Hybrid Striped Bass
In June of 2013, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission began putting fingerling hybrid striped bass in Lake Norman. While hybrids are not new to the lake, this was the first attempt by state wildlife officials to stock the lake with the fingerlings. Previous placements were made by fishermen who took it upon themselves to try and improve the fishery. This fact explains why anglers have been catching hybrids since the fall of 2011.
NCWRC’s begrudging and belated involvement came after twenty-five years of doing little about a declining striped bass fishery. The initial stocking of one hundred and sixty-two thousand five hundred hybrids may sound like a lot to some, but the state’s largest freshwater impoundment covers thirty-two thousand acres. If every fingerling stocked (2-3 inches long) lived to grow to the legal harvestable size limit of sixteen inches, there would be roughly five fish per acre. Wow! With so much surface water, that’s like looking for a needle in a hay stack. But it gets worse. On average, only ten percent (16,250) survive to maturity and it takes nearly two years for them to grow 16 inches. So, at best, the first year’s stocking resulted in a net catchable stocking of only one/half a fish per acre – certainly not enough to say that Lake Norman is a viable hybrid striped bass fishery!
Regardless, the stocking was a success and by late spring 2014, ten to twelve-inch hybrids were being caught by anglers fishing for bass, crappie and white perch. A second stocking occurred in June, 2014. By winter, reports of fish in the sixteen to twenty-inch range were being reported by anglers using similar methods to those employed by striper fishermen. Early 2015 saw throngs of anglers targeting and harvesting most of the legal fish taken. The third stocking (162,500) occurred in late spring of 2015.
Then something happened. By mid-2015, the catch rate dropped dramatically. At first, it was believed that the hybrids had changed their feeding pattern. Less and less big fish were taken, while fewer and fewer hybrids in total were caught. It became obvious that there were too few fish being stocked, compared to the number being harvested. Compounding the problem, was that large numbers of fishermen were catching hybrids from the banks of Duke Power’s hot water discharge channels at the Marshal and McGuire Power Stations. Their catch rate was phenomenal, with some anglers keeping every hybrid caught, regardless of creel or size limits. To make matters worse, there were too many anglers fishing the shore for wildlife officers to effectively check for violations. The end result of both the legal and illegal harvesting is a decimated hybrid striped bass fishery.
On the bright side, while hybrid striped bass fishing has been difficult the past few years, wildlife biologists have increased the stocking a bit. In 2016, approximately 200,000 hybrid fingerlings were added, an increase of 37,500 over previous stockings. Then in June of this year, approximately 300,000 fingerlings were stocked, a thirty-three percent increase over 2016.
According to Corey Oakley, NCWRC Biologist Supervisor for District 5, the Watha State Fish Hatchery (Pender County) is planning to raise 325,000 hybrids a year, for the next three years to stock Lake Norman. Oakley said, “If additional fish are required, the hatchery will do everything possible to fill the need.”
FYI – Hybrid Striped Bass:
Hybrids have replaced the striped bass that had difficulty surviving the lake’s ninety-degree summer water temperatures and low dissolved oxygen levels. This new entry is hardier than its predecessor and thrives in Lake Norman’s harsh water environment. The fast-growing hybrid reaches a length of eleven to fifteen inches in the first year and gains an additional six inches the following year. A two-year old fish weighs between two and three pounds, and exceeds the minimum size limit of sixteen inches.
Hybrids swim in schools. They chase and feed upon shad and herring, just like their parents, the white bass and striped bass. Because they are constantly roaming, hybrids can be elusive at times, but once located, their fighting ability makes the search worthwhile.
Hybrid striped bass and white perch share a similar profile, and their silver/grey coloration makes identification somewhat difficult. To make matters worse, both have lateral lines. The difference is that the lines on the white perch are faint, while the lines on the hybrid are bolder and often times broken in appearance.
As mentioned previously, the legal-size limit for hybrids on Lake Norman is sixteen inches with a creel limit of four in combination with striped bass. White perch, on the other hand, do not have a size or creel limit.
Like bass and stripers, hybrids will strike a variety of lures, including everything from top water to deep diving crankbaits. Until the new hybrid fishery becomes established, basic bass tackle is all that is needed.
Tips from Gus:
Hybrid Striped bass are hatchery conceived when the eggs of female striped bass are fertilized with the milt of a male white bass.
September Fishing Forecast: The Fall Equinox occurs on the day when daylight and night are of equal length. This year it occurs on September 22nd. Also known as the first day of autumn, it is significant to fishermen since it signals the end of summer and high temperatures.
The fall cool down is not only refreshing to anglers, but fish also sense it and become more energized. Their new found energy is used to chase foraged fish as they begin to bulk up for the winter season.
What can Lake Norman anglers expect to catch in September? Lots of bass, white perch, crappie and some hybrids. By mid-month, seventy-degree water temperatures will trigger a migration of fish to the shore. When this occurs, fish are easier to locate and can be taken with frequency by those casting to the shoreline.
One of the best places to find fish early in the month will be upriver, where the water temperature is least affected by power generation. The area between the State Park and the Buffalo Shoals Rd. Bridge is a good starting place for anyone targeting schooling bass, large crappie and hybrids. Bass will spend most of the day chasing baitfish to the surface, and crappie will move inshore near brush piles, downed trees and deep-water fish attractors.
- Free Fishing Seminar – “Getting Ready for Fall Fishing on Lake Norman”- Jake Bussolini will conduct this ninety-minute seminar beginning at 6:30 p.m. on September 21st. at Lake Norman Volunteer Fire Dept., 1518 Brawley School Rd., Mooresville, NC. For additional information, contact Jake at 704-201-8709.
See ya out there!
Capt. Gus Gustafson of Lake Norman Ventures, Inc. is an Outdoor Columnist and a full time Professional Fishing Guide on Lake Norman, NC. Visit his website at www.FishingWithGus.com or call 704-617-6812.