Cheapeake Bay is the nursery for approximately 75 percent of the striped bass found along the Atlantic Coast. Striped Bass are known as Rockfish in the Chesapeake Bay region.
Striped Bass, or Rockfish, are an anadromous fish, meaning that they spawn in fresh water rivers, but spend most of their adult life in saltwater. Freshwater rivers that see a significant amount of striped bass spawning activity include the Hudson, Delaware, and Roanoke. However, the Chesapeake Bay is the spawning ground for the majority of the Atlantic coastal striped bass stock. Consider that the Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the U.S. More than 150 freshwater rivers and streams, where stripers can spawn, drain into the Bay.
The stripers typically spend the first two to four years of their lives in the Bay. Most then move to the ocean and join the annual coastal migration, going north to New England in summers. They return south in the late fall to feed on smaller fish that migrate out of the Bay for the winter. Most stay in the Atlantic Ocean off of the Virginia and North Carolina coasts, but some also winter in the Bay.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Service performs a Juvenile Striped Bass survey each year where they document annual year-class-success for young-of-year (YOY) striped bass. They derive juvenile YOY indices from seine sampling at 22 fixed locations within the Maryland portion of the Chesapeake Bay. A high relative index indicates a probable abundance of stripers in future years when these juveniles reach maturity.
The YOY index measured for 2012 was only 0.9, the lowest ever measured in the 59 years these measurements have been made. This is well below the 34.6 value realized in 2011, and also well below the long term average of 7.5. See chart to the right. This is of much concern as it could lead to fewer stripers for us fishermen to catch in the years ahead.
Where the Susquehanna River flows into the Chesapeake Bay there is a deep channel section surrounded by shallow areas called the "Susquehanna Flats." Here mud bottoms soak up the spring sun and warm the shallower water flowing over them. As the bigger striped bass move into the Bay in the Spring they use these warmer flats as staging areas while waiting for the river waters to warm enough for them to head upstream to spawn. When the water temperature gets to about 50 degrees some great striped bass fishing can be had here, including fly fishing. During this period the State of Maryland restricts fishing to Catch-and-Release in order to protect the stripers before they spawn.
A few weeks later, depending on water temperature, the State opens up a limited Catch-and-Keep period where fishermen can catch stripers as they head back out through the Bay and into the Ocean to continue their migration north. During this period trolling in the channels and deeper sections of the Bay is the fishing technique of choice. A popular technique is to troll umbrella rigs with shad teasers or large spoons or plugs that resembles a large baitfish. The rockfish shown on the right was caught while trolling.
During the late spring, summer and early fall stipers can be found and caught throughout the Bay. These are mainly younger schoolie stripers that have not yet joined the migration. Fishermen throw bucktails and various lures where birds signal feeding action. During the summer live lining Spot will catch stripers in the Bay. Stripers love Spot.
In the late fall stripers migrating down the coast stop by the Chesapeake Bay to to feed on Menhaden, Spot, Croakers and other smaller fish migrating out of the Bay. One of the best places to fish is around the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. Fishermen throw lures by the islands and jig around pilings of the CBBT. Other popular and effective techniques include trolling large deep diving plugs like Mann's stretch 25s in the waters around the mouth of the Bay and to drift live eels under bobbers over and near shoals.
Follow this link to find out more about the: Cheapeake Bar Bridge-Tunnel.
The Maryland DNR Fisheries Service and other states are considering incentive programs to reward anglers who release large, spawning size fish. Most large striped bass are female (Cow) stripers and are capable of producing 1 million eggs for every 10 pounds of weight. Stripers in the 28 to 34 inch size are also abundant, and these tend to taste better than bigger stripers.
We fishermen must do our part to preserve our precious striped bass fishery. When you catch a large striper, quickly take its picture, then gently release it. Let your photograph be your trophy. Then take pride and satisfaction on giving the striper you released the chance to spawn again, and produce many more stripers.
Recognition: Much of the above information was obtained from the Maryland DNR website, and from articles in the Chesapeake Bay Magazine written by John Paul Williams and Jane Meneely.
The following information is from a May-June 1999 Audubon Magazine article about Chesapeake Bay written by Robert H. Boyle.
Chesapeake Bay, with 5,000 miles of shoreline, is the drowned lower valley of the Susquehanna River, which was submerged by a 100-foot rise in sea level after a mile-high continental glacier melted 10,000 years ago. The name Chesapeake comes from the Algonquin K'che-sepi-ack, or "place on a great river", but in fact the Chesapeake is not a river. It is a tidal estuary, the largest in the United States. With an average depth of only 20 feet, the estuary is 5 to 30 miles wide and 180 miles long, stretching south from its head at Havre de Grace, Maryland, to Norfolk and the Virginia capes, its outlet to the Atlantic Ocean.
During high freshwater flow in the spring, striped bass and fish move up the Bay into its tributaries to spawn. The Bay's many spawning rivers--the Patomac, the Choptank, the Nanticoke, the James, the York, and the Patuxent among them -- have made the Chesapeake system the source of 90 percent of the stripers that migrate along the coast.
For many years the health of the Bay has been declining with the result of fewer young fish being produced. The decline is attributed to many causes including overfishing, pollution, run off of fertilzers from surrounding farms, acid rain, blockage by dams and the decline in the bay's menhaden population. Many sections of the Bay have become anoxic--lacking oxygen--in summer and many striped bass carry red lessions and lack body fat. Turbidity in the Bay has increased because there are fewer filter feeders like menhaden and oysters that clean the water.
A spring, 2010 spawning stock survey indicated that there were 17 age-classes of striped bass present on the Potomac River and Upper Bay spawning grounds. These fish ranged in age from 2 to 18 years old. Male striped bass ranged in age from 2 to 15 years old, with 3 year old and 5 year old males being the most abundant component of the male striped bass spawning stock. Age 14 (1996 year-class) females were the major contributors to the 2010 total female abundance. Age 8 and older females comprised 94% of the female spawning stock in 2010, a slight increase from 2009.
The YOY index measured for 2012 was only 0.9, the lowest ever measured, and well below the 34.6 value of 2012, and also well below the long term average of 7.5.
Variable reproductive success is a normal condition of striped bass populations. Typically, several years of average reproduction are interspersed with occasional large and small year-classes. Large year-classes in successful spawning years like 2001, 2003 and 2005 bolster the population by offsetting less successful years. The largest year-class ever measured occurred in 1996.
During the 2010 trophy season, biologists intercepted 238 fishing trips, interviewed 601 anglers, and examined 263 striped bass. The average total length of striped bass sampled was 913 mm total length (mm TL) (35.9 inches), which was the same as in 2009. The average weight was 7.8 kg (17.1 lbs). Most fish sampled from the trophy fishery were between seven and fourteen years old. The 2000 year-class (age 10) was the most frequently observed year-class, constituting 23% of the sampled harvest. Average catch rate based on angler interviews was 0.5 fish per hour.
MD DNR biologists continue to tag and release striped bass as part of an interstate, coastal population study. Approximately 1,388 striped bass were tagged and released for growth and mortality studies. Anglers encountering a tagged striped bass are asked to help management efforts by reporting the capture of tagged fish by calling the phone number printed on the tag.
To go to the MD DNR website follow this link: Maryland DNR .
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