Striper Sizes: By the Numbers
by Frank Daignault
Let’s bring a little reality back to striper weight statistics
here is a lot of confusion about striper sizes, both in how they get there, how bass should be measured, and why they weigh what they do. One reason for this is that the system of measurement for nearly all our gamefish has been changed from fork length to total length. Today’s 28 inch total length striper, a legal size requirement in many states, would be only 27 in the original fork length system of measurement. At first, this sounds like a trivial consideration. However, if you know anything about their measurement, you come to realize that the inch and a half or two discrepancy on a big bass can make a huge difference in what it weighs. For that reason, trying to determine the accurate weight of any striper through length measurement alone, regardless of size, is about impossible.
INCH PER POUND
You will often hear that big bass will weigh an inch per pound. This is only true at a very short range in fork length around 50 inches. It is not the case with bass say over 53 inches or even 49 inches fork length. By the way, having weighed many dozens of 50 pound plus linesides as a beach weigh-master, I have never seen a 49-inch fork length bass that weighed 50 pounds.
Commonly, people who seek to make the case that our stripers are starving express both amazement and concern over 40 inch bass not weighing an inch per pound like they did in the old days. Truth is that an average 40-inch bass weighs about 25 pounds. They always did, and for a change to have taken place in the size numerics of any species, it would take hundreds of years of natural selection, not the one generation of development these curmudgeons groan about. Fifty years ago the fish and wildlife service published a chart which enumerated the fork lengths and weights of stripers from yearling schoolies to the biggest known. I documented the same numbers 30 years ago and never found anything wrong with their figures. Moreover, the same bass that I catch today, though admittedly I catch less of the monsters, demonstrate the same accuracy …as long as I measure the same way. Thus, a total length 50-inch bass today weighs 8/10 pounds less than those of when the original charts were developed. Not because it is thinner, but because it is being measured differently. We have always known that a 48-inch bass weighed in the low 40s.
A FEW SHABBY INCHES
People are greatly distressed by the astoundingly short difference between a 40 pounder and a 50 pounder – two inches. This is why anglers who are committed to catch and release get so many more “fifties” than those of us who take them home. Imagine measuring a 50-inch fork length by someone who uses total length on a fish that cannot be carried without injury while a booming surf, or a sloppy midnight sea, leaning over the gunwales can determine that it was a fifty-pounder. I don’t think so. Just the difference in fork versus total length, a consideration that is not even addressed by today’s anglers, would have a 40 pounder become a “fifty” without even trying to exaggerate the weight.
It is human nature to want recognition for a great fish. This is why the paucity of 49 pounders in our fish weights is more a social than biological phenomenon. (You want to watch how deer hunters count antler points, were you to dare think that only fishermen exaggerate.) Even your fathers and uncles suffered the same disappointments as we all do today. As it was then, the greatest hazard in striper fishing is broken toes from kicking the tires. Tell me this hasn’t happened to you.
Anyone who has fished for stripers as long as I have would have to have experienced a lot of big fish, and I have. Nevertheless, my most common, most repeated, frustration and embarrassment is assuming that a fish on my line is bigger than it turns out to be. When will I learn? The other night I fought a fish above a bridge that prevented my following downtide. Approaching the bottom of the spool, I was sweating. Contemplating the bouancy of neoprene waders, water temperature, and my therapist and cardiologist duking it out for more time in my treatment, I wondered if waiting until the tide turned might be a way of getting my “monster” back to where I could gaff it. It would only cost me a night of fishing. Yes, I got the fish. But I would prefer not to say how big it wasn’t.
ANOMALIES IN SIZE
Everything aforementioned basks in generalization. In fairness, there are going to be sow-like body builds, more likely in fall, on stripers that have fed heavily before being weighed. Some are even going to be built with a sag belly. And, there have always been long, thin, girthless bass that the angling community called “racers”. In the larger sizes these are more apparent and have also inspired their share of tire damage. Further, in big fish, they are still more likely to be females. The notion that thin fish or racers, are males has no scientific support. Of course in the smaller sizes, they would probably have an equal sexual distribution. We say that because males rarely, if ever, reach great size.
THE FORMULA (LENGTH X GIRTH SQUARED/800) WORKS
It is possible to measure the length and girth of a striper and determine its weight with astounding accuracy (as well as most other round gamefish) working the well known formula to determine the fish’s weight. This method is surprisingly accurate to within one to two percent. Determine the length measurement by measuring the bass from the fork of the tail to the tip of the chin. The fork length is imperative in the formula because use of the total length will skew the results. Then measure the fish’s girth by wrapping a tape around the body at the forward edge of the dorsal fin. Do not compress the body. Striving for accuracy, if you want a good reading that is representative of the actual weight you must listen to the numbers you get. The formula is reliable with all sizes, and I have used it on numerous occasions. Length X Girth squared divided by 800 = weight.
For example, let’s calculate the weight of Al McReynolds former All-Tackle World Record striper. His 36 year old 78 ½ pounder had, according to the official records, a length of 53 inches and a girth of 34 ½ inches.
Girth squared: 34.5 x 34.5 = 1190
53 x 1190 = 63070/800 = 78.8 pounds
The formula works just as well at the lower end of the range of bass sizes. For instance, a bass I killed the night before writing this had a fork length of 31 inches and a 16.5-inch girth. 16.5 x 16.5 = 272 x 31 = 8440/800 = 10.55 pounds. The actual weight of the fish was 10.87 pounds (10 pounds, 14 ounces). However, upon cleaning there was a lone seven inch snapper blue in the stomach which did not expand the girth sufficiently to show up in the girth measurement. (I suppose we could subtract the weight of the snapper blue from the fish weight and be closer, but I would like to refrain from the voodoo that can creep into fish weighing.) Had the fish eaten a few, the girth would have grown along with the weight. Still, five ounces out of over 10 pounds is pretty good results and reasonably representative of what you can expect in both measuring error and formula shortcomings.
POUNDS OF EATING
Anglers who prefer to cook fillets, as opposed to stuffing a fish cavity, get to eat all that is put on the table. Admittedly, there is waste in filleting but in the end edible yield is probably the same. Plan on having one third of any fish you catch in the form of fillet; for instance three pounds of fillet on a nine-pound striper or even a bluefish. With monsters, the percentage is the same – 15 pounds of eating on a 45 pounder. If you trim the dark stripe, the fat, from a fillet, then the yield is only ¼. These numbers sound wasteful but commercials have known these figures for generations. Meal planning, eight or ten ounces of pure fillet will feed anybody if it is accompanied by suitable veggies, a potato variation and appropriate wine. Fish is more filling than many foods. This translates into feeding five or six people with a 28 inch nine pounder.
There seem to be a lot of sick jokes drifting around the striper coast that I have always felt we deserved. Things like you can certify the scales, but something more ought to be done about the people reading those scales. Years ago, on the Cape, fishers used to line up to get their stripers weighed at a tackle shop. Then they went down the street to sell them. Invariably, the discrepancy between the sport fishing weight and the selling weight would cause someone to distrust the fish-monger buying them. And, he would say, “The guy in the tackle shop wants you to come back and will give you anything you want for a weight. I have to buy it!”
Copyright © 1998 - 2014 Frank Daignault, All Rights Reserved
Frank Daignault is the author of Striper Surf, Twenty Years on the Cape, Striper Hot Spots, The Trophy Striper, Eastern Tides and Fly Fishing the Striper Surf.
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Articles by Frank Daignault