Longtime Barnett Reservoir bass angler Dudley Salers watched Tuesday (May 13) as a biologist poured about 5,000 Florida largemouth fingerlings into an ice chest in the fisherman’s boat, and then delivered the perfect line.

“I just hope this isn’t the only boat ride I share with some of these bass,” said Salers, meaning he hopes to catch some in the years ahead, perhaps helping him win another tournament or two on the 50-year-old lake. 

Salers was one of about 25 local fishermen who participated in a cooperative enhanced stocking with the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District and the fisheries division of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.

An estimated 172,000 Florida bass fingerlings from the MDWFP’s Turcotte Hatchery near Barnett were delivered by truck to two ramps on the 33,000-acre lake. 

Instead of just being poured into the lake at ramps or other easy access points, the fishermen brought their bass boats to the lake and carried ice chest loads of the small fish to be put into preferred habitat.

“When you take them and put them in the right kind of cover, where they can not only avoid predation but can become predators themselves, then you increase the survival rate to maturity,” said Ryan Jones, the MDWFP’s biologist for Central Mississippi and Barnett Reservoir.

Biologists explained that the process is more beneficial than holding fish longer in the ponds until they attain a larger, safer size before releasing. After being brought from Florida as tiny fry about six weeks ago, the small bass have grown to lengths of up to 2 inches in hatchery ponds.

“After they eat all the plankton in the ponds, then they turn on each other and start to eat each other,” said Turcotte Hatchery manager Curtis Summerlin. “You start losing fish really quick and over time the attrition rate gets very high. 

“As soon as we can get them into the lake, they will take a little while to adjust and then they will start chasing smaller prey. Instinct takes over quickly.” 

Bass angler Mike Jones of Brandon saw another side of the instinct after releasing fish at both ramps.

“When you take them against vegetation and pour some out, it is amazing how they just naturally go straight to the grass,” said Jones, whose uncle once worked at the MDWFP hatcheries. “They don’t have any cover in those hatchery ponds, but as soon as you put them around it, they head right for it and get in it.”

Fishermen were happy to participate, even given the short 24-hour notice of release. The fish were taken from the ponds on Monday with an original stocking date of Wednesday. A stormy forecast forced it to be moved to 9 a.m. Tuesday.

“You give us fish to put in and we will be here,” said Mark Peagler, another angler. “Look at these pretty little babies. I’ll get these in the water and be back in 10 minutes for another load.”