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“Our Native Riverine Striped Bass And Florida’s Dam Spillways”

“Our Native Riverine Striped Bass And Florida’s Dam Spillways”

Author: “Ocklawahaman”  Paul Nosca with the assistance of Captain Erika Ritter….


Some of my fellow river “bassers” have experienced this type of adrenalin stimulus at least once and haven’t forgotten it yet. You are float-fishing a small river for your favorite black bass species from your canoe or kayak when all of a sudden your spinnerbait has been “intercepted” by an “F-4 Phantom II jet”–which is now attempting to drag you and your vessel into the depths by your own 12-pound monofilament line. Now, if this small river that you are “bassin” just happens to be no further south than northern Florida and is connected to a much larger river, big lake, or tidewater; then maybe you start thinking–WOW, it might be a “STRIPER”!

Fisheries biologists back in 1961 determined that only 2 river systems in Florida contained native naturally reproducing populations of STRIPED BASS (Morone saxatilis or formerly Roccus saxatilis): the Apalachicola Basin and the St. Johns Basin. There are no sub-species of striped bass but there are distinct endemic “races” usually based on lateral line scale count. “Stripers” in Florida are classed as a “riverine” freshwater fish although in more northern states they are usually classed as an “anadromous” marine species. Adult striped bass are also a “cool-water” freshwater fish needing 75-80 degree F “thermal refuges” for survival in the summer. Combined with their natural reproduction habitat requirement of about 50 miles of swift stream current for successful spawning and the striped bass was destined to have a very limited natural range in Florida.

STRIPED BASS and WHITE BASS are interbred artificially in Florida by fisheries workers to produce the sterile “SUNSHINE BASS” (also known as “HYBRID BASS”) which are released in various waters around the state. “HYBRIDS” are regularly stocked into the Apalachicola River. They have sometimes been placed into to the St. Johns River and into some of the Ocklawaha Chain of Lakes upstream of Moss Bluff Lock and Dam.


1.) The APALACHICOLA RIVER was dammed backed in 1957 at Chattahoochee about 100 miles above the Gulf of Mexico which allowed the endemic “Gulf Coast race” stripers to continue limited successful spawning in Florida although it has been determined that their prime spawn area was the swifter Flint River in Georgia (many miles upstream of the Jim Woodruff Hydroelectric Dam across the Apalachicola). The spring-fed cool-water CHIPOLA RIVER, which is the main tributary of the Apalachicola in Florida, serves as its “thermal refuge” for striped bass in the summer. Dead Lake Dam was removed from the Chipola River in 1989 which allowed unhindered migration of stripers back and forth from the larger Apalachicola. Today, most but not all, of the Apalachicola’s “Gulf Coast race” (lateral line mean scale count of 66 to 67) striped bass are hatchery produced. Great numbers of stripers are caught from the dam’s tailrace, especially during the spring spawning run.

2.) The OCHLOCKONEE RIVER, just east of the Apalachicola, was dammed all the way back in 1929 at Jackson Bluff about 68 miles above the Gulf. My guess is that native “Gulf Coast race” striped bass regularly spawned successfully in the Ochlockonee before that dam (now known as the C. H. Corn Hydroelectric Dam) was built, but only very rarely ever since–the 1961 study did not discover a breeding population there. This dam that created Lake Talquin blocks the stripers of the “Lower” Ochlockonee from reaching summertime-critical “thermal refuge” areas which are upstream of the structure. Also, flooding rains must occur at the proper time in the spring of the year or the Ochlockonee will lack the required streamflow (it lacks any big artesian springs). Today almost all Ochlockonee striped bass are hatchery raised. “Gulf Coast race” stripers are stocked heavily both above and below the hydroelectric dam providing good fishing success at times.

3.) The ST. JOHNS RIVER, prior to the 1970′s, historically supported the most southern native reproducing population of striped bass in the United States. Its major tributary is the OCKLAWAHA RIVER, providing about 1/4 of the total flow of the entire St. Johns Basin. Then later, some several years after the September 1968 completion of Rodman Dam across the Ocklawaha, the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission declared (regarding striped bass) that “evidence of recent reproduction in the St. Johns has ceased” plus “native population extirpated and replaced by hatchery stocks”. In 1970 large-scale stocking of hatchery raised striped bass was initiated in the St. Johns River, natural reproduction had apparently stopped.  Whatever happened to the natural distinct endemic “Atlantic Coast race” (lateral line mean scale count of 54 to 56) striped bass of the St. Johns Basin? Is it possible that the pre-Rodman Dam Ocklawaha River, which used to be current-swift and free-flowin  g for at least 56 stream miles to the St. Johns, was the major spawning area for this system’s striped bass?

Documents that I have read suggest that successful striper reproduction requires about 50 miles of swift-flowing stream current (at least 0.68 mph) for their fertilized eggs and hatchlings to be carried-along-in for some 48 hours (to avoid suffocating in bottom mud). If this information, from many official sources, is correct then it would identify the pre-Rodman Ocklawaha River–56 stream miles from Silver Springs to the St. Johns with a 0.75 to 1-mph current–as probably being the ONLY striped bass successful natural spawning area in the entire St. Johns River Basin. The extremely low stream gradient (about 1/10th of the Ocklawaha’s) with its resulting sluggish current of the St. Johns River itself (Lake Washington, near Melbourne, is 260 miles upriver from the mouth but less than 20 feet elevation above sea level–lower than Rodman Reservoir most of the time) precludes the larger river from being suitable for striped bass reproductive needs. There are not enough stream mil  es or streamflow velocity and volume for successful striper reproduction in any of the other major tributaries of the St. Johns River: Econlockhatchee River (26 miles), Wekiva River (14 miles), Alexander Creek (13 miles), Juniper Creek (10 miles), Salt Springs Run (4 miles), Dunns Creek (6 miles), Black Creek (20 miles), etc.

Today, all striped bass in the St. Johns Basin of Florida are hatchery raised and stocked–successful natural reproduction here seems to have ceased with the advent of Rodman Dam. Ocklawaha River restoration, through the removal of Rodman Dam, would provide the St. Johns stripers a suitable breeding area again. Should natural NON-HATCHERY RAISED St. Johns Basin distinct endemic “Atlantic Coast race” striped bass be allowed to be extinct where they were Florida “natives” in modern times? Is it ethical NATIVE fisheries management for any of our conservation agencies to be unsupportive of Ocklawaha restoration?

So far, I have not been able to verify any RECENT existence of striped bass in the flowing Ocklawaha upriver from Rodman Reservoir. No stripers are stocked upstream of the Rodman Dam (now officially known as Kirkpatrick Dam) or Buckman Lock (of the still-water Cross Florida Barge Canal). Striped bass seek strong currents for their springtime spawning run so very few move through the lock into the reservoir. They “pile-up” in the Rodman tailrace blocked from their upstream migration wishes. The flowing Silver and Ocklawaha rivers of Marion County, in recent decades, seem to be absent of any striped bass.

The annual spring-time spawning migration (before Rodman Dam was built) of striped bass up the Ocklawaha and into Silver River was northeast Florida’s mini-version of those classic “striper runs” in swift rivers of more northern states. Pre-Rodman Dam history is revealed in the following excerpted selection from the “OCALA STAR-BANNER” (May 22, 1966) newspaper article “Area Fishing Is Good” from the “OUTDOORS” column by Gene Gallant, Ocala Star-Banner Outdoor Editor:

“…It looked for awhile like the annual run of Striped Bass were going to overlook the Ocklawaha River this season, but last week the scrappy gamesters started their upriver trek, and now a few of them have been boated during the past few days. “Bob Houck, from Pasteur’s Sports Shop went out last Wednesday, and latched-on to a 12 pounder. Bob was using the old stand-by Pal-O-Mine lure and was fishing in the Gore’s Landing Sector. “OTHER PORTIONS of the Ocklawaha have started to produce a few of the Stripers, too, including Colby’s Landing and the mouth of Silver Springs Run…”


Apalachicola River Basin of Florida (including Chipola River Basin) dam, lock, and spillway data: JIM WOODRUFF HYDROELECTRIC DAM Upstream is Lake Seminole (37,500 acre pool at elevation 77 feet). Downstream is the Apalachicola River (tailrace elevation 40 to 68 feet). Fall at the dam averages 25 feet and is used for hydroelectric power generation. Apalachicola River tailrace summer water temperature usually is 80 to 88 degrees F. Gradient of the Apalachicola River for 107 miles to the Gulf of Mexico averages 0.50 feet/mile. DEAD LAKE DAM (Chipola River) was removed in 1989. Chipola River summer water temperature usually is 74 to 77 degrees F (striper “friendly”).

Ochlockonee River Basin of Florida dam, lock, and spillway data: C. H. CORN HYDROELECTRIC DAM Upstream is Lake Talquin (10,200 acre pool at elevation 69 feet). Downstream is the “Lower” Ochlockonee River (tailrace elevation 28 to 49 feet). Fall at the dam averages 30 feet and is used for hydroelectric power generation. “Lower” Ochlockonee River tailrace summer water temperature usually is 83 to 90 degrees F. Gradient of the “Lower” Ochlockonee River for 68 miles to the Gulf of Mexico averages 0.57 feet/mile.

St. Johns River Basin of Florida (including Ocklawaha River Basin) dam, lock, and spillway data: KIRKPATRICK (RODMAN) DAM Upstream is Rodman Reservoir “aka” Lake Ocklawaha (13,000 acre pool at elevation 20 feet). Downstream is the “Lower” Ocklawaha River (tailrace elevation 3 to 6 feet). Fall at the dam averages 16 feet. THIS DAM WAS BUILT ONLY FOR BARGE NAVIGATION. “Lower” Ocklawaha River tailrace summer water temperature usually is 85 to 88 degrees F. BEFORE THE 1968 DAM, summer water temperature here rarely exceeded 82 degrees F. Gradient of the “Lower” Ocklawaha River for 11 miles to the tidewater St. Johns River averages 0.35 feet/mile.

St. Johns River Basin of Florida (including Ocklawaha River Basin) dam, lock, and spillway data: EUREKA LOCK AND DAM Upstream 0.3 miles is the Eureka CR-316 Bridge. Upstream of the Eureka CR-316 Bridge is the “Middle” Ocklawaha River which is free-flowing for 18 miles upriver to the inflow of the Silver River (just above the SR-40 Delks Bluff Bridge). Silver River is free-flowing for 5 miles upstream to Silver Springs (America’s largest discharge inland artesian spring group at a constant 73 degrees F). “Middle” Ocklawaha River summer water temperature usually is 75 to 80 degrees F (striper “friendly”). Natural gradient of the “Middle” Ocklawaha River for 18 miles from SR-40 to CR-316 averages 0.90 feet/mile (striper “friendly”). Downstream of the Eureka CR-316 Bridge is considered Rodman Reservoir for FWC fishing regulations.

St. Johns River Basin of Florida (including Ocklawaha River Basin) dam, lock, and spillway data: MOSS BLUFF LOCK AND DAM Upstream is Lake Griffin (16,505 acre pool at elevation 59 feet) plus 13 miles of the original “Upper” Ocklawaha River (now channelized basically into a canal). Downstream is the “Upper” Ocklawaha River (tailrace elevation 34 to 45 feet). Fall at the dam averages 21 feet and up into the 1950′s was used for hydroelectric power generation. “Upper” Ocklawaha River tailrace summer water temperature usually is 80 to 89 degrees F. Gradient of the “Upper” Ocklawaha River for 13 miles downstream to the “Middle” Ocklawaha River (begins at the Silver River inflow) averages 0.10 feet/mile.

2 Responses to ““Our Native Riverine Striped Bass And Florida’s Dam Spillways””

  1. "Ocklawahaman" Paul Nosca says:

    Here is a data update to my article on “OUR NATIVE RIVERINE STRIPED BASS AND FLORIDA’S DAM SPILLWAYS” because of newly aquired supporting source documentation…….

    I have been most privileged recently to receive a personal copy of the 2002 fisheries report “FISHES OF THE OCKLAWAHA RIVER, FLORIDA” from its author Mr. James P. Clugston (a retired State of Florida fisheries biologist).

    This report studies the effects that Rodman (Kirkpatrick) Dam and Rodman Reservoir have had on the fishery of the Ocklawaha River (and its estuary, the St. Johns River) including striped bass.

    “Ocklawahaman” Note: The St. Johns River Basin including the “Lower” Ocklawaha downstream of Rodman Dam has been stocked with hatchery-raised striped bass since 1970–natural reproduction of stripers had ceased. Historically, there had been a native breeding population of striped bass documented in only 2 river systems in Florida: the Apalachicola and the St. Johns.

    The following paragraphs are excerpts from this detailed study…..

    Special Report for
    Florida Defenders of the Environment
    By James P. Clugston
    January 16, 2001 (modified, January 3, 2002)”

    “…The ultimate destiny of the impoundment is confounded by an ongoing dispute between sport fishermen, who wish to preserve the dam and reservoir, and environmentalists. The first group touts excellent largemouth bass fishing and economic benefits to nearby communities. The latter group emphasizes the importance of a free-flowing river for the benefit of all flora and fauna, many of which are listed by Florida as endangered, threatened, or species of special concern…

    “…The only extensive study of the fishes in the Ocklawaha River prior to dam construction is part of a Ph.D. dissertation ‘The Fishes of the St. Johns River System’ (McLane 1955)…

    “…The table of native fishes in the Ocklawaha River system provided by Continental Shelf Associates, Inc (1994) indicates that striped bass rarely were caught in the river and reservoir. However there is little doubt that they were seasonally common in the unaltered river system. McLane (1955) reported striped bass presence in the Ocklawaha River upstream to the Moss Bluff Dam. Barkuloo (1962) described large numbers in Silver Springs during the summer. About 400 were counted by SCUBA divers from the spring to a point 4.5 miles downstream in the Silver River. The junction of Silver River and the Ocklawaha River was a popular fishing location for striped bass at that time. More recently, Jordan (1994a) failed to collect striped bass between January and June, 1994, in the reservoir and river, but he did collect them from the barge canal downstream of the lock. However, probably every Spring to date since the completion of the dam, local newspapers have reported excellent striped bass fishing in the Ocklawaha River at the base of Rodman Dam. The presence of striped bass carcasses in the reservoir during two fish kills in the late 1980′s indicate that some passed into the reservoir via the lock (Florida Department of Environmental Protection 1997). None were seen in a September 2000 fish kill (R. W. Hujik, FL Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, personal communication). Striped bass are no longer seen by tourists riding glass-bottom boats at Silver Springs. There is no doubt that the Rodman Dam stops upstream migration of striped bass in the Ocklawaha River…

    “…Although some striped bass still pass into the reservoir through the lock, numbers are greatly reduced as evident by their absence at Silver Springs and the most recent fish kill, and the large numbers stopped at the dam and caught by fishermen every Spring. More important, the Ocklawaha River is one of the few tributaries of the St. Johns River that met spawning habitat requirements of striped bass. Construction of the reservoir reduced the length of this free-flowing river to a size no longer suitable for striped bass spawning…

    “…Removal of the Rodman Dam would permit the anadromous and catadromous species to return to waters that historically were essential to their life cycles.”

    Enjoy your free-flowing rivers and ensure the survivability of their NATIVE gamefish!

  2. "Ocklawahaman" Paul Nosca says:

    “Striped Bass Of The Ocklawaha River, Florida”

    From newspaper archived articles about striped bass fishing in the Silver-Ocklawaha River before Rodman Dam…

    Langworthy (1955) reported:

    “Sudden appearance of Northern striped bass, known along the New England sea coast and southward as ‘stripers’, over near Silver Springs during the past week has sent scores of fishermen speeding to that area with heavy tackle and anticipation agog.

    “The ‘stripers’ have been located at the junction of the Silver River where it enters the Oklawaha River, and were first noticed by a fishing party that went out from Ed’s Boat Basin, operated by Ed Mason on Road 40 at the Oklawaha.

    “Reports received here say that the party, fishing for black bass, hit into rather hefty strikes that tore up tackle. Later, and with heavier gear, they returned to the river and boated some of the fish, finding that they were real northern striped bass, a salt water fish. From then on anglers from all around hurried to the river, and at last report were hauling in scores of them weighing from 14 to 30 pounds.

    “Striped bass are well known along the northeast Atlantic Coast, especially along the New England section where each year a big ‘striper tournament’ is conducted. They are caught in the ocean surf up that way and provide excellent sport for anglers. How they happen to have drifted this far south and so far up in Florida’s fresh water streams is anybody’s guess. Maybe the recent hurricanes had something to do with it.

    “I checked with the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission Friday night regarding the appearance of stripers this far off their customary beat. The Commission said that striped bass often travel long distances up rivers and there is nothing unusual about finding them in fresh water.

    “Dave Swindell, regional manager of the Commission with office at Williston, Fla., also said that he had heard nothing of large schools of stripers in the Oklawaha, but that some had been caught during the past several months at the county boat basin and landing near the junction of the Oklawaha and Silver Rivers–which is where these big catches have been made during the past few days.

    “Several weeks ago an 18 pounder was caught with shrimp in the vicinity of Eureka, about 20 miles downstream from the junction of the two rivers.

    “Several years ago a few stripers were seen and caught, at the ‘Croaker Hole’ in the mouth of Lake George, but not in any great quantity. Norman Clifton of Daytona Beach was over at the junction of the two rivers Friday and reported seeing large catches of the stripers being made. An unconfirmed report said that one man had caught 100 of them in three days last week.

    “The stripers were first noticed last Monday when they began tearing up light bass tackle. To get into the Oklawaha, they would have had to come in from the Atlantic via the St. Johns and its string of lakes, quite a long trip inland for a salt water fish.

    “The stripers at the junction of these two rivers are reported to be striking at live shiners, striking avidly. As far as I can gather, they would average around 12 pounds, but some are larger. In the Atlantic Ocean surf they average 20, but some have weighed 100 pounds, the records say.

    “The striped bass is an anadromous variety, or one that ascends rivers from the sea at certain seasons, like salmon and shad. The scientific name is Roccus saxatillis, family Serranidae. It is native to the Atlantic Coast of the United States, but is also common on the Pacific Coast where it has been introduced.

    “In color the striper is olivaceous above, yellowish silvery on the sides and below, but gets its name from numerous longitudinal black stripes on its sides. It is highly esteemed as a game and food fish, especially in New England.”

    Langworthy, F. 1955. “Outdoors” column. “Daytona Beach Sunday News-Journal” newspaper (August 28, 1955; page 14), Daytona Beach, Florida.

    “Ocklawahaman” Paul Nosca


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