Nature Notes: Make way for the wipers

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Wipers (Morone chrysops x M. saxatilis) are a cross between white bass and striped bass and the combination is good news for anglers. Able to withstand higher temperatures and less oxygen in the water than either of the parent species, these fish thrive in lakes like Wildhorse and South Fork Reservoirs growing quickly in northern Nevada’s short growing season.

“The Nevada Department of Wildlife stocked these fish not just because they are great sportfish, but they help to biologically control less desirable species in our lakes,” explains Chris Drake, NDOW fisheries biologist. “Because they are a hybrid, they can’t reproduce in South Fork or Wildhorse and if they hadn’t worked out, we would have quit stocking them and eventually they would have disappeared from the system.”

Drake said wipers are a pelagic or open water species with voracious appetites. Their main prey in South Fork or Wildhorse are minnow-sized fish like tui chub fry, perch fry and the occasional sucker, species that if left unchecked can quickly overtake a lake. They also eat crayfish, plankton and aquatic insects. With wipers in the open water, smallmouth and largemouth bass on the structure and catfish on the reservoir bottoms, the less desirable species are being held in check.

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Since 2003, the first effective stocking of Wildhorse and South Fork Reservoirs, the ratio of desirable fish to non-desirable fish has improved, helping maintain a healthy fishery for Elko County and Nevada anglers.

Wipers have dark gray or blue silver on their back and sides and have a white belly. Wipers have deep bodies that are flat, though less so than striped bass. From a profile, the body is shaped somewhat like an oval, with an arched back and a sloped belly. They have two, unconnected dorsal fins, the first with spines followed by one with soft rays. The head is small and the eyes are large.

Wipers have a series of small dots that form horizontal stripes running lengthwise down the side that are intermediate between the well-defined stripes of striped bass and the dim stripes of white bass. The wiper’s stripes are more broken than those of the striped bass, and when young the stripes are faded. Juvenile wipers are easily confused with white bass.

“We are stocking approximately 1,500 wipers into each lake every year,” Drake said. “The fish come from a hatchery in Colorado that gets wiper fry from Arkansas, the capital of wipers.”

NDOW is in the third year of a five-year tagging program to study the fish. Drake asks anyone who catches a wiper to look for a blue tag on it and report the number on the tag, along with the fish’s weight and length to NDOW.

But wipers aren’t necessarily at the top of the food chain. A tag was found in a pile of pelican droppings on Anaho Island at Pyramid Lake. The tag came from a 5-pound wiper tagged at Wildhorse the year before.

The state record was caught on June 6 of this year in Lahontan Reservoir and weighed 25 pounds, 9 ounces, just 1 pound, 12 ounces off of the world record. Wipers in South Fork and Wildhorse are approaching 8 to 10 pounds and fight like they weigh 20.

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