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Florida Fish Busters Bulletin

November 2014

FWC hatcheries delivering sunshines to anglers and
3.5 million freshwater fish

By: Bob Wattendorf
The Florida Fish and Wildlife
Conservation Commissions (FWC) Division
of Freshwater Fisheries Management
operates two highly productive recreational
fish hatcheries. They are on schedule to
stock more than 3.5 million fish again this
year, with most of them being custom-
designed striped bass hybrids, including
Floridas own sunshine bass.
The Florida Bass Conservation Center (FBCC) is the larger hatchery and is
responsible for production and release of various freshwater game fish throughout
Florida. These include largemouth bass, sunshine and palmetto bass, black crappie,
channel and white catfish, bluegill, and redear sunfish. The facility at Richloam
Hatchery, in the Withlacoochee State Forest, Sumter County, has an observation
area with informative displays that are open to the public during normal business
hours. For directions and to learn more about when and where game fish are
stocked go to and select Stocking Locations/Info.
Nearly 3.5 million sport fish, most averaging
about 1.5 inches in length, are delivered to
public lakes and rivers via aerated haul boxes.
(Photo courtesy of Bob Wattendorf, FWC).
The other FWC production facility is at the Blackwater Research and
Development Center. In operation since 1938, it is located in Blackwater River
State Forest, in Santa Rosa County. Blackwater is lead by hatchery manager Dave
Blackwater had a great year in 2014 producing fish for stocking area lakes
and rivers. Hatchery- and staff-produced largemouth bass, striped bass, hybrid
striped bass, channel catfish and several other species and stocked them for
northwest Florida anglers.
We know from previous releases
these fish will be in the systems for years
and provide lots of excitement to anglers,
said Yeager. Last year this included a total
of 1.4 million sunshines and 100,000 pure
striped bass.
The first hybrid striped bass were
produced in South Carolina by crossing
female striped bass with male white bass.
Named palmetto bass, they provided a fast-growing sport fish suitable to ponds and
lakes. However, in 1971, a few Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission (the
predecessor to FWC) biologists, lead by Forrest Ware, Chuck Starling and Harrell
Revels, conducted a successful fish-breeding experiment at Richloam, resulting in
the sunshine bass. Sunshine bass have white bass mothers and striped bass
fathers, so are also called reciprocal hybrids. This provides an advantage in Florida
because of the timing and availability of brood fish and the greater warm-water
These striped bass broodfish were stocked by
FWC as fingerlings up to 10 years ago.
Cradling these fish are biologists Matt
Szatkowski, Bob Demauro (holding a 27-
pound female), and David Yeager. (Photo
courtesy of FWC).
tolerance of sunshine bass, allowing fisheries biologists to use them throughout the
state. The original intent for stocking sunshine bass was twofold: Provide a natural
control mechanism for over-abundant forage fish populations like shad, and create
an exciting new fishery.
Currently, all striped bass hybrid fry
are produced at Blackwater. Biologists start
each season making sunshine bass
because ripe white bass females become
available first, usually mid- February to
early March. The first sunshine bass fry
(baby fish) are shipped to Richloam and
Welaka (a cooperating U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service hatchery), since they are in
warmer climates less subject to late freezes that may kill fry in the Panhandle. Also,
since south Florida lakes warm up quicker than northwest Florida waters, fingerling
stocking survival increases if southernmost lakes get fingerlings first. Because
numbers requested each year exceed the capacity for sunshine bass, when striper
females become ripe, Blackwater staff spawn them to create palmetto bass.
These stocking strategies have worked particularly well in hypereutrophic
(nutrient rich) lakes with abundant shad, and in smaller urban ponds and fish
management areas that have lots of anglers. Supplemental stockings of hybrid
striped bass, especially when fish feeders are available, creates excellent
recreational fisheries in urban areas and two kinds of fish that are great eating and
fun for kids to catch.
A female striped bass is manually striped to
help remove the eggs to be fertilized. Eggs are
collected in a pan, then 2-3 males are striped
and water is added resulting in the eggs being
fertilized. (Photo courtesy of Brandon Basino,
The process of creating striped bass involves
mixing eggs and milt by hand and placing fertilized
eggs in hatching jars, with constantly roiling water to
keep eggs from settling. This simulates the way
fertilized striped bass eggs normally float in running
water until they hatch, keeps them aerated to
reduce fungal infections. Once hatched, fry use their
natural yolk-sac for nutrition, but then must be
transferred to specially prepared ponds, with
abundant microscopic insects (called zooplankton)
for them to eat, until they become approximately
1.5-inch long fingerlings, ready for stocking in public lakes. (See for a great article by
Brandon Basino about this process and to subscribe to FWCs e-magazine). These
hybrids do not spawn naturally, so FWC hatcheries continue to produce and stock
all hybrid striped bass.
Carefully tended by biologist Bob
Demauro, striped bass or hybrid
eggs hatch in about two days, and
the baby yolk sac fry flow over into
aerated aquaria. (Photo courtesy of
Brandon Basino, FWC).
Hybrid striped bass frequently have
broken stripes on the front half of the body
and straight lines on the rear half. They
tend to be deeper bodied relative to their
length than pure stripers. Biologists often
examine the tooth patches near the
midline towards the back of the tongue to
make a final identification. White bass have
one patch and striped bass have two distinct patches. Typical of a hybrid, they have
intermediate characteristics to their parents, so sunshines and palmettos have
tooth patches that are either very close together or joined like a figure-8.
Distinguishing between the two types of striped bass hybrid can only be done by
genetic analyses or knowing the stocking history.
Hybrid striped bass are voracious feeders and consume small fish including
threadfin and gizzard shad. Younger fish also feed on mayflies and crustaceans.
Sunshines travel and feed in schools, with peak activity in early morning or
Live threadfin shad or shrimp are effective baits, but artificial lures such as
crankbaits, bucktail or feathered jigs, spinners and spoons also do well. In urban
lakes, shrimp, squid and even cut-up pieces of hot dogs will attract sunshine bass
that readily concentrate around mechanical feeders. A sunshine bass heavier than 5
pounds or longer than 20 inches is considered a quality catch and qualifies for a Big
Catch certificate. (See; where you can also map where these
fish are caught).
The top fish is a striped bass hybrid. Note the
broken lines. The lower fish is a pure striped
bass. (Photo courtesy of FWC).
The Blackwater Hatchery supports fishing in
major rivers in north Florida by actively releasing
Gulf striped bass (Ochlockonee, Blackwater and
Yellow Rivers), in addition to hybrid striped bass.
Gulf striped bass are a unique but naturally evolved
form of striped bass that are primarily land-locked
and adapted to the warmest temperatures in which
any striped bass can thrive. While the native Gulf
race of striped bass were once found in all northwest
Florida rivers, the species virtually disappeared from
the Blackwater and Yellow rivers for reasons that are
not fully understood. However, the FWC has stocked
both rivers annually with small stripers since 1987, under a cooperative agreement
with Alabama, Georgia and the USFWS to re-establish the Gulf race. Today a
healthy striper population exists, and anglers catch stripers in excess of 20 pounds
from both rivers. Those heavier than 12 pounds or longer than 30 inches qualify for
the aforementioned Big Catch angler recognition program.
To learn about top Florida destinations for striped bass, white bass or
sunshine bass, go to and select Fishing Sites/Forecasts. FWC
biologists update this list annually, and there are quarterly forecasts and fishing tips
posted for specific water bodies. You can learn more about FWC stocking programs
at by picking the FWC Freshwater Fisheries blog
and following the Hatchery Tracker.
Stocking signs at boat ramps
identify many of the locations
where fish are stocked. A QR code
can be scanned with a smartphone
to go to and
find detailed stocking info. (Photo
courtesy of Bob Wattendorf, FWC).
Next time you wet a line in Floridas fresh
waters, remember that most fish you catch are
naturally spawned and depend on quality habitats,
including clean, abundant water and healthy native
aquatic plant communities, but some, especially
sunshine bass and stripers, are brought to you by hard
working FWC biologists and technicians.

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888-FISH-FLORIDA (347-4356). Report violators by calling 888-404-
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Sunshine bass are often
stocked in urban ponds with
fish feeders, making them a
excellent fish for kids, and they
make tasty table fare! (Photo
courtesy of Phil Chapman,