ELEPHANT BUTTE, N.M. (KRQE) – Thousands of fish have been moved from a fish farm in Ada, Oklahoma, and were carefully dropped into Elephant Butte Lake Wednesday morning.
This first re-stocking in years is designed to help bring the lake back to its glory years with 20,000 large mouth bass moved to the Butte.
“I’m a fisherman. I like to catch whatever bites,” said Ken Swaim, an avid angler.
“I’ve been fishing this lake since 1980,” he said, as KRQE News 13 rode along on his boat, as he helped drop 400 black bass out of the 20,000 black bass that were purchased to go into the Butte.
“We’re going to come into this little pocket. We’ve seen bass spawning in here,” he said. The fish were transported in plastic bags.
“Oh baby, I see them, headed to the bottom,” he noted. “We put the water they came in with the lake water, and gave them a few minutes to acclimate to that, and gradually as they acclimate, more and more you just gradually turn them loose and they just took off,” he said.
“When that lake dropped, it’s changed the fishing,” Swaim noted, referring to lake levels.
Ron Gilworth, an avid angler, said, “Those fish cost a dollar and a nickel a piece.”
He said a community donation effort raised $21,000 in only two months. The Elephant Butte Lake Fish Fund originated with an anonymous donation of $10,000, according to New Mexico State Parks.
“The turnout this morning was so unbelievable,” Gilworth said, indicating about 40 boats went out on the water to release the fish.
“This is a great lake. This used to be one of the top ten lakes in the United States,” Gilworth said.
“All the boats would catch fish in an eight-hour period,” he said about the Butte’s old days. “Some of the weights would be in the 25, 30, 35-pound weights.”
In recent years, it declined. “Can you imagine two anglers fishing a ten-hour a day, fishing hard and not bringing any fish at all to the scales?” he asked.
“A lot of guys who spend their money were going to other states to fish rather than to come here,” Gilworth said.
He believes this restocking will be a start to get the lake back to its highly-regarded status.
“A lot of the females that will survive will get on beds and may put out a couple hundred thousand pounds per nest,” he said.
Members of the community also coordinated with New Mexico State Parks to make Wednesday possible.
Rolf Hechler, southwest regional manager for New Mexico State Parks, said, “The lake is huge. It’s still the biggest lake in New Mexico.”
“They’ll do well in this lake. They’ll get to be big game fish, very aggressive fish, and a lot of fun to catch,” Hechler said.
“Every one of the fish we released survived,” Swaim said.
The bass are about four inches in size and those that survive could grow up to three-quarters of a pound next year. Anglers say they’re planning on a second stocking in the future.