Winterized: Cold Weather Slows Animals And Fish, Does Not Stop Them

Published on Wednesday, 5 March 2014 22:49 - Written by Steve Knight Outdoor Writer

This has been a weird winter weather-wise. There have been days in the teens and days in the 80s. There has been sunshine, rain, sleet and snow.

And that was just last weekend.

It is only 14 days until spring officially arrives, but it has been a wild ride in recent weeks. Just when you think it’s safe to pull the boat out of the garage or put up the warm hunting clothes, here comes another storm formerly known as a cold front, but now elevated to something called a polar vortex.

Besides making driving difficult and causing long lines at grocery stores, the cold put a screeching halt to white bass fishing. It was in full bloom around East Texas. The most likely result is a delay in spawning activity until the water warms up again. The concern is for fry that may have already hatched. Water temperatures swung as much as 20 degrees between Feb. 25 and this Monday.

“When we were collecting them last Monday for hatcheries the females were already discharging eggs,” said Richard Ott, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Fisheries district biologist. “The males had already moved up river and the females were arriving in good numbers. The cold snap last week may have delayed it some, but the females we saw were ready to go. I am a bit concerned about fry survival with the cold snap last week and this week.”

However, he said the spawn may not be a complete bust since now all of the fish of any species spawn at the same time.

While any largemouth bass spawning in East Texas would still be in the early stages it is possible some females might have spawned, but it is certain that males were already preparing nests.

“The male largemouth bass will most likely halt their nest building activities until the water temperature starts to climb. They will move out to the nearest deeper water and hold there until temperatures increase again,” said Craig Bonds, TPWD Fisheries regional biologist.

Bonds added that crappie should react the same.

Wildlife isn’t exempt from the late winter conditions. Although no one expects any major dieoffs, this time of year is a major stress period for almost all wildlife species in Texas. It is one reason hunters are encouraged to leave feeders on until spring.

This kind of weather won’t result in a deer dieoff, but it will speed the demise of deer that are in poor condition. With the cold the deer are rapidly burning stored fat, and without food they have no way to replace it prior to the spring greening. Similar results can happen in August and September when there isn’t much natural food sources available at the end of the summer.

Wild turkeys are fairly hardy and can usually survive Texas’ brief periods of cold wet weather. Quail are another story. According to a study under way on the 6666 Ranches by the Quail-Tech Alliance, mortality during a winter storm can reach 50 percent.

The overall study looks at the use of supplemental feed and birds in pasture that are receiving supplemental grain during the winter are four times as likely to survive than those attempting to make it on whatever Nature provides.

The study also shows that quail can lose upwards of 40 percent of their body weight during the winter months.

There is some good news to winter weather. Rain was abundant in some areas filling up lakes like Tyler, Palestine, Athens and Lake O’the Pines. In September, all of those lakes were more than a foot low. Pines was down almost six feet and Tyler was down over five. Today Tyler is still down half a foot, but all the others are above spillway level again.

That doesn’t mean drought conditions are over in East Texas, and certainly not in other parts of the state. Through February Tyler had received four inches of rain in 2014. That is 3.38 inches below normal.

And while some area lakes are full, others continue to struggle — a lot. Fork, down since 2011, remains 4.39 feet down. Tawakoni is 9.49 down. Cooper is down almost 13 feet and it is still impossible to launch big boats. Richland Chambers is 7 feet below spillway level and Cedar Creek is down 3.63.

Barring something like a hurricane, those deficits are going to be hard to make up.

Other areas of the state have received rain as well, but amounts varied extensively even throughout individual counties. The overall range conditions for wildlife are still poor.

Have a comment or opinion on this story? Contact outdoor writer Steve Knight by email at outdoor@tylerpaper.com. Follow Steve Knight on Facebook at TylerPaper Outdoors and on Twitter @tyleroutdoor.