An Argument for Stocking Stripers in Fontana

By Ronnie Parris

Hey folks, I hope the heat hasn’t got you down. I’m already looking forward to fall.

What I’d like to talk about is the explosion of the blueback herring. For years Fontana Lake reigned supreme in the mountains as the number one lake for catching walleye as well as a variety of fish. That is until the bluebacks were illegally introduced into the lake.

At first s lot of folks were excited thinking of the benefits that come from having a herring population for bass and other species to feed on. And don’t get me wrong, we are seeing some huge spotted bass being taken as a result. This also took the pressure off of the threadfin shad population, as a lot of fish were filling up on bluebacks and letting the threadfin population thrive.

So what’s the problem you might ask. Well for one thing, it’s made all the fish species harder to catch. With all the bait population doing so well there’s no need for a fish to hit a lure that’s not exactly what they want anymore. But the main damage the bluebacks are doing is from when walleye and white bass are up in the river, trying to spawn. You will see billions of bluebacks feeding on the eggs and fry of the walleye and white bass. The picture included in this article is a blueback I caught on a 3 inch spoon trolled at 60 ft deep. So if you don’t think a blueback is an aggressive feeder you better guess again.

So how do you get the walleye numbers, as well as white bass numbers, back up? Well you can try stocking, but that’s only bandading the problem. Yeah, we may catch a few of the stocked fish and think they’re coming back, but as long as the walleye can’t successfully spawn you will never sustain the population. In my opinion the fastest solution is to stock a predator fish that will feed mainly on the bluebacks. The best scenario would be for the NWRC to stock stripers, which love eating blueback herring. They would serve a dual purpose, as they would eat thousands of herring and are also one of the best fighting fish and best eating fish you can hook into.

When I talked to our NWRC biologist a while back I got the feeling he would be open to this but was afraid of catching flak from the local fishermen, like they did when muskies were introduced several years ago and started feeding on our crappie an other good-eating fish. The stripers have an advantage over the musky when it comes to public opinion because they are great table fare compared to the musky, which is like eating a dirty sock.

I’m hoping folks will give our biologists a little encouragement to try the stripers in Fontana. Bottom line: something has to be done about the bluebacks, or we will never see Fontana ranked as a decent walleye fishery again.

As always folks, stay safe and take a kid fishing.

Ronnie Parris is owner and head guide of Smoky Mountain Outdoors Unlimited-Fontana Lake Fishing Guides, headquartered in Bryson City, N.C., heart of the Great Smoky Mountains; (828) 488-9711.