Biologist fishes for information

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Despite her career as a fisheries biologist, Jean Leitner rarely casts a line herself.

Video: Augusta Outdoors
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A recent exception, though, involved a trip to the Savannah River shoals above Augusta, where Leitner and her colleagues from the S.C. Department of Natural Resources had a very specific objective.

"We wanted to collect as many fish as we could to run some genetic tests," she said. "We really want to get better information on what kind of fish are in the river."

Although the shoals are well known as a place to cast for redeye bass and the occasional largemouth, reports of a new species -- smallmouth bass -- began trickling in late last year.

Anglers who have landed them are delighted.

But scientists are concerned smallmouths will breed with the redeye bass and eliminate them from local waters.

That's why Leitner and four other anglers fanned out among the boulders and riffles in search of genes to send to an upstate lab.

"We had been getting photos of fish from anglers and an occasional fish to test, and we wanted a quantity of fish we could examine on our own," she said.

Based on results so far, it is obvious that smallies appeared in the river abruptly -- and in fairly large numbers, she said.

"It is unlikely they got here through natural dispersion," she said. "The numbers we're seeing, and the fact that they have shown up recently -- and fast -- seem to speak to human introduction, which was unauthorized."

Of the dozen or so fish caught recently, some appear to be pure smallmouth, while others are believed to be hybrids of smallmouth and redeye.

"We only have a certain number of genes, so we can't say a whole lot yet about the extent of hybridization," she said. "But it does appear to be sad news for the redeye."

From a recreational fishing perspective, the smallies aren't necessarily bad news. They are larger and easier to catch than redeye, which might make the shoals a more popular angling destination.

HUNT FORT GORDON: The lottery for one of the best public hunting opportunities in the state is just around the corner.

Fort Gordon, which consistently produces some of the highest scoring whitetails in east Georgia, will offer 250 hunting and fishing permits to the public through a random drawing managed by Georgia's Wildlife Resources Division.

Letters of application will be accepted May 1-15, and the drawing will be May 16. Members of the public not associated with Fort Gordon may apply.

The letter should request entry into the public access drawing for Fort Gordon, it must include the following information: the applicant's full name, address, social security number, date of birth and telephone number. No more than three applicants can apply in one letter.

Applications can be sent to: Georgia DNR, ATTN: Fort Gordon Hunt, 142 Bob Kirk Road, Thomson, Ga., 30842.

GRANTS AWARDED: For the sixth consecutive year, the National Shooting Sports Foundation has announced grants to states for projects designed to enlist new hunters and retain existing ones.

Although Georgia, a past recipient, is not among this year's recipients, the foundation did award $92,500 to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

The state's project, according to its application, will involve "an attempt to re-activate lapsed hunters through an integrated mix of paid advertising, direct mail, electronic communication, media relations, events and other grass roots activities."

The foundation and other groups are working to reverse a decline in the number of hunters and fishermen, blamed, in part, on declining outdoor opportunities and the increasing concentration of population in urban centers, rather than rural areas.

LAKE LEVELS: Thurmond Lake is continuing to rise after last year's drought, but forecasters say the wet weather is nearing an end.

At its low point on Dec. 25, Thurmond Lake had fallen to 316.18 feet above sea level, or almost 14 feet below full pool. As of this weekend, the 70,000-acre lake had risen almost 6 feet, to 321.91 feet above sea level.

Statistically, the lake rises fastest during February, March and April, when cool weather and seasonal rainfall are conducive to runoff needed to fill the lake.

May through July is usually drier, with the hope that tropical weather systems in late summer also will bring needed rains.

Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119 or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.


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