Stocking of Striped Bass in Arkansas waters started in 1956 when the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission stocked several Arkansas lakes to help in controlling gizzard shad.
The AGFC soon learned that reservoir fisheries could be maintained only by stocking hatchery-raised fish. During the next two decades, biologists improved spawning and rearing techniques to create sustainable striped bass fishing.
With the exception of an Arkansas River striped bass population, Arkansas stripers don't reproduce naturally in the wild. In native habitats, they migrate from the sea and spawn in rivers and estuaries. Their free-floating eggs need to tumble downstream 48 - 72 hours depend on water temperature, current speed and salinity before becoming buoyant, hatching and returning to the sea.
Because those conditions don't exist in Arkansas except for the Arkansas and Red Rivers, the AGFC mimics the process in the Hulsey Fish hatchery laboratory in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
In Arkansas Today, striped bass play a significant role by creating thrilling fishing, controlling the size and number of gizzard shad, and pumping money into the states economy.
For three weeks each spring, the Andrew Hulsey State Fish Hatchery looks a lot like a maternity ward. All hours of day and night, hatchery crews hold a bleary eyed vigil, watching the clock and waiting for female stripers to produce eggs. The project begins about mid-April on Lake Ouachita. Netting crews place gill nets to intercept striped bass migrating up the lake on false spawning runs. Viable fish are hauled to the Hulsey Hatchery near Hot Springs.
Then it becomes a 24-7 job, said Don Brader, AGFC assistant chief of fisheries and warmwater fisheries coordinator. At that point, we have two-person crews working eight-hour shifts around the clock. Hatchery crews inject female striped bass with a hormone that speeds ovulation and helps biologists calculate egg release. Colored yarn attached to the dorsal fins helps the crew distinguish fish that are induced at different times. Fish are monitored while swimming in holding tanks.
It takes 12 to 24 hours for the hormone to trigger egg release. Biologists narrow the window by taking egg samples and looking at them under a microscope to compare them to pictures of eggs in various stages of development. Once a Female Striped Bass starts to ovulate, we have about 10 minutes to a half hour to catch those eggs, Brader said.
When ovulation is imminent, a crew member takes a female from the holding tank and massages her belly to release thousands of eggs into a plastic pan with an inch of water in the bottom. Simultaneously, an assistant gently squeezes a male striper to release milt into the pan. The mixture is stirred for a minute, the water is removed and water is added while the eggs and milt are swirled together for a few minutes for a thorough cleaning.
Fertilized eggs are constantly tumbled in 64 to 66 degree water for 48 hours in tall, glass jars. They're watched closely for signs of poor fertilization and micro intruders such as bacteria and fungi, which can wipe out a crop.
Fry, which hatch after 48 hours, are moved to holding tanks of about 500,000 each. They live on yolk sacs four days as mouths and digestive tracts develop. Throughout each stage of the project, new brood fish arrive and the process repeats itself. When you get into that second or third week, its really wild, Brader said. You're either spawning fish or monitoring eggs or moving fry or something else. It really becomes intense.
The fry are moved from indoor tanks to hatchery ponds that have been primed with hay bails and alfalfa pellets. The organic matter stimulates growth of zooplankton, the
These tall, glass tanks hold millions of fertilized striped bass eggs. Micro-organisms on which the tiny striped bass will feed for about three weeks. The fish start a diet of high-protein, powdered minnow meal at 21 to 25 days. Forty-five to 60 days after they hit the ponds, the fish reach about 2 inches.
The Striped Bass are harvested, counted and placed on fish trucks for delivery to Arkansas lakes.
The goals of the striper and hybrid program are numerous, and angling opportunities are just one benefit. Striped bass and hybrids, especially the former, occupy open-water haunts in large reservoirs that are seldom used by other native predatory fish.
Species such as largemouth bass, bluegills and crappie stick to relatively shallow water with cover near the shoreline.
That leaves a huge volume of water that's underused.
Stripers and hybrids not only fill that void, they control gizzard shad, a prey species. Historically, large reservoirs with plentiful open water have been overrun by large gizzard shad.
Once a gizzard shad gets big enough, a walleye or a bass can't eat it, Brader said. I've seen gizzard shad that are 22 inches long. A bass can't eat that fish, but a striper can.
Big schools of adult gizzard shad can stem production of smaller-sized prey for native species such as black bass, walleye and crappie. As stripers remove the large prey that can't be eaten by smaller predators, smaller prey fish return, native predators thrive and the food chain maintains balance.
Initially, trophy fisheries were a desirable side effect. But now, striped bass and hybrids have become highly sought prizes for anglers in search of something no other Arkansas fish can provide.
According to Brader, the goal for Arkansas striper fisheries is to consistently and annually produce a group of 25- to 40-pound fish.
The popularity of striper and hybrid fishing also bodes well for Arkansas economy. Anglers spend an estimated $16.7 million a year fishing for stripers and hybrids in Arkansas, with $11 million of the total from nonresidents.
Once you've hooked into a striper or hybrid, its easy to appreciate why anglers will part with their money to try to catch them a tendency to long, deep runs, tackle-busting, line-stretching ferocity, and a deep-sea fishing experience without extreme travel expense.
Arkansas may not have saltwater fishing, but it has the next-best thing.