Ask many local anglers who target largemouth bass if striped bass stockings in Lakes Oconee and Sinclair impact the survival of largemouth, and they will say a resounding yes. However, several studies that have been conducted on other reservoirs tend to dispel the idea that stocking striped bass in landlocked reservoirs seriously impacts largemouth bass numbers.
Many of the studies on the impact of striped bass do show that a striped bass will occasionally make a meal out of a largemouth bass or just about any fish species swimming in the same lake. However, studies indicate that the diet of striped bass is made up almost entirely of shad.
Studies indicate that if the lake where striped bass are stocked does not contain adequate shad populations, then the striped bass will eat anything available to sustain its voracious appetite. Area lakes including lakes Oconee and Sinclair have large shad populations that seem to provide plenty of shad forage for the striped bass to eat.
A recent study at Auburn University tends to support the fact that striped bass do not consume enough largemouth bass or compete for the same food sources to impact the population of largemouth bass. That study was conducted on Lewis Smith Lake in North Alabama. Anglers had complained that the striped bass stockings there were hurting the lake’s population of both spotted and largemouth bass.
Specifically, anglers stated that striped bass were consuming black bass (both largemouth and spotted) and that consumption was reducing the abundance of black bass in that reservoir. Anglers also stated that striped bass were competing for a limited amount of prey species like shad, and that would also reduce the numbers of black bass.
The study was completed to compare food habits among the striped bass, largemouth bass and spotted bass, including predicting the consumption demand of each species. Fish sampling of the three fish began in 2005 and was completed in 2007. The stomachs of the striped bass and black bass were examined to determine their eating habits.
The diets of striped bass were dominated by shad (64 percent), while black bass and sunfish/crappie comprised 11 percent of their diet. Largemouth bass and spotted bass diets were dominated by crayfish (72 to 75 percent), sunfish (9 to 21 percent) and shad (6 to 14 percent).
The study concluded that striped bass consumed primarily shad although black bass, sunfish and crappie did comprise 11 comprise of the striped bass diet. Black bass primarily ate crayfish and shad. The study also determined that the only time there was diet overlap of a period of the year was when all species were targeting the same food source in December.
Whether those same numbers would apply to area lakes can only be determined by performing a similar study, and none are currently planned. For now, fishery biologists that maintain the fisheries on lakes Oconee and Sinclair have determined that there is sufficient shad in both lakes to satisfy the food consumption requirements of the striped bass that are currently being stocked, and no detrimental impact is anticipated on the largemouth bass populations in either Lake Oconee or Lake Sinclair.
The Georgia Wildlife Resources Division (GWRD) is currently evaluating a striped bass stocking program that began in 2005 and ended in 2009 that aimed to reduce hybrid bass stockings in several Georgia reservoirs. The intended consequence of reducing the stocking of hybrid bass and increasing striped bass stockings in Sinclair and Oconee has resulted in improved numbers of striped bass in downstream rivers, and that was the primary purpose for the reduced stocking of hybrid bass.
Between 2004 and 2009, more than 318,000 hybrid bass have been stocked in Lake Sinclair, but no hybrids have been stocked since 2006. Between 2004 and 2009, more than 698,000 striped bass have been stocked in Lake Sinclair.
In Lake Oconee since 2005, the lake has received a mix of striped bass and hybrid bass. The plan has been to stock 190,000 striped bass and 190,000 hybrid bass in Lake Oconee each year. Actual stocking levels have depended on hatchery availability of fingerlings during each year’s annual stocking. Exact stocking numbers were not available for this article, but potentially some 950,000 hybrid bass and a similar number of striped bass were stocked in Lake Oconee between 2005 and 2009.
Preliminary results of the five year stocking study have shown that the striped bass are doing well and holding their own in terms of survival and condition in both Lakes Sinclair and Oconee. However, as I said previously, no study has been done to determine if the increased stocking of striped bass has had a detrimental impact on other fish species like largemouth bass in either lake during the study period.
I have read the results of several studies performed across the country and even though the studies offer a mixed bag of actual results, those studies do indicate that the stocking of striped bass in reservoirs with adequate shad populations do not have a serious or detrimental impact on the largemouth bass fishery. Please send me your comments concerning this important issue and I will pass those concerns on to the GWRD.
Good fishing and see you next week.