Home Biologist Stocking program has some success at SML | Local News

Stocking program has some success at SML | Local News

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Jason Dunovant

Bass are getting bigger at Smith Mountain Lake, according to reports. Anglers are beginning to reap the rewards of a years-long effort to grow largemouth bass, but there are concerns that striped bass growth is stalling.

The growth of largemouth bass can be directly attributed to the annual stocking of F1 tiger bass which was first introduced to the lake in 2015. The bass is a genetic mix of northern bass that grows faster and Florida bass that gets bigger.

A group of local fishermen and business owners first worked with the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources to secure the stocking permits. Due to its early success, DWR continued funding the project after the first three years.

The stocking of 20,000 to 70,000 tiger bass has continued every year since 2015. Since then, the bass have started to have a real impact on the size of largemouth bass caught in the lake.

“We’re getting into weights that we haven’t seen in a long time,” said Dewayne Lamb, owner of Captain’s Quarters and promoter of the Tiger Bass.

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At a recent fishing tournament at the lake, the largest bigmouth caught weighed well over 8 pounds. Lamb said the big winning fish usually weighed no more than 5 or 6 pounds just a few years ago. He attributes the jump in size directly to the introduction of the tiger bass.

Dan Wilson, a biologist for the DWR, said they have also seen a steady growth in the fish population in the lake over the years, which has led them to continue funding the project. While sampling largemouth bass 4 pounds or more from Smith Mountain Lake, Wilson said the percentage of tiger bass steadily increased.

In 2019, 2% of bass over 4 pounds sampled were tiger bass. In 2020, Wilson said that number jumped to 10% and last year jumped again to 13%. He said striped bass are indistinguishable from other bass and genetic testing is being done to confirm.

Wilson said the stockpiling of tiger bass will continue as long as the DWR continues to see results in samples taken from the lake. The current plan is to continue until at least 2025, he said.

Another long-stocked fish at Smith Mountain Lake is striped bass. The bass has been stocked since the lake was first filled over 50 years ago. More than 300,000 are deposited each year around the lake.

“The striped bass numbers are as good as they’ve ever been,” Wilson said.

Although the number is high, it is feared that their growth has diminished. Wilson said this was likely due to too many strippers competing for a limited amount of food. Striper stocking was reduced last year due to size reduction.

A pest infestation drastically reduced the number of large striped bass in 2003 and DWR has been working to bring them back up ever since. Even with the stocking, Wilson said it’s unlikely the lake will ever see a striper as large as was caught in the 1980s and 1990s when some as large as 50 pounds were caught.

Wilson said it was unrealistic to find tracers of this size because there are more anglers looking for them on the lake and technology has improved to locate them. “It’s harder for them to live long enough to reach those sizes,” he said.

Lamb disagrees with current striped bass assessments. He said the lows should be increased based on discussions he has had with other anglers.

“I’m finding it harder and harder to catch big numbers,” Lamb said. He said if locals, such as fishing guides who know the area, are struggling to catch 8 or 10 striped bass, it will likely be difficult for new anglers to catch just one.

While many tournaments are held at Smith Mountain Lake to catch largemouth and smallmouth bass, Lamb said many tourists come to the lake to catch striped bass. Having good numbers and large sizes is important for tourism, he said.

Lamb said he would like to see 500,000 or more striped bass stocked in the lake over the next few years to help boost populations. He said that even if storage was increased this year, it would likely take 3-5 years to see results.