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In the 1960s and early 1970s, many states jumped on the bandwagon promoting the stocking of striped bass in large impoundments. The striped bass, well known for its tremendous tackle busting fighting qualities, is a fantastic sport fish. Although striped bass are classified as an anadromous species (live in a marine environment, but migrate into fresh water to spawn), stripers can live in totally fresh water without migrating to marine waters.
Striped bass grow to gigantic sizes. Alabama’s state record stands at 55 pounds, while the world rod and reel record is 78 pounds. Striped bass can feed on large gizzard shad, which few other predators utilize efficiently. Competition with other important sport fish, such as largemouth bass and crappie, is limited. Recent research by the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries indicates stripers feed almost exclusively on shad and live primarily in open waters. A diet study of 442 Weiss Lake striped bass indicated less than one percent of the stripers’ stomachs had remains of sport fish. States such as South Carolina, Tennessee, Florida, Arkansas, Virginia and Oklahoma have conducted studies with similar results and concluded that sport fish are not a primary food item of striped bass.
Unfortunately, when it comes to living in warm southern waters, striped bass have one major ‘chink in their armor.’ Research indicates that stripers, particularly those larger than 10 pounds, may suffer from thermal stress. If large striped bass are forced to live in excessively warm waters, fish exhibit lethargic behavior, poor feeding habits, weight loss, bacterial and fungal infections, and even death, in some cases. Large striped bass have died in reservoirs throughout the Southeast, including Lake Martin in Alabama. Landlocked striped bass were found to be very sensitive to temperature variations within stocked waters and will sacrifice food requirements to remain in areas with cool water. These cool water areas are usually produced from the waters of flooded springs or are found in cooler layers of water deep within the reservoir. Striped bass prefer temperatures around 68 degrees Fahrenheit. If oxygenated water in this temperature range is unavailable during the summer months, die-offs can result and the reservoir may not be suitable for a striped bass fishery.
Since 1979, biologists in the Fisheries Section of the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries have been investigating this phenomenon at several reservoirs statewide. Ultrasonic and radio-telemetry tagging of stripers have been used to study the phenomenon. Data gathered in these studies indicate that striped bass begin concentrating in thermal refuges along the Alabama and Coosa River systems as early as late May when water temperatures climb into the high 700 and low 800 range. During the remaining months of summer, as ambient water temperatures continue to climb higher, even above 900, stripers may literally stack on top of each other in an attempt to get into the coolest water possible.
Biologists have collected as many as 43 saltwater striped bass in an area no larger than an average size bedroom. Many fish, particularly the larger ones, were in poor condition with slack bellies and parasitic or bacterial infections being the rule rather than the exception. In cool water areas with low oxygen level, fish may show no interest in feeding. Although a few dead stripers have been observed floating near shorelines, Alabama has been fortunate to escape the massive die-offs of big stripers such as those reported in several southern states such as Tennessee and Louisiana. Research showing striped bass require cool thermal refuges has led fisheries managers in Alabama to stock hybrid striped bass in many of our reservoirs, which have little or no cool water available during the summer months.
The hybrid striped bass that is stocked in Alabama is a cross between the female striped bass and the male white bass. Although hybrids do not grow as large as stripers, they tolerate warmer waters and are just as fun to catch. Reservoirs that are relatively shallow and fertile with little or no cool water available appear to be better suited to the hybrids. Other reservoirs, such as Smith Lake and Lake Martin, which usually have abundant cool and well-oxygenated waters during warm summer months, are suitable for striper growth and survival. The striper fishery in these lakes can provide world class angling throughout the entire year.
BEST PLACES TO CATCH STRIPED BASS
In Alabama, stocking rates for striped bass and hybrid striped bass may vary depending upon the reservoir, but usually fall between two and five fish per acre. Many factors are considered when determining stocking rates including forage abundance, predator interactions, historical fisheries, thermal refuge availability, and angler catch rates. Smith Lake, located in north central Alabama, is approximately 22,000 acres in size and receives an annual stocking of about 66,000 Gulf-strain striped bass fingerlings or about 3-fish per acre. These annual stockings seem to be adequate to replace losses due to fishing and natural mortality without impacting any other native sport fish species. Landlocked striped bass will occasionally spawn in freshwater reservoirs or rivers when environmental conditions are optimum. Biologists have concluded that natural reproduction is occurring in the upper Coosa River near Rome, Georgia resulting in large numbers of naturally produced striped bass showing up at Weiss Reservoir in northeast Alabama and other Coosa River impoundments.
BEST BAITS TO CATCH STRIPERS