Unusual Fish Caught In Lower Clackamas River

It bit a shrimp-baited steelhead jig and fought like a summer-run, but when Kris Frohberg reeled in his catch Tuesday evening on the lower Clackamas River, a fish of a very different stripe was on the end of his line.

An apparent wiper – a striped bass-white bass hybrid.


“I was dumbfounded when I saw it,” Frohberg said.

Also dumbfounded, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists at the nearby Clackamas office.

“Over the years we have received sporadic reports of wipers in the Willamette from anglers. This year we received several that appear to be credible. We have been theorizing about where they could be coming from, but it is somewhat puzzling given known areas that they could be originating from,” said Ben Walczak, the agency’s district fish biologist for the northern Willamette River watershed.

“We’re aware of the situation, but there’s not much we can do,” he added.

Wipers were apparently first produced in South Carolina in the 1960s using eggs and sperm from striped bass and white bass, distantly related cousins in the eastern US/Atlantic Coast genus Morone.

Prized for their fighting ability and aggressive feeding – which makes them more vulnerable to anglers – the sterile fish have been stocked in a number of lakes around the country, but these days in Oregon there is only one known population, Ana Reservoir, a landlocked lake in the northern Great Basin near Summer Lake.

How a hybrid bass might have ended up in the Clackamas immediately upstream of the McLoughlin Bridge is a damn good question, and not the only one – another specimen was caught not far away at the Cedar Oak ramp on the Willamette last month, Frohberg said a nearby outdoor store told him his was the third landed so far this year, and another was caught on the upper river last year.

Frohberg said he was using an Aerojig (a nightmare pattern, for anglers who might want to try their luck) and shrimp when the fish bit.

“I actually missed a bobber down on the previous cast in the same spot. I was talking to my sister on the phone and whiffed it. It legitimately fought like a steelhead,” he said.

After a couple pics, Frohberg released the unexpected fish, joking, “I wouldn’t even know where to start with trying to find hybrid bass regulations on the Clack 😂.”

Indeed, ODFW’s pamphlet doesn’t specifically address hybrid bass in the Willamette Zone like it does for the Southeast Zone, home to Ana Reservoir, and Marine Zone waters, where there is no size or bag limit. The regs do say stripers can be kept without limit in the Willamette Zone, as can all bass caught in the watershed’s streams, but under general statewide rules, hybrid bass are designated as separate from largemouth, smallmouth, spotted and striped bass.

One of the only other known sources of hybrid bass in Oregon is not only separated by distance, but decades now. Starting in 1982, ODFW stocked hybrid bass in North Tenmile Lake, “in an attempt to add a large predator on bluegill while providing for a unique recreational fishery,” but that program was ended in 1988 because of straying, according to a 2005 report.

“Hybrid bass were captured in the Coos, Umpqua, and Willamette rivers, and in Siltcoos Lake,” the report states.

During that same timeframe, ODFW also quit releasing young striped bass – introduced to the West Coast in the late 1800s – into the Coos River estuary due to the expected federal listing of Oregon Coast coho. (They and the Coquille Tribe are now actively removing stripers as well as smallmouth bass from the nearby Coquille River due to low fall Chinook returns.)

Despite all limits on hybrid bass also being dropped throughout the Tenmile Lakes system after stocking ceased, the population held on in North Tenmile for at least 15 years afterwards, with a 27.5-incher netted in 2003, according to that report. Though no reproduction was ever observed, the author states without citation that spawning had been seen elsewhere.

Because Frohberg let his fish go, we’ll never know if it developed eggs or gonads, but DNA testing and the fish’s earbone, or otolith, could provide some interesting details for biologists. Water chemicals leave telltale markers on the otolith and could potentially reveal if this fish originally came from Ana Reservoir and thus had a little help from a bucket biologist making the minimum 279-mile road journey.

Or was dumped out of somebody’s aquarium into nearby Clackamette Cove after it grew too big and/or ravenous to deal with anymore. Wipers are available for sale in the state.

Or was a striper in disguise.

The most oft-cited and obvious distinction between hybrid bass and striped bass is whether the black lines on their sides are broken – wiper – or continuous and generally straight – striper.

But that may not be entirely foolproof. Scouring the depths of the interwebs, a 1987 article in The Oklahoman describes how an experienced angler felt he’d smashed the state record for hybrid bass with a broken-lined one he caught, but which lab testing of its liver showed was just a plain ol’ striped bass.

As long as we’re on memory lane, longtime readers may remember The Great Lower Columbia Striped Bass Outbreak of 2013.

That year was highlighted by the 52-pounder – 10 pounds of which were eggs – caught by a commercial fishermen below Bonneville Dam on June 17. Lab aging showed the female was 13 years old. Photos show its black lines aren’t classically striper-like.


Sometime during the following week, a smaller striper was seen on video passing through the dam’s Bradford Island fish ladder, then on June 23, a biological tech found a dead 15-pounder on a Lower Columbia beach near Martins Bar, also known as Lions Park, by Woodland.

The trio were written up in a July 2013 memo by WDFW’s Chris Donley, who noted that given striper spawning populations in California’s Sacramento River and Oregon’s Umpqua River, it was likely some occurred in the Lower Columbia, so there was “some merit in recording these collections/sightings because it has been some time since multiple striped bass have been observed on any (given) year.”

Are we seeing something similar this year? I’m not so sure.

Granted, I couldn’t tell you for absolute certain whether Frohberg’s and the Cedar Oak ramp fish were wipers or stripers – there’s also quite a bit of disagreement between anglers on Facebook and Ifish about them as well – but in a morning’s poring over of online how-to-tell-the-difference guides put out by various states, the hump behind the head and depth of the body, along with the broken lines, of at least Frohberg’s fish suggest hybrid more strongly to my amateur eye.

And when I ran a picture past Donley, he thought it looked more hybrid-like and noted that ocean-going stripers of the same size are more sleek-looking.

Like Frohberg stated in his original post about his catch, that there’s a wiper in the Clackamas doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it’s also hard to deny what’s in front of our eyes.

Lord knows that as the Willamette drops and clears up following last weekend’s heavy rains, there will be a few more anglers on the water, and while they won’t exactly be running nightmare jigs for springers, who knows, perhaps the next chapter in this unusual tale will get written. Stay tuned!