Monday, August 24, 2015

MDC stocks hybrid striped bass in new waters

Stockings in small lakes aimed at boosting sport fishery quality
St. Joseph, Mo. – Anglers at some northwest Missouri lakes might find a hard-fighting surprise on the other end of their line. The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) has stocked hybrid striped bass in several lakes. The stockings are part of an experiment in controlling an over-population of gizzard shad in small lakes, and anglers will also have a new opportunity to catch a specialty fish.

   “What’s not to like about a fish that will knock a rod out of your hand,” said Tory Mason, MDC fisheries biologist.

   The first stocking of two-inch fingerlings went into the lakes last year, and some of those fish are big enough now at four to six inches to start hitting lures and bait. More hybrid stripers were stocked in June. A five-year study and stocking plan will determine if the addition to the fisheries is successful and if sport fish like bass, bluegill and crappie have been helped by a reduction in gizzard shad numbers.

  Lakes receiving the hybrid stripers include: Belcher Branch Lake, Buchanan County;  Hamilton City Lake, Caldwell County; Limpp Community Lake, Gentry County; Little Compton Lake, Carroll County; Nodaway County Community Lake, near Maryville in Nodaway County; Willow Brook Lake, near Maysville in DeKalb County, and Watkins Mill Lake, in Watkins Mill State Park in Clay County. Also, five lakes at the August A. Busch Memorial Conservation Area near St. Louis in St. Charles County were stocked with hybrid stripers. And Sunfish Lake in St. Louis County received hybrids.

   The hybrid stripers were reared at MDC’s Lost Valley Fish Hatchery at Warsaw. In June, the hatchery stocked 316,215, hybrid striped bass fingerlings at reservoirs throughout Missouri. About half went to Truman Lake, which has a long tradition of a hybrid striper fishery. Long Branch Lake and Thomas Hill reservoir also received fish.

    Large numbers of hybrid stripers went to the lakes in northwest Missouri that vary in size from 40 to 140 acres. Nodaway County Community Lake, for example, is 73 acres and received 7,410 hybrid stripers. The goal is to utilize heavy stocking rates to improve sport fishing for anglers by reducing non-game fish populations, Mason said.

   Most of the lakes in the research project are overpopulated with gizzard shad. They compete with other fish for zooplankton. Also, predator fish like largemouth bass tend to feed on young shad, and that leads to an over population of bluegill and crappie. The result is too many small panfish that are not large enough to be desired by anglers as table fare.

   Biologists will be sampling fish populations in the study lakes. All species will be studied for age and growth rates. Sampling will also look at stomach contents to see what fish are serving as forage. Results will be compared with fish population sampling at similar small lakes that have no hybrid stripers but do have problems such as too many gizzard shad.

   “We’re hoping the hybrids voraciously chomp on the shad,” Mason said. “Maybe the bass, bluegill and crappies populations will get back into balance.”

   A 20-inch length limit is in place for hybrid striped bass stocked in the lakes utilized for the study. Anglers may keep no more than four hybrids over 20 inches or longer. Hybrids can in time reach trophy size of 15 to 20 pounds. Hybrid stripers are tremendous fighters -- used to cruising open water in schools – a five-pounder feels like a lunker.

   But it will likely take a few more years for hybrids stocked in the study lakes to top the length limit, Mason said. Meanwhile, anglers can enjoy catch-and-release fishing with them. They will readily strike lures such as jigs or bait such as minnows used in panfishing.

   At the end of the five-year study, biologists will analyze data and determine if further hybrid striper stockings are warranted in small reservoirs.

   For more information on hybrid striped bass, visit http://on.mo.gov/1N1yPPs. A listing of places to fish in northwest Missouri is available at http://mdc.mo.gov/fishing/places-fish/fish-northwest-missouri. For information on great fishing throughout Missouri, visit http://mdc.mo.gov.