Striped bass, better known as “stripers,” are one of the most popular species of fish sought out by anglers on Smith Mountain Lake. The prized fish is an icon of the Lake, but amazingly, the fish would disappear if it weren’t for the work of a small group of individuals downstream.
The Vic Thomas Fish Hatchery is where life begins for each and every striper in Smith Mountain Lake. The small hatchery, located on the Roanoke River in Brookneal, produces thousands of stripers each year that are eventually stocked at SML.
The hatchery staff is already hard at work raising stripers that will make their way to the Lake in the coming weeks. They oversee the process from fertilization of the eggs to the point were the fish are as large as two inches in length.
Limited spawning habitats on the Lake make it impossible for the fish to reproduce here naturally. The popular fish has been stocked here since the Lake was filled in 1966.
The process begins in the spring when it’s time for the striper to spawn. Several boats cruise the nearby Roanoke River in search of male stripers and, more importantly, large females that are ready to lay their eggs.
The “shocking crew” as they are called in the hatchery, slowly move downstream in a boat equipped with two probes that are placed in the water. The probes produce a light shock that anesthetizes nearby fish that float to the surface.
“It allows us to see what’s out there,” Nick Zaccaria said. Zaccaria is the hatchery’s superintendent. This is his first year overseeing the project.
We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children