reports about poor fishing and fish with sores on their bodies. So he examined all of the 252 bass weighed for the tournament and found 14 that looked sick.

Tests showed that those bass, just seven percent of the catch, were infected with common bacteria and protozoa, not LMBV.

"It's possible that we had an outbreak of these diseases and they slowed the fishing," he said. "But I doubt that LMBV was involved."

The virus caused major die-offs of bass in fabled Lake Fork in Texas a few years ago and in South Carolina's Santee-Cooper in 1995. It may have been marginally involved in a loss of big bass in Missouri's Lake Table Rock in 1999. But that population remained good and is rated as excellent now.

Recently the Illinois Department of Natural Resources said that it had found LMBV in bass everywhere fish were tested, including its hatcheries. Several fish kills occurred in Illinois this year, but other factors were blamed for all of them.

So far LMBV has been found in 22 states, every one that has tested for it.

Only in a few places, though, has LMBV seriously affected bass fishing, and then only temporarily. As an excuse for poor fishing, though, it's as good as any.

Reporter Tom Renken

E-mail: trenken@post-dispatch.com

Phone: 314-849-4239
 


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