From Russia, With Ballast

During a recent fishing trip, my crappie jig snagged a small, striped shell. I placed it in an empty water bottle and sent a photo to Dr. Jim Long at Oklahoma State University to confirm my suspicions.

“This is significant,” he stated as he verified it as a zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha).

Native to the Caspian Sea, this tiny critter hitchhiked in the ballast of a ship. Well, not this particular mussel, but its ancestors did. And not that long ago. “Great, great grandpa zebra mussel” (life span may average about 6 years) disembarked from a freighter in the Great Lakes by about 1990. Since then, Oklahoma has listed 20 lakes as having zebra mussel populations. Now, thanks to a slow day of fishing and rather unorthodox bivalve sampling methods, Lake McMurtry is #21.

Biologists are concerned because zebra mussels can dramatically alter their environment with staggering numbers. These filter feeders can outcompete native mussels and larval fish for plankton. Plus, they clog pumping equipment for municipalities. Freshwater drum and channel catfish consume these mollusks, but cannot control the population.

To minimize the spread and effect of these and other invasive species, take these precautions such as cleaning and drying your boat between different bodies of water. Zebra mussels can live out of water for several days. And if they happen to be hitting minnow tipped crappie jigs in your lake, report it on the NAS Alert System. By gathering this biological data, hopefully we can learn how to control and manage these uninvited guests.

For more information on invasive species, click here.

Andy Whitcomb

Andy Whitcomb

Andy Whitcomb is a columnist, outdoor humorist, and stressed-out Dad. He says there are “people who fish”… and there are “fishermen”.  One of the few things he knows is that he is a “fisherman”...  To the point it could be classified as borderline illness.  Sharing this obsession is rewarding, therapeutic. He likes to encourage people to “stop and smell the crappie."  Enjoys catching fish, but gets a greater thrill out of helping someone else hook up.
Born in Florida, but raised on the banks of Oklahoma farm ponds. Now relocated to western Pennsylvania. He has fished, worked, lived all around the US.  He has a B.S. in Zoology from Oklahoma State as well...
And he met his wife while electrofishing. He has been contributing weekly to since 2011.