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Ken Perrotte’s Outdoors Column: Gobblers in ample supply

Spring gobbler season opens state-wide Saturday and, if the success youngsters enjoyed during the special one-day early season last Saturday is an indicator, wild birds could be on the menu for many Thanksgiving dinners.

Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Communications Manager Lee Walker said 530 were checked in on Saturday, a 56 percent increase over last year’s Saturday opening of 340 birds.

The kids were taking mostly long-bearded birds with full-fan tail feathers. Eighty-one percent of the turkeys were adult birds, nearly identical to the 80 percent last year. Shotguns accounted for 90 percent of the birds. The rest were taken with rifles or archery tackle.

Virginia’s turkey population is projected to be good to excellent. According to the VDGIF’s Upland Game Bird Project leader Gary Norman, “Hunters should find good numbers of turkeys in good condition. Last fall mast crops were generally good and the past winter was unusually mild, so gobbling intensity should be good and hens should be in good condition for nesting.”

Spring gobbler season can be as dangerous as it is exciting. Fully camouflaged hunters, realistic decoys and calls that mimic everything from turkey yelps to gobbles make it imperative that hunters positively identify targets and the area beyond before shooting.

Here are a few safety reminders:

Avoid wearing red, white or blue since these are the colors of a gobbler’s head.

Choose a calling position that provides a backstop as wide as your shoulders and protects you from the top of your head down, while also offering a good view of what’s around you. A large tree is best. Movements behind a small tree may confuse antsy hunters. Never shoot at a sound or movement.

If another hunter encroaches, don’t wave silently or make a call to alert him. Speak out loudly and remain hidden until the other hunter acknowledges your presence.

To be legal, turkeys are tagged at the place of kill by notching the appropriate tag on your license. Check the bird by calling 866/GOT-GAME (468-4263) or by visiting HuntFishVA.com.

RIVER RATS TOURNEY

The same Concerned Bass Anglers of Virginia group that hosted a meeting with VDGIF fisheries biologists recently to discuss the state of largemouth bass in the tidal Rappahannock River is taking a unique first step to try to repopulate portions of the river near Leedstown.

The initial effort centers on a River Rats Memorial Day Bass Restocking Tournament, scheduled for May 26–27. Participants will meet at the Walmart store in Tappahannock at 7 a.m. to register and pay a $10 per boat per day entry fee. Anglers can depart from the ramp of their choice and fish from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Each boat with two anglers has a 10-fish limit per day, and the biggest fish of the day wins all entry proceeds.

The restocking portion of the tournament comes after weigh-in, when all fish will be transported back to the Leedstown area for release.

I’ve heard of anglers occasionally keeping and transporting a few bass to try to populate a pond, but never something on this scale. The potential exists for several hundred adult bass to be relocated by fishermen to targeted locations in a large, tidal river.

Fish relocation via tournaments always happens. Sometimes all fish are returned to the water near the weigh-in location. Other times, especially with bigger, high-profile tournaments, special “release” boats distribute captured bass to multiple spots.

Fisheries biologists Bob Greenlee and John Odenkirk aren’t offering technical assistance to the event, although Odenkirk said he spoke with Buddy Fines, a tourney organizer, about possibly tracking this unique stocking effort.

Odenkirk explained, “The ‘stocked’ fish will be scattered over too many creeks and bays to effectively tag or mark with unique markers to render any statistical significance to recaptures or changes in population density over time. Basically, it will be anecdotal.”

Greenlee said participating anglers will likely feel good about being engaged, but the tournament isn’t designed for statistical analysis, offering “no opportunity to evaluate the relative success or failure of relocations.”

Both biologists said some delayed fish mortality is likely, but no more than what’s expected in regular tournaments.

Odenkirk said current lower water temperatures will help prevent delayed mortality, but anglers “can plan to lose about 10–15 percent.”

The biggest question seems to be, will transplanted fish stay in areas where they are released? The answer appears to be, not really.

Odenkirk estimates that of those fish that survive, probably about one-third will stay, one-third will go back near where they were caught and one-third will end up someplace completely different. His estimates are based on research papers that examined dispersion of tournament-released fish.

“Habitat will influence those that stay–the better the habitat at the release site, the more fish should stay,” he said.

Odenkirk also said fish relocation efforts might have been more fruitful if they took place now, prior to the largemouth bass spawn, versus afterward.

“They’ll have to wait another year for fish to begin repopulating, if indeed it ever happens,” he said.

For more tournament details, contact Bruce Lee (540/226-2047); Shaun Tate (540/295-3771); Buddy Fines (540/775-7294); Earl Cooper (804/633-9247); or Kellum Brooks (804/512-9834).

Donations for future Rappahannock restocking efforts are also being accepted. Make checks payable to CBAV (Rappahannock fund). Mail to Bruce Lee, 19507 Ware Creek Road, Rappahannock Academy, VA 22538.

WEJEBE DIES IN CRASH

Fishing personality Jose Wejebe, 54, was killed last weekend when his small airplane crashed near Everglades City, Fla.

Wejebe was host of the “Spanish Fly” fishing show that originally aired on ESPN in the mid-1990s and was currently in the Outdoor Channel’s lineup. Wejebe was Cuban-born and came to the United States after the Castro revolution.

Ken Perrotte can be reached at The Free Lance–Star, 616 Amelia Street, Fredericksburg, Va. 22401, by fax at 373-8455 or email at outdoors@freelancestar.com.

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