The History of Hybrid Striper in Virginia

by Chris McCotter

I was waking a Berkley Surge Shad over an underwater point at Dike 3 on Lake Anna in heavy fog when I heard a slosh and my seven-foot medium heavy action rod nearly jumped out of my hands, coming alive with what felt like a monster fish. After a tense minute or so I brought a fish boat side I had been wanting to catch for a while – a six pound plus hybrid striped bass or “wiper” as they are regionally known.

I held the fish in my hands admiring the iridescent pectoral fins, squat build, broken black stripes, Vise-Grip-like mouth and wide, powerful tail. This was like nothing I’d fought before, and I liked it!

For the anglers that have not yet experienced the thrill of fighting a hybrid striped bass on light tackle, you just don’t know what you are missing, and you should seriously consider putting that accomplishment on your fishing goals list this year. That first nice Anna wiper came several years ago. Now, those fish are approaching 13 pounds!

Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources District Fisheries Biologist John Odenkirk has been managing Lake Anna for over 25 years. He and biologist Mike Isel oversee the Northern Virginia District, a 12-county region from Lake Anna north and from Skyline Drive east.

He’s a big proponent of hybrid stripers and was instrumental in getting them stocked in Anna. He told me a bit about the fascinating history of the special fish in the southeast and Virginia.

“Hybrid striped bass came on the scene with a vengeance in the southeast primarily in the 80’s. At the time I was working in Florida for the US Fish & Wildlife Service and they were stocking a cross between female striper and male white bass known as a sunshine bass, and a cross between female white bass and male striper known as a palmetto bass. They were stocking them all over Florida. As a federal wildlife agent, I and my fellow feds, were concerned the hybrids might mess up the pure Gulf striper genetics.” Odenkirk recalled.

The longtime Virginia fisheries scientist then came to Virginia in 1989 noting: “They were stocking hybrids everywhere. Ni, Occoquan; essentially anywhere that had excessive gizzard shad. Stripers didn’t do well on many of these lakes due to lack of habit but wipers did well.”

Odenkirk said that one of the reasons the hybrids become so popular to stock had to do with the collapse of the Chesapeake Bay rockfish fishery.

“In the 80’s the Atlantic rockfish stocks plummeted so no one got any stripers for years. Also at that time there was growing concern that hybrid wipers would breed with the pure Atlantic strain stripers. We actually caught gravid males below the Occoquan dam.”

Due to this concern, the stocking of hybrids ceased in any Chesapeake drainages. Non-Chesapeake drainages were the only places that received wipers into the 1990s due to that concern, according to Odenkirk.

Per the state fisheries biologist, two things then happened that affected the history of hybrid striper in Virginia; 1) at some point the Virginia Marine Resources Council (VMRC) became responsible for permitting any stocking of hybrid striper and 2) the aquaculture industry stepped up and began farm raising hybrid stripers to fill the void of rockfish in the consumer market.

Now fast forward to Lake Anna in 1993 and the disastrous stocking of grass carp.

“One good thing from that experience was the conclusion that grass carp did not migrate out of the lake: it was like a lock box,” Odenkirk told me.

At some point the biologist additionally realized “striper were not doing as well as we thought they would do in Lake Anna” so he began writing proposal letters to the VMRC about experimental stockings of hybrid striper in Anna in 2014. After a three-year waiting period to see if the fish would get over/through the North Anna dam, no dissent was received, so Odenkirk and his staff began regular stocking of hybrids and the rest is history.

Currently the following lakes receive regular stockings of hybrid striper/wiper: Lake Anna, Carvin’s Cove Reservoir, Hungry Mother, Rural Retreat, Flanagan and Claytor. DWR puts the stockings out to bid and the source varies from year to year.

While the current state record hybrid striped bass came from Claytor Lake and weighs 15-13 (Don Jessie, March 16, 2016), Odenkirk expects the fish in Anna to exceed that mark soon.

“To me it’s the absolute perfect place for hybrids. Because of the water conditions it was never great for striper. It just doesn’t stratify like many other lakes. The temperature is also subtly increasing and that is not good for striper, but fine for hybrids. The forage bass is large and diverse, giving those fish the opportunity to reach immense proportions. I fully expect a state record in a couple of years.”

Twenty inches is a statewide length regulation for land-locked striper (Smith Mountain Lake varies). Anna’s striper are the slowest growing striper in the southeast, however its hybrids grow more quickly. Odenkirk says Anna’s striper take 30 months on average to reach 20 inches. Wiper take a few months less. A 20-inch striper weighs 2.5 pound. A 20-inch hybrid weighs another pound-and-a-half.

What do wiper eat? Pretty much anything that swims. They are considered opportunistic but prefer to dine on threadfin shad, alewives, gizzard shad, blue back herring, even white perch.

We asked Odenkirk if striper and wiper school together?

“We catch both in our gill nets side by side and in the same condition, so while we aren’t 100% certain, we think they do school together.”

Anna receives the most hybrids in the state. They are stocked in early summer at the 208 bridge/High Point Marina and at Sturgeon Creek Marina. The lake has been receiving 96,000 hybrid stripers per year, approximately 10 fish per acre, based on the main lake of 9,600 acres.

Is this the year we see a state record wiper pulled from Anna? Unlikely as the largest caught last year was around 12 pounds, however, keep an eye on the lake starting in the spring of 2023 as holdovers from the 2014 year class could be 15+.

In the mean time, based on the year classes in the lake you can expect to catch fish from under a pound up to seven pounds and then fish from 10-12 pounds.

Anglers have found small swimbaits and A-rigs effective for wiper in the cooler months on most lakes. Vertically jigged and fluttered spoons are also popular during the winter as are underspins. Once the fish move shallow in the spring, they will accept walked and waked lures, topwater poppers, small, soft plastic jerkbaits, suspending jerkbaits, lipless crankbaits and swimbaits.

There’s even a growing contingency of flyfisherman that use sinking line and Clouser Minnows effectively in the summer and fall for hybrid striper when the fish school and feed consistently.

Yes, you can also target wipers using live baits, but unlike striper, they will accept an artificial lure more often and vigorously.

Where do you start your search for wiper on Anna or other lakes where they are stocked? Well, this article should help. A fishing guide would be a good person to consult, as well. Marinas, too, are happy to share current catch information with patrons.

Generally, wiper head up river/lake in the spring to areas with current, down to deeper areas starting in late May and June, and then back up or at least to where baitfish schools are in the fall and winter. Both white bass and striper perform spring migrations so this is to be expected.

Good luck this season catching a Virginia wiper. I think you’ll find them to be one of your new favorite fish should you succeed.

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