Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis)

Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis)

An excellent sportfish that attains large sizes, the striped bass is a member of the temperate bass family (often erroneously placed with the sea bass family). It has been considered one of the most valuable and popular fish in North America since the early 1600s, originally for its commercial importance and culinary quality and in more recent times for its recreational significance.

Identification

A large fish with a large mouth, the striped bass is more streamlined than its close relative the white bass. It has a long body and a long head, a somewhat laterally compressed body form, and a protruding lower jaw. Of the two noticeably separate dorsal fins, the first one has 7 to 12 stiff spines, usually 9, which make this fin quite a bit higher than the second; the second dorsal fin has one sharp spine and 8 to 14, ordinarily 12, soft rays. The striped bass also has a forked tail and small eyes.

These fish are mostly bluish-black or dark green above, fading into silver on the sides and white on the bellies. On each side of a striped bass’s body, there are seven or eight prominent black horizontal stripes that run along the scale rows, which are its distinctive markings; one of the stripes runs along the lateral line, and the rest are equally divided above and below it. The stripe highest up on the side is usually the most noticeable, although on some fish, one or more of the stripes are interrupted.


In freshwater, the striped bass has been crossed with the white bass to create a hybrid called the whiterock bass or the sunshine bass. Striped bass differ from hybrids in the regularity of their stripes, whereas the hybrid usually has interrupted stripes. The narrow body of the striped bass also distinguishes it from the white bass.

Size/Age

Growing rapidly in early life, striped bass average 5 to 10 pounds, although they often reach weights in the 30- to 50-pound range. The maximum size that a freshwater striped bass can achieve is unknown, although the largest sport-caught freshwater striper weighed 67 pounds, 1 ounce.

The all-tackle record for the species—78 pounds, 8 ounces—belongs to a saltwater fish, but larger ones have been reportedly taken commercially. Striped bass normally live 10 to 12 years; however, most fish more than 11 years old and more than 39 inches long are female.

Life history/Behavior

Striped bass males are sexually mature by their second or third year, whereas females are sexually mature sometime between their eighth and ninth years; males measuring at least 7 inches and females as small as 34 inches are known to spawn.

Spawning occurs in fresh or slightly brackish waters from mid-February in Florida to late June or July in Canada, and from mid-March to late July in California, when the water temperature is between 50° and 73°F; peak spawning activity is observed between 54° and 68°F. They prefer the mouths of freshwater tributary streams, where the current is strong enough to keep the eggs suspended.

When mating, each female is accompanied by several smaller males. The spawning fish swim near the surface of the water, turning on their sides and rolling and splashing; this display is sometimes called a “rock fight.” The semibuoyant eggs are released and drift with the current until they hatch 2 to 3 days later, depending on the water temperature.

Food and feeding habits

A voracious, carnivorous, and opportunistic predator, the striped bass feeds heavily on small fish, including large quantities of herring, menhaden, flounder, alewives, silversides, eels, and smelt, as well as invertebrates such as worms, squid, and crabs.

Freshwater striped bass prefer shad, herring, minnows, amphipods, and mayflies. There has been controversy over the effect of freshwater stripers on other gamefish—most notably, on largemouth bass—but bass and other popular sportfish do not appear to be important components in the diet of freshwater stripers.

Other Names

striper, rock, rockfish, striped sea bass, striper bass, linesider, squid hound, and greenhead; French: bar rayé; Spanish: lubina estriada.

Distribution

On the Atlantic coast of the United States, the striped bass commonly occurs from the St. Lawrence River south to the St. Johns River in northern Florida. It has also ranged along the coasts of Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi in the Gulf of Mexico.

Some fish migrate north from North Carolina, Virginia, or Maryland during the summer and return during the fall. Others living in estuarine river systems, such as the St. Lawrence, the Santee Cooper, or the Savannah, are nonmigratory.

Striped bass were introduced to San Francisco Bay in 1879 and 1882; today, along the Pacific coast, they are abundant in the bay area and extend from Washington to California; some California fish migrate north to Oregon and are occasionally found off the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Habitat

Striped bass inhabit saltwater, freshwater, and brackish water, although they are most abundant in saltwater. They are anadromous and migrate in saltwater along coastal inshore environs and tidal tributaries. They are often found around piers, jetties, surf troughs, rips, flats, and rocks.

A common regional name for stripers is “rockfish,” and indeed their scientific name, saxatilis, means “rock dweller,” although they do not necessarily spend most of their lives in association with rocks. They run far upstream during spawning runs and are also found in channels of medium to large rivers at that time.

The striped bass is entirely a coastal species, off the coast of the Carolinas and southward, never ranging more than a few miles offshore; along the entire Atlantic coast, it is rarely caught more than a short distance from shore except during migration.

Striped bass were introduced into freshwater lakes and impoundments with successful results. In some freshwater populations, striped bass were not introduced but were landlocked, due to man-made barriers that blocked their return to the sea. In freshwater, stripers are commonly found in open-water environs or in the tailrace below dams. They are seldom found near shore or docks or piers, except when chasing schools of baitfish.
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