Bass pro Pete Ponds of Gluckstadt knows that fishermen are facing a big change in the future.
“Those days when we used to load up the boat and go fishing, then put it back on the trailer and go home are over,” Ponds said, discussing the spread of invasive grass species in waters across the country. “Obviously, it’s not just fishermen, but all boaters, but there is understandably an emphasis on fishermen, particularly bass fishermen, since we are the ones that take our boats into the waters where grasses exist.”
The spread of invasive species has moved to the forefront on fishing issues in Mississippi now that one of the worst — giant salvinia — has been found in several of the state’s most popular fishing holes, including Barnett Reservoir, where officials closed one whole area of the lake — the very popular Pelahatchie Bay — after an outbreak occurred in the summer of 2018.
Ponds said the recommended “Clean. Drain. Dry” method of clearing boats of unwanted vegetation is nothing new on the national boating scene.
“A lot of lakes that pro bass circuits visit in the Great Lakes region and places like upstate New York, the awareness campaign has been strong for years,” he said. “Many make it mandatory for boaters to inspect their boats prior to leaving the lake. At a lot of our tournaments, they have teams of volunteers who inspect each boat, inside and out, as they leave the water.”
At Barnett, officials there began pushing “Clean. Drain. Dry” as soon as they began systematically reopening parts of Pelahatchie Bay. Mandatory cleanings were required during the first few weeks to help instill the correct thought process in boaters.
“We are hopeful that the public will not only buy into the program but understand why this is becoming important,” said John Sigman, general manager of Barnett Reservoir. “Giant salvinia and some of the other invasive vegetation threatens the future of our waters. We’ve seen the damage they can cause at lakes in Texas and Louisiana. We do not want — nobody wants that to happen here or anywhere.”
Barnett’s battle became quite expensive. Through six months, the agency has spent more than its annual vegetation budget just on the Pelahatchie Bay alone.
“If it were to spread to the rest of the lake, I do not know how we’d be able to fight it,” Sigman said. “That’s why we urge boaters to practice ‘Clean. Drain. Dry.’ Clean your boat and trailer. Drain all your holding tanks and bilges. Dry all surfaces, and do all that before you leave the ramp.”
Barnett Reservoir has installed three cleaning stations around the lake to assist in the high-traffic areas. Organizations that plan to hold fishing tournaments on Barnett Reservoir in 2020 must submit and have approved a boat inspection plan before being issuing a permit. That created a lot of apprehension with tournament fishermen, which Ponds tried to quell.
“It’s not that difficult, really and it doesn’t take that long to protect a lake or lakes from which we derive so much pleasure and recreation,” he said. “It’s not just something we need to do but should want to do.”