Spring can be a busy time of year for those of us who are interested in improving wildlife habitat on the property we own/manage. Spring is when we start many efforts that will pay-off in the fall. If you are a weekend warrior land manager like me there is always more to do than there are available Saturdays to get it done. The following comments are simple reminders about some habitat management activities that should be moving to the top of your to-do list this time of year.
Aquatic Weed Management – If you had problematic weeds in you pond last summer, chances are you will have them again this summer. NOW (spring) is the time to start controlling aquatic weeds. The later into the summer you wait the worse the weeds will get and the more difficult they will be to control. The risk of a fish-kill associated with aquatic weed control also increases as water temperatures and the total biomass of the weeds go up. Springtime is “Just Right” for Using Aquatic Herbicides
Cogongrass Control – Spring is actually the second-best time of year to treat cogongrass, fall (late September until first frost) is the BEST time. That said, ideally cogongrass will be treated with herbicide every six months, making spring and fall important. When treating spring regrowth make sure that there are green leaves at least one foot long before spraying. Spring is also an excellent time of year to identify cogongrass patches – the cottony, white blooms are easy to spot. Identify Cogongrass Now – Look for the Seedheads; Cogongrass – Now is the Best Time to Start Control
Cogongrass seedheads are easily spotted this time of year.
Photo credit: Mark Mauldin
Warm-Season Food Pots – There is a great deal of variation in when warm season food plots can be planted. Assuming warm-season plots will be panted in the same areas as cool-season plots, the simplest timing strategy is to simply wait for the cool-season plots to play out (a warm, dry May is normally the end of even the best cool-season plot) and then begin preparation for the warm-season plots. This transition period is the best time to deal with soil pH issues (get a soil test) and control weeds. Seed for many varieties of warm-season legumes (which should be the bulk of your plantings) can be somewhat hard to find, so start looking now. If you start early you can find what you want, and not just take whatever the feed store has. Warm Season Food Plots for White-tailed Deer
Deer Feeders – Per FWC regulations deer feeders need to be in continual operation for at least six months prior to hunting over them. Archery season in the Panhandle will start in mid-October, meaning deer feeders need to be up and running by mid-April to be legal to hunt opening morning. If you have plans to move or add feeders to your property, you’d better get to it pretty soon. FWC Feeding Game
Dove Fields – The first phase of dove season will begin in late September. When you look at the “days to maturity” for the various crops in the chart below you might feel like you’ve got plenty of time. While that may be true, don’t forget that not only do you need time for the crop to mature, but also for seeds to begin to drop and birds to find them all before the first phase begins. Because doves are particularly fond of feeding on clean ground, controlling weeds is a worthwhile endeavor. If you are planting on “new ground”, applying a non-selective herbicide several weeks before you begin tillage is an important first step to a clean field, but it adds more time to the process. As mentioned above, it’s always pertinent to start sourcing seed well in advance of your desired planting date. Timing is Crucial for Successful Dove Fields
There are many other projects that may be more time sensitive than the ones listed above. These were just a few that have snuck up on me over the years. The links in each section will provide more detailed information on the topics. If you have questions about anything addressed in the article feel free to contact me or your county’s UF/IFAS Extension Natural Resource Agent.
Reminder: Spotted seatrout harvest is closed in the Western Panhandle Management Zone the entire month of February.
New regulations were put into place last year reducing bag limits and closing harvest during February in the Western Panhandle Management Zone. For more details see my previous post on the subject.When Spotted Seatrout season is open (months other than February) in the Western Panhandle Management Zone the daily bag limit is 3 per harvester. Harvested Spotted Seatrout must be more than 15 inches long and less than 19 inches long. One fish, per vessel, over 19 inches my be included in the bag limit.
The Western Panhandle Spotted Seatrout Management Zone includes the State and federal waters of Escambia County through the portions of Gulf County west of longitude 85 degrees, 13.76 minutes but NOT including Indian Pass/Indian Lagoon.
Boundary between the Western Panhandle and Big Bend spotted seatrout management zones.
Image source: www.myfwc.com
See myfwc.com for complete information on all game and fish regulations in Florida.
Archery season for white tailed deer opens this Saturday (10/24/20) in FWC Hunting Zone D (basically the Panhandle west of Tallahassee, see figure 1). Before you go hunting be sure that you have a plan in place for logging and reporting your harvest. Last year FWC implemented a mandatory harvest reporting system. That system is still in effect this year but with some modifications.
Figure 1. FWC Hunting Zone D
The most notable change to the harvest reporting system this year is with the associated smart phone app. There is a new app this year – Fish|Hunt Florida. This new app will replace the Survey123 for ArcGIS app that was used last year.
In my opinion, the logging and reporting function on the Fish|Hunt Florida app is simpler to use than the previous app. Additionally the Fish|Hunt Florida app has many other useful features. A few highlights include; the ability to view and purchase hunting and fishing licenses/permits through the app, interactive versions of hunting and fishing regulations, and several other handy resources for sportsmen including, marine forecasts, tides, wildlife feeding times, sunrise & sunset times, boat ramp locator and a current location feature. Screenshots from the app are included below. The Fish|Hunt Florida app is available for free through the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store.
Remember, the current regulations state that your deer harvest must be logged before the animal is moved. Take a minute or two to install the app on your phone before you go hunting. Using the app allows logging and reporting to happen simultaneously. The app can be used for logging and reporting a harvest even in areas where cell service is poor. Harvest information will can be saved and the app will automatically complete the process as soon as adequate cell service is available. The alternative to using the app is a two-step process, the harvest can be logged (prior to being moved) on a paper form and then reported by calling 888-HUNT-FLORIDA (888-486-8356) or going to GoOutdoorsFlorida.com within 24 hours.
Follow the link for specific instructions for logging and reporting a harvested deer using the Fish|Hunt Florida app; don’t worry, it’s easy. Fish|Hunt Florida app instructions
For more information on the Fish|Hunt Florida app and the FWC Deer Harvest Reporting System visit myfwc.com.
Screenshot of the Boat Info tab from the Hunt|Fish Florida App. Click on the image to make it larger.
Screenshot of the Fishing Tab from the Hunt|Fish Florida App. Click on the image to make it larger.
Screenshot of the Home screen from the Hunt|Fish Florida App. Click on the image to make it larger.
Screenshot of the Hunting tab from the Hunt|Fish Florida App. Click on the image to make it larger.
Monitor your ponds closely throughout the spring and make any necessary herbicide applications before weed growth becomes too excessive.
Photo Credit: Mark Mauldin
Even though the calendar says we are only a few weeks into spring, recent weather has been more like summer. The early arrival of sustained warm weather has water temperatures in local ponds high enough that aquatic vegetation growth has really taken off. This early growth period is the ideal time to evaluate ponds and address any aquatic weed issues that may be present, since aquatic weed infestations tend to become worse through the summer. Getting an early start generally helps control efforts to be more successful and less expensive, so get started sooner rather than later.
As plants grow, they are able to build up energy reserves, making them more difficult to control. The longer they are allowed to grow, the stronger and more difficult they are to control. Controlling weeds earlier in the growing season reduces this problem.
Similarly, as the growing season progresses plants produce more and more biomass. If a herbicide is applied and the weeds are killed, large amounts of decomposing plant material in the water can cause problems. The decomposition process uses oxygen; dissolved oxygen in the pond can drop to levels that are hazardous to fish and other aquatic species. The more plant material that is present when herbicides are applied the bigger concern this becomes. Applying herbicides earlier in the growing season, before large amounts of biomass are produced, can help lessen this problem.
Further compounding the issue, warm water is physically able to hold less dissolved oxygen than cooler water. Late in the summer, pond water can be very warm with low concentrations of dissolved oxygen even before large amounts of decomposing plant material are added.
To help reduce the risk of oxygen depletion never treat more than ½ of a pond at one time, if weed growth is already substantial treat no more than 1/3 of a pond at one time and always allow 10 -14 days for oxygen recovery between treatments. Also, avoid treating on cloudy days, another factor that can lead to lowered dissolved oxygen. Photo Credit: Mark Mauldin
Evaluating the vegetation in a pond is always the first step in the management process. Figuring out what kind of weeds you have, and if the population warrants control might seem simple, but it can be somewhat challenging. This is particularly true for submerged weeds – those that grow beneath the surface of the water. Unfortunately, submerged weeds are often the most troublesome weeds for pond owners to deal with. All submerged vegetation is not necessarily a bad thing, but there are several aggressive and/or invasive species of submerged aquatic plants that grow very rapidly and can be quite problematic, making proper evaluation critical.
While emergent and floating plants are easier to evaluate than their submerged counterparts, proper identification of all aquatic plants can help determine their potential for spread and, if warranted, the most effective control measures. If you had problem weeds in your pond last summer, you probably still do; get them identified and under control before they have time to spread. If you did not have problem weeds last summer, be on the lookout for any new/different kinds of weeds to head-off any potential issues.
Due to the current situation with COVID-19, generally speaking, County Extension Agents are not permitted to make field visits, but we are still here to help identify and provide control recommendations for your aquatic weeds. Floating and emergent weeds can generally be effectively identified using pictures. Submerged weeds can be much harder to identify using only pictures. For the best results, special care should be taken when photographing aquatic weeds. Collect a small sample of the weed, place the sample in an opaque container (preferably white in color), cover the sample with clean/clear water just deep enough for the sample to completely spread out and be supported by the water. Take multiple, well focused pictures of the sample. Some pictures should be of the entire sample, while other need to focus on the leaves and the attachment of the leaves to the stem(s). The pictures need to be emailed (not sent via text message) so the image size/quality is not compressed.
A good image of a submerged weed sample. In addition to this image close-ups of the leaves and attachment points will likely be needed for identification. Photo Credit: Nikki West
Now is the time to start managing aquatic weeds. The current situation in the world will make the process a little different, but with some effort and patience your County Extension Agent can help you get your weeds identified and develop a plan for control. On a positive side-note, most of the commonly recommended herbicides used to control aquatic weeds are available to order online, so it is quite possible you can address your aquatic weed issues all while staying “safer at home“.
A spotted seatrout caught last summer in the St. Andrew’s Bay system (an area now included in the new Western Panhandle Management Zone).
Photo credit: Mark Mauldin
Recently FWC (Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission) announced rule changes relating to spotted seatrout.
The text was taken directly from FWC press releases; details not pertinent to NW Florida were removed.
Several rule changes for spotted seatrout [went] into effect Feb. 1, including a closure to spotted seatrout harvest in the new Western Panhandle management zone. Spotted seatrout are one of Florida’s most popular inshore fisheries. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) made these changes after reviewing the results of a recent stock assessment and gathering input from anglers. These changes were made to benefit spotted seatrout populations while continuing to provide quality fishing opportunities.
The following rules [went] into effect Feb. 1, 2020:
- Creating two new zones by splitting the Northwest spotted seatrout management zone into the: (See maps below.)
- Western Panhandle (Escambia County through the portions of Gulf County west of longitude 85 degrees, 13.76 minutes but NOT including Indian Pass/Indian Lagoon).
- Big Bend (remaining portion of Gulf County plus Indian Lagoon, and Franklin County through Fred Howard Park Causeway in Pinellas County).
- Reducing bag limits
- Western Panhandle: three fish (was five).
- Big Bend: five fish (no change).
- Modifying the recreational slot size limit from 15-to-20 inches to 15-to-19 inches total length.
- Allowing one seatrout over 19 inches per vessel (currently per harvester).
- Prohibiting captain and crew from keeping a bag limit on a for-hire trip.
- Re-establishing the February recreational closure in the Western Panhandle zone.
Learn more about spotted seatrout by visiting MyFWC.com/Marine and clicking on “Recreational Regulations” and “Spotted Seatrout.”
Newly-approved FWC Spotted seatraout management zones, effective February 1, 2020
Image source: www.myfwc.com
New boundary between the Western Panhandle and Big Bend spotted seatrout management zones effective Feb. 1, 2020.
Image source: www.myfwc.com
Earlier this week Governor DeSantis announced the dates for the 2020 Gulf Red Snapper Season – June 11 through July 25.
Governor Ron DeSantis Announces 2020 Gulf Red Snapper Season
Tallahassee, Fla. – Today, Governor Ron DeSantis announced the popular 2020 Gulf red snapper recreational season is set to open June 11 through July 25, with a possible fall reopening if quota is available. This season will apply to those fishing from private recreational vessels in Gulf state and federal waters, and to charter vessels that do not have a federal reef fish permit and are limited to fishing in state waters only.
Earlier this month, Florida was delegated authority to manage recreational red snapper harvest from private vessels in Gulf federal waters.
“I’m pleased to announce that our state’s good conservation practices are allowing us to have a 45-day Gulf red snapper season this year,” said Governor DeSantis. “Gulf red snapper season is always an exciting time for anglers and is just another reason why Florida remains the Fishing Capital of the World.”
“Gulf red snapper is a conservation and management success story for Florida anglers,” said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) chairman Robert Spottswood. “Just a few years ago, a 45-day season for red snapper in both state and federal waters was out of reach. Thank you to all the stakeholders and anglers who helped make this season possible by providing input and sharing information about their fishing trips.”
“FWC is proud to be able to work with our stakeholders to balance conservation with fishing opportunities for Gulf red snapper and we are excited to see what the future holds as FWC takes the unprecedented step of managing this resource in both state and federal waters of the Gulf,” said Spottswood.
For more on recreational snapper regulations, visit MyFWC.com/Marine and click on “Recreational Regulations” and “Snapper” under the “Reef Fish” tab.
Follow the link for more information on Snapper fishing in Florida – FWC Snappers