Nothing anemic about Liberty's striped bass

On the Outdoors

October 05, 1997|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

Many anglers consider the striped bass a fish of coastal rivers, bays and inshore areas of the ocean, but at Liberty Reservoir on the Baltimore-Carroll county line, the striped bass also is a prime game fish, and one that over the years has surprised both anglers and biologists.

According to Ed Enamait, rivers and reservoirs manager for the state fisheries service, Liberty is one of a relatively few impoundments in the United States where striped bass, also known as rockfish, spawn naturally.

The spawns have been so successful since the early 1980s that the majority of striped bass in the 3,100-acre impoundment were the result of natural reproduction rather than being stocked. Stripers were stocked in the reservoir from 1981 to 1984.

And as the weather cools, that is good news for anglers who make the trip to Liberty, which in the past few years has produced three state-record stripers.

Two of those record fish were caught by Jerry Sauter of Catonsville, a lifelong bass fisherman who caught the striper bug after experiencing an electro-shock survey at Liberty.

What Sauter saw was striped bass averaging 12 to 13 pounds and one that exceeded 50 pounds -- and he was hooked.

"Most of my fishing through the years has been for [black] bass," said Sauter, 57.

"But when I saw those electro-shocked fish, I realized that, compared to the average largemouth, stripers are just a big, big fish.

"It got me pysched."

Interesting words from a top-notch angler who held the state smallmouth record for about a year in the late 1960s at 6 pounds, 7 ounces and the largemouth record for a decade at 10 pounds, 1 ounce.

Sauter, who admits that he fishes hard and often, geared his tackle for stripers rather than bass and in November of 1995 set the state freshwater record for the species with a striper measuring 43 1/4 inches and weighing 36 pounds, 4 ounces.

A year later, Sauter caught a 37-pound, 8-ounce striper to set a new record. In May, a 46.5-inch, 41-pound, 6-ounce striper caught at Liberty surpassed Sauter's mark.

"When the bug began to bite, I needed to know where the fish were; where the best places to catch them were," said Sauter, who learned many of his fishing skills while working at the Loch Raven Reservoir Fishing Center.

A crucial element in reservoirs at this time of year, Sauter said, is turnover, when the strata of water temperatures changes and the patterns of baitfish and predators change with it, the fish tending to feed heavily in preparation for winter.

"These fish in Liberty really turn on at this time of year," Sauter said. "After the water turns over."

According to Enamait, the largest striper documented at Liberty was 46.4 inches and weighed 45 pounds, 3 ounces. The fish was measured during an electro-shocking survey.

This fall, Enamait reports, shoreline anglers will have a good shot at catching stripers, which must be at least 18 inches.

The creel limit is two per day, only one of which can exceed 30 inches.

The reason is that fish from the 1995 class will be reaching the minimum length, and that class is the largest documented by DNR in the impoundment.

Other good reproduction years were 1992, 1989 and 1987, so the range of naturally reproduced stripers should be between 3 and more than 30 pounds, according to DNR.

Radio tracking studies by DNR indicate that spring and fall are the times of year when the fishing opportunities are best because the fish tend to congregate in the upper reaches of the reservoir, where they are more accessible to shoreline fishermen.

Overcast days tend to be better, said Enamait, and best lures are large artificials (Sauter used a Cordell Redfin for his fist record) or large crayfish or shiners (Sauter used a large shiner for his second mark) and chicken livers.

Enamait said striped bass at Liberty are so well-established now that there is potential for record-setting fish to be pulled from the reservoir for many years to come.

Pub Date: 10/05/97

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