Striped Bass

Morone saxatilis

Last updated: February 23, 2023
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© slowmotiongli/Shutterstock.com

Pilgrims counted striped bass as an essential part of their diet from the time they arrived in North America.


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Striped Bass Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Actinopterygii
Order
Perciformes
Family
Moronidae
Genus
Morone
Scientific Name
Morone saxatilis

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Striped Bass Conservation Status

Striped Bass Locations

Striped Bass Locations

Striped Bass Facts

Prey
Menhaden, bay anchovies, silversides, yellow perch, alewives, smelt, flounders, mummichogs, rock gunnels, sand lance, juvenile silver hake and tomcod, river herring, shad, and blueback herring
Main Prey
Menhaden
Name Of Young
Fry
Group Behavior
  • School
Fun Fact
Pilgrims counted striped bass as an essential part of their diet from the time they arrived in North America.
Estimated Population Size
Approximately 218.9 million fish in 2021
Biggest Threat
Overfishing
Most Distinctive Feature
Black stripes running along the side of the fish from the gills to the tail
Other Name(s)
Striper, rockfish
Age Of Independence
At birth
Average Spawn Size
500,000 to 4 million eggs
Habitat
Ocean and freshwater rivers and estuaries
Predators
Humans, sharks, seals, tomcod, cod, silver hake
Diet
Carnivore
Lifestyle
  • School
Favorite Food
Menhaden
Common Name
Striped bass
Origin
Eastern Atlantic seaboard of North America
Location
Eastern Atlantic seaboard of North America, and introduced to interior lakes and rivers, as well as the western U,S. coastline
Nesting Location
Freshwater rivers
Migratory
1

Striped Bass Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Blue
  • Black
  • Green
  • Silver
Skin Type
Scales
Top Speed
4 mph
Lifespan
10-12 years on average, instances of 30 plus in the wild
Weight
20-40 pounds on average, confirmed record of 81, historical record of 124
Length
20-34 inches on average
Age of Sexual Maturity
2-4 years for males, 5-8 for females
Venomous
No

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“Though they can live entirely in freshwater, adult striped bass primarily spend their lives in river estuaries or the ocean.”

Striped Bass Summary

The striped bass is a popular sport fish found along the North Atlantic coast of Canada and the United States. Sometimes called the Atlantic striped bass, rockfish, or striper, this long-lived species has been fished since pre-colonial times. In fact, descriptions were given by early European colonists. This species is anadromous; it migrates north and south from the coastal waters to inland freshwater rivers via estuaries to spawn in the spring. Though they can live entirely in freshwater, adult striped bass primarily spend their lives in river estuaries or the ocean. The striped bass is fished both commercially and recreationally. As a recreational sport fish, it has been introduced outside of its natural habitat in waterways throughout the United States. During a period of overfishing, hybrids were bred and introduced to inland waterways, as well as commercial fisheries.

3 Striped Bass Facts

  • Rhode Island, Maryland, and South Carolina list the striped bass as their state fish.
  • It is the state marine fish in New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, and Virginia.
  • This fish was abundant during the European colonization of North America and was a staple of the Pilgrim diet in the 1600s.

Striped Bass Classification and Scientific Name

The scientific name of the striped bass is Morone saxatilisM. saxatilis is one of six perciform (perch-like, ray-finned) species of fish of the Moronidae family of temperate bass. The perciform order has over 10,000 species across more than 160 families. It makes up over 41% of the world’s bony fish.

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Striped Bass Hybrid

In the 1980s, the striped bass was considered overfished with an ongoing population collapse. To counter the loss of stock, the commercial aquaculture industry introduced a hybrid created in 1967. The hybrid is a combination of striper (Morone saxatilis) and white bass (M. chrysops.) and has the culinary qualities of the striper with the more robust characteristics of the white bass.

The hybrid is also called a wiper, whiterock bass, Cherokee bass, sunshine, or palmetto bass. Hybrid striped bass tastes like wild striped bass but has a milder, sweeter flavor. The texture is also a bit more delicate. This delicacy is enhanced when the fish is raised in strictly controlled tanks or ponds, guaranteeing flavor consistency.

The combination of the two species allows the hybrid to grow larger and more quickly than its parents, though striped bass raised in fish farms are sold within the 1 to 3-pound range.



Striped Bass Appearance

Full frame of silver / blue striped bass in water, appears to be an aquarium. very blue background.

This fish has a series of six to nine dark stripes that run laterally from the gill to the tail on each side.

©slowmotiongli/Shutterstock.com

Striped bass have long, streamlined bodies with light or olive green, blue, black, or brown tops and silvery sides. They get the “striped” designation from the series of six to nine dark stripes that run laterally from the gill to the tail on each side. They have two separate dorsal fins and a large mouth with jaws that reach below the eye.

Striped bass sense their environments through a combination of smell, vision, and the lateral line (the darkest of the stripes that run along its side). In addition to locating prey, their strong sense of smell helps guide them to their spawning grounds. While their vision is limited, it is similar to that of humans. It uses rods to see in low light and cones to identify color. The limitation in their sight means they only use their vision in close contact with prey. The lateral line is used to detect vibrations that alert them to the presence of predators or prey. They can detect sound waves and monitor pressure and velocity.

The striped bass’s oceanic habitat allows for greater size than fish limited to river or pond environments. Adult stripers are commonly 20 to 40 pounds, with females weighing more than males. Most striped bass over 30 pounds are females. Though they can (rarely) reach 100 pounds, the largest recorded catch of a striped bass was 124 pounds in 1896. The average striper will be between 20 and 35 inches in length.

Striped Bass Distribution and Population

The striper is native to the Atlantic coast of North America, from the St. Lawrence River to Northern Florida and portions of the Gulf of Mexico. Due to their popularity as gaming fish, striped bass have also been introduced to lakes and reservoirs throughout the Midwest and coasts along California, Oregon, and Washington.

In the early 1980s, the striped bass was found to be overfished and is still experiencing overfishing. Measures were implemented to stop overfishing and return stock to a healthy population. In 1995, it was determined that the stock had recovered sufficiently to modify some stock management practices. 1995 was also established as the threshold for future monitoring of striped bass stock. As of 2021, approximately 116 million age-1 fish were entering the population, and the female spawning stock had a biomass of about 140 million pounds. It has been determined that the striped bass population is again overfished, but it is not experiencing overfishing. This means that stock is lower than it should be, but not because of current fishing practices. New weight and catch limits have been established to protect female breeding stock from future overfishing.

Striped Bass Habitat

Striped bass are interesting because they can live in freshwater and saltwater. They live most of their adult lives in the ocean but return to freshwater for spawning. Depending on temperature and time of year, they inhabit the ocean, estuaries, rivers, and brackish waters. Stripers in the ocean stay in the coastal waters and bays until they enter rivers to spawn. Sometimes, they get landlocked due to flooding, whether natural or artificial. They prefer to live near the bottom to feed.

Striped bass do best in deep and clear waters of about 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, though studies suggest they can survive in temperatures as cold as 48 degrees, which makes them well-suited for ocean life. When striped bass live in ocean waters, they rarely stray more than five miles from the coastline. During their adult lives, some will migrate north and south, with fish tagged in the Chesapeake Bay sighted in rivers and waters off the shore of Canada.

When spring arrives, adults leave coastal waters for brackish waters or rivers to spawn. Once mating is complete, larvae float downriver to estuaries, inland waters, and river deltas to their nurseries, where the hatched young stay until they are two to four years old. Some of these fish remain in the rivers until temperature changes force migration to the ocean.

Sometimes, striped bass can become landlocked due to natural flooding, receding waters, or manufactured flooding from dams. These fish still retain their instincts for spawning but cannot migrate as they usually would, resulting in difficulty reproducing naturally.

Striped Bass Predators and Prey

Striped bass are ferocious predators among smaller fish, but they are still vulnerable to predation by larger fish or competing species. Their top predators, of course, are humans. In addition to sport and commercial fishing, stripers are vulnerable to direct and indirect human-caused environmental changes. In addition to human impacts, they often fall prey to sharks, seals, tomcod, cod, bluefish, and silver hake.

Striped bass are energetic and efficient hunters, preferring to feed at the bottom of the water bodies they occupy but sometimes chasing prey to the surface, especially when preparing their bodies for winter. They hunt at night, but their most active hours are dusk and dawn.

At the larval stage, striped bass primarily eat zooplankton (microscopic organisms.) Once the young reach about 2 inches in length, they will expand their diet to include amphipods and mysid shrimp, which are slightly larger prey. Larger juveniles begin to prey on insect larvae, mayflies, worms, larval fish, and small crustaceans, including shrimp and copepods.

Adults are primarily piscivorous or fish-eaters, feeding on small fish, such as bay anchovies, silversides, yellow perch, alewives, smelt, flounders, mummichogs, rock gunnels, sand lance, juvenile silver hake, tomcod, river herring, shad, and blueback herring. Their primary diet, however, consists of menhaden. They will also eat eels and invertebrates, such as seaworms, amphipods, crabs, lobsters, squid, soft clams, and small mussels. In California waters, they eat delta smelt and salmon.

Striped Bass Reproduction and Lifespan

Once spring arrives and the water temperatures reach about 64 ℉, males of two to three years and up, along with females five to six years or older, begin migrating to brackish river estuaries and freshwater rivers. The Hudson River, the Chesapeake Bay, and the Roanoke River-Albemarle Sound watershed see the largest spawning populations. They spawn into the summer, peaking when the water reaches about 65 ℉.

Mature female stripers will produce many eggs according to their size. A small female may produce about 500,000 eggs, while a 55-pound female can produce over 4 million. Less than one percent of those embryos will survive shortly after hatching.

Striped bass are polyandrous fish, meaning that multiple males mate with a single female. Seven to eight smaller males circle a female and begin bumping her until she reaches the surface. Once the female reaches the surface, the males continue to bump her, prompting her to release her eggs. The males then fertilize the eggs as they fall through the water.

Fertilized eggs float down the current for one and a half to three days until they hatch. The parents do not care for the embryos and larvae. The larvae drift into the nursery areas among the estuaries, river deltas, and inland coastal sounds until they mature as juveniles.

Striped bass have long lifespans. There have been reports of stripers over 30 years old in the wild, though most of them live in the 10-12 year range.

Striped Bass Fishing  

Striped bass are one of the most sought-after game fish for numerous anglers. In the United States, stripers are caught from the shore and boats off Cape Cod to Albemarle Sound on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Recreational fishing of striped bass usually surpasses the haul of commercial fishing-—15.8 million pounds were recorded in 2021 alone. Striped bass caught in recreational fisheries make up the bulk of each year’s catch. These are typically caught with simple hook-and-line setups that have minimal impact on the fish’s habitat. The popularity of striped bass has resulted in its introduction into numerous waterways outside its eastern coastal range.

Fishing for striped bass is serious work. Some anglers gain knowledge of patterns of striper migration, using this knowledge to anticipate where they will be at specific times of the year, especially in spring when striped bass begin spawning. The bass are most active at dawn and dusk, which are the best times to catch them. When the middle of summer rolls around, night fishing is a good option. Anglers can catch striped bass while trolling from a boat or angling from the shore. The best results from the coast are in locations where currents are strong.

Trolling and Shore Fishing

Trolling for bass can damage rod guides through fishing line wear, so it’s a good idea to have heavy-duty guides made with low friction insert materials, such as ceramic. With the fighting skills of the striped bass, you want to be able to take in line quickly, so a reel with a high gear ratio is preferable. When using a lure for the upper depths of the water, a monofilament line is helpful to keep it from sinking. Wire or lead-core fishing lines are your best options if you want to troll at deeper levels. Useful lures for trolling for stripers include plugs, jigs, and tubes. Live bait is also suitable for trolling.

When fishing from shore, a medium to heavy 10-12 foot surf rod is the preferred tool of many anglers, with a 20–40-pound test line. This setup is ideal for plugging or jigging lures attached to the line with a snap swivel or for bottom-fished live bait, such as herring, menhaden, eels, shad, bloodworms, or crayfish, hooked with a single or treble hook through the snout or back. Another option is a fish finder setup with a pyramid sinker and a circle hook near a float to keep the bait attached.

The record for the largest striped bass caught by angling belongs to Gregory Myerson. On August 4, 2011, fishing from a boat in Long Island Sound, off Westbrook, Connecticut, Myerson landed an 81.88-pound, 54-inch-long striper with a 36-inch girth. The fish fought him for 20 minutes before he was able to get it in the boat. Another angler had previously hooked it, as indicated by the additional hook found in its mouth.

Commercial Fishing

Commercial fishing of the striped bass, while less extensive than recreational fishing, still significantly impacts population numbers and the Atlantic coast economy, though the habitat impact is modest. According to the NOAA Fisheries commercial fish database, 2021 saw 3.5 million pounds of striped bass taken with a value of approximately $13 million. The gear used in commercial fishing of stripers, such as hook-and-line, seines, trawls, and gill nets, has minimal impact on coastal habitats. However, gill nets may incidentally capture large whales, sea turtles, dolphins, and other protected species.

Overfishing

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) has monitored fish populations for some time. The popularity of the striped bass as a game fish has led to numerous periods when it has been overfished. In the early 1980s, it was discovered that the striped bass population had experienced severe reduction due to overfishing. While it made an initial recovery in the mid-1990s, the population began to decline again, prompting George Bush to sign a presidential order in 2007, taking measures to protect the striped bass population. While some improvements have been made, there has been a significant decrease in stock totals, indicated by decreased landing totals over the last 20 years. In 2017, striped bass were, by weight, the largest recreationally fished species in the United States.

Recent efforts to end overfishing have included a moratorium on striped bass fishing in federal waters (3 to 200 miles offshore,) a one fish bag limit (per angler per day) in recreational fisheries, as well as limiting the catch size to between 28 and 36 inches, and the encouraged use of circle hooks by anglers who fish with live bait. Circle hooks increase the likelihood of survival with catch-and-release fishing. Individual states have separate recreational bag limits.

Striped Bass in Cooking  

Farmed striped bass has firm and flaky light-colored meat with a mild flavor, while wild striped bass has a more robust flavor and a rougher texture. The hybrid striper has more meat, but the texture is more delicate, and the taste is bland compared to the striped bass, wild or farmed. Striped bass is an excellent substitute for cod, a milder fish, and more robust fish like bluefish.

Striper can be prepared in several ways because it is so versatile. Cooks can sear, grill, steam, sautee, roast, fry, poach, or broil these fish. The most popular options are baking, broiling, and sauteeing. Chefs grill them in fillets, making it a popular beach entree. You can also eat them pickled or even raw.

Fresh striped bass is available year-round. Fresh bass is usually sold in a single unit without a head or organs or as filets. Frozen striper is sold with the head and organs removed or as loins. Otherwise, you can find it whole, in chunks, or in steaks. Though farmed fish is typically marketed from one to three pounds, wild striper is usually found in two to 15-pound sizes, though it can be sold up to 50 pounds.

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About the Author

Rob Amend is a writer at A-Z Animals, primarily covering meteorology, geology, geography, and animal oddities. He attained a Master's Degree in Library Science in 2000 and served as reference librarian in an urban public library for 22 years. Rob lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, and enjoys spending time with his family, hiking, photography, woodworking, listening to classic rock, and watching classic films—his favorite animal is a six-foot-tall rabbit named Harvey.

Striped Bass FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Do striped bass taste good?

Striped bass have a mild flavor and delicate, white meat. The fish can easily be substituted for cod.

Is striped bass the same as rockfish?

While striped bass are sometimes called rockfish, several other species go by that designation. Rockfish is a common name for a number of different species.

What two fish make a striped bass hybrid?

The striped bass hybrid is sometimes called a wiper because it is a cross between the striped bass and the white bass.

What is the best bait for striped bass?

Menhaden and herring are the striped bass’ favorite prey, which make them the obvious choice for irresistible bait.

How old is a 10-pound striped bass?

A 10-pound striped bass will probably be somewhere between six to eight years old.

What is the largest striped bass ever caught?

The angling record for the largest striped bass belongs to Gregory Myerson, who landed an 81.88 pound 54-inch-long striper on August 4, 2011.

What time of year is best for striper fishing?

The best times of year to fish for striped bass are during the spring, when they are trying to replenish their energy from winter for spawning, and fall, when they are trying to build up energy reserves for winter.

How many pounds is a 40 inch striper?

A 40-inch-long striped bass will weigh approximately 25 to 30 pounds.

What are stripers' favorite food?

The favorite food of the striped bass is Atlantic menhaden. They are filter feeders available to stripers all along the Atlantic coast.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Striped_bass
  2. fisheries.noaa.gov, Available here: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/species/atlantic-striped-bass#overview
  3. asmfc.org, Available here: http://www.asmfc.org/uploads/file/63cb1c52AtlStripedBassAm7_May2022.pdf
  4. nj.gov, Available here: https://www.nj.gov/dep/fgw/pdf/2002/digmar10-13.pdf
  5. seafood source, Available here: https://www.seafoodsource.com/seafood-handbook/finfish/bass-hybrid-striped
  6. chefs-resources.com, Available here: https://www.chefs-resources.com/?s=striped+bass
  7. iucn redlist, Available here: https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/192942/46956781
  8. nas.er.usgs.gov, Available here: https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?SpeciesID=787
  9. fishbase.us, Available here: https://www.fishbase.us/summary/SpeciesSummary.php?ID=353&AT=striped+bass
  10. eol.org, Available here: https://eol.org/pages/46578728/articles
  11. animaldiversity.org, Available here: https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Morone_saxatilis/
  12. mass.gov, Available here: https://www.mass.gov/service-details/learn-about-striped-bass

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