The History of the Striped Bass indicates the fish is the aquatic equivalent of the American bald eagle.The Striped Bass helped build this nation. They enabled the Pilgrims in the Massachusetts Bay Colony to survive their first winters and to grow their first crops by giving themselves up for food and fertilizer.
They astounded Captain John Smith, who wrote in his journal of the Atlantic coast in 1614.
"I myself at the turning of the tyde have seen such multitudes pass out of a pounce (a fish trap),
that it seemed to me that one might go over their backs drishod".
Smith also called the Striped Bass:
a most sweet and wholesome fish as ever I did eat . . . altogether as good as our fresh Salmon....
Our Fishers take many hundreds together ... yea, their Netts ordinarily take more than they are able to hall to Land".
Quoted from D. S. Jordan and B. W. Evermann,
American Food and Game Fishes, Doubleday, Page, New York, 1903.
In 1634, William Wood, in his New England's Prospect, called the Striped Bass.
"one of the best fishes in the Country . . . a delicate, fine, fat, taste fish.... The English at the top of an high water do crosse the creek with long seanes or bass nets which stop the fish; and the water ebbing from them, they are left on the dry grounds, sometimes two or three thousand at a set, which are salted up against winter, or distributed to such as have present occasion either to spend them in their homes or use them for their grounds."
By 1639, the state of Massachusetts, observing the fishery significantly depleted due to overfishing forbade the use of the fish as fertilizer. This bold first step led to the first environmental impact statement and the eventual passage of the National Environmental Policy Act in 1969, the precursor to Magnuson-Stevens and regional fisheries legislation.
The Pilgrims also caught them with hook and line...
" the fisherman taking a great cod line to which he fasteneth a peece of lobster and threwes it into the sea.
The rockfish biting at it, he pulls her to him and knockes her on the head with a sticke."...
(Bigelow and Schroeder, Fishes of the Gulf of Maine)
Striped Bass were the subject of our first conservation and fishery management laws.
Massachusetts in 1639, forbade the use of this delicate, fine, fish for fertilizer, and in the sixties became the fulcrum behind the first environmental impact statement and passage of the National Environmental Policy Act.
In 1670, The Plymouth Colony started a free school with income from the striped bass fisheries, becoming the first public school in America.
Striped Bass were the subject of pioneering fish stocking efforts following settlers to the west coast In 1879 and again in 1881. Dr. Livingston Stone of the United States Fish Commission (a forerunner of U.S. Fish and Wildlife), at the urging of the California State Board of Fish Commissions, began transporting the Striped bass from New Jersey to the San Francisco Bay. In milk cans and wooden barrels, first hand agitated and refreshed, later afforded a crude oxygenation system, the first stripers made their way to the west coast. The striper is now one of California's top ranking sport fish. Found in relative abundance in the early 1900s, the fish numbered approximately three million adults in the early 1960s. By the early 1990s, the count was about 775 thousand, with 30% of those hatchery-reared. Still fished as far as the Columbia River in Washington State, the Sacramento Delta fishery, where the fish migrate bi-annually, remains troubled by Delta water diversions, pollution, illegal take, exotic aquatic organisms, and Bay-fill projects. Last-ditch efforts are being made to restore the western fisheries.
Striped bass were seined from the Navesink and Shrewsbury Rivers near Red Bank, New Jersey and transported by train in wooden barrels and milk cans across the continent to the San Francisco Bay. Still today this effort ranks as maybe the most successful Fish Stocking effort in the world.
Jumping ahead to 1941 when the dam on the 170,000 acre Santee-Cooper Reservoir was closed, Striped Bass from the Atlantic were trapped on a Spawning run up the Cooper river. Biologists were aware that striped bass were on a spawning run up into the Cooper River they just assumed that the stripers would die. However, it was discovered by line breaking tail smacking action after the war that the striped bass were flourishing and reproducing in the huge lake.
THE SEA BASSES. FAMILY SERRANIDAE
STRIPER; ROCKFISH; ROCK; LINESIDES
[Jordan and Evermann, 1896-1900, p. 1132, as Roccus lineatus (Bloch).]
No one character alone characterizes the striped bass, but rather the combination of fin structure and arrangement with general outline and structure of the jaw. Its rather deep and keelless caudal peduncle, stout body, the presence of two well-developed dorsal fins (spiny and soft rayed, and the one about as long as the other), its lack of dorsal or anal finlets, and a tail only moderately forked, separate it from all the mackerel tribe, from the bluefish, and from the pompanos. The fact that its anal fin has 3 spines and is almost as long as the second dorsal, also (less obvious) that its maxillary (upper jaw) bones are not sheathed by the preorbital bone, separate it from all the weakfish tribe . Nor is there any danger of confusing it with the sea bass, cunner, tautog, or rosefish, for its two dorsal fins are entirely separate whereas in all these the spiny and soft-rayed parts are continuous, as a single fin. The white perch comes closest to it in general appearance but the two dorsal fins of the perch have no free space between them, and its fin spines are stiffer.
The trunk of the striped bass is 31/3 to 4 times as long (to base of caudal fin) as it is deep, thick through, its back hardly arched. It has a moderately stout caudal peduncle, a long head (almost as long as the fish is deep), two spines on the margin of each gill cover, an oblique mouth gaping back to the eye, a moderately pointed nose, and a projecting lower jaw. Young fish are more slender than old. The two dorsal fins are of about equal lengths; the first (9 or 10 stiff spines) triangular in outline, originating over the middle of the pectorals; the second (12 or 13 soft rays) regularly graduated in height from front to rear, and separated from the first by a distinct (though short) space. The anal (about 11 rays preceded by 3 spines) is of about the same size and form as the second dorsal, and originates below the middle of the latter. The caudal is moderately wide and only slightly forked. The pectorals and ventrals are of moderate size, the latter somewhat behind the former.
Dark olive green varying to bluish above, paling on the sides, and silvery on the belly, sometimes with brassy reflections. The sides are barred with 7 or 8 narrow, sooty, longitudinal stripes, which follow as many rows of scales and which may be variously interrupted. The highest stripe is the most distinct, and all of them but the lowest are above the level of the pectoral fins. The dorsal, caudal, and anal fins are somewhat dusky.
The bass grows to a great size, the heaviest of which we have found definite record being several of about 125 pounds that were taken at Edenton, N. C., in April 1891.One of 112 pounds, which must have been at least 6 feet long, was caught at Orleans, Mass., many years ago. One of 100½ pounds is said to have been taken in Casco Bay, Maineand fish of 50 to 60 pounds are not exceptional. Usually bass, as caught, weigh from 3 to 35 or 40 pounds; the average weight of ones recorded in the register of the former Glades Hotel at Scituate, Mass., during the period 1854 to 1858, was about 27 pounds.
Bass weigh about ¾ pound when 12 to 13 inches long; about 2¾ to 3 pounds at 18 to 20 inches; about 5 pounds at 24 inches; about 10-15 pounds at 30-32 inches; and about 18-20 pounds at 33-36 inches. Twenty-pound bass average about 36 inches in length; 30 pounders about 43 inches; 40 pounders about 47 to 48 inches. On the Pacific coast 50 pounders run about 50 to 51 inches,and the relationship between weight and length runs about the same for very large fish on the Atlantic coast. The record fish caught on rod and reel was one of 73 pounds, taken in Vineyard Sound in August 1913 by C. B. Church.
Stripers are powerful fish; so strong in fact, that they appear to have no difficulty in handling themselves in the surf, where one is sometimes seen actually in the translucent crest of a comber just before the latter breaks. But this is not a very swift fish as compared with the mackerel tribe. Bass often swirl conspicuously at the surface or splash in pursuit of bait fish. They sometimes roll as the little northern porpoise or puffing pig (Phocaena) does. And we have heard of them finning (i. e., with dorsal and tail fins showing).But we have never seen or heard of one leaping clear of the water as tuna and bonito so often do unless hooked in shoal water.
During the first two years they live mostly in small groups. Later they are likely to congregate in larger schools; this applies especially to those up to 10 pounds or so, which are often spoken of as "school fish." The larger ones often school, but the very largest, of 30 to 40 pounds and upward, are more often found single or a few together. They are most likely to be in schools while migrating, but more scattered while feeding in one general locality.
Small fish (2 and 3 years old) in particular, tend to school densely; also they travel considerable distances without scattering but, as Merriman emphasizes it is not likely that a given school holds together for any long period, for fish of various sizes (i. e., ages) up to the very large ones often school together, showing that different ages intermingle more or less. Mixed schools running from 8 or 10 pounds to 30 or 40 pounds were reported repeatedly in 1950, for example.
The bass is very voracious, feeding on smaller fishes of whatever kind may be available, and on a wide variety of invertebrates. Lists of its stomach contents for one locality or another include alewife, anchovy, croakers, channel bass, eels, flounders, herring, menhaden, mummichogs, mullet, rock eels (Pholis gunnellus), launce, sculpins, shad, silver hake, silversides, smelt, tomcod, weakfish, white perch, lobsters, crabs of various kinds, shrimps, isopods, gammarid crustaceans, various worms, squid, soft clams (Myra) and small mussels. In our Gulf the larger bass prey chiefly on herring, smelt, sand launce, eels, and silver hake, on squid (on which they gorge when they have the opportunity), on crabs large and small, on lobsters, and on sea worms (Nereis); while small ones are said to feed to a considerable extent on gammarid crustaceans and on shrimps.
When bass are gorging on any one particular prey it is common knowledge among fishermen that they are likely to ignore food of other sorts for the time being. It seems also that when prey is plentiful, bass are likely to gorge, then cease feeding to digest, then to gorge again; also that all the members of a given school are likely to do this in unison, with consequent annoyance to the angler.
Bass, too, seem on the whole to be more active, and especially to feed more actively, between sunset and sunrise than while the sun is high. In estuarine situations this fits with the habits of their prey, for it is by night that the sea worms (Nereis) that are the chief item in their diet there emerge from their burrows to swim about. And bass fishing is often much more productive by night than by day off the open coast also, though schools of bait fish are seen at all hours (else the terns would starve), while the time when crabs, etc., are most likely to be stirred up by the surf, and are most easily caught around the rocks, depends on the stage of the tide, not on the hour of the day. So most fishermen (ourselves included) believe that it is inherent in the nature of the larger sized bass to avoid strong sunlight by sinking to the bottom. A familiar instance is the regularity with which they desert the surface soon after sunrise on bright summer days at places where large numbers are caught by trolling during the hour or two after daybreak; the eastern side of Cape Cod Bay is a local example.
It has been discovered recently that trolling deep with wire lines is often productive, irrespective of the time of day, at times and places where bass "show" only during the early morning hours. This habit, however, is not so deeply engrained but that schools of bass often rise to the surface in pursuit of bait fish at any time of day, or come within easy casting distance of the beach. We recall seeing several schools of good-sized fish (those that we landed ran up to 23 pounds) suddenly splashing all around our boat about midday, on one occasion off Wellfleet, in Cape Cod Bay, though it was only for a few hours after sunrise that the several boats fishing regularly there had taken any by top-water trolling for some time previous.
The best advice we can give the surf-caster, in this regard, is to go fishing whatever time of the day he is free to do so.
The striper is so strictly an inshore fish that we have never heard of large catches being made, or schools seen, more than 4 or 5 miles from the nearest point of land though the migrating schools doubtless pass much farther out in crossing the mouths of the larger indentations of the coast, such as Delaware Bay and Long Island Sound. And a few fish may stray far offshore in winter, for one about 18 inches long was taken in an otter trawl about 60 miles south of Marthas Vineyard, in 70 fathoms of water, in February 1949.
On the landward side, many bass come within easy casting range of the shore; we have had a fair sized one strike our plug not 4 feet from the rock from which we were casting on the Cohasset shore. Many (especially the smaller sizes, but large ones also) run up into estuaries and into river mouths. In some rivers, good numbers (large as well as small) are caught so far upstream as to make it likely that they remain there the year round. This is notably the case in the Alabama River system where (we hear) 250 to 300 bass ranging from 5 to 40 pounds were caught near Tallasseem some 30 miles above Montgomery, which is at least 300 miles from salt water, following the river. They are also known to spawn some 250 miles up the Sacramento River in California. It would be interesting to know what proportion of the bass that spawn at Weldon, N. C., 100 miles or so up the Roanoke, and that run 60 to 90 miles up the St. John, in New Brunswick, ever see salt water. Bass also run up the Hudson for about 160 miles to Albany.
The great majority of the total population of bass frequent the coast line, except at breeding season. Among these, the smaller sizes, up to 15 pounds or so, are found indifferently within enclosed bays, in small marsh estuaries, in the mouths of rivers and off the open coast. But we do not often hear of fish heavier than 20 to 25 pounds caught in situations of these sorts. And the great majority of the large bass, of 30 pounds or more, hold to the open coast, except at spawning time, and perhaps in winter. But this is not an invariable rule; we are familiar with one narrow inlet where tides run strong, and where some lucky angler catches a very large bass now and then. Bass off the open coast are most likely to be found along sandy beaches, in shallow bays, along rocky stretches, over and among submerged or partially submerged rocks and boulders, and at the mouths of estuaries, the precise situations that they occupy being governed by the availability of food. Off the outer beaches they may be anywhere right to the breakers. When they are close in they frequent the troughs that are hollowed out by the surf behind off-lying bars, also the gullies through which the water rushes in and out across the bars as the rollers break, for it is in such situations that bait fish are easiest caught, and that crabs, worms, and clams are most likely to be tossed about in the wash of the breakers. When the tide is high, bass often lie on a bar, or even in the white water along the beach if there is a good surf running. When the tide falls they drop down into the troughs or move farther out, according to the precise topography. In either case, every surf fisherman knows that his chances are much better when the sea is breaking at least moderately heavy so that he can cast into white water, than when it is smooth.
They also lie under rafts of floating rockweed at times, probably to prey on the small animals they find among the weeds.
The best spots along rocky shores are in the surf generally, and in the wash of breaking waves behind off-lying boulders and among them, or where a tidal current flows most swiftly past some jutting point. In the mouths of estuaries they are apt to hold to the side where the current is the strongest, and in the breakers out along the bar on that side. In shallow bays, they often pursue small fry among the submerged sedge grass when the tide is high, dropping back into the deeper channels on the ebb. And they frequent mussel beds, both in enclosed waters and on shoal grounds outside, probably because these are likely to harbor an abundance of sea worms (Nereis).
When bass are schooling outside they are likely to be moving along the coast in the one direction or in the other. But they may remain in the same general locality for weeks, or through the summer. Thus a body of very large fish, of 25 to 50 pounds, stayed close in to the outer beach near the tip of Cape Cod, through most of July of 1951 and into that August, yielding consistent catches to the more skillful surf-fishermen.
Bass are active over a temperature range from perhaps 70° down to about 43°-46° F. Present indications are that if the temperature falls lower they either withdraw to somewhat warmer water if off the outer coast, or lie on the bottom in a more or less sluggish state if they are in some estuary. On the other hand it is not likely that they can long survive temperatures higher than about 77°-80°, for many were found dead in [page 393] shallow estuaries in Connecticut and in Massachusetts during the abnormally hot August of 1937. They are equally at home in fresh or slightly brackish water, and in coastal salinities of 3.1 to 3.3 percent. But their usual wanderings do not take them out into waters of full oceanic salinities (3.5 percent or higher).
No phase of the life history of the bass arouses as much discussion among fishermen as their migrations. And the picture still remains so puzzling that we dare not attempt anything more than a brief summary of what has been learned to date.
It seems certain that stripers do not ordinarily travel far until they are 2 years old. Thus the young fish from the enormous year classes of 1934 and 1942—apparently produced in the Chesapeake Bay-Delaware Bay region chiefly— did not appear in New England waters until 2 years later. But the fact that they did appear there and in the Gulf of Maine in hordes in the summers of 1936 and 1944 shows that a bass is capable of very extensive journeys, once it has reached its third year.
It has long been known, too, that the pound nets on Long Island and along southern New England ordinarily make large catches only in the spring (peak in May), and again from early October into November;also that large spring catches are made progressively later in the season, proceeding from south to north, the reverse being true in the autumn. This, of course, suggests that part at least of the bass population follows the shore line northward and eastward as far as southern New England in spring, to return westward and southward in autumn. And this is verified for bass 2 and 3 years old by the returns from tagging experiments by Merriman at the eastern end of Long Island and in Connecticut during the years 1936 to 1938, for recaptures of fish that had been tagged there in May came mostly from farther east along southern New England, one from Cape Cod Bay, and another from Cohasset on the southern shore of the inner part of Massachusetts Bay. But the recaptures from fish tagged in summer were mostly from nearby (evidence of a stationary population), while those for autumn-tagged fish were scattered along the coast from the eastern end of Long Island to Chesapeake Bay, with one from Croatan Sound, one from Albemarle Sound (Stumpy Point), and one from Pamlico Sound in North Carolina.
But the picture is by no means so simple as the foregoing might suggest. To begin with, no evidence is available as to the movements of large bass, other than the successive dates when they appear or disappear off different parts of the coast.And it is no less true of bass than it is of mackerel that successive appearances and disappearances from place to place are not conclusive evidence of along shore migration. Yet it is now certain that while some bodies of bass carry out extensive migrations north and east in spring, west and south in autumn, other bodies do not. Thus, as Merriman points out, the bass of the northeastern shore of the Gulf of Mexico are completely isolated, while those of the Atlantic coast south of Cape Hatteras form another separate population, few of which (if any) ever spread farther north. The bass of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and of the lower St. Lawrence River appear to be wholly isolated also. And while some interchange may take place between the populations found in various bays and rivers around the outer coast of Nova Scotia, it is doubtful whether these have any regularly migratory association, either with the Gulf of St. Lawrence fish or with those of more southern waters, except in occasional years.
Chesapeake Bay, however, harbors both migratory bass,as proved by experiments tagging and other evidence and non-migratory as proved by the fact that fish of all sizes are taken there both in summer and in winter, though not so many of them as in spring and fall. Similarly, some bass winter in northern waters though most of the fish appear to be migrants there; and perhaps a considerable percentage do so in the lower reaches of the Hudson River estuary.
Merrimanhas suggested that these northern wintering fish may be "of two types—the individuals that form the resident more or less isolated population" and others "that may have had their origin farther south but spend an occasional winter in northern waters." It may prove that a good proportion of these bass that come from the south when they are 3-4 years old may remain in the north for the rest of their lives. And there is no way for the fisherman to tell in which of these categories the bass belong, that he lands. The reader will find some further discussion of migrations in connection with the status of the bass in the Gulf of Maine. We need only add that the existence of these non-migratory populations and the fact that the Pacific coast bass are similarly stationary, are sufficient proof that seasonal migration is not an essential incident in the life of the striper.
Bass spawn either in brackish water at the heads of estuaries (the Hudson, for example) or in fresh rivers, never off the open coast in salt water so far as is known. Those that enter fresh rivers may deposit their eggs only a short distance above the head of tide as they do in the Potomac, or they may run much farther upstream. But we have yet to learn how large a percentage of the bass that are known to spawn 100 miles up the Roanoke, near Weldon, N. C. (a major spawning ground), or still farther up the Alabama,and up the Sacramento River in California, have come from salt water.
The chief requirement for successful spawning is (it seems) a current turbulent enough to prevent the eggs from settling on bottom where they would be in danger of being silted over and smothered.
The spawning season is from late April to early May in North Carolina; in May, chiefly, in the Chesapeake Bay region; perhaps equally early in the waters of New York. Any bass that may spawn in the rivers of Massachusetts, of Maine, and of the Bay of Fundy, probably do so in June; those of the southern shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and of the lower St. Lawrence River in June and July.
Females stripped at the Weldon, N. C. Hatchery yielded from 11,000 to 1,215,000 eggs each, during the period 1928 to 1938, with one of 4½ pounds yielding 265,000. Thus the oft-quoted estimate of 10 million fish for a really large one is within reason.
The eggs average 1.1-1.35 mm. in diameter when they are deposited in the water, but the pervitelline membrane swells during the first hours after fertilization to an average diameter of about 3.6 mm. They have a large oil globule and are semibuoyant; that is, they sink in quiet water, but are swept up from the bottom by the slightest disturbance, so that they tend to drift downstream with the current. Consequently the eggs that are produced far upstream may not hatch until they have reached tidewater. The eggs are reported as hatching in about 70 to 74 hours at a temperature of 58-60°; in about 48 hours at 67°; in about 30 hours at 71-72°.
In Chesapeake Bay, the young fry of the year are about 11/5 inches (30 mm.) long by June; 14/5 to 21/12 inches (45-53 mm.) long in July; 2 to 24/5 inches (50-70 mm.) in August; and 3¾ to 8½ inches by the following April and May; i. e., at the end of their first year.According to Merriman, most of the fry of the year taken in the Hudson River during their first summer are between about 15/8 inches (40 mm.) and about 3½ inches (90 mm.) long; a few seined in the Parker River, Newbury, Mass., were from about 2¾ inches (71 mm.) to about 33/8 inches (85 mm.) long. And this last is perhaps representative for whatever bass may now be produced in Gulf of Maine rivers, for we read that great numbers of fry of 2 to 3 inches were taken of old in winter in the rivers of Maine in bagnets set for smelt and tomcod.
Two-year-old bass taken in Connecticut averaged 11 to 11½ inches (28 or 29 cm.) long in spring, about 12 inches (30 cm.) in June, and about 14½ inches (37 cm.) in October; the 3-year-olds about 15¾ inches (40 cm.) in spring and about 18 inches (46 cm.) in October, while 4-year-olds increased in length from about 18¾ inches (48 cm.) to about 20¾ inches (53 cm.) between spring and autumn, on the average. And the average rate of growth was about the same for Hudson River fish examined by Greeley.But the rate at which they grow is governed largely by the food supply. Bass in captivity have been known to grow from 6 inches long to 20 inches in 11 months, while some that were kept in a certain pond in Rhode Island are described as having gained weight from 1 pound in June to 6 pounds in October.
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