October 04, 2010
Here's where you'll find our state's topnotch hybrid (and striper) fishing action, from Barren River Lake to Herrington and beyond!
Photo by Milt Rosko
For about the last 25 years, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) has worked to develop hybrid striped bass fisheries in a number of the state's reservoirs. With the exception of just a couple of spots, the agency has been successful in getting the cross between white bass and striped bass going, and it has fulfilled a special niche for anglers.
The hybrid striped bass is a rather unique species that carries characteristics that make it a little more versatile, and a little more desirable, in some regards, than its pure-strain parent species. The primary reason purebred striped bass are found in relatively few waters compared to other game fish is because stripers must have cold-water habitat year 'round, along with a whole lot of room to roam. Not that many reservoirs fit both of those requirements.
Likewise, the white bass, which can be a prolific species, is highly cyclic in terms of abundance in many lakes, and doesn't grow to a very large size. The average-sized fish caught is only about 11 inches, and that doesn't add up to many pounds per acre of harvest when biologists look at production rates. On the other hand, white bass can live in warmer waters, which are the dominant type of aquatic environment Kentucky's lakes and rivers offer.
The cross between these two species seems to take the best attributes of both and helps to bridge a gap. The hybrid is better suited to warmer water and more fertile lake conditions that stripers can't take very well; hybrids don't have to have as much space as stripers do to wander around. They obviously grow much larger than an average white bass, which rarely reaches the 5-pound mark even at its absolute largest.
One other attractive thing about hybrids, besides their tremendous fighting power, is that this species consumes more prey out in open water than most other native game fish. That's important because a predator species that feeds somewhere most other game fish don't helps to avoid overload on habitat. Since they grow quickly, hybrids can ingest larger prey sooner, thus helping to control baitfish numbers. At the same time, hybrids don't take too much food out of the mouths of the smaller fish like bluegills, crappie and young largemouth (and smallmouth) bass. The primary food source for hybrids is gizzard shad, and within the waters where hybrids have been established, there is an abundance of shad available.
The KDFWR now has five major reservoirs and a couple of smaller impoundments where hybrids are being stocked. The minimum size for a lake to be considered for a hybrid fishery is 300 acres. Of course, there are many other factors that determine whether or not a waterway is suited for this species.
According to Jim Axon, assistant director for the KDFWR fisheries division, in most of the major lakes where hybrid fishing has been developed, the agency has found it has actually gotten two fisheries for their efforts.
"At Barren and Rough River lakes, especially, we've developed some excellent lake hybrid fishing, but it also turns out that a really good fishery has come on below the dams in the tailwaters of these two lakes," Axon said.
"Our creel survey information indicates that up to nearly three tons of hybrids have been being taken below the dam on Barren, and over a ton's worth of hybrids is also being caught out of the Rough River tailwater each year.
"In late March and early April, fish that have been pulled through the dam when they are discharging a lot of water get really active, and anglers have really benefited," Axon noted.
While the harvest volume isn't quite as big on Taylorsville, Fishtrap and Herrington where hybrids also are present, the tailwater fisheries on these lakes in late winter and early spring are certainly something not to be overlooked.
"We are stocking these waters at a 20 fish per acre rate each year from fry we produce at one of our state hatcheries," the biologist said.
"While there may be some white bass in the lakes we're stocking, we continue to put in the same number of 1 1/2-inch hybrids.
"This allows us to maintain the fishery one year to the next, and reduces reliance on the natural white bass spawn to provide a population that sustains opportunity for this species," Axon explained.
One other attractive thing about hybrids, besides their tremendous fighting power, is that this species consumes more prey out in open water than most other native game fish.
Taylorsville Lake, as well as Herrington, according to district biologist Kerry Prather, are showing an upswing in white bass numbers this year. But even so, these two reservoirs will continue to get hybrids so that the spring runs and summer jump fishing the white bass species provides will be maintained, regardless of whether a good white bass spawn occurs in a given year or not.
Axon said that throughout the Southeast, states have seen white bass fisheries decline because of a sustained period of drought over the last two decades. In the last couple of springs, that has changed and given white bass a shot in the arm in some places; but overall, white bass have had about one good spawning year in seven, in many lakes, since about the mid-'70s. That's not enough to keep a good fishery going, so hybrids have filled the hole very, very nicely.
Some anglers are likely aware that in addition to Herrington, Barren, Taylorsville, Rough River and Fishtrap, the KDFWR had also tried cranking up a hybrid striper fishery in Grayson Lake. As of last year, the agency discontinued stocking at Grayson because biologists began noticing some growth problems in largemouths, along with other trends they didn't like. A marginal hybrid population was established, and it is not yet clear whether putting those fish in Grayson had any effect on the decline of largemouths, but the agency elected to stop the stocking in favor of giving the more popular species a better chance of recovery.
Since hybrids don't reproduce, needless to say, fishing for them at Grayson is going to quickly become essentially nonexistent as the remaining fish present are caught or die of natural causes.
One smaller impoundment where hybrids have been stocked is Guist Creek Lake in Shelby County. Success has been spotty, and biologists are studying what can be done to
improve it. Smaller lakes present a different environment, thus development of a fishery for this species probably has to be approached differently.
Axon said if hybrids can be found to make a significant contribution to the fishing on a suitable smaller lake, it's possible other state-owned waters less than 1,000 surface acres may be looked at for stocking in the future.
The top three spots for bigger hybrids are going to be Barren and Herrington lakes and Rough River. Good fish ranging from 5 to 15 pounds are not uncommon to catch in any of these lakes.
Barren River Lake regularly produces hybrids in the 8- to 10-pound range, with occasional larger ones. Barren is also the largest of the nine Kentucky waters currently being stocked with hybrid stripers at 10,000 acres.
Herrington Lake is no slouch, either. The lake has a good forage base of gizzard and threadfin shad. The lake has all of the right ingredients to produce big hybrids -- and it does.
"I can't believe we don't have some 15-pound-plus hybrids in this lake, as it has the potential to produce a state record," biologist Kerry Prather said.
In spring, concentrate on the headwaters of the main channel and in the major tributaries that feed into the lake. Hybrids have movement patterns similar to white bass, and go through the motions of spawning. After that period, they return to the main lake and utilize feeding flats and open water until the consistently hot weather arrives.
"That's one other big benefit hybrids offer over pure white bass or striped bass," Axon said. "There is a year-round fishery these fish provide when you learn their patterns. Most anglers using conventional fishing methods can be successful with hybrids just about any time of the year."
Since hybrids have the nomadic characteristic of striped bass, it usually takes only a little time to cover some water and find them.
Since hybrids have the nomadic characteristic of striped bass, it usually takes only a little time to cover some water and find them. Axon assures that the reward can be well worth the effort when a 10-pound hybrid winds up on your line. You won't soon forget the fight, he said, speaking from experience.
"The best day I ever had fly-fishing was in the spring in the headwaters of Taylorsville Lake and got into a school of hybrids. They were swarming everywhere -- coming up on the surface all around the boat and hitting anything they saw go in the water.
"I had wanted to catch one on a fly rod for a long time, and I had one with me, so I tried it. I had one fly and that's all, and I wound up taking a limit of really nice fish; you can't believe how much fun it was fighting those fish. They were all over the place that day, and man, we just got into them big time," he recalled.
"My partner caught a lot of fish, too, and we broke off a few, but the action was just phenomenal."
Hybrid stripers can be caught on a variety of lures, including night crawlers, chicken livers and soft craws. Small curlytail jigs, spoon-type lures and topwater plugs will also draw hard strikes when fish are in the jumps or chasing shad close to the surface.
One tip almost any hybrid fisherman will give you is to be sure you have your drag set correctly and can adjust it when a fish gets on. Hybrids are incredibly strong, and can snap a line as fast as you can snap your fingers if your reel isn't set to forgive some hard runs from the larger fish.
This spring, consider giving hybrid stripers a try. You can also find them in the Ohio River, thanks to the states of Ohio and West Virginia, where good tailwater fishing has been developed. This is especially true in the upper reaches of the Ohio. You might find some of the fastest, fiercest action of the entire year!