Never doubt a bass tournament angler’s willingness to protect the future of his or her favorite fishing hole, especially when it comes to stocking it with Florida Bass.

“Wouldn’t missed it for anything,” said Paula Carruth, who along with husband Jimmy is one of the most formidable teams to fish the many pick-a-partner tournament circuits on the lake. They were among the 20-plus boaters to assist in the release of over 80,000 Florida fingerlings May 21 in Barnett Reservoir. “We wish we could do more.”

The fish were hatched in Florida but raised in ponds at the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks’ Turcotte Fish Hatchery adjacent to Barnett Reservoir.

“We were hoping for more fish; our order was for 150,000, but obviously the fish in the ponds had reached predation stage and the bigger fingerlings were feeding on the smaller ones,” said Ryan Jones, an MDWFP biologist who oversees management of Barnett Reservoir. “There’s such a fine window of when the fish have to be pulled.”

The downside equals fewer fish.

The upside is that the fish that made it to the lake are the best of the bunch and have a higher chance of survival, which is where the volunteer fishermen played a very big role. 

They ferried the fingerlings, a few thousand at a time, to be released in preferred habitat — like vegetation — at many spots around the 33,000-acre lake.

“It’s obvious the advantage that gives us over just releasing them from where we could put the hatchery truck and letting them go,” Jones said. “Nobody knows the lake and its habitat better than the fishermen, and they have a vested interest in protecting the fishery. By them taking the fingerlings to release in good habitat, we feel it increases the chances of more fish surviving.”

The fishermen are realistic in their approach.

“Obviously, this kind of stocking isn’t going to make a major impact on the number of fish in the fishery, but what I think it does is insure that we do have a little bit of the Florida bass genetics in the lake,” said angler Shannon Denson. “That is never a bad thing.”

This is the second year in a row that the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District, the state agency that manages the 50-year-old Barnett Reservoir, has worked as an intermediary to pair the fishermen with hatchery officials to stock the bass. In 2014, over 180,000 Florida fingerlings were distributed.

“If we can continue to do this every year, there is absolutely no doubt that we can have a positive impact on the fishery,” Denson said. “I’m a third generation Barnett fisherman, the son of a son of a fisherman here, and I’ve got a teenage son who is the fourth generation. I don’t just want to pass along the passion for fishing, I want to pass along the best fishing I can to my son and future generations.”