Anatomy of A Striped Bass

Knowing something about the Striped Bass Anatomy can help improve your odds of catching them.

You can get clues about characteristics and behaviors which can aid in bait or lure selection and increase your chance of success.
Just observing how a fish is built can give you clues as to its behavior. The feeding behavior of fish is a very complex process. We have all seen fish demolish a bait (or lure) one day and ignore it the next. Feeding factors constantly change. These factors include but are not limited to, size of baits the fish has been feeding on, water clarity , water temperature (also whether it is dropping or climbing), current  satiety level of the fish, scenting quality of the bait, and many others.


Striped Bass have a very acute sense of smell. Most fish have one set of holes through which water flows.
The striped bass has a pair of nostrils on each side that maintain a connection between the nostrils and the mouth.
This actually allows for smell and taste to be integrated and shows us that the striper, as a fish, relies on smell and taste a lot more than vision to navigate through its world of water.
Their olfactory system is fine tuned to pick up the various sources of bait that they consume.
With two openings (nares) on each side of their head, one funnels water in, one funnels it out, is part of a complex olfactory system that helps stripers find bait sources.

Shad, for example, release both pheromones from the mucous on their skin and odors from their excretory processes.
Further scent is released from Shad when they are cut up by striper attacks or anglers chumming.
Striped bass can pick up these odors in parts per million.
One particular scent that Fish Science think striped can pick up in even more minute amounts is the scent of bile acids.
Bile acids are produced by the liver and are particularly concentrated in the gall bladder. 

Next time you are chumming, think about using the liver and gall bladder in your chum.
The smaller the pieces you cut it up into, the more surface area you create, and the greater the scent trail.
Also having portions of the liver on your bait may give you an extra edge.

It is thought by researchers that striped bass, like salmon, can smell their place of birth and this is what guides them on their journey to spawning grounds.
It is also why using scented artificial baits makes a lot of sense.
In addition to smell, a striper has taste buds on its lips, tongue, and over most of its mouth. Stripers literally swim in a sea of smells and chemicals. They are therefore very adept at chemoreception.

These are all good reasons why you must make sure that your lures and baits are free of foreign smells and tastes, sunblock, bug spray, cologne, perfume, soap, tobacco etc. 


Vision of a striped bass is not as good as its other senses and is limited to relatively short distances in the water, better in some situations then others, but only of use for hunting in a relatively close range.
However, its retina contains an ample population of rod receptors and some cone receptors allowing vision to be similar to ours.
The rod receptors enable the fish to see in low light conditions whereas the cones allow color vision.
The eyes are large and are set slightly forward and upward on the head.
This enables some binocular vision and facilitates looking up at its prey from below.
The lens is round and does not flatten to focus light on the retina like our eyes.
However, the lens can be moved closer to or further away from the retina to focus an image.
Like other fish stripers do not have eyelids because their eyes are constantly in water and won’t dry out.
Six small muscles very similar to humans control movement of the eyeball.
Because of its large eyeball size and density of rod receptors on its retina, a striper’s visual system allows it to be an excellent night hunter.
Striped bass have a wide color visual range, especially during daylight.
A recent study from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science has shown that stripers are sensitive to a large part of the color spectrum and their retina is sensitive to very rapid movements.
The middle of their spectrum sensitivity is yellow and yellow green.
This means their peak response was to the color yellow

Researchers also found that during daylight hours the retinas of striped bass respond much better to light of red wavelengths yet both fish do not respond to red wavelengths at night.

Another fascinating fact is that the rods and cones, the two sensory nerve cells of the retina, actually migrate and change position on the retina in accordance with day and night.
This circadian rhythm also changes to adapt to seasonal differences.
During the daylight hours, cones migrate to the surface of the retina to allow color vision and acuity while the rods take a back seat, literally.
During the waning hours of light and nighttime, the reverse happens with the greater density of rods affording low light vision and contrast discrimination.

In a camera, shutter speed is the speed at which light is allowed through an aperture setting.
In fish, this speed is called “flicker fusion frequency” and is measured by a technique used in humans called electroretinography.
Essentially, the amplitude and frequency of nerve impulses from the retina are measured in response to stimulation inputs.
In striped bass, their “shutter speed” is fairly rapid, measuring around 50 cycles per second, almost as fast as humans (about 60 cps).
This enables them to see large and fast moving prey similar to shad.

 For fish to see optimally, water clarity is essential. Murky waters force fish to use senses other than vision and can account for the disparity found in research of the stomach contents of stripers. Due to their visual capabilities, you would expect to see a preponderance of large fast swimming forage in their stomach. Quite the contrary was found in murky waters as their bellies were filled with small fish and crustaceans.


Stripers do not have external ears, yet it has an excellent capacity to hear sounds, especially since sound travels faster in water (3200 mph) than in air. That’s about 4600 feet per second, faster than the muzzle velocity of most high-powered rifle cartridges.
Stripers, like most fish, use the lateral line system to sense vibration and movement.
They have internal ears that detect sound and transmit information as to spatial orientation and balance.
Therefore they can sense water current, other fish, prey, and other objects, including lures that make noise and vibrational sounds.


Looking in a striper’s mouth you will notice several clues as to its eating behavior.
It does not have teeth in the real sense of the word. It has roughened areas on the upper and lower jaw, and two parallel elongated patches on the back of the tongue. The teeth are abrasive, rather than cutting, as anyone with “Striper-thumb” knows. Therefore, these teeth are not meant for chopping or cutting but for holding and grasping its prey. The mouth is very large and ends immediately into the esophagus or muscular tube that empties into the stomach. The striper’s mouth is meant to engulf and swallow its prey whole. Since it is primarily fish eating, it must take its prey head first or else the fins and dorsal rays would become lodged in the bass’ throat. Its stomach has large folds in it or rugae that increase the surface area to hasten digestion.


The body of a striped bass displays power and strength.
It’s large tail and muscular body enables it to stem strong currents or swim quickly or for long distances.
It also means that is must eat to sustain strength and stamina.
Therefore it is no secret that Striped bass has a big appetite.
In addition, its large size means a large amount of muscle mass.
When a muscle contracts and exerts energy, it generates an “oxygen debt” and an overproduction of lactic acid.
This can change the pH of tissues and cause damage to muscle cells.
Metabolic changes can even usher in death.
In addition, variations in the fish’s environment can alter stress-related death.
High water temperatures (as in the summer months), lower salinity, and decreased oxygen saturation can adversely effect a fish's survival due to the stress of being caught.

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Ben Sanders

Frequently Asked Questions about Striped Bass.

Striped Bass Myth Busting

Striped Bass Facts

Striped Bass History

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