Trophy striper lends itself to research at Lake Powell

Early last Saturday, Adam Jones and Deborah Williams were fishing Warm Creek Bay on the southern end of Lake Powell when they saw this 44-inch striper thrashing on the surface. The fish was well underweight for a striper this size and a biologist said it likely died from post-spawn stress.

A chance encounter with a dying striper at Lake Powell has helped fisheries biologists better understand the life cycles of that lake’s biggest fish.

According to Utah Lake Powell fisheries biologist Wayne Gustaveson, he received a call at his office in Page, Arizona, early last Saturday about a big striper being caught at the mouth of Warm Creek in the southern end of the lake.

When Gustaveson arrived, he found Adam Jones and Deborah Williams (no hometowns given) holding a dead 44-inch striper.

The two told Gustaveson they had seen the fish struggling on the surface and unsuccessfully tried to revive it.

Gustaveson convinced the anglers to have a fiberglass replica made and he took the fish to his lab at Wahweap Marina.

According to Gustaveson, the fish weighed 28.75 pounds and had a girth of 25.5 inches, both notably under what is considered normal for fish 
that size.

A 44-inch striper should weigh at least 30 pounds and be at least 2 inches larger in girth, he said.

But this fish had an empty stomach and apparently had recently finished spawning, both factors to the low weight and smaller girth, as seen in the accompanying photo.

Because striped bass are surface spawners, they have to spend some time in Lake Powell’s warm surface waters, which can lead to a build up of lactic acid in their muscles.

Gustaveson said the fish, a well-nourished female, probably died from a combination of post-spawn stress and excessive lactic acid buildup.

He said several trophy sized stripers have been found dead on the surface because they were unable to dive into deeper water because of the lactic acid buildup.

Gustaveson said a scale analysis revealed the fish to be 10 years old, the apparent maximum life span of Lake Powell’s large stripers.

“Striped bass that do not leave the school seldom live longer than 5 years, while trophy fish live twice that long,” Gustaveson said. “Large stripers are loners that hunt catfish, carp, and walleye in the cooler water. They do come into shallow water to eat shad on occasion when shad numbers are high and hunting forage does not require a long stay in warm water.”


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