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Hybrid striped bass stocked by the Missouri Department of Conservation at some Northwest Missouri lakes are reaching a catch-and-keep size.

Tory Mason, MDC fisheries management biologist, said a six-year stocking program at smaller lakes is complete. The program let biologists watch to see if the hybrids can reduce an overpopulation of gizzard shad and boost other sportfish populations.

Hybrids, a cross between white bass and striped bass, are one of the strongest fish swimming in Missouri waters. The hybrids stocked were reared at MDC’s Lost Valley and Blind Pony Fish Hatcheries.

The conservation department has been stocking the fish in larger reservoirs since the 1980s.

The hybrids were stocked at Belcher Branch Lake southeast of St. Joseph, Willow Brook Lake near Maysville, Nodaway County Lake north of Maryville, Limpp Lake near King City, Hamilton City Lake, Watkins Mill Lake at Watkins Mill State Park near Excelsior Springs, and Little Compton Lake southeast of Hale in Carroll County.

Anglers can keep up to four hybrids but they must be at least 20 inches in length. The fish are around 2 inches when they are stocked.

He said the department is finding some 25-inch hybrids that were stocked at the beginning of the program.

The goal of the program is to reduce the overpopulation of gizzard shad.

“The shad can be introduced into the water by anglers that don’t realize the effects,” Mason said. “They can ruin the other panfish size structures in the small reservoirs. The shad compete for resources. The other fish that usually eat the young of the sport fish so they don’t get overpopulated start eating the shad instead of them. It disrupts the natural ecology.”

Mason said the shad compete with other fish for zooplankton. In addition, predator fish like largemouth bass tend to feed on young shad, and that leads to an overpopulation of bluegill and crappie. The result is too many small panfish that are not large enough to be desired by anglers as table fare.

He said hybrid striped bass generally swim in a lake’s more open water. Anglers can use crankbaits or lipless crankbaits that mimic shad or other small fish to catch them.

He recommends anglers use 8- to 10-pound test braided fishing line. Hybrids fight hard when hooked and they have razor sharp gill plates that can cut line.

“Gizzard shad are predator fish that will bite the bait anglers can catch bass with,” Mason said. “Some anglers have also found out that they will bite channel catfish bait. They can be caught on a wide range of bait.”

Mason said anglers are urged to use care in releasing hybrids that are beneath the 20-inch length limit. He suggests reeling them in alongside the boat and using a pair of pliers to twist the hook to unhook the fish without removing it from the water. Anglers should keep their hands away from the sharp gill plates.