Weather On The Water: Hundreds of striped bass at Claytor Lake dead; how weather impacts the fish survival

Striped bass are considered a sensitive fish with their habitat requirements.
Published: Aug. 5, 2022 at 3:29 PM EDT
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PULASKI COUNTY, Va. (WDBJ) - This week for Weather On The Water we are traveling to Pulaski County to talk about an issue that happens often at Claytor Lake, but this year it is considered more significant. We are talking about the death of hundreds of striped bass.

Hundreds of striped bass have been reported dead at Claytor Lake.
Hundreds of striped bass have been reported dead at Claytor Lake.(WDBJ7)

“This is a pretty significant die-off for the striped bass for sure. It appears that it occurs at least in a fairly substantial degree on Claytor Lake about every six years. Although we can have some more minor die-off almost every year,” said Jeff Williams, Regional Fisheries Manager with the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR).

The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources posted on Facebook about the numerous deaths indicating striped bass require certain temperatures and certain dissolved oxygen levels. “They need water temperatures generally less than 75 degrees Fahrenheit. They also need dissolved oxygen levels greater than say 2-3 milligrams per liter.”

In the post it mentions a ‘habitat squeeze’ known as thermal stratification. “During the summer as the lake starts to stratify you start to get warmer water on top, so they move deeper to look for that cooler water. Early on there is sufficient oxygen there but because of a phenomenon known as thermal stratification, as the season progresses, the different water layers become isolated. The striped bass down there in those cooler water temperatures and that existing oxygen bubble goes away.”

This isn’t only a problem at Claytor Lake. Many lakes, especially in the southeast, where striped bass are introduced and stocked, have the same issue. “That thermal stratification and oxygen depletion happens on most lakes. It’s just that the striped bass happen to have habitat requirements that fall in the middle of that.”

“Striped bass are not indigenous to the rivers, lakes and streams around here; they are saltwater fish. In doing so they have to swim in order to breathe… The striped bass are a little more sensitive in that regard. Like you can’t put them in the live well in my boat. They will die immediately. They will suffocate because they can’t pass the water through their gills when they are sitting still,” said John Crews, Pro Bass Angler.

The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources states what guides them for striped bass stocking is the availability of a good habitat. If the death of striped bass continues to happen, DWR mentioned it may have to make some changes. “Looking forward we may have to reevaluate our strategy when it comes to striped bass on Claytor Lake.”

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