IS THIS THE PROBLEM in bass lakes?

I know there is a common feeling among anglers that striped bass in our lakes lead to poor trophy bass production. But is there any data that supports that? Has any authorized fishery study confirmed this belief? And what about stocked trout? Is this artificial forage species the only reason California has seen such big bass in the past?

One of the great lessons from the book How to Lie with Statistics (Huff, 1954) is how people are so willing to pronounce a causal relationship to something shown only to be “correlated.” In California, we tend to observe that big bass don’t do well in lakes with striped bass. Therefore, we conclude striped bass are the cause of poor trophy bass fishing.

But are there some other attendant causes at work? It has been generally concluded that stripers forage heavily–almost exclusively–on shad. This has been seen in several studies from Lake Powell to Lake Texoma, as well as in Arkansas. (Pick one) But do we actually believe that shad are the key to big bass growth, even though they play a part in little bass growth?

While stripers tend not to feed on spiny ray species (sunfish including bass) the opposite seems to be true (Lake Mohave being a good example). Black bass have a much broader spectrum of food sources–including exotics such as tilapia or goby. And when it comes to artificial (unnatural) forage such as rainbow trout, the West has had the huge advantage over Texas or even Florida in max trophy growth. Here, climate, winter water temperatures, and a supply from fish hatcheries from November to May supplements the “natural.”

True, stripers eat the trout as well, but they take some prodding. The first trout plants of the fall do not draw boiling linesides because hatchery fish are not part of the envir0nment at the time. So here’s a question. Is it a lake with schools of 10 to 30-pound stripers problematical to bass fishing, or is it the clouds of 1-pound stripers outcompeting black bass in their first years of life?

And what about the anglers? No one has been shown to be worse fish managers than bass anglers, themselves. Who else but a bass fisherman quivers like child going to the dentist when he sees someone with a bass on a stringer. Thus, it doesn’t matter what management tool the DFG tries when it comes to limits or length guidelines, bass guys don’t help: they let them all go.

And the natural consequence of 100 percent catch and release is a continully growing bass population–but no increase in the forage base. But when given a chance to affect the numbers of small stripers, what do bass anglers do? They carry out icechests full of 10 to 20 pounders–but ignore the far greater numbers of small shad eaters.

Interestingly, Larry Bottroff, former DFG and San Diego biologist, made the observation that tournament mortality (despite claims to the counter) put a dent in the bass population each year on the lakes he monitored. However, because the survival rate of released fish was still much higher than that of 100 percent harvest of the previous decades, the bass populations stayed generally healthier.

Conclusions? Thinning out the herd is not just for cowboys. Bass fishermen need to quit looking to pin the blame.






12 Responses to “Are striped bass really the problem?”

Lake Casitas has changed my mind on how dependant giant FLMB become on planted trout to maintain exceptional growth as adults. Lake Castiac’s massive infushion of stripers caused the Elderbury dam reconstruction ended the giant bass population on the upper lake. It’s never one issue, it’s a combination of events that produces giants and end the cycle.
I agree with tournament and weekend bass anglers zero catch and keep mind set; they release bass knowing they will die or think every bass in the livewell survives.
Lake Hodges proved giants can grow without the aid planted trout, however would the 20.4 lb have grown larger on a trout diet?
DVL has stripers, bass, planted trout and shad….wait and see.

I’m sure max growth might also be affected by purity of the gene pool (F1’s for example) and even the vibrance of a specific individual of the species. While revisionists don’t like to talk about it, Fritz Friebel’s 20-2 from Florida and Perry’s 22-4 on the Georgia border were not trout fed and maybe more indicative of non-enhanced reality of the LMB. Of course, those waters did not have stripers.

The Fritz bass has been removed as an authenic catch, no proof to support the claims. The Perry bass is the Perry we will never know for sure just how big it was. You are right; stripers are not a factor, alligators and gars are the problem! Florida has golden shiners, very similar to plated trout in protien and shape.
If we don’t have stripers to blame or lack of planted trout, how do explain the lack of giant bass this year? Butch must have caught all of them!

When the Dfg over-planted Melones with king salmon years ago, the resulting damage to the shad and the other fish that relied on them was devastating. Its all about balance in an ecosystem. Meanwhile a released fish is a fish with a chance. A fish on a stringer is best with tartar sauce.

Hate to belabor the point, but I think you miss the point, Tom. Easy to discredit certain events when the witnesses are all dead. The fact that the number “20” was there, long before the Perry fish was weighed (and US Postal scales were likely not 2 1/4 pounds amiss–even in 1932) tells me that’s very likely the LMB “natural” growth limit–whether someone or entity chooses to recognize a “catch” or not.

And speaking of forage, the role of the golden shiner as forage does not match the reality of trout stocks. The shiners predated the F1 Florida bass stocking in all reservoirs in San Diego prior to the first plants of Florida bass.

The record increases in the trout lakes Miramar and Murray (and years later in the little lakes such as Jennings, Poway and Dixon) were meteoric compared to the non-trout lakes. The Jennings record was 8-8 in 1972–and what, 19 pounds today?

Still, the El Capitan lake record remains at 15 pounds to this day–with no challengers; Sutherland at 16 pounds (the opening day catch a quite a few seasons back) with Otay at 18-12 (with an 18-4 on the same weekend). Only one 20-4 at Hodges, though there were several at 18.

The third point of the blog is more obscure. The great benefit of quagga mussels today–intense boat inspections make it hard to transport bass from one lake to another (and all the implications of such scrutiny).

George, I’m fully aware of the differences between FLMB and NLMB growth potential. In 1971 I caught a 12 lb 4 oz NLMB from lake Casitas. The NLMB was 28″ long with a 19 1/2″ girth, a big NLMB. 10 years later I caught an 18 lb 12 oz FLMB 28 1/2″ long with a girth of 27″ off the same point at Casitas. Nothing changed; same lake, same prey source. Both these bass were jig fish caught in February.
The big difference between NLMB and FLMB is their genetics; FLMB prefer long slender bait fish like golden shiners and planted rainbow trout and NLMB prefer smaller baitfish.
The FLMB in Florida do not have the massive girth ratio that California or Japanese F1’s have developed. Mass is everything when it comes to a 20 lb+ LMB.
That is why I believe stripers are a problem; faster school feeding fish that prefers the same pelagic baitfish as FLMB in California.
To the best of my knowledge Hodges was sterile, no NLMB, before the FLMB were introduded and didn’t have golden shiners intentionally planted.
Lots of reported 20 +lb bass from both Florida and Cuba, none have ever been authenicated, that doesn’t mean they did’t exist…time will tell. The Perry bass is the Perry bass with all it’s lore. There isn’t any question about the Kurita bass, it looks like a 22.5 lb FLMB should.

Having reread this thread, Tom, I think we are arguing the same side. Well, except for the catches that preceded the “rules” of record keeping. 😉

Since we can’t get any bites on the striper issues, lets talk about old records. How did they measure a bass back in the 30’s? How accurate were postal spring scales in the 30’s?
The length measurement in Field & Stream contest was the longest length from tip of the jaw to tip of the tail, hanging or laid flat. 28″ LMB could easily measure 32″ hanging with mouth open. Today the IGFA measures the fish from tip of the lower jaw, mouth closed and fish laid flat to the center of the tail. Girth was and is around the widest body area with the dorsal fin flat, without your fingers under the tape.
Spring scales back in the 30’s were accurate within 2% and depends on how you align the graduations with the scale arm; 22 lbs could be anywhere from 21 to 23 lbs., definately over 20 lbs. Bass back in the 30’s tend to swallow heavy objects like they do today… thats why an examination is required, you can’t ask a fisherman to tell the truth.
How about a discussion on fillet of striper vs LMB, that should gets things back on track, Chow.


I love this article and I generally agree with the idea that many people make the mistake of suggesting a data driven relationship based on a simple correlation. However, sometimes the correlation is so strong that demanding hard data becomes redundant. With that in mind, I would like to make two points.

First, trophy largemouth AND linesides, especially largies, owe their significant growth rates in California to stocked trout. Several reasons for this that are so strongly correlated that a true study would be fruitless. First, rainbow trout, especially stockers, lack the instinctual fortitude to elude predators in a natural environment (out of the pens) It makes them easy to catch. They simply arent very smart. Secondly, the diet of stockers have produced a fish high in fat and proteins. All of the building blocks needed for exceptional growth in an environment that favors warm water driving metabolism for a good portion of the year. Couple that with the logistical data of california catches versus those from Texas or Florida and there are so many correlations that an official study may only be reinforcing if anything at all.

My second point refers to the decline of trophy largemouth in lakes where stripers are abundant and growing. I tend to agree with the idea that trophy largemouth suffer where striper numbers are high. One reason being that the Striped Bass is a different Phyla. Their natural behavior, growth rate and ability to compete in an environment where there is a documented carrying capacity based on limited resources is simply superior to sunfish species….Despite the fact that Largemouth tend to broaden their diet with spiny ray species. It could be that LMB are FORCED into that niche simply to survive. I dont know about you, but at places like DVL I believe the big linesides are WAITING for the first trout plant of the year. As a biologist myself, I try to read as many journal articles as I can about fish behavior as well as population dynamics. I think others may agree that the striped bass demonstrates phenotypical advantage based on a dramatically different genotype resulting in a behavior that is simply superior to largemouth bass.

On a final note, I am still thinking about the idea that mortality due to tournament bass fishing is adversely affecting the population of trophy largemouth. I may end up agreeing…but the jury is still out for me.

Having a real biologist chime in really messes things up for the Opinionator. However, with LMB, there is the natural max size (genetics and natural forage in temperate climate) and there is Kennel Club, pure-strain Forida with artificial forage with a distinctly different max size. Is the world better or worse off without the latter? 🙂

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