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Mississippi Sport Fishing Index (MS FISH)

What is it? How can you use it to select a fishing location?
July 2000

Mississippi contains a variety of public lakes, reservoirs, streams and rivers that support recreational fishing. To monitor and manage the fish populations in these waters fisheries biologists periodically use standard sampling methods (nets, electricity and chemicals, angler surveys etc.) to capture fish and record data which characterize the relative condition of fish populations. These data are used to justify management actions including stocking, renovation, and harvest regulations that are designed to enhance or maintain fish populations with sufficient growth rates and fish densities available for anglers. The primary goal is to manage fish populations to support quality fishing experiences in terms of quantity and sizes of fish available for catch and harvest. This is the situation we seek to provide to anglers, our customers.

Anglers select fishing locations after considering several factors including proximity to their home, water body size, types of fish present, facilities available, and their perceived quality of the fish population. Most anglers want to have a “good fishing experience”. This means they want to fish waters that have higher catch rates or contain larger fish than other locations. They obtain this information from personal experiences, published material, recommendations received from friends and from agency employees.

Frequently anglers ask agency employees to “recommend good fishing places”. They may ask for a list of “good bass lakes” or lakes with plenty fish or lakes where they can catch big bass, bluegill or catfish. The district fisheries biologists possess the most knowledge regarding the best fishing locations since they routinely sample and evaluate fish populations within their district. Biological and angler use data are used to generate technical statistics which characterize fish populations. Each year this information is compiled, analyzed and published in several agency reports. When asked to recommend good fishing locations, biologists usually name water bodies within their own district because their knowledge of fish populations in other districts is limited.

The MS FISH scores provide you with information to rank and compare the fishing potential at water bodies throughout the state. Locations with higher MS FISH scores have the potential to provide a better fishing experience. The scores allow you make valid comparisons and select a fishing location based on objective, scientific data. There are separate MS FISH scores for black bass, bream and crappiei. Comparisons should be made within these fish groups and among the locations listed on the charts.

Anglers seeking to fish a “good bass lake” are advised to choose one of the lakes with a high black bass MS FISH score. Likewise, if you wish to fish a “good bream lake” or “good crappie (white perch) lake” try one that has a high score for those fish groups. Locations with high scores

have well-structured fish population, greater numbers of fish, higher angler catch rates, larger fish being harvested and lots of anglers fishing for that fish group.

When making comparisons between black bass lakes with scores of 90 and 60, you are cautioned that the 30 point difference does not mean that the lake with the lower score is 30% worse nor 30 times worse that the lake with the higher score. Keep in mind that the scores merely provide a relative ranking of the potential fishing experience. We would expect that the average angler would catch fewer fish of a smaller size at a lake with a MS FISH score of 20 compared to a lake with a score of 80.

Keep in mind that your fishing success depends upon many factors including angling, time of the year, water temperature, fish movement, lure selection, fishing pressure and fish population data. Any angler can fish the best location in the world and not catch a fish on that trip.

Even though a lake with a high MS FISH score will not guarantee that you will have a better fishing experience each time you fish there, we believe that in the long run fishing lakes with high MS FISH scores should provide more quality angling trips.

If you are interested in fishing a lake where plenty fish are present, examine the fish abundance graph. If you are interested in fishing a lake where anglers catch more fish, look at the angler catch rate graph. If you are interested in the sizes of fish people are harvesting, review the average size kept graph. If you want to know which lake has more big fish, look at the memorable fish graph.

We plan to update the MS FISH scores on an annual basis. If a lake is not listed on one of the graphs, that means data were not available to generate an MS FISH score.

Our primary purpose was to disseminate technical data in a nontechnical, easily understood, useful form to the angling community. The ideal situation was to use some of the technical information that all field biologists collect along with information from our angler use surveys to develop a method that assigns scores to data ranges to rank fish populations. The higher the score the better the fishing location. We decided to call the method the Mississippi Sport Fishing Index (MS FISH). Numerical scores were developed for the most popular sport fish species -- black bass (includes largemouth, spotted and smallmouth bass), bream (includes bluegill, redear or shellcracker and longear) and crappie (includes white and black crappie).

MS FISH eliminates as much subjectivity as possible from this process by developing a consistent evaluation and interpretation method based on sound scientific data collected in a standard, objective manner.

Five types of data can be used to compute an MS FISH. Two types - population quality and fish abundance - are collected by biologists using electrofishing gear. Three types - angler catch

rate, average size kept and target species - are obtained from creel survey data. The electrofishing data were collected from the same year or from consecutive seasons (for example Fall 1999 and Spring 2000). The angler survey or creel data was collected within two years of the current year.
The population quality score is based on recognized standards indicating balanced fish populations and fish condition.. Based on their length, fish are placed into “stock”, “quality”, “preferred”, “memorable”, and “trophy” size groups. The length ranges for each size group are certain percentages of the world record length for that species. The highest scores are associated with fish populations whose population structure percentages fall within the recommended ranges for balanced populations. Such populations can consistently produce quality fishing experiences. The lowest scores are associated with fish populations dominated high numbers of large fish and unbalanced populations.

Fish condition or Relative Weight (Wr) is fisheries statistic that compares the weight of a fish to the standard or optimal weight for a fish the same size. Wr values of 100 or greater indicate the fish is in excellent condition. The highest score is associated with Wr values from 90-110 and the lowest score is given for a Wr value less than 90.

The fish abundance score is based on the number of fish captured per hour of fall electrofishing. The more fish captured the higher the fish abundance score.

The remaining three scores were obtained by conducting angler or creel survey of people fishing at the water bodies listed. Anglers were asked a series of questions and the numbers and sizes of fish caught and released were recorded. We felt anglers would be very interested in examining where people preferred to fish for certain species; how often they caught fish and average size of fish they were keeping.

The catch rate score is based on the number of fish anglers caught per hour of fishing. This includes fish released and harvested. The higher the catch rate, the greater the catch rate score.

The average size kept score is based on the average weight of fish harvested by anglers. The higher the average weight, the greater the average kept score.

The target species score is based on the percentage of anglers who indicated that they were specifically fishing for a certain species. The highest score is associated with more than 50% fishing for that species. The lowest score was assigned if less than 25% were fishing for that species.

Each of the five scores above could range from 0 to 20 and each score is an equally important part of the total MS FISH score which can range from 0 to 100.

Information Provided by Mississippi Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks

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A type of lure featuring a weighted lead head poured around the top of a hook which can then be rigged with a soft plastic body or skirt.

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