What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. And in Nebraska’s highly productive sandhill lakes, what’s good for bluegill works for yellow perch, too. So say researchers from South Dakota State University and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
Biologists set out to learn what makes these area lakes so good for panfish — lakes that year after year produce big ‘gills and portly perch. The agency hopes to use the new information when considering purchasing or leasing other lakes in the future — all to provide the best possible public waters for Nebraska’s anglers.
Using nets and electrofishing gear, biologists caught bluegill, yellow perch, and largemouth bass in 30 different lakes. They assessed their individual condition, growth rates, and the overall structure of the populations. They also measured the amounts of emergent and submergent vegetative cover growing in the lakes, and related that to the fish populations.
The plump and fast-growing bluegill and yellow perch were strongly associated with low proportions of submergent vegetation. Moderate amounts of emergent vegetation also related to good panfish populations. Biologists also found dense populations of largemouth bass in association with good panfish populations. And it is perhaps the abundant, smaller largemouth that trim out the smaller panfish. Interestingly, dense populations of panfish did not seem to create crowded conditions — conditions that usually lead to stunting, leaving populations in overall poor condition.
No one factor can be singled out as the magic ingredient for good panfish populations. But the study isn’t over yet. Biologists plan to examine the influence bottom-dwelling insects have on fish populations. In the end, it’s Nebraska’s anglers that should benefit from this study.
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When not penning stories about the outdoors, Craig works in communications for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He is an outdoors’ columnist for the Albuquerque Journal and ESPN Outdoors, and a frequent contributor to Flyfisher and North American Fisherman magazines. He holds degrees in fisheries and wildlife management from Hocking College and New Mexico State University, and an M.Sc. in fisheries science from the University of New Mexico. He’s a candidate for an M.A. in rhetoric and writing at the University of New Mexico. He writes weekly for sportsmansguide.com.