Middle Georgia Lakes To Get Stripers Instead Of Hybrids

WRD biologists outline a plan that would phase out hybrid stocking over the next five years in lieu of stripers.

GON Staff | March 5, 2005

Lineside fishermen on several middle Georgia lakes will see a change in future years. A plan to begin phasing in the stocking of stripers and phasing out the stocking of hybrids was introduced by WRD Fisheries biologists at a public meeting in Milledgeville last month.

Lakes feeding the Altamaha River basin that over the past 15 years received only hybrid bass will this spring receive a 50-50 mix of hybrid and striped bass. Over the next five years, WRD plans to phase out hybrids altogether and begin stocking stripers exclusively on these lakes.

The proposal calls for the total number of linesides stocked in the lakes to remain the same. Lakes that in the past received 20 hybrids per acre would receive 10 hybrids and 10 stripers per acre, and as the plan moves forward, that number would shift to 20 stripers per acre and no hybrids.

The lakes affected are High Falls, Jackson, Oconee, Sinclair and Tobesofkee.

Biologists discovered that hybrids stocked in these lakes were passing through the dams during high-water releases, effectively stocking the Oconee, Ocmulgee and Altamaha rivers with hybrid bass. During sampling efforts, WRD collected large numbers of hybrids from the Altamaha River. Biologists believe the hybrid bass may hinder efforts to restore a self-sustaining striped-bass population in the Altamaha River because of competition between the two species for food.

WRD Fisheries Biologist Scott Robinson says that phasing in the stocking of striped bass instead of hybrids in these lakes would stop the competition between hybrids and stripers in the Altamaha. It would also in effect supplement the river population of stripers when fish pass through the dams during high-water releases.

Fishermen, mostly hybrid anglers from Sinclair and Oconee, gathered at a WRD Fisheries meeting February 1 to discuss the striper-stocking proposal. Of 18 anglers who expressed an opinion, 16 favored the plan. Two Oconee hybrid fishermen were opposed, saying that the hybrid fishing is very good, and that they fear stripers will in general be harder to catch.

In the lakes, biologists say that stocking stripers would have the added benefit of providing anglers with larger fish (over 10 pounds), and with the occasional chance at a 20- to 30-lb. striper.

“We’ve been getting some questions about how well we think stripers will do in these lakes,” aid Fisheries Biologist Steve Schleiger. “My response is that we expect similar growth and survival of stripers as we saw with hybrids. As a bonus there will be some larger fish, but not really in terms of trophy-striper potential.”

The availability of cooler water will limit the growth of the stripers on these middle Georgia lakes. Once stripers in Georgia lakes reach 15 to 20 pounds, they seek out cold-water refuges during the hot summer months. Steve said he expects the larger stripers to migrate up the tributaries in summer months in search of cold-water springs in the rivers and larger creeks.

Biologists expect that in the summer the smaller and medium-sized stripers below 15 pounds will stay in the same areas where anglers currently find and catch hybrids.

Mitch Maddox of Deepstep agrees. He fishes exclusively for hybrids and stripers on various lakes.

“I used to fish Oconee when they stocked stripers. I think people who like to catch 5-lb. hybrids on Oconee are going to love catching 5- to 12-lb. stripers. They’ll be in the same places, and you’ll be able to catch them the same ways,” Mitch said.

A factor that made the decision to stock stripers on these lakes easier for fisheries biologists is the state’s improved ability to produce striped bass fingerlings for stocking. In the early 1980s striped bass were stocked in Oconee and Sinclair, but the state switched to hybrids when it became increasingly difficult for the state to produce striper fingerlings and they had to prioritize which lakes got stripers. Hybrids, a cross between white bass and striped bass, were easier to produce.

In recent years, the state’s ability to produce striper fingerlings has drastically improved, according to Matt Thomas, a Fisheries Regional Supervisor.

“There are several pieces to the puzzle,” Matt said. “First is the procurement of brood fish and how much effort goes into that. Then there is the actual production — egg survival, how many are actually hatching. Third is growing the stripers from fry to fingerlings in the ponds. In all three we have seen improvements. Our survival rates are really good now for striper fry.”

This increased ability to produce stripers at the hatcheries will be seen on other Georgia lakes as well. West Point is slated for its first striper stocking since the early 1990s. Other Chattahoochee River lakes that will get striper fingerlings this spring include Goat Rock, Oliver, and Eufaula, and Lake Seminole will see a significant increase in its stocking rate of stripers.

Statewide, WRD hopes to stock about 2.5 million stripers fingerling this year, compared to 1 million in 2003. Meanwhile, the goal for hybrid fingerlings this year is 1.9 million, compared to 3.2 million in 2003.

Next month GON will take a statewide look at WRD’s statewide striper and hybrid stocking proposal for 2005.

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