Ancient sailors spun yarns about sea monsters and mermaids. That was long ago.
Today, fishermen tell similar stories, the myths and legends, the lies and almost truths, and anglers’ tales of striped bass, or “stripers” fall somewhere between the old yarns and the new tales — especially when it comes to stripers and the men and women who pursue them in the rivers along the Gulf coast.
Gulf of Mexico stripers return to local rivers in the late winter and spring to spawn. An angler lucky enough to hook into one is even luckier if this powerful battler makes it into a landing net.
Striped bass can be caught along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts from Texas around the Florida Peninsula and north to New York.
A few features of the fish help determine a striper from a hybrid striper or a white bass. Hybrids were developed by spawning white bass with true stripers and have been stocked in Louisiana lakes and across the Deep South, especially in waters with high numbers of shad and other baitfish.
But you have to know the difference between stripers, hybrids and white bass.
First, stripers have seven or eight prominent black stripes or lines. A separation in the dorsal fin is another distinguishing feature. The front dorsal fin has 8 to 10 spines with the back dorsal fin having 10 to 14 soft rays. Finally, the anal fin has three hard spines.
As mature fish migrate through the coastal waters of Lake Borgne and Pontchartrain, an angler might hook a fish from time to time. Stripers are often live bait only feeders, but will take topwaters and other lures on occasion.
Rivers like the Tchefuncte often have schools of stripers busting along the surface chasing shad. A well-placed topwater bait will draw a strike.
Then the fight is on. These powerful fish are hard to land because of cover in the river, things like tree tops and pylons, which the fish will use to snap lighter lines more suited to catch largemouth bass.
Like the stories of sea monsters, anglers have their share of “the one that got away” tales. The Causeway Bridge is one place locals catch these fish as they migrate to and from the spawning areas. And, there’s legends of these bruts moving into the Mississippi River during the fall during low-water periods in the big river.
As a youngster, the stories of anglers throwing white bucktail jigs around the Causeway’s supports for stripers as early as March were common. Years ago, family members out for a morning’s bass fishing returned home with “rock bass.”
As I got older, there were memorable days of hooking into several stripers on trips to the upper Little Tchefuncte, but rarely were the days when these fish were aboard for the trip home. Stripers always seemed to find the heaviest cover and nearly always broke lines.
On a camp dock on Lake Catherine one afternoon in late March, 8-year-old Drew Dubuc must have imagined he had hooked into a sea monster, much like the tales he’s read and heard from those ancient sailors.
Drew loves to use live mullets for the bull reds that frequent the Lake Catherine area. The first fish that day to snap up the offering was not a redfish but a 33.9-pound striped bass. After about a 30-minute battle, Drew was able to bring the fish to the dock.
With the big striper worn out, Drew stuck the rod in the holder and ran down the pier to the camp for help. His dad, Mike Dubuc, was able to bring the fish on the deck.
Several certified scales later, most marinas only have scales that weight 30 pounds or less, the Gulf striper is a possible No. 6 on the State Top 10 Fish Records list maintained by the Louisiana Outdoors Writer Association. If approved by the LOWA’s Fish Record Committee, the youngster’s striper will be the first to crack the top 10 in 14 years.
The fish being caught in Lake Catherine is just another part of the puzzle that makes it such a great story. Almost all the state’s record striped bass come from Toledo Bend, where stocking programs introduce the saltwater fish into the lake.
The young angler also has a shot at more records like an International Game and Fish Association (IGFA) age group and line class category placements.
Mythical sea creatures hold a place in the sailing days of the past. A young angler out for an afternoon of fun can capture a sea monster with a well-placed bait at the end of his family’s dock.
For a complete list of the state fish records, and for the updated fish record applications fin Freshwater, Saltwater and Fly Fishing categories, go to the LOWA’s website: laoutdoorwriters.com.