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Most Irresponsible Journalism
A letter to the Sentinal record from the President of The National striped Bass association

An Alabama study analyzed the food habits of striped bass. More than 2,600 prey items were retrieved from striped bass stomachs. Almost 2500 of the prey items were shad, the primary forage of striped bass. Only twelve prey items, six bluegill and six crappie, were game fish. This is important information because many anglers assume that striped bass often prey on game fish.

The Rest of article by Steven Smith Biologist with the State of Alabams DNR is here

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Studied for bacterial infection

Feds to Monitor herring trawlers Scientists from the Rutgers University Marine Field Station are trying to better understand the coastal migration of striped bass. The study area includes the Mullica River/Great Bay estuary, the southern end of Barneget Bay, and the coastal ocean outside of Little Egg Inlet off Tuckerton, New Jersey. You can tag your own virtual bass at

Opinion/Editorial: Lake Norman, A Striped Bass Story
By Scott Van Horn

lake norman striper researchIt was early. The sun was still below the tree line. He wished he'd gotten out of bed soon enough to add another biscuit as fuel against the February cold. He'd seen the birds sitting in the back of this cove now for several days and he was comforted by their presence this morning. Suddenly, the surface calm was shattered. Striped bass were pushing shad up out of the deep. Some of the shad were frantically leaping clear of the water to escape the swirling bodies of feeding stripers. The gulls quickly took flight and announced the school's presence by wheeling and diving to share in the feast. He positioned his boat and hit the break line of the school with a 3/8-ounce bucktail. The fish hit his offering savagely and often.

The stripers eventually dove, only to resurface nearby. Then, two hours after it began, calm returned to the cove. The gulls were vigilant for a while, but eventually returned to rest on the water's surface. The sun was climbing in the sky and he knew it was over for the morning. Time to return to warmth, a cup of hot coffee, and that second biscuit. It had been a good trip. He had caught a dozen fish under exciting fishing conditions. They were a little heavier than the thin Lake Norman stripers of previous years but none was over five pounds. That was unfortunate in a sport where really large fish get the headlines in other places, but he knew he'd be back again the next morning.

A Unique Striped Bass Fishery

Lake Norman's striper fishery is something special. Seasonally, catch rates can be very good. The sheer number of striped bass anglers on the lake argues the popularity of the fishery. Yet, most of the fish are small and often thin. Not only are the trophy fish of 20 pounds or more a rarity, but there are few fish above five pounds. That fact is a bitter disappointment to anglers who value large fish. The two faces of this striper fishery color the debate over the success of striper management in the lake. Is the Lake Norman striped bass fishery a success story supporting hours of fishing pleasure or a disaster devoid of big fish?

Lake Norman demands to be judged on its own merits, and defies comparison with other lakes. The lake supports the fewest pounds of fish per acre in central North Carolina, including shad. Like poor soil producing few crops, Lake Norman has the lowest potential to feed and support striped bass. Adding nutrients would increase Lake Norman's production potential, but enriching 355 billion gallons of water would be cost prohibitive and most of our society would call it pollution!

In the last decade, blue and flathead catfish numbers have exploded at Lake Norman. White perch, recently introduced by anglers, are also rapidly increasing their presence in the lake. White bass populations fluctuate and at times are large. All of these fish eat the same shad the striped bass depend upon to support their numbers. Fewer shad to go around means thinner, slower growing striped bass.

Expectations Versus Reality

Truly large striped bass—the kind making headlines in Tennessee reservoirs—require abundant food and plenty of cool, oxygenated water. Many of North Carolina's piedmont reservoirs have plenty of shad, but none have dissolved oxygen at the cooler water temperatures preferred by large striped bass in hot dry summers. Consequently, fish larger than 20 pounds will never be abundant in these lakes. Lake Norman has neither the optimal water conditions nor the abundant food resources necessary to support a trophy striped bass fishery.

The environment of Lake Norman's striped bass is also influenced by electric power production. Duke Power Company built Marshall Steam Station in the early 1970s and McGuire nuclear plant in the early 1980s. Striped bass congregating in warm water discharges in winter is an obvious result of power production commonly exploited by anglers. Power production can also interact with weather to affect striper forage in the lake. Threadfin shad in Lake Norman die in cold winters. The warm water discharges associated with power production provide thermal refugia, assuring some threadfin are available to repopulate the lake in spring. Fluctuating threadfin numbers may change the gizzard shad population. The size, number and types of shad present in the lake each year determines the quality of striped bass forage.

Finally, stripers are affected by fishing. It is an old axiom among fisheries managers that as fishing becomes more intense the bigger, older fish are often the first to disappear. Striped bass do not reproduce naturally in Lake Norman and must be stocked by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. They were first stocked into the lake in 1969. It took anglers a decade to learn how to fish successfully for striped bass. The intervening time gave the lake's striped bass time to grow old and large. As the 1980s unfolded, anglers developed effective techniques for catching striped bass, including drifting live shad. Depth finders proved useful in locating the fish and anglers discovered stripers could be caught year around, day and night. As striper angling evolved and more people joined the sport, the numbers of larger, older fish grew smaller. Catch and release did not provide a solution, as it had for largemouth bass, because striped bass proved less hardy. The large, more desirable striped bass are least likely to survive being caught and released.

As the striped bass fishery changed, some striped bass anglers began to demand more and then larger fish. The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission increased the stocking rate as hatchery expansion permitted and agreed to raise the minimum size limit in 1992 to 20 inches. Biologists worried that a big increase in stocking rates would tax the existing food supply for striped bass. The higher minimum size limit would keep some striped bass in the lake even longer, adding to the number of mouths feeding on a shad population that was limited by the lake's low fertility. Too many striped bass for the existing food supply could slow growth and work against the objective of greater numbers of larger fish.

The Dangers Of Bait Bucket Stocking

Striped bass growth did indeed slow in the years following the combined increase in stocking rates and higher size limits. Some anglers wanted to attack the striped bass/shad imbalance by increasing the number of shad. Many saw the introduction of blueback herring as the solution. Biologists acknowledged that bluebacks, if successful, would benefit striped bass by replacing less desirable sizes of gizzard or threadfin shad. However, bluebacks prefer to feed on large zooplankton, which are scarce in Lake Norman. In the absence of their preferred food, bluebacks can switch to eating larval fish. In fertile lakes, where fish are abundant, that hasn't been a problem. In an infertile lake like Norman, could bluebacks reduce crappie or white bass numbers? Biologists didn't know for sure. But they did know that blueback herring eventually would escape Lake Norman and move downstream, potentially turning a Lake Norman "solution" into a Lake Wylie problem. Consequently, biologists took a conservative approach and chose not to stock herring.

In the last few years, both blueback and alewives, another herring, have become established in Lake Norman and increasingly abundant as a result of bait bucket stocking by striped bass anglers. Both fish historically have been used by striped bass in other waters. How will the new additions affect the rest of the fish in Lake Norman and downstream? No one is certain. Biologists hope anglers don't move the fish upstream to Lake James because walleye populations in other reservoirs have collapsed following alewife introductions.

The Future Of Norman's Striper Fishery

The last 30 years have produced many changes at Lake Norman. It is not possible to turn the clock back on the lake's striped bass population. What is possible in the future? Lake Norman striped bass have been thin and slow growing because there are too many fish for the available shad. How much help the alewives will provide will be revealed by time. Alewives will not double or triple the lake's shad supply because the water is too infertile. If the stripers remain thin, fatter fish can only be created by reducing the numbers of striped bass in the lake. Striper numbers are controlled by stocking rates and regulations. If high catch rates are important to anglers, stocking rates should be maintained. But if heftier striped bass are desired by anglers, thinning the striped bass population by imposing less restrictive harvest limits might add a pound or so to a 25-inch fish. The future of the striped bass fishery is in the hands of the anglers and the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, but our choices are reduced by limitations imposed by the lake.

Perhaps we should build on what the lake will allow. High catch rates of smaller striped bass is the lake's strength. Anglers crowd Lake Norman's waters in cool weather looking for a chance to catch numbers of striped bass. They know a big fish is a bonus. Others have chosen to fish different waters looking for bigger fish. It has really always been that way. Like the angler in our introductory story, we shouldn't allow Lake Norman's limitations to prevent us from experiencing the satisfaction of a good fishing trip on this very special lake.

Van Horn is the fishery research coordinator for the Piedmont Region.


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