Driving across Lake Palestine from Tyler early one morning I automatically looked out into Saline Bay, but there were no boats.
I wasn’t surprised. It has been that way for years. At least since the hybrid striped bass numbers played out.
Hybrids have not disappeared from Lake Palestine, but the put-and-take fishery has fallen into something of a state of disrepair thanks to more years recently of sub-par stockings than the lake getting a full load.
“Our long-term request for Palestine is 10 fingerlings per acre, or approximately 250,000 per year. We got close to the goal last year with 202,000 fingerlings and an additional 452,000 fry,” said Richard Ott, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Fisheries district biologist.
Prior to last year, 2002 was the last time the department came close to a full stocking, and then they fell short at just 204,000. It was 1994 that all 255,000 fingerling requested were received.
“Most other years have been getting half stockings, or years like 2012, 2006, 2001, 2002, when we did not get any,” Ott said.
Greatly disliked after first being stocked in the late 1970s, hybrids became a popular fishery on the lake in the 1990s when combined with sand bass created great schools of surfacing fish each morning. Easier to catch than largemouth bass, they were popular with families wanting kids to catch a lot of fish and an older crowd who appreciated the consistency of showing up in the same cove each morning and evening.
The problem is that hybrid stripers are a put-and-take fishery, meaning they are stocked by the department to be caught. Unlike largemouth bass or catfish the hybrids do not reproduce naturally, and while a stocking of 100,000 fingerlings may sound like a lot on a 25,000-acre lake, but the truth is that only about 10 percent survey to grow into adult fish.
Each year state biologists requests about 2.5 million hybrids for stocking in 26 reservoirs. This year the department was able to produce just over 2 million fingerlings and about 1.6 million fry. Although still stocked in various lakes, the fry are believed to have a lower survival rate than the larger fingerlings.
Palestine has traditionally been stocked with what the department calls a Palmetto bass, a striped bass female crossed with a white bass male. In recent years the department has also been stocking Sunshine bass, a cross between a white bass female and a male striper.
“Historically TPWD has stocked Palmetto bass,” said Brian VanZee, TPWD Fisheries regional biologist who oversees the hybrid and striper program. “We started producing Sunshine bass simply in an effort to supplement our Palmetto bass production.”
VanZee explained the department is able to collect female white bass easier and earlier in the season, which allows them to start production earlier and utilize hatchery space that is later designated for largemouth bass production.
“We thought if we could produce some Sunshine bass in addition to Palmetto bass it could help us prevent or lessen the impacts of a year when we have limited Palmetto bass production. Thus, we have an opportunity to produce Sunshine bass and get them stocked into some of our hybrid lakes before we even begin our regular Palmetto bass production,” VanZee said.
There is a drawback to the early production and that is getting the fish to fingerling size. The department has learned how to spawn the Sunshine bass, but without enough zooplankton available the hatcheries are having trouble growing the young fish to the larger size preferred for stocking. Studies are under way on two western Texas lakes to determine the viability of stocking the fry directly into lakes.
Because of the economics of production size, hybrids and stripers cost about 30 cents per fish to produce compared to about 14 cents for largemouth bass. The department produces about twice as many largemouth bass, which drives production costs down.
VanZee said hybrids typically can live about seven years, however, the department has collected fish that are 9 and 10, and one that was 17. With a long live span, Texas currently has a state hybrid record of 19.66 pounds. The Lake Palestine record is 14.77. That fish was caught in 1977.
VanZee said because the fish live so long, typically a lake can survive several years of lower stockings, depending on several factors including angling pressure. That seems to be the case at Cooper Lake where reduced year classes are noticeable, but the fishing remains good because of the lack of pressure. Cooper also hasn’t missed as many years of complete stockings or partial stockings as Palestine, which had much pressure.
When it was right, Palestine was considered among the top hybrid lakes in the state alongside Tawakoni, Cedar Creek and Richland-Chambers.
With a foundation population already in the lake, TPWD’s Ott said if Palestine were to again get full stockings beginning next spring that it could take two to three years before the number of legal sized fish are high enough to again attract fishermen.
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