Striped Bass

Virginia Beach Striped Bass Fishing

Here is a little bit of scientific information about striper, or striped bass, or even rockfish if you prefer. Once on the verge of extinction in Virginia Beach waters these striper have made a come back for the record books. With tougher guidelines and restrictions the striped bass caught in the Virginia Beach fishing grounds will likely be here for a long time this time.


Striped bass — (Morone saxatilis)

Physical Description: Striped bass are the largest members of the temperate bass family. They are primarily anadromous, which means they live in a saltwater habitat and migrate to fresh water only to spawn. Landlocked striped bass introduced in freshwater systems are the exception to this rule.

The body color of striped bass is olive-green, blue-gray or bluish-black on the top with silver sides and a white belly. It is easily identified by its seven or eight black stripes that run horizontally along its sides. Fins are dusky silver color, except for the white pelvic fins. Young striped bass may not have the horizontal stripes or they may be interrupted.

Striped bass also have two distinct dorsal fins. The first has seven to 12 stiff spines, which make this fin taller than the second. The second dorsal fin has only one stiff spine with eight to 14 soft rays. Stripers also have a forked tail.

Many freshwater anglers have difficulty distinguishing striped bass from white bass and hybrids. The stripes on the striper are solid, unbroken and most will extend all the way to the tail. On whites and wipers, the stripes are faint and only one will extend to the tail on each side. Striped bass also have a longer, sleeker body and a larger head than white bass and hybrid. In addition, striped bass have two tooth patches on the tongue, as opposed to one.

Range: Striped bass are found in abundant numbers along the East Coast, Gulf Coast, and West Coast of the United States. Along the East Coast, they range from the St. Lawrence River in Canada to the St. John’s River in Florida. Those native to the Mid-Atlantic (Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina) migrate north in the summer and return during the fall. In this region, the Chesapeake and Hudson River systems are the primary spawning grounds. Large numbers can also be found in the river systems of Maine during the summer months.

In the Gulf of Mexico, they can be found along the coasts of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. On the Pacific Coast they range from the Columbia River in Oregon to southern California, with the greatest concentration around San Francisco Bay.

There have been numerous attempts to introduce striped bass into inland waters of the United States. Some states, such as Texas, have had much success. Stripers have been stocked in large reservoirs and their associated river systems throughout the Midwest and South. Survival and growth of stocked stripers depend heavily on an abundance of food species, primarily threadfin or gizzard shad, as well as plenty of deep water. Most inland waters lack the spawning conditions stripers require, so they must be maintained through continued stocking programs.

Habitat: In their native saltwater environments, striped bass are regarded as “inshore” fish. They will not stray far from the coasts, preferring the security of medium depths (less than 100 feet) with the ability to move shallow in pursuit of food. They will generally travel in schools in search of abundant open-water baitfish and are often found near piers, flats, rocks, and surf troughs.

Although they spend most of their lives in ocean water near the coast, they migrate to freshwater rivers to spawn. Stripers will often swim up to 100 miles into tidal rivers to find proper spawning conditions.

When stocked in fresh water, they are likely to inhabit open-water areas for most of the year. True to their nomadic nature, striped bass will follow their preferred prey species instead of holding to cover or structure. They are less likely to be found near the shore unless they happen to be chasing a school of baitfish.

Although they are unable to spawn in most cases, freshwater stripers will still migrate into tributaries in attempts to spawn, most often in early spring. At these times, stripers are more easily found by fishermen in coves, dams, creek arms or the tributary itself.

Striped bass prefer water temperatures between 60 and 68 F but can tolerate a wide range of temperatures as evidenced by their native and introduced range.

Food Usage/Selection: Young striped bass favor zooplankton and move to freshwater shrimp and midge larvae as they grow. Adult striped bass are known for ravenous appetites and predatory feeding habits. In salt water, the bulk of their diet is small fish such as herring, menhaden, flounder, silversides, and eels. They also consume significant quantities of worms, squid, and crabs. Land-locked freshwater stripers feed almost exclusively on large shad and minnow species, although they will consume mayflies (where available) when hatching near the surface.

Many fishermen have found striped bass to be more active feeders during the nighttime hours. As a result, they prefer to fish for striped bass in low-light conditions or at night. Also, striped bass move in schools and all fish within a school will generally feed at the same time on the same prey.

Sporting Qualities: The greatest challenge in fishing for saltwater striped bass is determining what their favored foods are and which one they have selected to feed on at that time. Aside from those challenges, striped bass can be caught using virtually every fishing technique known (casting, trolling, jigging and fly-fishing) using nearly any type of bait or lure. Popular methods along the East Coast include surf casting, plugging from a drifting boat, drifting eels from a boat, fly-fishing with streamers and surface flies, jigging with feathered jigs, and trolling with sandworms.

General information: The striped bass is a schooling species, moving about in small groups during the first two years of life and thereafter feeding and migrating in large schools. Seven or eight narrow stripes extending lengthwise from back of the head to the base of the tail form the most easily recognized characteristic of this species, hence the old Indian and colonial name of “linesider”. Striped bass can live up to 40 years and can reach weights greater than 60 pounds, although individuals larger than 50 pounds are rare. Females reach significantly greater sizes than do males; most stripers over 30 pounds are female. Thus, the term “bulls,” originally coined to describe extremely large individuals, has been more accurately changed to “cows” in recent times.

Habitat: The striped bass or “striper” is native to most of the East Coast, ranging from the lower St. Lawrence River in Canada to northern Florida, and along portions of the Gulf of Mexico. Stripers inhabit the whole coast surf, inshore bars, reefs, tide rips, bays and estuaries. Stripers are particularly active in areas with tidal and current flows and in the wash of breaking waves.

Food: Striped bass eat a variety of foods, including fish such as alewives, flounder, sea herring, menhaden, sand lance, silver hake, tomcod, smelt, silversides and eels, as well as lobsters, crabs, soft clams, small mussels, sea worms and squid. They feed most actively at dusk and dawn, although some feeding occurs throughout the day. During the midsummer they tend to become more nocturnal.