There wasn't much fanfare on Thursday afternoon when a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department truck pulled into the parking lot of Denison's Waterloo Lake.
But thanks to the precious cargo that truck was carrying in a fish tank, perhaps there will be a little more fanfare at the local Community Fishing Lake some seven to 10 years down the road.
If that happens to be the case, it might be because of the 6,000-plus Florida bass fingerlings that were planted at the Denison water body yesterday afternoon.
Planted in three different locations around the lake's shoreline by longtime TPWD inland fisheries biologists Corey Clouse and Todd Robinson, the 1 1/2-inch to 2-inch long fingerlings quickly dispersed and disappeared into the heavily stained water that fills Waterloo after recent flooding rains.
“Muddy water is a good thing for these fingerlings, as far as their survival is concerned,” said Clouse, who earlier in the day teamed up with his TPWD counterpart to stock Florida fingerlings elsewhere in North Texas at Lake Amon G. Carter and Nocona Lake.
“Yeah, these fingerlings will need every advantage they can get,” agreed Robinson.
While there isn't a wealth of protective vegetation growing in the Denison lake — loosely translated, that means that no one will ever mistake Waterloo for Lake Fork — what is there will help these fingerlings survive the gauntlet of predatory threats posed by other fish, birds, and reptiles that call the 52-acre lake home.
Dan Bennett, the head biologist at TPWD's Denison district — and the man who helped get these fingerlings earmarked for Waterloo — pointed out in an interview on Wednesday afternoon that expectations might need to be tempered by local anglers.
“For starters, the survival rate won't be very high from such a stocking, anywhere from three to five-percent, something in that general range,” said Bennett, who hopes to bring similar Florida bass plantings to Sherman's 45-acre Dean Gilbert Lake and 30-acre Pickens Lake in the next two or three years.
“The numbers from this stocking (at Waterloo) that survive to adulthood — about two years old, or right at the 14-inch mark — won't be all that high.”
So why stock these diminutive Florida bass at all, fingerlings that will only boost overall largemouth numbers in the lake by a small percentage?
“We'd like to make what is there in Waterloo potentially bigger,” said Bennett, noting that his crew will conduct a genetic analysis in three to four years, hoping to see a good smattering of Florida bass genetics in either pure specimens or hybrid crosses with native largemouths.
First impounded in 1886 according to Bennett, Waterloo actually has a track record of such superior genetics being planted in the water that covers it's sandy bottom with a total of 2,000 Florida fingerlings being stocked into the lake in 1978. For the record, there were also several native largemouth bass stocking efforts down through the years, including 300 in 1941; 1,000 in 1945; 500 in 1946; and 2,700 in 1947.
But Waterloo had to be drained in 1986 after several springs worth of flooding rains threatened the integrity of the dam holding back the waters of the D-Town lake. After the dam was rebuilt and the lake began to fill again in the fall of 1990, TPWD returned to work, stocking 5,200 Florida bass fingerlings in 1991; 5,242 fingerlings in 1993; and 1,354 fingerlings in 1997 along with 5,240 native largemouth fingerlings that same year.
While other fish species have been routinely stocked at Waterloo in the years since — including more than 43,000 bluegills, 3,000-plus threadfin shad, thousands of channel catfish, and more than 55,000-plus rainbow trout — a total of 22 years has passed between Waterloo's 1997 bass stockings and the one that occurred on Thursday afternoon.
Down through the years, Waterloo has been a popular spot for anglers to wet a line even if the reputation that the midtown lake has is that there aren't many fish there and the ones that are there are quite difficult to catch.
But based on TPWD's survey work — an electro-shocking survey in the fall of 2016 and a creel survey in 2017 — and the data shows that such a reputation is only partially justified.
“I would say that based on our sampling, there's definitely a good number of fish in there,” said Bennett, noting that the lake produces relatively good natural spawns each year. “But because of the pressure that lake receives, (the bass) see a good number of lures come by their face each year. Some get caught and the ones that survive, well, they are well trained (to avoid angling pressure.)”
Why all of this fuss over the stocking of a few thousand Florida bass fingerlings that are only a couple of inches long? Because they hold great potential, that's why, even for a 52-acre lake.
Put simply, Florida bass genetics turned what was good fishing in Texas for several decades into something that has been nothing short of world class since about the same time frame that Marty Criswell led the local Denison Yellow Jackets to a 4A state football title back in 1984.
With native strain largemouth bass, or northerns as many anglers call them, naturally inhabiting the state for eons, officials with TPWD started stocking Florida bass into Lone Star State waters back in the early 1970s.
Because Florida bass — native to the Sunshine State and extreme southern Georgia — grow more rapidly and top out at bigger weights than native largemouths do, the thought was that Florida genetics could jump-start the bass fishing in a vast place where the state record had stood since the days of World War II.
While the TPW Commission wouldn't spring for those first stockings of Florida bass, the late Bob Kemp, head of TPWD's fishery division, used his own money to help bring them into the state and change Texas bass fishing history forever.
With the first Florida bass stockings reportedly occurring in 1972 at Lake Murval, other East Texas waters were also stocked throughout the rest of the decade. While there wasn't much big bass fanfare during the 1970s, with each passing year, the chance was growing for the Texas state record of 13.50 pounds — set at Lake Medina in 1943 by H.R. McGee — to fall.
On Feb. 2, 1980, Jimmy Kimbell landed a 14.09-pound bass from Lake Monticello, starting a streak where the largemouth benchmark would fall a total of six times in a dozen years. That stretch included Lake Fork guide Mark Stevenson's famed state record largemouth caught on Nov. 26, 1986 — a bass named Ethel — that weighed 17.67 pounds along with Barry St. Clair's current state record from Lake Fork, a specimen that weighed 18.18 pounds when it was caught on Jan. 24, 1992.
But that's only part of the Florida bass story in Texas, a place where it now takes a lunker largemouth weighing north of 15.45-pounds to crack the Lone Star State's “Top 50” largemouth list. With some 581 official ShareLunker bass — which weigh 13 pounds or better — being pulled from a total of 70 public water bodies and a dozen private waters around the state, it's clear that Florida bass have turned Texas into what is arguably the best state in the nation to chase after big largemouths.
But will that same idea hold true at Waterloo, a small water body where the lake record — a 10.40-pound largemouth specimen caught by Robert Haddock on April 15, 2000 — has stood for a generation now?
Bennett isn't completely sure of that answer, since he knows that plenty of catch-and-release will have to be a part of Waterloo's ultimate big bass formula, an idea that isn't always popular on a community lake where some anglers seek table fare over trophy potential.
But the TPWD biologist has a hunch that based upon the data at his disposal, the quality of catches he hears about, and the occasional rumor mill fuel of a true lunker swimming at the Denison lake, that such trophy bass potential exists at Waterloo.
Especially if the habitat can be improved just a little bit. That will help out greatly since Waterloo is a typical dishpan kind of lake with relatively shallow water — the lake's maximum depth is a small area just more than 20-feet deep — and only a moderate amount of habitat features like protective vegetation, woody cover, gravel and rocks, and underwater structural features.
With a little help from others — including municipal support, partner groups, and a little bit in the way of funding to help provide materials — Bennett thinks that a fair amount can be accomplished to help Waterloo one day have a reputation as a solid small-water choice where a North Texas angler can go to chase a lunker.
“In a nutshell, that's what we're trying to do here, trying to potentially improve the trophy bass possibilities at this fishery, helping to create a place that gives an angler a higher than average chance to go and catch a double-digit bass,” said Bennett.
And after Thursday's low-key stockings of Florida bass genetics at the Denison lake, maybe, just maybe, Bennett's dream will one day become a true lunker bass reality in D-Town.