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Coosa River Stripers

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Striped Bass of the Coosa River System

Steve Smith
former District II Fisheries Biologist
Eastaboga, Alabama

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striped bass by Duane Raver, USFWS
Striped Bass by Duane Raver, USFWS

Been fishing on the Coosa River lately?  Throwing that rattle-trap, cast after cast when all of a sudden you get a strike that you swear will be the new state or maybe even world record, only to find that you landed a saltwater stripe.   This scenario is occurring more frequently on Coosa River reservoirs.  Why?   The Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (ADWFF)  has documented natural reproduction of striped bass in the upper Coosa River basin.   Evidence shows that these fish are well on their way to establishing a self-sustaining population in Weiss Lake, a feat that has occurred in only a handful of landlocked river systems.

ADWFF began stocking Atlantic-strain striped bass on a limited basis in Lake Martin on the Tallapoosa River in 1965.  The goal behind the stockings was to diversify the fishery and to provide anglers the opportunity to catch a trophy fish.   The program expanded in 1969 to five reservoirs and eventually peaked to include 24 reservoirs -- seven of which are still stocked with striped bass annually.  Weiss Lake, the uppermost impoundment on the Coosa River in Alabama, is in the northeast corner of the state, approximately 29 miles below the confluence of the Etowah and Oostanaula Rivers at Rome, Georgia.  Weiss was stocked with striped bass in 1972, 1974, 1980, 1985 and 1986.  During those years, a total of 131,535 Atlantic-strain stripers were introduced. Concurrent with the Alabama stockings, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GADNR) stocked approximately 4.7 million Atlantic-strain striped bass in the upper Coosa River drainage basin between 1973-92.

Trey Roy holds a big striped bass from Lake Mitchell.Striped bass began appearing more frequently in angler creels and standardized gill net samples in Weiss Lake during the early 1990s.  Speculation at the time was that either natural reproduction was occurring or emigration was taking place from reservoirs upstream in Georgia.  A review of GADNR striped bass stocking records indicated that GADNR stocked Gulf-strain striped bass exclusively in the upstream impoundments of Carters and Allatoona in 1993-94. Electrofishing samples in March 1994 netted four one-year-old striped bass near the Alabama-Georgia border. Mitochondrial-DNA analysis (mtDNA) revealed that all four were Atlantic-strain fish.  These results prompted ADWFF to conclude that natural reproduction of striped bass was occurring in the upper Coosa River.  Since 1997, Dr. Bill Davin (Berry College, Rome, GA) has documented that striped bass are indeed spawning in the Oostanaula River near Rome.   He has collected thousands of eggs heading southwesterly into the Coosa River toward Alabama.

The increasing striped bass population in Weiss Lake prompted ADWFF to conduct a diet study.  Four hundred fifty striped bass stomachs were examined. Of those 450, one hundred fifteen had empty stomachs.  The remaining 335 stripers had a total of 2,699 prey items in their stomachs; 2,522 were shad (93.4 percent), 160 were unidentifiable fish remains (5.9 percent), 6 were crappie (0.2 percent), 5 were bluegill (0.2 percent), 3 were minnows (0.1 percent), 2 were freshwater drum (0.07 percent) and one was a crawfish (0.04 percent).  These results were similar to other studies conducted in Oklahoma, Virginia, South Carolina, Florida, Arkansas, Utah and Tennessee that concluded that sport fish are not a major prey item of striped bass.

ADWFF was also concerned that the influx of striped bass would impact the native sport fishes through competition for food.  Data collected by Auburn University and ADWFF personnel have shown no adverse affects on the crappie or largemouth bass populations in Weiss Lake.  Also, ADWFF has documented movement of these naturally reproduced striped bass from northwest Georgia all the way down the Coosa River to Lake Jordan.

Take a friend fishing with you.  It might be more excitement than you can handle by yourself!

Links to license information, harvest limits, striped bass/hybrid identification, Lake Martin, Lake Weiss, Lake Jordan, Neely Henry Lake, Lake Mitchell, Smith Lake, and "Cool Striped Bass."

Portions of the Coosa River and its impoundments have fish consumption advisories due to PCBs.  For more information on the consumption advisories, check the Alabama Department of Public Health Web site, www.adph.org/.   Consumption advisory information is found in "A-Z Contents" under "Fish Consumption Advisories."  For more information, contact Dr. Neil Sass at nsass@adph.state.al.us.

For daily limits of striped bass, see www.outdooralabama.com/fishing/freshwater/regulations/ because some Coosa impoundments have more liberal striped bass limits.


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