John Tibbs is the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Inland Fisheries District 2B Supervisor and, lucky for we anglers here in Central Texas, he is also an avid fisherman and a longtime proponent of the implementation and improvement of the hybrid striped bass stocking program.
As the name implies, hybrid striped bass are a cross between two distinct, but closely related species, the white bass and the striped bass. As with many hybridized animals, hybrid striped bass are considered sterile so an ongoing hybrid fishery counts on an ongoing hybrid stocking program.
Hybrid striped bass also demonstrate another characteristic of hybridized animals, that being hybrid vigor. Just as when a horse is crossed with a donkey, the resulting mule will have greater strength and stamina than either parent, so the hybrid striped bass demonstrates better fighting ability and a more aggressive nature than either parent. It is this hybrid vigor that endears these fish to so many anglers.
This past week, several local anglers came aboard my guide boat to tangle with these hybrid striped bass. The fish stocked by TPWD back in 2013 and earlier have now grown out to the legal minimum length of 18 inches, and weigh in at around 3 to 3.25 pounds. One exceptional specimen weighing 7 pounds and measuring 25 3/8 inches was successfully brought to net by Waco’s Dr. Jim Mason this past Saturday.
Retired Navy Capt. Ray Johnson, a former naval flight surgeon, joined me on Tuesday and landed 41 fish. Then, on Thursday morning, Steve Niemeier, of Temple, brought two of his grandchildren, Caleb Fowler, 10, and Macy Fowler, 8, both students at Kennedy-Powell Elementary School, out for a morning of fishing on Lake Belton. This trio landed 74 fish, a majority of which were hybrid striped bass.
When asked to quantify TPWD’s stocking efforts at Belton Lake this year, Tibbs reported that his crew of biologists and technicians stocked 909,513 palmetto-strain hybrids fry on April 12 followed by 300,000 sunshine-strain hybrids fry on April 25. The palmetto fry were raised by TPWD, and the sunshine fry were purchased from Keogh Fish Farms in Arkansas.
Tibbs points out that there are no functional differences between the two crosses, and anglers should not notice any difference between the two in appearance or otherwise.
Starting several years ago, Tibbs led the charge to investigate whether TPWD got more “bang for the buck” by stocking many small fry or fewer, but larger, fingerlings. The results on Belton were clear — the fry were much more efficient, leading to more catchable fish as the end result.
Growing fry up to fingerling size, and then transporting those fingerlings is expensive, requiring much more time, much more hassle in maintaining water quality, the use of a 1-ton tow vehicle, a specialized tank trailer and more. Fry, on the other hand, do not have to be cared for or fed for nearly as long as fingerlings, and can then be quickly loaded into a cooler, then hand walked from any passenger vehicle down to the shoreline or a boat waiting to deliver them to the desired stocking location.
Anglers should begin to see these fish show up as legal-sized fish during the 2019 season after these fish gorge on gizzard shad and threadfin shad for the next several seasons.