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Stalking the wild Guadalupe bass

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

Cardinals whistled from across the bridge, clear river water tumbled over boulders and a bright fall sun glittered on the riffs and swirls of the Medina. It was a perfect early morning for fishing.
Fortified by cups of hot coffee and doughnuts provided by the Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater District (BCRAGD), a crew of scientists from the river authority, the San Antonio River Authority (SARA), Texas State University, and Texas Parks and Wildlife fanned out across the northern reaches of the Medina River Tuesday, Dec. 18, in search of Guadalupe bass (Micropterus treculii).
The day's activities aimed to capture 100 of the official State Fish of Texas for restocking a portion of the SARA's Mission Reach Ecosystem Restoration and Recreation Project. Mission Reach is a multi-year project transforming an 8-mile stretch of the San Antonio River on the south side of the city. It will connect the historic missions with hiking, jogging and biking trails and other amenities.
Funded by Bexar County, the City of San Antonio, the US Army Corps of Engineers, and the San Antonio River Foundation, the restoration is overseen by SARA, which will also conduct operations, maintenance and concessions when the project is completed sometime in 2013.
"We want to capture 100 Guadalupe bass," said SARA Community Relations Specialist Rosanne Hughes, "using electro fishing and nets. We'll take the fish to Heart of the Hills Hatchery in Ingram. There they will be tested for genetic purity and health assessment. Then we will re-introduce them to the San Antonio River as part of Mission Reach. It's a project that will be a real precedent in environmental restoration projects."
BCRAGD General Manager David Mauk said the local river authority was excited to be able to participate in such an important scientific endeavor.
"The San Antonio River Authority, Texas Parks and Wildlife, and Texas State University have been doing an extraordinary job trying to restore this species. The Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater District is very proud to have been able to help out with this Guadalupe Bass Restoration effort," said Mauk.
"As a River Authority, we are directed by Article 16 Section 59 of the Texas Constitution to preserve and protect the natural resources of the state. Being the local District, we are able to contribute to this project by sharing our knowledge and understanding of our portion of the watershed. Developing a working relationship with our neighbors benefits everyone involved including the citizens of Bandera County," Mauk added.
Tuesday's group of scientists and staff formed several groups who visited locations along both the North and West Prongs of the Medina River north of Medina under the direction of Project Manager Ernest Moran.
Participating in the collection activity were Moran, aquatic biologists Shaun Donovan, Ryan Burke, Karen Sablan and Larry Larralde; Rosanne Hughes, SARA community relations specialist; Ronnie Hernandez, environmental investigator; BCRAGD intern/technician Kayla Rohrbuch and field technician Roy Chancy; and Gordon Linam, TPWD river scientist, and others. Dr. Robert Bonner from Texas State University had a team of 19 graduate students on the Medina River below the Medina Dam on a collecting jaunt.
After locating a likely site on the North Prong, the crew slipped into waders and prepared their equipment. Before long, the faint beep-beep-beep of the shocker could be heard over the sound of running water. A trio worked their way around a pool in the river, with two people sweeping up any dazed fish into their nets as the shocker produced a small electric charge to stun the fish. Any Guadalupe bass were quickly transferred into an ice chest and then into an aerated water tank on the back of the truck.
The Guadalupe bass is indigenous to the Texas Hill Country and is found only in Texas. According to TPWD, "relatively small populations can be found outside of the Edwards Plateau, primarily in the lower Colorado River" and "introduced populations exist in the Nueces River system."
The Guadalupe bass, like other so-called "black bass" are not true bass, but are members of the sunfish family.
Spawning begins in March and continues through June. There is sometimes a secondary spawn in late summer or early fall.
The male builds a gravel nest and lures the interested female to it. She may lay 400 to over 9,000 eggs. The male then chases the female away and he guards the incubating eggs.
Specimens in excess of 3.5 pounds have been caught.
According to Russell Persyn, Project Manager for Mission Reach the long range project will "change [the San Antonio River] from its function as a flood control channel to a real amenity... for the neighborhood."
SARA General Manager Suzanne Scott commented on the progress that has already been made along the Mission Reach. "It's not a manicured environment. We're planting tall grasses, trees and that attracts wildlife," she said. "[The park] will not be the same from year to year, or even from season to season."
Bandera County residents are certainly welcome to enjoy the Mission Reach during their visits to San Antonio.