Anglers near Abilene are hoping a favorite fishing spot doesn’t continue its downhill slide.
Lake Sweetwater, the small — and shrinking — emerald jewel of West Texas lakes, is loaded with largemouth bass. However, a dropping water level and declining bluegill numbers could signal trouble ahead for Sweetwater’s bass.
Sweetwater, which filled in fall 2007, has since experienced a 17-foot drop in water level, 10 feet of that since 2011. “And to add insult to injury, all that rain we had a few weeks ago missed Sweetwater’s watershed,” said Spencer Dumont, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Inland Fisheries regional director.
Normally a dropping water level is tough enough on fish populations. For example, bluegill — a favorite food of largemouth bass — declined from over 1,000 bluegill in one hour of electrofishing in 2009 to just 69 bluegill in one hour this fall. Such a decline could eventually lead to slower growth and a stockpile of smaller bass. Add the possibility of golden alga blooms to a dropping water level and you have a two-headed monster, the same monster responsible for Sweetwater’s slow and torturous demise from 1998-2007, when the lake dropped over 40 feet and golden alga killed most of the remaining fish.
“We believe, though, that golden alga may have been greatly reduced with all that fresh water the lake received in 2007,” Dumont said. “We’ll have the water tested this winter to determine the presence or absence of golden alga. In the meantime, bass are doing better than ever at Sweetwater, in spite of dropping water levels, likely because of dense stands of dead trees and bushes that cover most of the lake’s bottom.”
A district record 368 largemouth bass were collected in one hour of electrofishing, three times the district average. Although 81 percent of those bass were less than 14 inches long, the number of 14-inch and 18-inch and longer bass has steadily increased since 2009, a result, at least in part, of the 14- to 18-inch slot limit.
Bass up to 7 pounds or more have been caught this year at Sweetwater, but the future of this still yet-to-peak fishery depends on Mother Nature, Dumont said. “If we go another year without appreciable inflow into the lake, there could be a repeat of the early 2000’s. But if the lake catches a slug of water, look for Sweetwater to be a trophy bass factory. I’m crossing my fingers for the latter,” he said.