Christopher Burnett | Staff Writer
The post’s lakes are full of game fish — and more anglers need to catch them and take them home to eat.
Neil Bass, Fort Leavenworth’s natural resources specialist, said a creel survey from May through August 2016 showed that people who fish on post are vested in the “catch-and-release” ethic. He said this is normally good, but in the fort’s lakes, it is leading to an overpopulation of catfish. Fishing for catfish is good and the potential to take home a meal of catfish is high.
Smith Lake was drained and dredged in 2014 while the dam under Grant Avenue was repaired. Merritt Lake, which is east of Grant Avenue, was drained and excavated in 2016 and Smith Lake refilled. Bass said the improvements changed the average depth of Merritt Lake from about five feet to more than 15 feet deep and increased the maximum depth from nine to 27 feet.
“This improvement provides deeper water, which allows fish to get to the cooler water in the summer and warmer water in the winter, making them healthier overall,” Bass said.
Both lakes have been restocked with channel catfish, bluegill, crappie and largemouth bass by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism and are open to the public for fishing. The fort’s Rod and Gun Club has also helped with stocking, and has bought, built and installed dozens of fish attractors in both lakes.
The creel survey was conducted by student intern John Dubuisson. Bass said the creel study was a sampling survey that targeted recreational anglers using Smith Lake.
“Surveys were done on 37 different days, spread over 14 hours each day, for a total of 428 study hours. Observations revealed a use rate of 966 fisherman hours,” Bass said.
Bass said in addition to the usage report, Dubuisson conducted 83 personal interviews of on-post anglers.
“This produced charted results that revealed such data as the residence of the fishermen, their catch volume, species targeted, and a catch-per-unit-of-effort statistic,” Bass said.
Bass said the creel survey indicated that the children of soldiers make up the largest group of anglers and their parents are second. He said all other groups combined do not equal the angler hours of active-duty military from the post.
“We found affiliation with Fort Leavenworth is a huge determining factor. Civilians who are not Department of Defense employees or retirees made up only 10 percent of all fishermen interviewed,” Bass said. “Catch-and-release ethics among our community anglers are strong. So much so that future efforts encourage more harvest of fish caught since stocking rates are based on a put-and-take calculation.”
Bass said a summer youth program probably skewed the July morning fishermen numbers and pushed numbers upward.
Page 2 of 2 - “Without this youth program, the entire month of July may have shown considerably fewer fisherman hours,” Bass said. “Extrapolated fishing hours on the fort in 2016 exceeded 4,060 hours. Estimates then would be 5,858 fish caught and 660 fish removed — 238 of them channel catfish.”
Bass said the study also revealed the number of catfish taken from the lake is not significant. He said Smith Lake alone is stocked annually with 1,250 catfish.
“We found that it would be good for the ecosystem of our lakes on the post if more people caught catfish and took them home,” Bass said.