Professional Guided Striper Fishing
Trips On Beautiful Lake Ouachita

Located In Hot Springs, Arkansas

 


Landlocked and Stocked
Photo Courtesy Of Bill Lindner Photography

Striped Bass Bring a Different Angle to Freshwater Fishing
By Trey Reid

Even though the state’s geography seems to preclude it, Arkansas anglers don’t have to leave home to fish for deep-sea denizens.
     Arkansas harbors striped bass, a marine species, and thanks to a happy accident almost 70 years ago, stripers live in many landlocked states.
     A striper spends most of its life at sea but makes an annual spawning run into freshwater streams. During construction of Santee-Cooper Reservoir in South Carolina, damming of the Cooper River prevented some striped bass from returning to the ocean. The fish survived in their new home, and an inland fishery was born.
     Following the Santee-Cooper discovery and efforts in other states, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission began stocking striped bass in several Arkansas lakes in 1956. The AGFC soon learned that reservoir fisheries could be maintained only by stocking hatchery-raised fish. During the next two decades, biologists improved spawning and rearing techniques to create sustainable striper fishing.
     Today, striped bass play a significant role in Arkansas fishing by creating thrilling fishing, controlling the size and number of gizzard shad, and pumping money into the state’s economy.

Expectant Atmosphere

With the exception of an Arkansas River population, Arkansas stripers don’t reproduce naturally in the wild. In native habitats, they migrate from the sea and spawn in estuaries. Their free-floating eggs tumble downstream 48 hours before hatching and returning to the sea.
     Because those conditions don’t exist in Arkansas, the AGFC mimics the process in the laboratory.
     For three weeks each spring, the Andrew Hulsey State Fish Hatchery looks a lot like a maternity ward. All hours of day and night, hatchery crews hold a bleary eyed vigil, watching the clock and waiting for female stripers to produce eggs.
     The project begins about mid-April on Lake Ouachita. Netting crews place gill nets to intercept striped bass migrating up the lake on false spawning runs. Viable fish are hauled to the Hulsey Hatchery near Hot Springs.
    “Then it becomes a 24-7 job,” said Don Brader, AGFC assistant chief of fisheries and warmwater fisheries coordinator. “At that point, we have two-person crews working eight-hour shifts around the clock.”
     Hatchery crews inject female striped bass with a hormone that speeds ovulation and helps biologists calculate egg release. Colored yarn attached to the dorsal fins helps the crew distinguish fish that are induced at different times. Fish are monitored while swimming in holding tanks.
     “We’re playing the waiting game,” said Andrea Daniel, AGFC fisheries biologist. “You find things to keep yourself busy while you’re waiting for those eggs.”
      It takes 12 to 24 hours for the hormone to trigger egg release. Biologists narrow the window by taking egg samples and looking at them under a microscope to compare them to pictures of eggs in various stages of development.
     “Once she starts to ovulate, we have about 10 minutes to a half hour to catch those eggs,” Brader said.Andrea Daniel and Jake Wisenhunt mix milt and eggs from a striped bass. Photo by Don Brader.

It’s a – Striper

Fertility in a sterile environment is a peculiar concept. But don’t call it “artificial” spawning – Brader prefers “assisted” spawning.
     “It’s not really artificial because the fish are doing what they’d be doing anyway,” he said. “We’re just helping them along.”
     When ovulation is imminent, a crew member takes a female from the holding tank and massages her belly to release thousands of eggs into a plastic pan with an inch of water in the bottom. Simultaneously, an assistant gently squeezes a male striper to release milt into the pan. The mixture is stirred for a minute, the water is removed and water is added while the eggs and milt are swirled together for a few minutes for a thorough cleaning. We might expect a Barry White tune in the background.
      Fertilized eggs are constantly tumbled in 64- to 66-degree water for 48 hours in tall, glass jars. They’re watched closely for signs of poor fertilization and micro intruders such as bacteria and fungi, which can wipe outStriped bass eggs that have turned “bad” appear opaque white or yellow. Photo by Andrea Daniel. the crop. Bad eggs, which turn opaque white and yellow, are removed.
     “We’re basically babysitting eggs for two days,” Daniel said.
      Fry, which hatch after 48 hours, are moved to holding tanks of about 500,000. They live on yolk sacs four days as mouths and digestive tracts develope.
     Throughout each stage of the project, new brood fish arrive and the process repeats itself.
     “When you get into that second or third week, it’s really wild,” Brader said. “You’re either spawning fish or monitoring eggs or moving fry or something else. It really becomes intense.”
      The fry move from indoor tanks to hatchery ponds that have been primed with hay bails and alfalfa pellets. The organic matter stimulates growth of zooplankton, the These tall, glass tanks hold millions of fertilized striped bass eggs. Photo by Andrea Daniel.micro-organisms on which the tiny striped bass will feed for about three weeks. The fish start a diet of high-protein, powdered minnow meal at 21 to 25 days. Forty-five to 60 days after they hit the ponds, the fish reach about 2 inches. They’re harvested, counted and placed on fish trucks for delivery to Arkansas lakes.

Multiple Benefits

AGFC produced more than 2.1 million striped bass fry last year, with about 400,000 surviving to the 2-inch stage. About 75 percent were stocked in Norfork and Beaver lakes, and about 80,000 went to Lake Ouachita.
      In addition to striped bass, the annual spawning project produces hybrid striped bass, an aggressive, hard-fighting cross between striped bass females and white bass males. Last year’s hybrid striper production topped 500,000 fingerlings. About half of those went to Greers Ferry and DeGray lakes.
      The goals of the striper and hybrid program are numerous, and angling opportunities are just one benefit. Striped bass and hybrids, especially the former, occupy open-water haunts in large reservoirs that are seldom used by other native predatory fish. Species such as largemouth bass, bluegills and crappie stick to relatively shallow water with cover near the shoreline. That leaves a huge volume of water that’s underused.
      Stripers and hybrids not only fill that void, they control gizzard shad, a prey species. Historically, large reservoirs with plentiful open water have been overrun by large gizzard shad.
     “Once a gizzard shad gets big enough, a walleye or a bass can’t eat it,” Brader said. “I’ve seen gizzard shad that are 22 inches long. A bass can’t eat that fish, but a striper can.”
     Huge stocks of adult gizzard shad can stem production of smaller-sized prey for native species such as black bass, walleye and crappie. As stripers remove the large prey that can’t be eaten by smaller predators, smaller prey fish return, native predators thrive and the food chain maintains balance.
     Photo Courtesy Of Bill Lindner PhotographyInitially, trophy fisheries were a desirable side effect. But now, striped bass and hybrids have become highly sought prizes for anglers in search of something no other Arkansas fish can provide. According to Brader, the goal for Arkansas striper fisheries is to “consistently and annually produce a group of 25- to 40-pound fish.”
     The popularity of striper and hybrid fishing also bodes well for Arkansas’s economy. Anglers spend an estimated $16.7 million a year fishing for stripers and hybrids in Arkansas, with $11 million of the total from nonresidents.
     Once you’ve hooked into a striper or hybrid, it’s easy to appreciate why anglers will part with their money to try to catch them – a tendency to long, deep runs, tackle-busting, line-stretching ferocity, and a deep-sea fishing experience without extreme travel expense.
     Arkansas may not have saltwater fishing, but it has the next-best thing.

 

 

This article was originally featured in the March/April 2008 issue of Arkansas Wildlife magazine.
To subscribe or learn more about the magazine, contact the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission,
 (501) 223-6300, or visit www.agfc.com.

Thanks to Bill Lindner Photography for reprint
permission of their underwater Striped Bass shots.

 

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Striped Bass Adventures
Striper Fishing On Lake Ouachita
Hot Springs, Arkansas