Just like they had done every year in late April or early May for the past decade, the two fishing buddies made their way to the upper end of Lake of the Ozarks' Niangua Arm to get in on some of the fast white bass fishing that occurs during the spawning season.
They had placed several scrappy white bass in the livewell when one of the anglers hollered, "I've got a good one; he's takin' line!" Thirty seconds later they heard the "snap" of breaking fishing line.
Both anglers watched in stunned silence as the fish, lure and all of the line from the fishing reel headed upstream.
"I got a glimpse of him when he hit the lure. That was the biggest white bass I've ever seen! It must have weighed 10 pounds!"
Although similar to a white bass in appearance, the fish that stripped the line off this angler's reel was probably one of the hatchery-produced hybrid striped bass that were first introduced to Missouri waters in the early 1980s. The Conservation Department produces hybrids by using the sperm of native white bass to fertilize the eggs of striped bass, an introduced species.
The Conservation Department has stocked hybrids in select Missouri waters to provide anglers with trophy-sized gamefish and to introduce a predator that could feed on large gizzard shad. Adult gizzard shad in our reservoirs are too large to be eaten by most other sportfish, with the exception of large predators such as flathead catfish and muskellunge.
In Missouri, hybrids commonly reach 7 to 10 pounds. Occasionally, an angler catches a 15- or 16-pound fish. A lucky angler caught the state record hybrid, a 20.5-pound fish in Lake of the Ozarks in 1986. The current world record stands at 27 pounds, 5 ounces.
How do you go about catching a hybrid? First, make sure you are fishing in a lake that has an established hybrid stocking program. At present, hybrids are stocked in Lake of the Ozarks, Truman Lake, Thomas Hill Reservoir and Blue Springs Lake. As a result of fish passage through Bagnell Dam, hybrids also live in the Osage River below Lake of the Ozarks.
The back of the tongue of a striped bass has two distinct parallel tooth patches.
Anglers take a few hybrids while fishing for catfish, largemouth bass or white bass. However, to increase your chances of hooking a hybrid, try specifically targeting them.
Hybrids appear to be attracted to flowing water. Tailwater areas below dams are good fishing locations when water is flowing either through the spillway gates or turbines of the dam. Also, natural springs and the mouths of feeder creeks after heavy rains can attract hybrids.
The fish will usually not be in the fastest water, but off to the side waiting to ambush their prey (or your lure). Areas with current are productive throughout the year. Hybrids also travel up reservoir tributary streams right along with the white bass during April and May.
During the summer months, you can catch hybrids by trolling deep-diving crankbaits over main lake points or near the edge where a flat drops off into the channel. The most productive times are low light periods (dusk and dawn) and overcast days. The key is to get your lure to bounce bottom in 14 to 17 feet of water. This can be done by adding weight to your lure and by using a low stretch/small diameter line.
Hybrids occupy distinct spots on structure, so trolling passes need to be exact. Anglers should line up shoreline objects and troll between them. Most strikes will come while trolling with the current because the fish like to hold on the down-current side of points.
You can catch hybrids on a variety of artificial baits. In fast water situations, such as those encountered below dams, heavy spoons and jigs are popular baits. For areas with less current, imitation minnow baits and other crankbaits are effective. Hybrids also can be caught on shad, liver and a variety of insects.
When pursuing hybrids, leave the crappie and bluegill rods at home. Hybrids are incredibly strong, hard-hitting fish. If there is a weak link in your tackle, a big hybrid will point it out to you. More lures are destroyed by hybrids than by any other species of fish, so have extras on hand.
A long rod with some flex to it helps absorb the shock of the initial strike and keeps the hooks from pulling out of the fish's mouth.
When a hybrid does hit your lure, it usually happens so fast that if the fish does not hook itself, it often throws the lure before you can react. Sharpening the hooks on your lures is the best way to keep fish from getting off.
In most Missouri reservoirs, gizzard shad are the most important prey for sport fish, including black bass, crappie, walleye, catfish and white bass. Gizzard shad usually reach maximum sizes of about 9 to 15 inches and can live up to 10 to 12 years. Young gizzard shad grow quickly, so they are most valuable as food for sport fish during their first year of life, when they're less than 5 inches long.
Threadfin shad, a smaller cousin of the gizzard shad, are important prey in reservoirs on the Arkansas border but cannot survive in the colder waters of northern reservoirs.
A recent study by the Conservation Department revealed how important the gizzard shad growth rate can be to sport fish. Gizzard shad can grow so rapidly that they become too large for most sport fish to eat. In Missouri's large reservoirs, gizzard shad usually reach 2 to 6 inches long by the end of their first year.
Crappies can consume shad up to about one-third of their length. For example, a 9-inch-long crappie could eat shad up to 3 inches long. So when shad grow more than 3 inches long their first year, 9-inch crappies are forced to eat other foods because the shad are too large to eat.
Because of their bigger body and mouth size, largemouth bass and white bass can feed on larger shad than crappies. Largemouth bass can eat shad up to about one-half the length of their bodies. Similar to crappies, white bass can consume shad up to about one-third of their length, but they usually grow larger than crappies and thus are able to eat larger shad.
Sport fish usually do not grow as fast when they are forced to eat foods other than shad, especially when their diets consist mainly of invertebrates. For instance, crappies may only reach 7 inches long at 3 years of age in waters with fast-growing shad, compared to 10 inches long where shad grow more slowly. Even largemouth bass and white bass grow slowly in reservoirs where young shad grow fast and get too large for them to eat.
Perhaps the most effective way to reduce growth of young shad for the long term will be to reduce the amount of nutrients and sediments coming into reservoirs. Research shows that young shad quickly grow large in shallow, nutrient-rich reservoirs.
Excessive nutrients and sediments can come from a variety of sources including crop land, confined animal feeding operations, industries and municipal sewage facilities. Runoff containing excessive nutrients and sediments promotes excessive algal growth and sedimentation. That results in rapidly-growing young shad, murky water and shortened reservoir life. - Paul Michaletz
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