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THE STRIPED BASS IN THE PACIFIC
“BE NOT FORGETFUL TO ENTERTAIN STRANGERS.”
FROM the American sea fisherman’s standpoint the striped bass should be considered the most interesting fish that swims in the sea, not only on account of its gameness and the interesting sport it has afforded but also because the science of sea-fishing in American waters has been developed from striped bass fishing. Most scientific sea-tackle is based on the knowledge acquired from years of striped bass fishing, for it was the first seafish that American anglers fished for scientifically. Prior to the sixties braided lines and large single action reels were in use along our coast just as they are along the coast of England today, but this antiquated tackle proved to be not sufficiently strong or quick enough in action for so agile a fish as the striped bass.
Three jointed rods of ash or lance-wood were used at first, then the Calcutta and Japan bamboo rods came into fashion and these were developed later into the light, two-piece split bamboo rods with guides and tips of agate or cornelian of the present day.
The twisted Cuttyhunk lines and easily-running multiplying reels were also invented for this bass fishing purpose. The strong tackle used for tarpon and tuna fishing has been developed until we now have reels that will stand the heaviest strain of a thousand pound tuna, and will hold a thousand feet of twisted linen line that will not break at sixty pounds of dead pull.
The striped bass were very plentiful along the Atlantic coast in the sixties and seventies, and are still to be found from Cape Cod to Chesapeake Bay and even farther south where they are known as rockflsh.
In the sixties many clubs were formed at Newport, West Island, Block Island and Montauk, and at Cuttyhunk and Pasque Islands where the waters were chummed with menhaden and where the members fished from the rocks and from iron stands built on the rocky points that jut out into the sea. Many fish were also taken from rowboats, the angler casting his bait into the white waters of the breaking surf around rocks and points where these fish were known to trade.
There is some skill required in casting, for when the bait is started on its flight through the air the reel pays out the line much faster than the weight of the bait can carry it off, and if not checked by the thumb, the line overruns.
When casting, the rod is thrown back with about two and a half feet of line for play; with a rather slow movement of the tip forward the bait describing a graceful curve drops noiselessly into the water.
Many large fish were taken in this manner every season. For example, Mr. Thomas Winans and his nephew took in three months’ fishing from stands built for the purpose on the rocks in front of his house at Newport, Rhode Island, 124 striped bass weighing 2,921 pounds, an average of over twenty-three pounds, the largest being a fish of sixty pounds. I have known my father, the late George Griswold, who was a keen fisherman, to bring home before breakfast, four fish that would weigh over fifty pounds each, but that was in the sixties at New London where no bass are now to be found.
Last season (1914) I heard of but three large fish taken in the waters off the Elizabeth Islands. They weighed 51, 52, and 63 pounds. The summer before but one large fish was reported.
The fishing clubs have been abandoned, the stands have been destroyed by the action of the sea, and the waters are no longer chummed or fished, for the large striped bass have become a tradition of the past. This has been caused by excessive net fishing, for the bass, being a migratory fish, has been and is still netted along the full length of the coast both going and coming as well as when in southern waters, and the result has been fatal.
In late years a new form of fishing has been introduced and special tackle invented for the purpose. This is known as beach or surf fishing. The fisherman clad in long rubber wading-boots, using a specially long and springy rod, casts his bait and sinker out beyond the combers. About two feet above the sinker, which weighs from three to five ounces, a leader of triple or quadruple gut is fastened to the line with a double-action swivel. In this manner some good fish are still taken every spring and autumn along the New Jersey and Long Island beaches, and many small bass, known as “school bass,” are caught trolling in the estuaries and along the tide-rips.
In 1875 an attempt was made to transfer the striped bass to the waters of the Pacific Coast. One hundred and fifty fingerlings were safely transported across the continent and liberated in a slough that emptied into San Francisco Bay. This was repeated in 1880 when two hundred and fifty fingerlings were liberated in the same manner. The first fish taken in the nets were two fish of seven pounds captured in 1880. From this time the fish, being protected by good laws, increased amazingly both in numbers and in size.
In 1903 two million pounds of striped bass were sold in the markets of San Francisco and Oakland and the supply seemed inexhaustible.
A striped bass fishing club had been formed and although the members attempted to preserve the fish for the good sport they afforded they failed, for the State Fishing Commission was persuaded by the public fishermen and the fish dealers to remove all restrictions.
As often happens in such cases the commission discovered its mistake too late, for in a few years’ time few fish remained.
In later years they have renewed the restrictions by closing some of the bay sloughs to fishermen and not allowing any fish to be taken under three pounds in weight, and the fish are now increasing and afford good sport.
MR. JAMES R. STEERS AND STRIPED BASS
In 1903 one and a quarter cents a pound was the price in the market but it has risen so that twenty cents a pound is now often paid, for it took some years to establish the fact that the striped bass as a table fish compares favorably with the salmon and the other seafish of the Pacific Ocean.
The largest fish taken that I have record of weighed 62½ pounds and I have heard of several fish that weighed over fifty pounds.
The method of fishing for them is trolling as they seem to be found only in the bay and in the sloughs and rivers that empty into the bay.
Whereas the baits used on the Atlantic Coast are menhaden, lobster, eels, shedder crabs, and bloodworms, on the Pacific Coast the fish are taken on the Wilson spoon, which was invented for this purpose, and with crab, herring, and a local fish called bull-head.
Little seems to be known about the habits of these transplanted fish. They seem to remain in the same waters the year around, yet most of the large fish are taken in November and December.
It is the most interesting case of the transplanting of seafish that I know of and if the restrictions had not been removed the striped bass fishing in San Francisco Bay would be justly celebrated and there would have been no scarcity of striped bass in the fish markets of California.
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