Landlocked and Stocked
Striped Bass Bring a
Different Angle to Freshwater Fishing
By Trey Reid
Even though the state’s geography
seems to preclude it, Arkansas anglers don’t have to leave home to fish for
Arkansas harbors striped bass, a
marine species, and thanks to a happy accident almost 70 years ago, stripers
live in many landlocked states.
A striper spends most of its life
at sea but makes an annual spawning run into freshwater streams. During
construction of Santee-Cooper Reservoir in South Carolina, damming of the Cooper
River prevented some striped bass from returning to the ocean. The fish survived
in their new home, and an inland fishery was born.
Following the Santee-Cooper
discovery and efforts in other states, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission
began stocking striped bass in several Arkansas lakes in 1956. The AGFC soon
learned that reservoir fisheries could be maintained only by stocking
hatchery-raised fish. During the next two decades, biologists improved spawning
and rearing techniques to create sustainable striper fishing.
Today, striped bass play a
significant role in Arkansas fishing by creating thrilling fishing, controlling
the size and number of gizzard shad, and pumping money into the state’s economy.
With the exception of an Arkansas
River population, Arkansas stripers don’t reproduce naturally in the wild. In
native habitats, they migrate from the sea and spawn in estuaries. Their
free-floating eggs tumble downstream 48 hours before hatching and returning to
Because those conditions don’t
exist in Arkansas, the AGFC mimics the process in the laboratory.
For three weeks each spring, the
Andrew Hulsey State Fish Hatchery looks a lot like a maternity ward. All hours
of day and night, hatchery crews hold a bleary eyed vigil, watching the clock
and waiting for female stripers to produce eggs.
The project begins about
mid-April on Lake Ouachita. Netting crews place gill nets to intercept striped
bass migrating up the lake on false spawning runs. Viable fish are hauled to
the Hulsey Hatchery near Hot Springs.
“Then it becomes a 24-7 job,”
said Don Brader, AGFC assistant chief of fisheries and warmwater fisheries
coordinator. “At that point, we have two-person crews working eight-hour shifts
around the clock.”
Hatchery crews inject female
striped bass with a hormone that speeds ovulation and helps biologists calculate
egg release. Colored yarn attached to the dorsal fins helps the crew distinguish
fish that are induced at different times. Fish are monitored while swimming in
“We’re playing the waiting game,”
said Andrea Daniel, AGFC fisheries biologist. “You find things to keep yourself
busy while you’re waiting for those eggs.”
It takes 12 to 24 hours for the
hormone to trigger egg release. Biologists narrow the window by taking egg
samples and looking at them under a microscope to compare them to pictures of
eggs in various stages of development.
“Once she starts to ovulate, we
have about 10 minutes to a half hour to catch those eggs,” Brader said.
It’s a – Striper
Fertility in a sterile
environment is a peculiar concept. But don’t call it “artificial” spawning –
Brader prefers “assisted” spawning.
“It’s not really artificial
because the fish are doing what they’d be doing anyway,” he said. “We’re just
helping them along.”
When ovulation is imminent, a
crew member takes a female from the holding tank and massages her belly to
release thousands of eggs into a plastic pan with an inch of water in the
bottom. Simultaneously, an assistant gently squeezes a male striper to release
milt into the pan. The mixture is stirred for a minute, the water is removed and
water is added while the eggs and milt are swirled together for a few minutes
for a thorough cleaning. We might expect a Barry White tune in the background.
Fertilized eggs are constantly
tumbled in 64- to 66-degree water for 48 hours in tall, glass jars. They’re
watched closely for signs of poor fertilization and micro intruders such as
bacteria and fungi, which can wipe out the crop. Bad eggs, which turn opaque
white and yellow, are removed.
“We’re basically babysitting eggs
for two days,” Daniel said.
Fry, which hatch after 48 hours,
are moved to holding tanks of about 500,000. They live on yolk sacs four days as
mouths and digestive tracts develope.
Throughout each stage of the
project, new brood fish arrive and the process repeats itself.
“When you get into that second or
third week, it’s really wild,” Brader said. “You’re either spawning fish or
monitoring eggs or moving fry or something else. It really becomes intense.”
The fry move from indoor tanks to
hatchery ponds that have been primed with hay bails and alfalfa pellets. The
organic matter stimulates growth of zooplankton, the
micro-organisms on which
the tiny striped bass will feed for about three weeks. The fish start a diet of
high-protein, powdered minnow meal at 21 to 25 days. Forty-five to 60 days after
they hit the ponds, the fish reach about 2 inches. They’re harvested, counted
and placed on fish trucks for delivery to Arkansas lakes.
AGFC produced more than 2.1
million striped bass fry last year, with about 400,000 surviving to the 2-inch
stage. About 75 percent were stocked in Norfork and Beaver lakes, and about
80,000 went to Lake Ouachita.
In addition to striped bass, the
annual spawning project produces hybrid striped bass, an aggressive,
hard-fighting cross between striped bass females and white bass males. Last
year’s hybrid striper production topped 500,000 fingerlings. About half of those
went to Greers Ferry and DeGray lakes.
The goals of the striper and
hybrid program are numerous, and angling opportunities are just one benefit.
Striped bass and hybrids, especially the former, occupy open-water haunts in
large reservoirs that are seldom used by other native predatory fish. Species
such as largemouth bass, bluegills and crappie stick to relatively shallow water
with cover near the shoreline. That leaves a huge volume of water that’s
Stripers and hybrids not only
fill that void, they control gizzard shad, a prey species. Historically, large
reservoirs with plentiful open water have been overrun by large gizzard shad.
“Once a gizzard shad gets big
enough, a walleye or a bass can’t eat it,” Brader said. “I’ve seen gizzard shad
that are 22 inches long. A bass can’t eat that fish, but a striper can.”
Huge stocks of adult gizzard shad
can stem production of smaller-sized prey for native species such as black bass,
walleye and crappie. As stripers remove the large prey that can’t be eaten by
smaller predators, smaller prey fish return, native predators thrive and the
food chain maintains balance.
Initially, trophy fisheries were
a desirable side effect. But now, striped bass and hybrids have become highly
sought prizes for anglers in search of something no other Arkansas fish can
provide. According to Brader, the goal for Arkansas striper fisheries is to
“consistently and annually produce a group of 25- to 40-pound fish.”
The popularity of striper and
hybrid fishing also bodes well for Arkansas’s economy. Anglers spend an
estimated $16.7 million a year fishing for stripers and hybrids in Arkansas,
with $11 million of the total from nonresidents.
Once you’ve hooked into a striper
or hybrid, it’s easy to appreciate why anglers will part with their money to try
to catch them – a tendency to long, deep runs, tackle-busting, line-stretching
ferocity, and a deep-sea fishing experience without extreme travel expense.
Arkansas may not have saltwater
fishing, but it has the next-best thing.
article was originally featured in the March/April 2008 issue of Arkansas
To subscribe or learn more about the magazine, contact the Arkansas Game and
(501) 223-6300, or visit
Bill Lindner Photography for reprint
permission of their underwater Striped Bass shots.