Smith Mountain Lake striped bass fishery in decline, VDGIF biologists puzzled
By: Garrett Turner at Virginia First
For the past four years, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland fisheries says Smith Mountain Lake's striped bass fishery has been in decline. The state says survival rates of the stocked stripers from Vic Thomas Hatchery have plummeted and biologists don't know why.
"No it don't surprise me at all especially after last year," Cats N' Stripers Captain Travis Patsell said. "You have to work harder to catch the fish."
The state estimates the striper fishery alone brings in nearly $5 million to the Smith Mountain Lake economy. This fish impacts everything from bait shops to restaurants to marinas in the area.
"It's my life man," Patsell said. "Between my passion of fishing to my livelihood you got two hands full right there."
Now the state of Virginia's hands are full as it tries to find answers for the striped bass fishery with millions of dollars at stake.
The whole history of the striped bass in Smith Mountain Lake is full of it's ups and downs. It began in 1947 when the US Army Corps of Engineers began construction on the Kerr Reservoir located on the Virginia-North Carolina line. Once the dam was completed in 1953, some of the stripers were trapped and then began a self sustaining natural population.
In 1960, construction began on Smith Mountain Lake. The dam was completed in '63 and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries started stocking striped bass fry right away. In 1972, the fishery saw enough growth that fingerlings replaced the fry stocking. The population continued to grow in the '90s and it became one of the most prominent inland striped bass fisheries in the entire United States. But in 2003, a parasite was introduced into the lake and it almost killed off all the adult stripers. The state's responded with a new protective slot limit in 2006. The new regulations helped but between 2012 and 2015 growth became stagnant. New regulations were imposed again.
But beyond those new regulations, the state is now looking at a stocked striped bass program that has struggled in the last four years. The bad news, there's no answer in sight. Just one more down in the timeline of Virginia's striped bass fishery.