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1/28/22 Informal Truman Lake report from the Truman Lake Biologist

It’s hard for me to imagine, but on January 1st I officially wrapped up my fourth year as the fisheries management biologist for Truman Lake. It’s always nice to reflect on the year and think about the things I’ve learned as well as all the things to come, so I’ve put a few thoughts together.

We did our annual brush pile work out of Thibaut Point in the Little Tebo area, sinking 17 brush piles. We also have quite a bit planned for 2022. In addition to our annual placing of brush piles, we are planning a project to evaluate all of the brush piles we have placed in Truman over the years. I’m not sure how much we will get done in 2022, but this could include looking at the condition of the structures as well as fish use. My hope is to eventually update the brush pile maps to more accurately reflect what piles are still in place and in good condition.

As I’ve settled into my position, I’ve realized each time I go into the field it feels like I’m picking up where I’ve left off. Right now, that includes following classes of fish spawned in 2019. Several species have a large class of 2019 fish, including both natural reproduced and stocked species. It has been interesting to follow them as they grow. Most of them got off to a great start and are growing well.

Walleye is a species that is on the rise in Truman. I believe there are some limitations that will prevent Truman from ever being an excellent Walleye fishery, but there are a lot of young walleye in the lake right now. In 2019 Walleye got off a rare excellent spawn and good numbers of Walleye were stocked in 2020 (~390,716) and 2021 (~362,854). For reference, the most Walleye stocking in a year from 2006-2019 was 188,022. Between the natural recruitment and stocking, the 2019-2021 classes of Walleye may be as good of a run of Walleye as Truman has ever had, and for sure the best classes in 15 years. I aged 39 Walleye that anglers caught from Truman in 2021 and 33 (85%) of those fish were from the 2019 class. This past fall, most of those 2019 Walleye were 16-19”.

I have a backlog of hybrid Striped Bass to age from 2021. However, I know there are several good classes of fish contributing to the fishery right now. The 2019 class is a very large class that seems to be growing well. At the beginning of last summer, a lot of those fish were 16-18”. Many of those fish are now in the low 20” range. I suspect the jump they’ve made in the last year is going to make a lot of people start feeling like there’s a lot of nice hybrids out there in 2022.

We ran 240 nets across 10 sites this fall and caught about 10,000 crappie. When I look through the data, I continue to notice the Osage arm producing a disproportionately high percentage of the largest crappie. Most of the lake has an abundant class of 2019 fish, but what that means for the fishing varies across the lake, especially for Black Crappie. At Fairfield, we netted good numbers of 8-10” Black Crappie and 9-11” White Crappie. The peak numbers of Black Crappie at Fairfield was about 9.0” inches. At our sites near the dam, there were lots of 7.5-9.5” Black Crappie with a peak around 8.5”. At Windsor Crossing there were lots of 6.5”-8.0” Black Crappie with a peak around 7.0”. Right now, that means if you’re fishing Fairfield most of the Black Crappie are keepers, around the dam you’ll have to weed through some small fish, and up at Windsor Crossing there’s lots and lots of small fish. The growth of the Black Crappie around Windsor Crossing is a little concerning. The mean length of a Black Crappie at Windsor Crossing went from about 5.7” in 2020 trap net samples to about 7.2” in 2021. Ideally, the average crappie will reach the minimum length limit after three growing seasons, which is an issue here. One of the most common questions I get is about moving to a 10” minimum length limit on crappie, the growth of Black Crappie in the Tebo arm is a problem when considering increasing the minimum length. In general, White Crappie grow faster than Black Crappie. The population also shifts from about a 50/50 split of Black and White Crappie around the dam and in Tebo and Pomme Arms, to being predominately White Crappie in the upper portions of the Osage and Grand. As a result, the lower lake and Tebo arm are just very different fisheries than the upper Grand and Osage.

For me, a lot of what keeps my job exciting is coming across something interesting after pouring through a crazy amount of data, and you never know when the next surprise is going to come. This fall, I was fishing with a friend near State Park. When we got back to the marina someone had a nice Blue Catfish at the cleaning station. I talked to them for a bit, and they let me take the carcass from the fish to age it. The fish was 39” long and weighed 32 pounds. We estimated the fish to be around 31 years old. It is the oldest fish I have aged. I’ve found that a lot of the blue catfish that are upper 30” fish or large are over 20 years old. It’s been almost 8 years since the slot limit went into place. It takes so long for these fish to grow that it takes a while to evaluate a regulation change, but we’re getting there. I expect to start shifting a little more focus to Blue Catfish in 2022.

We’re also in the middle of a Flathead Catfish project that includes Truman Lake. This is a bigger project that includes some other reservoirs and I’m not heavily involved with the project right now. They have had decent catch rates and their biggest fish was over 50” long. I’m not sure exactly how much it weighed, but I think that’s in the 60-pound range.

Spring Black Bass sampling was hit and miss, but overall pretty slow. It seems like there are a lot of small fish, likely from the 2019 spawn, but a lack of quality fish. Truman’s bass population comes and goes based on the weather. Unfortunately, the conditions on Truman Lake make it an uphill battle for the bass population to thrive.

I didn’t do a lot of Paddlefish work in 2021. We did get 99,988  Paddlefish (~6”) stocked in 2021. That’s a good number of fish but they were smaller and stocked earlier in the year than we have historically stocked them. I do have some hopes there will be some exciting Paddlefish work going on in the future but at this point I’m not sure exactly what that will look like.

When I was writing about Walleye, I started to tell you I was excited to see what the Walleye do over the next few years. Truth is, I figured you’d get tired of hearing it if I told you every time I was excited about something. So here it is all at once, I’m excited about the brush piles evaluations, the big Walleye classes, following the growth of the 2019 hybrid Stripers, the blue catfish slot evaluation, crappie work, paddlefish work and some other potential projects down the road that I haven’t even talked about yet. I can’t wait to see what all 2022 brings.

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