Hybrid bass are plentiful
By Rick Farren
It's not all that unusual this time of year to hook up with either a striped bass or hybrid striped bass while fishing inshore waters of the Apalachicola River and its distributaries for trout and redfish.
The Gulf race of striped bass are a native species that inhabit a narrow ecological niche that's been made even more perilous because of alterations in the habitat, such as the Jim Woodruff Dam.
Both species have been heavily stocked in the Apalachicola River in the past, but only striped bass have been stocked since 2001, said Rick Long, a biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
The FWC is part of a tri-state project with Georgia and Alabama and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore native striped bass in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River system, The FWC stopped hybrid stocking to concentrate on striper restoration.
However, as many as 500,000, 1- to 2-inch fish and 100,000 to 120,000, 8- to 10-inch stripers are still released into the system each year.
Georgia, which continues to stock hybrids in the Flint River system. High water conditions, such as we had last spring, can easily push the fish into Lake Seminole and on into the Apalachicola.
Both species become typically active in the lower Apalachicola River and its connected waterways from late fall until early spring. That's roughly the same time that saltwater species move into these same areas in search of warmer water.
?I get into them mainly when trout or redfish fishing,? Capt.Pete White said. ?One of the best places (for stripers and hybrids) this time of year is the Intracoastal Waterway between the Gulf County Canal and Lake Wimico.?
White says the best way to find either stripers or hybrids in the Intracoastal is ?to drift with the current or ease along with a trolling motor while casting. You can also pick them up while slow speed trolling.?
White also recommends fishing where creeks come into the waterway or around the points between forks of a river or creek in the saltmarsh. In both cases look for changes in the bottom contour.
Another well-known spot for both species is the railroad trestle over the Apalachicola River, which is about four miles upstream from the bay. The combination of deep water and structure seems to consistently attract the fish during the winter.
For bait, White says live shrimp is probably most effective, followed by plastic grubs and DOA shrimp.
?You can also troll or cast small Rat-L-Traps,? he adds, ?or about anything that will work on a regular largemouth bass.?
Stripers can exceed 40 pounds, but fish caught in the lower rivers seldom exceed 20 pounds. Hybrids can reach weights of 13 or 14 pounds, but 5 or 6 pounds is a far more common size.
Hybrids and stripers are similar in appearance and with different harvest regulations it's important to be able to tell them apart. Hybrids have a deeper body - sort of football-shaped - while stripers are typically more slender. Hybrids sometimes, but not always, have broken or irregular stripes on the front half of the body. For pictures, and more information on telling the two species apart, go to Florida Fisheries
Also remember that stripers and hybrids are freshwater fish and to keep one you need a freshwater license. If you catch one while fishing for saltwater species and you only have a saltwater fishing license, the fish has to be released. Stripers, hybrids and white bass, which seldom venture to the lower river, fall under an aggregate bag limit of 20 fish, of which only six may be 24 inches or longer in total length, and only three of which can be stripers, which must be over 18 inches in length.
Capt. Pete White can be reached at 527-6504.