Larry Pugh became chief of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks’ Fisheries Bureau on July 1. Pugh earned his masters degree in fisheries at Mississippi State University, and has worked as a biologist for MDWFP for 15 years. He is an avid and accomplished angler. 

Pugh’s role is to lead the MDWFP fisheries staff to provide fishing opportunities for the people of Mississippi that are compatible with conserving the fisheries resources. His responsibilities cover all aspects of fisheries, but I asked Pugh to identify programs he thought warranted extra emphasis. Here are some of Pugh’s priorities:

Access

Access is essential to provide fishing opportunities, and MDWFP will continue to maintain and expand access points for anglers.

“Boat ramps are expensive, and we will need to prioritize waterbodies, particularly in the Delta where access is difficult and often limited,” Pugh said. “MDWFP purchased Laney’s Landing on Lake Chotard in 2011, thereby providing public access forevermore.”

State lakes provide fishing opportunities for a variety of anglers. Pugh plans to put more emphasis on facility improvement, fisheries management and access at these valuable resources.

“We own these small waters,” he said, “so let’s make sure they provide good or better places for our anglers to fish.”

Pugh is especially excited about Lake Lamar Bruce, which is presently closed to allow repairs of the dam to be undertaken.

But when the lake reopens in May 2015, anglers will find a lake with an abundance of cover and structure compared to most other state lakes. The renovation includes construction of a sub-impoundment — a several-acre pond that can be drained into the main lake. The sub-impoundment will be designed specifically for bank anglers and to allow the creation of special fisheries, such as a high-density catfish population for fishing derbies. 

Improved methodologies

Accurate population assessment is fundamental to effective fisheries management.

“We will strive to do things better, with particular emphasis on sampling techniques our biologists use, and refine hatchery techniques used to produce fish to stock in public waters,” said Pugh.

Education and Outreach

We need a growing and educated angler population. Fishing rodeos are extremely popular and potentially an effective way to increase the angling population.

Several years ago Pugh developed Camp Fish. Working with Mississippi Bass Federation volunteers, these four-day camps teach youth about fish, aquatic biology and fishing.

“I hope to expand these opportunities, but we also need to evaluate whether these events really are building new anglers,” Pugh said. “I am also looking for effective ways to bring back lapsed anglers.”

Research

Many of our successful fisheries management programs — those that produce better fishing that anglers want — are the results of well-designed research conducted by universities. We face new and important questions. 

“We’ve done a good job of identifying our bureau’s research needs; now we need a plan and the commitment to get these research projects going, and get some valuable and useful answers,” Pugh said.

I then asked Larry to get specific: 

Question: The three most-popular fish groups in Mississippi are black bass, crappie and catfish. Mississippi has become the go-to destination for crappie fishing. What, if any, changes can crappie anglers expect in the next five to 10 years?

Pugh: Expect more-dynamic and adaptive management. For example, Sardis reservoir had a strong 2009 year class followed by weak year classes in 2010, 2011, 2012. We implemented an 11-inch length limit to allow anglers to harvest a few fish while still maintaining a sufficient number of crappie to sustain quality fishing. Crappie populations are notoriously dynamic, and effective management will require adapting regulations to these ever-changing populations.

Question: Bass fishing in Mississippi is good. Can it be better? 

Pugh: Darn hard question. While Mississippi may not be the top destination for trophy bass, the state provides a diversity of bass opportunities ranging from coastal rivers to Pickwick Reservoir. My goal is to produce the best quantity and quality of black bass these systems can provide.

Question: What changes in bass management do you foresee? 

Pugh: A little more focus on establishing native plants and more-dynamic, lake-specific regulations.

Question: Catfish rather quietly round out the top 3 most-popular sport fisheries in Mississippi’s public waters. Although catfish are not game fish in Mississippi, do you foresee active catfish management? 

Pugh: Definitely. We are beginning to evaluate catfish in state fishing lakes and realize that simply stocking more catfish does not necessarily produce good fishing. Rather, we need to manage numbers for good growth and desirable size structure.

We also need to develop effective sampling methods, and we need to communicate with catfish anglers that range from laid-back to aggressive tournament and trophy anglers.

Question: Anglers — their participation, preferences and satisfactions — are a primary component of successful fisheries management and will place many demands on you and your staff. What three things would you like from the anglers?

Pugh: First and foremost, I would like anglers’ support of new regulation changes to give us a chance to make their fishing better.

Second, I would like anglers to support the work the staff does and communicate with the biologists. They are trained professionals; provide your input, but also listen to what they have to say.

Third, I want to try to bring lapsed anglers back to fishing, but I have no way to communicate with them. I would like present anglers to ask their former angler buddies what will get them back fishing and get that information to me.