May Striper Hotspots

Some of the best purebred and hybrid striper fishing in the Northeast can be found on Pennsylvania's inland lakes. Try these proven waters for hot linesider action this month.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

By Jeff Knapp

With all that Pennsylvania offers the springtime trout angler, it's of little surprise that the striped bass (and the closely related hybrid striper) see relatively little in the way of fishing pressure. But, our state does offer some excellent fishing for these "true" bass.

According to Bob Lorantas, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's Warmwater-Coolwater Unit leader, our state's striper and hybrid-striper state of affairs has several faces. Though a viable fishery for wild, ocean-run stripers has developed in the Delaware River in recent years, inland waters rely on consistent stockings to provide consistent numbers of striped bass.

"The state's striper fishery is limited to where they occur naturally or where we stock them," explained Lorantas. "Reservoir populations (both the pure strain and hybrids) require pelagic forage, which in Pennsylvania means either alewives or gizzard shad. Also, pure striped bass require a hypolimnetic oxygen supply in summer."

Lorantas also explained that purebred stripers are only stocked in the ranges where they are native, i.e., the Delaware and Susquehanna drainages. This is in keeping with the philosophy of not introducing non-native species to watersheds, thus eliminating the chance of an "exotic" species taking hold and outcompeting native species. An example of this would be the negative impact white perch have made on other panfish in some southeastern Pennsylvania waters.

The hybrid striper is the result of crossing a female striped bass with a male white bass. As is the case with all hybrids, these fish are sterile, and because they can't reproduce, they can safely be stocked in all of the state's drainages. Still, the majority of hybrid stockings take place in the western portion of the state in the Ohio River drainage.

An additional limiting factor relating to striper-hybrid striper fisheries is the supply of fingerlings available to stock.

"The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission hatchery system does not produce any striped bass or striped bass hybrids," noted Lorantas. "These fish are acquired from nearby states with extensive rearing programs for these species. We trade fish we produce in abundance for these species through the national fish trade forum. This acquisition process creates a little more variability in stocking levels, although we have been rather consistent over the past several years on most waters.

"Our prioritization system generally favors stocking reservoirs before rivers. This reduces recreational loss associated with migration out of stocking locales."

These restrictions and limitations mean that only a handful of waters furnish viable striper or hybrid striper fisheries. Fortunately for the angler, these waters are well distributed across the state, meaning same-day fishing opportunities are available for the vast majority of sportsmen. Here's a close-up look at the better striper and hybrid striper waters for the spring of 2004.

DELAWARE RIVER
Thanks to improved water quality in many major East Coast rivers, the Atlantic coast striped bass has been restored and is now commonly found in the spawning rivers that empty into the sea. The Delaware River is one of these rivers.

According to Dave Micko, a Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission fisheries biologist, the PFBC is one of several resource agencies that have been monitoring the comeback of wild, ocean-run stripers for the past several years. The PFBC's responsibility has been to evaluate the spawning population of these fish. The agency has also conducted a recent creel survey on the river to determine angler effort and harvest.

"In 1997, the Delaware River striped bass fishery was considered completely restored," noted the Area 6 biologist.

Creel survey results back that up. Data from the 2002 survey shows striped bass ranked third of most caught species. Only smallmouth bass and channel catfish edged out stripers, which ranked just ahead of American shad. Some 36,328 striped bass were caught, with 99 percent being released. Striper catches were highest between April and July, with June being the top month.

The majority of striped bass catches in the Delaware occur in the tidal portion of the river between the Commodore Perry Bridge upriver to Trenton Falls. Most of the spawning activity takes place in the tidal Delaware. There is a closed season from April 1 through May 31 to protect these fish.

The number of fish that remain in the tidal river after the season reopens is dependent on the weather. A late spring, one with high water levels and cool water temperatures, will keep fish in the river longer. Spring and early summer stripers are found in shallow water, usually from 3 to 8 feet deep. Sand and gravel flats are the preferred habitat. Numbers of younger stripers often spend the year in the river and are typically found in the free-flowing river north of Trenton Falls. These fish run in the 18- to 20-inch class.

Public boat accesses in Delaware County include Linden Avenue, Frankford, Chester and Marcus Hook. Shore-fishing opportunities are limited in this greater Philadelphia area. The UPS property near the Philadelphia International Airport provides one site. There is a reciprocal agreement covering the water within the Pennsylvania-New Jersey portion of the Delaware. Resident anglers with either license may fish from either shore. Likewise, resident licensed boat anglers from either state may fish the river.

The Fish and Boat Commission recently changed the creel limit on the Delaware to two fish of at least 28 inches during the open season.

NOCKAMIXON LAKE
Northern Bucks County's 1,450-acre Nockamixon Lake provides an important hybrid striper fishery in the southeastern portion of the state.

The quality of any inland striper and hybrid fishery depends on stocking history. Lack of fish, which come from other states, means all deserving waters will not be stocked every year.

Fortunately, Nockamixon has a consistent stocking history over the past several years, with 7,250 hybrid fingerlings stocked annually since 1998 except in 2000, when no hybrids were stocked. Pure striped bass, both fingerling and fry, have also been stocked on a consistent basis.

According to Mike Kaufmann, area fisheries manager, anglers

can expect good action on Nockamixon this spring. While both pure and hybrid stripers are stocked in the lake, Kaufmann said hybrids show up most often in anglers' catches.

"Some anglers are catching pure stripers, which seem to top off about at 17 pounds," he said. "Hybrids run 10 to 12 pounds."

Kaufmann said the hybrid harvest is not as high on Nockamixon as it is on some other lakes, so the fish get a better chance to attain larger sizes.

In spring, Kaufmann suggested that anglers concentrate on the main lake's points and flats.

"Sometimes the best structure is no structure," he said. "Places that hold springtime hybrids can seem featureless."

Alewives and gizzard shad comprise the forage base in Nockamixon, and savvy anglers know stripers are rarely found far from their food source.

Nockamixon Lake offers four boat access areas. Anglers typically use the Three Mile Run and Haycock launch areas. Maximum horsepower was recently raised to 20 horsepower. For additional information, call the Nockamixon State Park office at (215) 529-7300.

BLUE MARSH LAKE
Blue Marsh Lake represents the other inland lake where southeastern state anglers can expect to enjoy quality hybrid fishing this spring. A U.S. Corps of Engineers flood control lake, Blue Marsh covers nearly 1,000 acres and reaches a depth of 48 feet.

The stocking history of Blue Marsh Lake is similar to Nockamixon. Fingerling plantings of hybrids became consistent in 1999, when 13,800 stripers were stocked. In 2001, the lake received 11,500 fish; another 11,498 in 2002 and 10,300 more in '03. Pure stripers have also been stocked.

Biologist Kaufmann reported that hybrid stripers are more popular at Blue Marsh than they are at Nockamixon. Because of a heavier harvest, the average size fish seem to run a bit smaller there. Alewives provide the food base.

During spring, Kaufmann recommended anglers try subtle main-lake points and flat.

An avid angler, Kaufmann related a pattern he sees that occurs on both Blue Marsh and Nockamixon, and likely most lakes that hold hybrids.

"When a sudden warming trend occurs, one that quickly increases the water temperature in protected bays and coves, hybrids will often go on feeding forays within the confines of these waters," he said. "It's important that it happens suddenly, so the bays warm but not the main-lake areas. Often, baitfish and carp will be back in the coves. Hybrids will be there, too. They won't often take a topwater bait, but they will hit lures retrieved just under the surface."

Productive methods include night-fishing, particularly in areas where spawning alewives make evening migrations.

There is no horsepower restriction on Blue Marsh Lake. Access areas include Dry Brooks and Slate Hill. A $3 access fee is charged at these launches during the summer months. This lake is in Berks County near Leesport. Additional information can be obtained by phoning the lake office at (610) 376-6337.

RAYSTOWN LAKE
Huntingdon County's Raystown Lake continues to provide the best inland purebred striper fishery in the state. At 5,700 acres, this lake has all the conditions striped bass need to survive, including oxygen-rich deep water and abundant food. Raystown stripers can pick from a menu that includes gizzard shad, alewives and rainbow smelts. Trout fingerlings regularly stocked by the Fish and Boat Commission add to the forage base.

According to seasoned Raystown angler Tim Grove, the striper fishing at Raystown has been good for several years and will likely be excellent this spring.

"During the last few years, it has been getting better. We are seeing fish from a variety of age-classes," Grove said. "The stocked fish planted by the PFBC and the Raystown Striper Club seem to be surviving well."

According to a 10-year stocking history of the lake, Raystown has been stocked every year except 1995. During that period, the average stocking has been over 91,000 fingerlings.

Grace said the average fish is now running about 10 pounds, with a lot of 30-pound fish in the lake and a few 40-pounders as well.

"A 30-pound striper is a trophy fish in a lot of places," he noted.

During May, Grace fishes at night and during the day. Cloudy days produce the most action. At this time, the fish will be in the shallows. As May gives way to June, he said the fish scatter, and striper activity is seen all over the lake.

Stretching nearly 30 miles, Raystown Lake offers a dozen launch facilities. There is no horsepower restriction. The same fee schedule as other Corps lakes applies.

For more information, visit the Raystown Lake Web site at www. raystown.nab.usace.army.mil, or call (814) 658-3405.

LAKE ARTHUR
Butler County's Lake Arthur is to hybrids what Raystown is to purebred stripers: quality water that has consistently produced fish.

Lake Arthur in Moraine State Park north of Pittsburgh has received stockings of hybrid fingerlings each year since 1995, with the exception of 1997 and 2000. Most of those stockings have consisted of 16,100 fingerlings. The 2001 stocking, following a year when no fish were introduced, included 32,200 fingerling hybrids.

According to Craig Billingsley, area fisheries manager, Lake Arthur holds good promise for this spring.

"I'd rate it good to excellent," Billingsley said. "During our last inventory, we saw large numbers of fish of all sizes. This includes young-of-the-year fish stocked the prior year up to 20-pounders."

Billingsley added that he's had reports of anglers catching fish over the 20-pound mark, true trophies in anyone's book.

Lake Arthur's hybrids are well distributed throughout the lake. The early-season focus is on evening spawning migrations by alewives, the lake's main forage species.

More anglers are catching fish during the day using live bait. Last year, I took several hybrids pulling spinner-crawler harnesses along deep basins, a tactic that's common for walleyes.

Lake Arthur covers nearly 3,300 acres with a maximum depth of about 35 feet. The average depth is much shallower. Many extensive bays and arms stretch out from the central basin.

Moraine State Park along Route 422 between Butler and New Castle features boat launches in all areas of the lake. Motors are limited to 20 horsepower. For more information, phone the state park office at (724) 368-8811.

HONORABLE MENTION
Several other state waters having more marginal striper-hybrid fisheries are worth checking out.

In eastern Pennsylvania, Lake Wallenpaupack has received consistent stockings of pure-strain stripers, though local guides indicate the fishing has been slow for this species during the past few years, but biologist Dave Arnold said that Beltzville Lake continues to grow as a purebred striper water.

Shenango Lake provides another hybrid venue for western Pennsylvania anglers. Biologist Craig Billingsley said consistent stockings have created a fishery where 15- and 16-pound fish are showing up. Most of the fish seem to be east of the Route 18 causeway. Hybrids are also stocked in the lower Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers, though catches in the rivers seem better during the winter months when the fish stack up near thermal discharges.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
Fishing Hot Spots produces maps of Lake Arthur, Raystown, Shenango and Wallenpaupack. Maps can be ordered online at www. fishinghotspots.com, or by phoning (800) ALL-MAPS.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's Web site (www.fish. state.pa.us) has links to online maps that show additional access areas, maps and charts.

There is no closed season on stripers and hybrid stripers on Pennsylvania's inland waters. The creel limit is two fish, combined species, with a 20-inch minimum length restriction.



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