Some fishermen don’t like striped bass. Asian carp, including the grass-eating variety, probably rank highest on the hate list. But stripers are in the top five at least, along with chemical spraying of aquatic vegetation, the animal rights movement, and threats to public access.
Only problem is that the stripers are undeserving of their bad reputation. Biologists have uncovered nothing to suggest that they harm bass populations through predation. The only evidence that exists against them is anecdotal: By chance, an angler sees a striper eat a largemouth.
And that does happen. In the fish world, a large specimen will eat a smaller one if the opportunity arises, no question. Sometimes the eater and the eatee are of the same species. In other words, black bass are cannibals, as are stripers, walleye, trout, and every other predatory species.
So . . . when a fishery is in need of a supplemental stocking of bass, should we not do it because of that?
Meanwhile, plenty of proof asserts that, when stocked in a reservoir, stripers do not harm the black bass fishery. Study after study reveals that shad make up about 95 percent of a striper’s diet.
In fact, sometimes striped bass enhance the black bass fishery.
“Stocking stripers in Lake Texoma improved both bass and crappie fisheries,” said Gene Gilliland, new National Conservation Director for B.A.S.S. and former fisheries biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
That’s because the larger, open-water stripers gobbled up gizzard shad that were too big for other predators to eat. In doing so, the dynamics of the forage population shifted to one dominated by smaller fish, which both largemouths and crappie could take advantage of.
Why, then, did the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) decide not to join the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) in a multi-year program to stock stripers in Bull Shoals, a 45,000-acre border impoundment on the White River?
AGFC fisheries chief Mark Oliver cited angler opposition.
“We know that the low striped bass stocking rates outlined in the proposal would not negatively impact other popular game fish such as walleye and bass,” he said. “But we did not receive an abundance of support for the proposal.”
Why was that? Gilliland theorizes that it might have been because of “circumstantial evidence.”
Arkansas anglers saw stripers stocked in another fishery and caught fewer bass afterward. “They think that there’s a cause and effect, but the decline is related to something else,” he explained. “Lakes all over the country have stripers and bass and they are doing just fine.”
Based on more than 70 percent support for the plan shown at four joint public meetings, Missouri, however, elected to go ahead with the plan to stock at a low rate every other year. This past spring, MDC released 16,000 stripers, many of which will take up residence in Arkansas, where most of the lake lies.
“We stock stripers in Lake of the Ozarks and continue to have good bass fishing there,” said MDC’s A.J. Pratt. “In fact, it’s a phenomenal largemouth fishery.”
The Missouri biologist added 16,000 stripers every other year “is a drop in the bucket, but if we see that it’s having an impact (on the bass population), we’ll adjust the stocking.”
In rare cases, too many stripers have been stocked in a fishery with a limited food supply and both stripers and bass have suffered from slow growth rates as a result. That’s not likely in this reservoir with an abundance of shad.
Because it is a flood control reservoir with fluctuating water levels, Bull Shoals doesn’t get consistent bass recruitment, meaning the quality of the bass fishery is cyclical, Pratt said. Adding stripers at low densities will offer anglers an enhanced opportunity to catch fish during lows in the cycle, as has been the case with the introduction of walleye.
So, even though some don’t want them, Arkansas fishermen, along with those from Missouri, will soon have another fish to catch. Many will enjoy doing so; others will not, but will have a new excuse when they don’t catch bass.
(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)