Fish Facts: Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis)

From Maine to California—and in many large reservoirs in between—striped bass
provide great angling action for fly fishers.

photo via NYDEC

The striped bass is kind of like the rainbow trout of the sea in that, a native of the Atlantic coast, it has been transported and stocked successfully around the world. The original range of the striped bass stretches from Canada’s St. Lawrence River to the St. John’s River in northern Florida, as well as along the Gulf Coast to Louisiana.

The species was introduced to the West Coast in 1879, when 132 fingerling bass from the Navesink River in New Jersey were transported by rail to San Francisco Bay, and by the end of the century, there was a thriving population that supported both commercial and recreational fisheries. The West Coast striped-bass range now stretches from Los Angeles north to the Columbia River.

John Kaufmann Striper 1

John Kaufmann caught this 44-inch striped bass off Montauk, New York.

photo courtesy John Kaufmann

In 1941, stripers were accidentally landlocked during the construction of South Carolina’s Santee Cooper Reservoir, and both anglers and fisheries managers were thrilled to discover that the species could not only survive, but prosper in large impoundments. Although most freshwater striped-bass populations are maintained through stocking, some lakes are fed by rivers suitable for spawning. More than 30 states now have freshwater stripers, as well as hybrids—called wipers—created by crossing stripers with white bass. Wipers can tolerate higher water temperatures and are therefore better for southern climates.

In more recent times, stripers have been introduced in large lakes Ecuador, Iran, Latvia, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, and Turkey, to name just a few.  The species is prized for both its sporting qualities—including its willingness to take flies—as well as its value as a source of food.  The species is now being commercially raised to service the demand from restaurants and fish markets. This could help with conservation in the oceans, where East Coast stocks are showing signs of trouble.

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