HISTORY OF STRIPED BASS
By Ken Poor
In early 1942, in South Carolina, the dams on the Santee River in St. Stevens and the Cooper River in Moncks Corner were closed to back up the waters of the Santee-Cooper Project. The building of the dams was a historical event for South Carolina in many ways and would have an unforeseen, but major impact on fishing across the United States as well as other parts of the world.
In the 1950s many incidents were reported of big fish breaking fishing tackle on the Santee Cooper Lakes.
Most fishermen thought it was huge catfish, but others believed it was huge largemouth bass. The first area where striped bass became landlocked was documented to be in the Santee-Cooper River during the construction of the two dams that impounded Lake Moultrie and lake Marion, and because of this, the state game fish of South Carolina is the striped bass.
In the mid-1950s, fishery biologists discovered that the striped bass were thriving in the Santee-Cooper lakes and the rivers that feed those lakes, and the fish were reproducing. All this was taking place just over a decade after closing the dam to the striped bass, which at the time was considered a saltwater species.
The story of the landlocked striped bass hit major sporting magazines like Sports Afield and Field and Stream. The publicity brought large numbers of fishermen to South Carolina. Soon the word was out that the lakes and rivers in South Carolina in addition to striped bass provided excellent fishing for other species as well.
Striped bass are native to the Atlantic coast of North America from the St. Lawrence River into the Gulf of Mexico to approximately Louisiana. They are an anadromous fish that migrates between fresh and salt water. Spawning takes place in fresh water.
The striped bass population declined to less than 5 million by 1982, but efforts by fishermen and management programs to rebuild the stock proved successful, and in 2007, there were nearly 56 million fish, including all ages. Recreational anglers and commercial fisherman caught an unprecedented 3.8 million fish in 2006. The management of the species includes size limits, commercial quotas, and biological reference points for the health of the species. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission states that striped bass are “not overfished and overfishing is not occurring.
Striped bass have been introduced to the Pacific Coast of North America and into many of the large reservoir impoundments across the United States by state game and fish commissions for the purposes of recreational fishing and as a predator to control populations of gizzard shad. These include: Elephant Butte Lake in New Mexico; Lake Ouachita, Lake Norman in North Carolina, Lake Norfork, Beaver Lake and Lake Hamilton in Arkansas; Lake Powell, Lake Thunderbird in Putnam Illinois, Lake Pleasant, and Lake Havasu in Arizona; Castaic Lake and Lake George in Florida, Pyramid Lake, Silverwood Lake Diamond Valley Lake, Lewis Smith Lake in Alabama, Lake Cumberland in Kentucky , and Lake Murray in South Carolina; Lake Lanier in Georgia; Watts Bar Lake, Tennessee; and Lake Mead, Nevada; Lake Texoma, Lake Tawkoni, Lake Whitney, Possum Kingdom Lake, and Lake Buchanan in Texas; Raystown Lake in Pennsylvania; and in Virginia’s Smith Mountain Lake and Leesville Lake.
Striped bass have also been introduced into waters in Ecuador, Iran, Latvia, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, and Turkey, primarily for sport fishing and aquaculture.
Recently, biologists came to believe that striped bass stayed in rivers for long periods of time, with some not returning to sea unless temperature changes forced migration. Once fishermen and biologists caught on to rising striped bass populations, many state natural resources departments started stocking striped bass in local lakes.
Striped bass still continue the natural spawn run in freshwater lakes, traveling up river until blocked by a dam, which is why they are referred to as landlocked striped bass. Landlocked striped bass have a hard time reproducing naturally, and one of the few and most successful rivers where they have been documented reproducing successfully in is the Coosa River in Alabama and Georgia.
A 70.6-pound landlocked striped bass was caught in February 2013 by James Bramlett on the Warrior River in Alabama, a current world record. This fish had a length of 44-inches and a girth of 37.75-inches.
One of the only landlocked striped bass populations in Canada is located in the Grand Lake, Nova Scotia. They migrate out, in early April, into the Shubencadie River to spawn. These bass also spawn in the Stewiacke River (a tributary of the Shubencadie).
The Shubencadie River system is one of five known spawning areas in Canada for striped bass, with the others being the St. Lawerence River, Miramichi River, Saint John River, Annapolis River and Shubencadie/Stewiacke Rivers.
The spawning success of striped bass has been studied in the San Francisco Bay Delta water system, with a finding that high total dissolved solids (TDS) reduce spawning. At levels as low as 200 mg/l TDS, an observable diminution of spawning productivity occurs. In the United States, the striped bass was designated as a protected game fish in 2007, and executive agencies were directed to use existing legal authorities to prohibit the sale of striped bass caught in federal waters in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico.
In Canada, the province of Quebec designated the striped bass population of the Saint Lawrence as extirpated in 1996. Analysis of available data implicated overfishing and dredging in the disappearance. In 2002, a successful reintroduction program was introduced.
The striped bass is a typical member of the Moronidae family in shape, having a streamlined, silvery body marked with longitudinal dark stripes running from behind the gills to the base of the tail. The maximum scientifically recorded weight is 125 -pound. Common mature size is 3.9-feet. Striped bass are believed to live for up to 30 years. The maximum length is 6-feet. The average size is about 2.2 to 3.3-feet and 10 to 32-pounds.
Striped bass spawn in fresh water, and although they have been successfully adapted to freshwater habitat, they naturally spend their adult lives in saltwater (i.e., it is anadromous). Four important bodies of water with breeding stocks of striped bass are: Chesapeake Bay, Massachusetts Bay/Cape Cod, Hudson Bay and the Delaware River.
It is believed that many of the rivers and tributaries that emptied into the Atlantic, had at one time, breeding stock of striped bass. One of the largest breeding areas is the Chesapeake Bay, where populations from Chesapeake and Delaware bays have intermingled.
The very few successful spawning populations of freshwater striped bass include Lake Texoma, the Colorado River and its reservoirs downstream from and including Lake Powell, and the Arkansas River, as well as Lake Marion, South Carolina that retained a landlocked breeding population when the dam was built; other freshwater fisheries must be restocked with hatchery-produced fish annually. Stocking of striped bass was discontinued at Lake Mead in 1973 once natural reproduction was verified.
Striped bass have also been hybridized with white bass to produce hybrid striped bass also known as wiper, whiterock bass, sunshine bass, and Cherokee bass. These hybrids have been stocked in many freshwater areas across the US.
Recreational bag limits, including size and numbers, vary by state and province. Most freshwater lakes are put and take fishing for striped bass meaning that fish are stocked (put) into a body of water with the intention of them being caught (take). Always check the regulations specific to the body of water you plan to fish.
Excellent reservoir fisheries exist in lakes Marion, Moultrie, Murray and Wateree, in South Carolina. Smaller populations are found in lakes Hartwell, Thurmond, Secession and Greenwood also in South Carolina.
Striped bass are of significant value for sport fishing, and have been introduced to many waterways outside their natural range. A variety of angling methods are used to catch striped bass in salt water, including trolling and surf casting with an assortment of artificial lures, as well as bait casting with live or dead bait. In freshwater, striped bass are caught trolling and at times by working the surface with surface plugs, bucktails, or crankbait. Striped bass will readily take a number of different live baits, including bunker (menhaden), clams, eels, sandworms, herring, bloodworms, or mackerel in salt water, and blueback herring, shiners, and shad as the best choice in freshwater.
The largest striped bass ever taken by angling was an 81.88-pound specimen taken from a boat in Long Island Sound, near the Outer Southwest Reef, off the coast of Westbrook, Connecticut. The all-tackle world record fish was taken by Gregory Myerson on the night of August 4, 2011. The fish took a drifted live eel bait, and fought for 20 minutes before being boated by Myerson. A second hook and leader was discovered in the fish’s mouth when it was boated, indicating it had been previously hooked by another angler. The fish measured 54-inches in length and had a girth of 36-inches.
The International Game Fish Association declared Myerson’s catch the new all-tackle world record striped bass on October 19, 2011. In addition to now holding the All-Tackle record, Meyerson’s catch also landed him the new IGFA men’s 80-pound line class record for striped bass, which previously stood at 70-pounds.
The previous all-tackle world record fish was a 78.5-pound specimen taken in Atlantic City, New Jersey on September 21, 1982 by Albert McReynolds, who fought the fish from the beach for 1 hour 20 minutes after it took his Rebel artificial lure. McReynolds’ all-tackle world record stood for 29 years.
Prior to spawning in early spring, striped bass migrate up rivers. Spawning occurs when water temperatures reach 60-70°F. The semi-buoyant eggs are released in the flowing water and fertilized by several males in a thrashing event known as a “fight.”
As many as 3 million eggs may be released by one female. The eggs require a flow adequate to prevent their settling to the bottom during the incubation period of approximately 50 hours.
During their first few days of life, the larval fish are sustained by a yolk material while they develop. Eventually they begin to feed on zooplankton.
Because striped bass need flowing water to spawn successfully, most reservoir populations are maintained solely by stocking. In South Carolina, only the Santee-Cooper reservoirs have suitable tributary rivers, the Congaree and Wateree, to meet their spawning needs. Other reservoirs have limited upstream river systems due to extensive dam construction. Un-impounded coastal rivers still provide adequate stream flow for hatching.
The “landlocked” reproducing population of the Santee-Cooper reservoirs was a unique phenomenon until recent discoveries of other reproducing populations in the Southeast and far West. South Carolina was a pioneer in developing striped bass hatchery techniques. As a direct result of work at the Dennis Wildlife Center in Moncks Corner, South Carolina, striped bass fisheries now exist in many lakes, rivers, and reservoirs across the United States as well as in several foreign countries.
Information to support this article was obtained from the following sources:
• Atlantic States Fisheries Commission
• International Game Fish Association
• South Carolina Department of Natural Resources