HAS ANYONE EXPLAINED THE GULF COAST STRIPED BASS? WHERE DOES THE "CAJUN STRIPER" GO WHEN IT LEAVES THE RIVERS AND ESTUARIES?Thank you alert readers of the early morning addition. We've corrected our error. "Striped Bass"=Sport Fish, "Stripper Bass" =Misspelling of the horn section of certain Bourbon street club bands. Our spell check was perfectly happy with the stripper spelling and our proof reader hadn't sobered up yet.
Photo Courtesy of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Back on May 11, 2013 we published a post about a book titled SPORT FISH OF THE GULF OF MEXICO by Vic Dunaway and Kevin Brant. http://americanadmiraltybooks.blogspot.com/2013/05/5112012-fishing-interest-book-update.html
The book is one of our rare "Keep in Your Tackle Box Recommendations". It describes most of the sport fish and some of the commercial species regularly caught by sport fishermen in U.S. Gulf of Mexico waters including brackish water inshore areas. There is one species in the Gulf however that seems to be something of a mystery in sport fishing literature for the Gulf. The striped bass.
I spend my time divided between the Annapolis Maryland area where the "Rock Bass" or "Stripper" is the state fish , there is a regular season, and you can find a lot of published literature on their habits, habitat, and seasonal movements and the New Orleans area where they are rarely caught in both brackish inland areas and the fresh waters of the Mississippi below Baton Rouge. I've never heard of anyone in coastal Louisiana running into a school of feeding legal sized strippers except tug boatmen fishing during a break in work on the Mississippi. Other landings that I am familiar with and those two that I have caught in the inshore waters appear to be undersized and fit no pattern.
There is one large landlocked population of striped bass that is regularly fished by sport fishermen in the state and that is in the land locked fresh water Toledo Bend Lake of the Texas/Louisiana border. Toledo Bend is an impoundment of the Sabine River. The landlocked population of striped bass was introduced by the Louisiana and Texas state fisheries departments about 40 years ago. The population does appear to breed. The original fish came from hatchery stock. Some literature does suggest that the striped bass has been landed on rare occasions on the Gulf Coast between Texas and Florida. There is evidence that some spawn in the relative cold spring fed waters of some of the rivers of the "Florida Parishes" that drain into "Lake" Pontchartrain (actually a bay with two very narrow openings to the Gulf).
This is a satellite view of "Lake" Pontchartrain. The white area on the south shore is the greater New Orleans urban area. The large body of water to your right is mostly salt water, "Lake" Borne which is geophysically an extension of Mississippi Sound, a portion of the Gulf buffered by a string of offshore barrier islands. The two narrow passes connecting Pontchartrain to Lake Borne are to your right but so narrow as to not be visible at this scale. They are large enough however to accommodate tow boat and barge traffic. "Lake" Pontchartrain also communicates with the smaller lake to your left which is Lake Murapas a fresh water body. You can barely discern the "Pass Murapas" as a squiggly line in this view. This pass is wide and deep enough to be used by commercial tow boat and barge traffic, commercial fishing boats and sports fishermen. In addition to being fresh water it is relatively pristine compared to "Lake" Pontchartrain. It is surrounded by wet lands, you'll notice the wide green areas bordering the lake. These areas have not been encroached on with development since the administration of Bush the Elder which articulated the "no net loss of wetlands" policy. Most of the reports of wild caught striped bass outside of the Mississippi river or the landlocked population on Toledo Bend Lake have been in the area of Lake Pontchartrain itself or in the spring fed rivers of the "North Shore" of Lake Pontchartrain http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Pontchartrain.
I've caught a number of stripped bass in Maryland and the public libraries of Anne Arundel county are full of information about Mid Atlantic states stripped bass. However none of this information seems to be relevant to our Gulf Coast wild population. For example many references for the Mid Atlantic states tell the fisherman that strippers start to move inland when the water temperatures in the Spring warm to about 56 degrees Fahrenheit. Lake Pontchartrain's waters occasionally reach that temperature in mid winter, most of the year the water temperature is in the 70s or 80sF. Most of the catches I'm familiar with didn't happen in winter. I suspect that sparse populations in the "Lake" are quite separate from the schools sometimes encountered in the Mississippi. The Mississippi has the coldest water temperatures of any body of water emptying into the Gulf. During winter, thanks to cold and ice in the upper reaches of the Mississippi valley the water temperature at New Orleans on the Mississippi is not infrequently 39 F in mid winter. At the same time Lake Pontchartrain water temperatures are typically around 60 F.
I've really enjoyed catching and eating stripers in Maryland. If we have a wild coastal population here, and we do seem to have one, we'd like to nurture that population. Of course being Cajun we have an ulterior motive in that nurturing, frankly we want to eat some of them. So we now call on all fishermen with a knowledge of this species for book recommendations that might shed some light on warm water populations of stripers. Does anyone out there know where the big stripers that produce the little strippers we see in Lake Pontchartrain come from? What are their traffic patterns. Do they need marine sanctuary type protection in some critical area. There are some reports of this species in the area going back to colonial times so we doubt that all of these fish can be accounted for as feral hatchery stock. If there are no popular fishermen books explaining warm water strippers are there any serious academic titles? Please send us your comments! We want more stripers in Louisiana and it would be especially nice if we could find them in winter when I'm usually down there.
Thank You ,