FOX8 high school football scoreboard: Week 10
Support Salvation Army Wildfire Relief

Biologists study Salem Lake’s bass population by electrofishing; ‘It’s just a real fish factory’

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- If you’ve gone bass fishing at Winston-Salem’s Salem Lake and failed to catch anything it’s not the fault of the fish. It’s on you.

“It’s just a real fish factory,” said Kin Hodges, District 7 fisheries biologist for the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

Now, before you start sending in angry emails, let’s make it clear that we’re not calling you an amateur; you’re simply not using the same equipment Hodges and his counterparts do. Frankly, you’re not allowed to.

“The percentage of those good, quality sized fish here is much higher than in almost any other lake,” Hodges said.

On Friday, Hodges took to Salem Lake to study the bass population in the lake by using a technique called electrofishing. Electrofishing consists of the biologists sending an electric current into the water, which Hodges says is about four amps, or 2,000 to 4,000 watts.

It’s a current which, if a human were to be in the water near, would be detrimental. But it simply stuns the bass.

“Their nervous system is just wired completely different and it really has no effect on them,” Hodges said.

During the spawning season, which we are currently in, the bass are in the shallows and susceptible to the electrical field, Hodges added. If it were at other points in the year where the fish were in deeper waters, the electricity wouldn’t reach them.

Once stunned, the bass float to the surface, putting them in reach of a net.

“It kind of forces them to swim towards the current, so you [have to] net them up real quick and throw them in the boat before they get away from you,” Hodges said.

Capturing the bass allows them to study the number of them in certain areas of the lake, how fast they are growing and how long they’re living.

“The sizes, the condition, how plump and healthy they look,” Hodges said. “All those are pieces of the puzzle that we look at to try to figure out what kind of shape the population is in and if there’s anything we need to tweak.”

From 2010 to 2012, Salem Lake was drained to allow for repairs to the dam. Since the lake was refilled and repopulated with fish, the NC Wildlife Resources Commission has been coming to study the population annually.

“This is how we keep these populations healthy, to make sure that they persist into the future and provide good fishing for everybody,” Hodges said.

On Friday, we watched the process for 16 minutes. In that time, they netted 20 bass, most of which were in the 15 to 18-inch range.

“They’re are all just so fat and beautiful and perfect,” Hodges said, as one of the fish was being measured and weighed.

Hodges credits the nutrients in the waters of Salem Lake with providing more food, and in turn, more game fish.

“It really humbles you. It makes you realize how bad of a fisherman you are,” Hodges said, of Salem Lake’s bass population. “When you’re out there with a rod and reel, you can go a couple hours without a bite, and you just tell yourself, ‘Ah, there’s just nothing here, I’ll just keep going.’ Once you come out here and do this, you realize that by that couple of hours, you’ve already probably passed a hundred fish or more.”

If you take the time frame of 16  minutes -- in which they caught the 20 fish – and multiply it by four, it averages out to a pace of about 80 fish an hour. Hodges says that’s about double the average that they would have caught in the majority of the lakes in the Piedmont.

“It kind of puts you in your place,” he said.

In closing, if you’ve thrown line after line into Salem Lake and came up empty, you’re not alone; the fish are all around you.