Bass are getting bigger at Smith Mountain Lake, reports indicate. Anglers are starting to reel in the fruits of a yearslong effort to get largemouth bass growing, but there are some concerns striped bass growth may be stalling.

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

A group of local anglers and business owners originally worked with the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources to obtain the permits to stock the fish. Due to its early success, DWR continued funding the project after the first three years.

Stocking of between 20,000 to 70,000 tiger bass has continued each year since 2015. Since that time, the bass are starting to have a real impact on the size of largemouth bass caught in the lake.

“We are getting into weights we haven’t seen in a long time,” said Dewayne Lamb, owner of Captain’s Quarters and a tiger bass proponent.

During a recent fishing tournament at the lake, the largest largemouth caught was well over 8 pounds. Lamb said the big fish winner would have usually been no more than 5 or 6 pounds just a few years ago. He attributes the size jump directly to the introduction of the tiger bass.

Dan Wilson, biologist for the DWR, said they are also seeing a steady growth of the fish population in the lake over the years which has led them to keep funding the project. When sampling largemouth bass 4 pounds or larger from Smith Mountain Lake, Wilson said the percentage that is found to be tiger bass has steadily increased.

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

Wilson said the stocking of tiger bass will continue as long as the DWR keeps seeing results in the samples they take from the lake. The current plan is to continue until at least 2025, he said.

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

“Striped bass numbers are as good as they have ever been,” Wilson said.

While the number is high, there are concerns that their growth has declined. Wilson said it is likely due to too many striper competing for a limited amount of food. Striper stocking was reduced last year due to the decline in size.

A parasitic infestation severely reduced the number of large striped bass in 2003 and DWR has been working to get their numbers back up since then. Even with the stocking, Wilson said it is unlikely that the lake will ever see striper as large as what was caught in the ’80s and ’90s when some as large as 50 pounds were caught.

Wilson said it is not realistic to find striper that size since there are more anglers searching for them on the lake and technology has gotten better to locate them. “It is harder for them to live long enough to reach those sizes,” he said.

Lamb disagrees with current assessments on striped bass. He said stockings 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 that know the area have trouble catching 8 or 10 striped bass, then it will likely be difficult for new anglers to catch even 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 are important for tourism, he said.

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

Source: Jason Dunovent with the Roanoae Times