The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries joined several anglers in stocking 50,000 F1 tiger bass in Smith Mountain Lake on June 25. It is the latest in an ongoing effort to bring better bass fishing to the lake.
Tiger bass first arrived at the lake in 2015 when angler Robert Wood stocked 61,000 of them over three years with $33,000 donated by area businesses and anglers, as well as his own money.
Wood first became interested in tiger bass after looking for ways to improve fishing at the lake. As it currently stands, a 6-pound bass is the biggest that anglers can expect to catch, Wood said. However, in a few years, as the tiger bass grow, he said he expects that size will grow to as big as 8 or 9 pounds.
“Smith Mountain Lake has the potential to be a top trophy lake across the country,” Wood said. “I think we are well on our way to doing that.”
Tiger bass are a genetic mix of northern bass that grows faster and a Florida bass that grows larger. American Sport Fish, a fish hatchery in Alabama, is the only company currently licensed to produce and sell the fish.
Wood worked with VDGIF to obtain permits to stock the tiger bass for three years. Due to its early success, VDGIF has agreed to continue stocking them for the next few years and also expanded the project to Claytor, Anna and Chesdin lakes.
On June 25, 50,000 tiger bass were stocked along the Roanoke river arm of the lake at a cost of $25,000.
Tiger bass are nearly identical to bass that are in the lake today. VDGIF Fisheries Biologist Dan Wilson said the only way to tell a tiger bass from other bass is through genetic testing. Fin clips of bass are taken and sent to a lab to verify if they are tiger bass.
Samples of bass numbers are taken annually by electrofishing--a process that briefly stuns a fish so they can be studied, Wilson said. In those samples, Wilson said tiger bass made up approximately 5% of the bass population they found in the lake.
Although previous attempts to stock new types of bass have been unsuccessful, the survival rate and rapid growth of the tiger bass motivated VDGIF to continue the program, Wilson said.
Earlier this year, VDGIF took fin clips from bass they found larger than 4 pounds. The clips were taken in samples done by VDGIF, as well as from recent bass tournaments around the lake. Wilson said if those fin clips were from tiger bass, it would be a positive indication that the stocking is a success. Lab results are expected to be available in the next few weeks.
Wood said he is optimistic that some of those bass will be tiger bass.
“If we find just one, it will prove that this lake has the potential to produce large bass,” Wood said.
VDGIF plans to continue stocking the tiger bass for at least another five years, Wilson said. If the fish reach certain benchmarks, including increasing the total number of bass in the lake and increasing the total number of larger bass in the lake, the stockings could continue.
“We do expect to see some improvement, but it has to reach a certain goal to justify the stocking,” Wilson said.