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A Cool Fish on Red Creek

Photo courtesy of T.J. Golson

Fishing is always interesting because you never really know what may be lurking in the waters into which you cast your bait. Surprises are always fun, especially for fish that are not seen often. For my friend T.J. Golson, his recent surprise was even more so, since the fish he landed has been uncommon in the waters of the Pascagoula River for many years.

What T.J. landed in Red Creek in early March was a Hybrid Striped Bass – a nice one that he admitted provided him with one of the greatest fishing experiences of his life. His catch inspired me to share at least part of the story of Striped Bass on the Pascagoula and the broader Gulf Coast. A story of loss and hopefully recovery.

Atlantic Striped Bass is an anadromous species – a fish that migrates from saltwater to freshwater to spawn. Stripers can become quite large, reaching 20-40 pounds. The largest recorded Striper was 124 pounds. These fish can live for 30 years or more. The Atlantic Striped Bass is common along the eastern seaboard of the U.S. The Gulf Strain Striped Bass lives within the Gulf of Mexico.

Along the northern Gulf Coast, the Gulf Strain Striper has been in decline over the last 50 years. Reasons vary, but the most common cause may be the loss of critical habitat within the coastal rivers that this species historically used to spawn. Adults migrate from coastal estuaries in late winter, spawning between February and May, before rising water temperatures lead to stress on adult fish, at which point they leave the river.

Research on the needs of this species during their time in the river by a team of Mississippi State University researchers (1998-99) demonstrated that deep water thermal refuges (with cooler water) are critical microhabitats within the river. These areas are not geographically stable and may be impacted by hurricanes over the years, which may explain some of this decline.

The decrease in Striped Bass led to an attempt in the 1990s to supplement the stock with hybrid fish – a cross between White Bass (a freshwater species) and the anadromous Striped Bass. These efforts continue at some level, but the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks has an active program to reintroduce the Gulf Strain Striped Bass to the Pascagoula – a better solution.

In any case, catching a Striper of any size is apparently a blast. In the short video shared by my friend T.J. his voice was as excited as I imagine it was when he was a wee lad. We never really grow up when it comes to our favorite pastimes. And although I love my friend, his use of the tried and true fisherman’s trick of holding the fish out far out in front of you for the picture, was obvious. After I pointed that out to him, his estimate of its weight rose from 7-8 pounds to over 12! Suffice it to say, it was big and T.J. is still a friend.

And by the way, T.J.’s fish was identified as a hybrid bass because of the obvious breaks in the horizontal lines across the sides. A quirk of hybridization. So now you know the difference.

Hope to see you in our great outdoors!

Thanks to Stephen Brown of the MS Dept. of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks and John Mareska of the Alabama Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources for background about Striped Bass in the Pascagoula River.

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Written by Mark W. LaSalle, Ph.D.

Mark is a naturalist and wetland ecologist, providing expertise on wetlands, water quality and environmental impacts of humans. He has also developed and conducted a number of environmental education programs and workshops for youth, teachers, realtors, and the general public on a variety of subjects including wetlands, natural history, and environmental landscaping. Mark is a graduate of the University of Southwestern Louisiana (B.S. and M.S. degrees) and Mississippi State University (Ph.D.). Mark is the recipient of the Chevron Conservation Award, the Mississippi Wildlife Federation Conservation Educator Award, the Gulf Guardian Award, and the Boy Scouts of America Silver Beaver Award.

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