Creature Feature: Striped Bass

striped bass

Striped bass were introduced to California in 1879, when 132 small fish from the Navesink River in New Jersey were released into San Francisco Bay near Martinez. In 1882, three hundred more fish were released into lower Suisun Bay. By 1892 a flourishing commercial fishery had developed, which was closed in 1935 in an effort to build a robust sport fishery.

Since their introduction, striped bass have spread north to Canada and south to Mexico. In California, most striped bass are found in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and in the larger tributary rivers downstream from dams. Limited fisheries also exist in Tomales Bay and the Russian River, but outside of the aforementioned areas, sea-run striped bass are uncommon.

Landlocked striped bass exist in Black Butte, Camp Far West, Millerton, Modesto, San Antonio, Santa Margarita, and Success reservoirs, Lake Mendocino, and the Colorado River system. Striped bass are also present in the federal Central Valley Project, State Water Project, the Contra Costa Country canals, and reservoirs that use the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta as a source.

Distinguishing Characteristics

  • Silvery color, with seven or eight conspicuous horizontal blackish stripes on the back and sides (one is the lateral line)
  • Eyes small
  • Body is slender and not noticeably compressed (flattened side to side)
  • Pectoral fins relatively short, not reaching past the tips of the ventral fins

Life History & Other Notes
Striped bass are members of the temperate bass family. They appear to depend rather strongly on an anadromous existence. Although landlocked populations exist in California, many of these groups are not self-reproducing. Landlocked striped bass succeed in breeding only when there are rivers long enough and with sufficient flow to keep the eggs suspended until they hatch (about two days, depending on temperature).

Adult sea-run striped bass begin moving into fresh water in October and November. Spawning commences in the spring when the water temperature reaches 58° F. These bass spawn in fresh water from April through mid-June, and then begin moving out to salt water again.

Striped bass are very prolific. A 5-pound female may spawn 180,000 eggs in one season and a 15-pound female is capable of producing over a million eggs.

Striped bass are broadcast spawners that gather in large groups at the surface to reproduce. Spawning occurs in moderate to swift currents, where the transparent eggs drift suspended in the water until they hatch. The young swim or drift downstream to estuarine nursery areas and eventually make their way out to sea.

Striped bass are fast growing fish. They are only about 1/6 in. long at hatching and grown to 4 in. at one year, 10 in. at two years, 16 in. at three years, and 20 in. at four years.

In the winter months, striped bass are scattered in both fresh and salt water, but do not bite well until the water begins to warm in the spring.

Fish move upriver in the spring to spawn. During the summer, fishing is usually best in San Francisco Bay, especially near Treasure Island, Alcatraz Island, Raccoon Strait, and near the south tower of the Golden Gate Bridge. However, there are also good fishing opportunities in the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and their tributaries, as well as the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Anglers pursuing striped bass use shiner perch, anchovies, sardines, bloodworms, pile worms, and shrimp for bait. Striped bass will also take a wide range of artificial lures, including flies.

 Striped Bass Quick Facts:

Scientific Name: Morone saxitilis

Common Name: stripers

Range & Habitat : San Francisco Bay, Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, larger rivers, some lakes and reservoirs and, uncommonly, the open ocean coast

Length & Weight: to 4 ft. and 90 lb.

Life Span: To 20+ years, average to 10 years

Diet/Suggested Bait: Feeds on fishes and shrimp. Try using sardines, bloodworms, pile worms, or ghost shrimp for bait, or artificial lures

Excerpt from the California Finfish and Shellfish Identification Book. Single copies of the book are available to California residents free of charge by emailing a request to