Species spotlight: Striped bass

Unbroken horizontal lines along their sides distinguish striped bass from other bass species. (Picture by Brian Cope)

Striped bass, Morone saxatillis, have two distinct, naturally occurring populations. One strain is native to the Atlantic coast, from Canada down to the St. John’s River in Florida. The second is scattered along the Gulf of Mexico’s northern coast from Florida’s Suwannee River to Louisiana’s Lake Pontchartrain.

These fish began their existence as true anadromous fish, meaning they live the bulk of their lives in saltwater but migrated to freshwater to spawn. A huge population still lives that way. However, striped bass have also been successfully introduced into freshwater lakes and reservoirs across the United States, even in landlocked states with no access to saltwater. Fisheries biologists have also stocked them along the Pacific Coast with great success.

Striped bass have long bodies and range in color from green to steel gray to dark gray and almost black on their backs, with silver to dark gray sides. Between seven and eight distinct horizontal lines run from their gill plates to their tails. One always follows the fish’s lateral line.

They have two parallel tooth patches on their tongues and two sharp spines on the back edges of their gill plates. One big difference between the Atlantic and Gulf populations is in the number of dorsal fin rays. They also have a different configuration of lateral line scales, but fisheries biologists still consider both strains to be the same species.

On the move

Striped bass are targeted by thousands and thousands of anglers, either in saltwater from the Gulf to New England, or in landlocked reservoirs where they have been stocked by state agencies. (Picture by Brian Cope)

Atlantic striped bass also travel the open ocean much more so than the Gulf strain. Atlantic stripers migrate as far as from the Carolinas to Nova Scotia, and from Florida to at least Virginia. Gulf stripers rarely migrate out of saltwater river systems.

On some occasions, Atlantic strains of striped bass have been caught in the Gulf, but this is probably from striped bass stocked in freshwater impoundments with access to the Gulf.

Striped bass go by many nicknames. Among these are: stripes, stripers, linesiders, rockfish, rock bass, rocks, silversides and squidheads. In some areas of the country, males are called bucks or jacks, while females are referred to as cows.

Despite their name, striped bass are not in the same family as largemouth or smallmouth bass. Those fish are in the black bass family, while striped bass are members of the temperate bass family.

These fish have huge appetites and will eat just about anything. Smaller fish make up the bulk of their diets, but they also eat squid and eels, and those in saltwater eat shrimp and crabs. They feed throughout the entire water column, and anglers can draw strikes from them 60 feet or deeper and on topwater lures — and anywhere in between — on the same day.

Male striped bass reach sexual maturity at the age of two, when they are about 6.8 inches long. Females reach it by age four when are typically 17 inches long. All spawning occurs in freshwater, upstream of nursery areas near river mouths. The females release thousand of eggs that the males fertilize, then the eggs must float freely, hatching within a few days.

Records

Louisiana’s state-record striped bass weighed 47.50 pounds. James L. Taylor caught the fish at Toledo Bend in August 1991.

The world-record striped bass came from Long Island Sound off of Westbrook, Ct. Gregory Myers caught the 81-pound, 14-ounce fish in August 2011.

The world-record landlocked striped bass came from the Black Warrior River in Alabama and weighed 69 pounds, 9 ounces. James Bramlett caught the fish in February 2013.

Brian Cope
About Brian Cope 87 Articles
Brian Cope of Edisto Island, S.C., is a retired Air Force combat communications technician. He has a B.A. in English Literature from the University of South Carolina and has been writing about the outdoors since 2006. He’s spent half his life hunting and fishing. The rest, he said, has been wasted.

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