By Craig Nyhus
Lake Meredith may be on its way back.
The Panhandle reservoir formed by Sanford Dam on the Canadian River at Sanford was once known for its numbers of bass and walleye, but a combination of drought and golden algae blooms sealed its fate.
Lake levels were at near-record lows when the blooms came.
“The lake probably had three golden algae blooms from 2011-2013, and it killed most of the fish,” said Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologist John Clayton.
The rains returned, though, the water conditions improved, and stocking efforts are underway.
“In April, right around 3 million walleye fry were stocked,” Clayton said. “In October, we stocked about 24,000 bluegill.”
Clayton said stockings of other fish are being delayed.
“We don’t want to stock too fast and we don’t want the walleye fry to have a lot of competition,” he said. “We do plan to put smallmouth bass back in Meredith, but our hatchery wasn’t able to produce any this summer. We’re hopeful we can get them in next summer.”
Anglers may recall the lake being listed as “empty” before the rains returned a few years ago.
“It wasn’t empty,” Clayton said. “The listing is called ‘below dead pool,’ meaning the lake is so low that officials can’t pump water out of the lake.”
Fishermen shouldn’t fret that Meredith is still listed as 64.980-feet below full pool, since the lake rarely nears its capacity. For reference, the lake is 34 feet higher than it was in October of 2013.
“Meredith is now 64-percent full,” Clayton said. “The lake has never been completely full, although it got close in the 1970s and in 1993.”
While few fish survived the low period, one species managed to pull through.
“The channel catfish population has been outstanding — they weren’t wiped out by the golden algae,” Clayton said.
Other species didn’t make it.
“After the blooms and the low water levels, we couldn’t electrofish because the salinities were so high,” Clayton said. “In our surveys, we didn’t catch any largemouth or walleye.”
In October, electrofishing efforts did show a few largemouth bass made it, and one walleye was observed but not caught.
“I presume those fish went upriver and got in a deep hole,” Clayton said.
Officials are hoping the golden algae blooms don’t return, and the lake returns to its former status as a prime fishery. The lake record largemouth is 12.25 pounds (March, 2001), the record smallmouth is 7.93 pounds (March, 1998) and the walleye record is 11.88 pounds (February, 1990).
“A few of the walleye stocked may reach minimum size (12 inches) by the end of next summer,” Clayton said. “But you’re probably looking at the summer of 2018 for most of them to reach minimum size.”
Clayton hopes the walleye return, along with the people who catch them.
“When people heard we were stocking them, most of the questions I received were the same,” Clayton said. “They ask, ‘”What’s a walleye?”’