Weapons of Bass Destruction

By: Daniel Eggertsen

The Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis), also known as the striper, rockfish, stripe, linesider and squidhound, has been one of the most fished-for species along the Atlantic coast since our country was just a colony. Many a coastal Minuteman dined on these savory entrees before tackling the British Army.

Eastern Coastal Native American tribes thrived on them. If the Pilgrims would have brought fishing rods instead of muskets, the entire history of our country would most likely have been much more pleasant, for both peoples. Today, Striped Bass represent an important commercial and sport fishery, and their range and habit has greatly expanding in some surprising and exciting ways.

They are referred to by many anglers as the "Poor Man's Salmon", "Superfish", and "the fish of the future". They are incredibly adaptable and prolific, and great fighters on the hook as well as scrumptious on the table. Ocean Striped Bass can grow to 4 feet long and weigh over 70 pounds. The current World Record Striped Bass was almost 4-1/2 feet long and weighed 78-1/2 pounds!

The Striped Bass's range was originally from St. Lawrence River in Canada, south along the coast to the St. Johns River in Florida, and west to the Gulf of Mexico. However, in 1941, when the Santee-Cooper River in North Carolina was dammed, forming lakes Moultrie and Marion, it was discovered that not only did the trapped Striped Bass in the freshwater lakes not die, they actually adapted and flourished.

This created and exciting new fishery, as they were transplanted in lakes all over the country with a national stocking program. It was discovered that they were excellent at controlling populations of threadfin and gizzard shad. They were even hybridized with White Bass, creating a new subspecies! It is one of fishing's greatest success stories.

Marine Striped Bass are anadromous, meaning that they live in the ocean, but spawn in rivers and estuaries. Chesapeake Bay at one time was the spawning grounds for 90% of Atlantic Striped Bass population. Their range has increased greatly, as have their spawning grounds. Males are sexually mature at 2 years old. Females reach sexual maturity somewhat later, at around 4 years old.

When the water begins to warm up in late winter, the fish move into estuaries and rivers to spawn. After spawning, they return to the coastal waters. Some groups of Striped Bass migrate from New England south to the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida in fall and winter, and back to the northern waters in spring and summer. Other populations remain in the same waters all year.

The eggs hatch in 29-80 hours. The young are born without a mouth, existing completely on the attached yolk sack for 2 to 4 days, after which the mouth forms. The fry then live on plankton until they reach a large enough size to eat smaller fish. They may remain in the river system for up to three years before going to the ocean. Most will begin migrating to coastal waters after 1 year.

Striped Bass are an inshore species, and are found along trenches, shallow water, rocky coastlines, sandy beaches, drop-offs, and bays. They are seldom encountered beyond the Continental Shelf. As adults, they are completely piscavourous, preying on alewives, menhaden, anchovies, croakers, smelts, herring, and most any other baitfish, squid or eel they can chase down. Adult Striped Bass have few natural enemies, mostly sharks, bluefish and weakfish.

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