On the Hook: How Climate Change Impacts Your Big Catch


Warming water temperatures and increases in heavy rain impact water quality and fish health

TABLE ROCK LAKE, Mo. – 49 million Americans fish each year and of course, the Ozarks are no stranger to the fun! At Table Rock Lake, the biodiversity and lake depth actually help our fish combat challenges like water temperature.

Labor Day weekend…the unofficial end to summer, “here lately it’s been upper 80’s, mid-80’s, it’s borderline bathwater right now” when lake temperatures are at their warmest, peaking after a season of extreme heat, explains Captain LaPoint.

Aaron LaPoint is a U.S. Coast Guard Certified Captain, he’s been on the lake “it’s something I’m super passionate about”, reeling in fish his whole life.

“The water temperature right now and the oxygen level in that water is their driving factor right now,” explains Captain LaPoint.

This time of year as hot weather fuels warm waters, “the fish in shallower water or higher in the water column will get stressed out really easily, basically it equates to people and air conditioning. People like to be comfortable, fish also like to be comfortable,” says Captain LaPoint.

That comfortable thermostat temperature for different types of bass ranges, generally over 80 degrees gets too warm. For trout, that thermostat temperature is much lower. They like cool water temperatures in the 50’s and 60’s, temperatures over 70 degrees can be fatal.

As the climate warms, more of our nation’s rivers and streams are warming too, pushing fish out of their comfort zone, increasing waterborne bacteria, parasites, and algae, and shifting fishing seasons.

But Captain LaPoint tells us while, “occasionally we’ll have a fish kill with the oxygen level dropping too low” we don’t find these negative impacts due to water temperatures on large scales. Our lakes, like Table Rock, so big and so diverse, fish that are stressed “can get to such different water so quickly. You know, like right here it’s 25 feet deep, 20 yards that way it’s 100 feet deep, so with moving very little, they can extremely change their surroundings,” he adds.

David Casaletto, Executive Director of Ozarks Water Watch, adds that even with warm waters, a major algae bloom has not occurred on Table Rock in 20 years thanks to preventative measures that limit phosphorous and nitrogen use at waste water treatment plants, “you fertilize your lawn to have a nice healthy green lawn, well if you put those same nutrients in the water you’re going to get plants growing,” he explains.

In fact, as far as algae blooms are concern, Casaletto says he is much more concerned about the impacts of heavy rain than warming temperatures “we’re seeing rainfall that comes faster and all at once…and so we are seeing results from a changing climate.”

Since 1958, all states have seen an increase in heavy downpours with Missouri being one of the top states for the trend at 42 percent more heavy rain events. Springfield specifically has seen an average of 2 more days with a 2 inch deluge in the bucket since 1950, nearly a week more in half inch totals.

“A farmer or landowner could lose a foot, 2-foot, even 10-foot of their land due to these flash floods,” explains Casaletto, soils and nutrients that eventually end up in our lakes, a double-whammy of algae and erosion challenges for our fish. “It does stress them and cause problems and because this is becoming more and more common i think it can have an impact on aquatic life.”

The ability for our fish to combat these challenges in diverse habitats and water quality is what Captain LaPoint calls, extraordinary…something he loves to share with both experience and inexperienced anglers.

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