Restoration of the Albemarle Sound/Roanoke River striped bass population has resulted in a world-class fishery enjoyed by thousands of anglers each year. Each spring, beginning in March, striped bass in Albemarle Sound begin their spawning migration up the Roanoke River. The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission opens a limited striped bass harvest season on the Roanoke River for anglers who enjoy turning their catches into delicious table fare. Timing of the striped bass harvest season, along with protective size limits, ensure that most of the harvest consists of three- to five-year-old male striped bass.Good numbers of striped bass first move into the lower Roanoke River during mid-March. Catches at that time are best around the Plymouth area near the Highway 45 bridge. The lower Cashie and Middle rivers, also crossed by the Highway 45 bridge, can be productive as well. As springtime progresses into April, stripers make their way up the river and by the first week in April, the action really picks up at Jamesville, Williamston and Hamilton.

Also by the first of April, the first stripers are beginning to appear in the upper reaches of Roanoke River near Scotland Neck, Halifax and Weldon. By mid-April, striped bass fishing in the upper areas is in full swing and it seems as though the entire length of the river is shoulder-toshoulder stripers. Anglers should note that river flows and weather conditions dictate the arrival and upstream movement of striped bass from year to year so the exact timing of striped bass movements can vary a few weeks either way.

Boating Access Areas

The following is a list of boating access areas on Roanoke River open to the public. The designation "NCWRC" indicates a free access area built and maintained by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission using your fishing license dollars. These boating access areas are listed in order from downstream areas of Roanoke River to upstream areas:

Washington County

  • Highway 45 Access Area (NCWRC) - located near Plymouth on N.C. Highway 45, approximately three miles north of U.S. Highway 64. Conaby Creek Access Area (NCWRC) - located near Plymouth off N.C. Highway 45, approximately two miles north of U.S. Highway 64.

  • Town of Plymouth Ramp - located in downtown Plymouth on Water Street behind the Plymouth Police Department office.

  • Water Street Access Area (NCWRC) - located in downtown Plymouth on the west end of Water Street.

Bertie County

  • Sans Souci Access Area (NCWRC) - located on Cashie River, at the end of Woodard Road, approximately 12 miles from Windsor off U.S. Highway 13 and 17.

Martin County

  • River's Edge Restaurant (fee) - located in Jamesville off U.S. Highway 64 and Stewart Street.

  • Gardner's Creek Marina (fee) - located on U.S. Highway 64 approximately one mile west of Jamesville.

  • Williamston Access Area (NCWRC) - located at the U.S. Highway 13 and 17 bridge just north of Williamston.

  • Hamilton Access Area (NCWRC) - located just off N.C. Highway 903 at the end of East Main Street.

Halifax County

  • Edward's Ferry Access Area (NCWRC) - located at the U.S. Highway 258 bridge north of Scotland Neck.

  • Weldon Access Area (NCWRC) - located off U.S. Highway 301, just downstream of the U.S. Highway 301 bridge.

Northampton County

  • Gaston Access Area (NCWRC) - located off N.C. Highway 48, just across the river from Roanoke Rapids in the town of Gaston.

Boat Ramp Courtesy

At times, particularly on weekends, these access areas may become crowded. If there is a waiting line to launch or retrieve your boat, we highly recommend that you rig your gear well before entering the ramp area or tie down your boat and store your equipment only after you have cleared the ramp. Due to swift river currents and steep terrain, launching and retrieving a boat by yourself on Roanoke River can be quite challenging. A two-man crew will greatly expedite managing your boat. Please be patient and courteous to fellow anglers.


Lower river area. There are numerous motels, restaurants and fueling facilities located in Plymouth and Williamston. Contact the Washington County Chamber of Commerce at (252) 793-5823 or the Martin County Chamber of Commerce at (252) 792-4131 for specific information.

Upper river area. There are numerous motels, restaurants and fueling facilities located in Weldon, Roanoke Rapids and Scotland Neck. The Halifax County Tourism Development Authority,, has a package of useful information for anglers concerning accommodations and fishing guide services in this area. Visit the Web site or call 1-800-522-4282.

Tackle and Bait

Rods, reels and terminal tackle used for striped bass fishing on the Roanoke River are as variable as the individuals who use them. In general, medium to medium-heavy action rods are recommended so that stripers can be landed quickly, improving their chances for survival if released. The combination of swift river currents, heavy terminal tackle, and four- to five-pound fish can easily break light-action rigs and their use is not recommended. Because of underwater obstructions likely to be encountered, heavier line (12-20 lb. test) should be used.

Many anglers in the lower Roanoke River prefer to use cut herring as bait but it must be fresh. The difference between a successful trip and being skunked is sometimes determined by the freshness of your bait. When herring begin their spawning run up the Roanoke River, local commercial fishermen frequently have fresh herring for sale. In addition, anglers returning from a successful trip are often willing to part with their unused bait. In the upper reaches of the Roanoke, anglers use cut bait with good success but some anglers prefer large, live minnows purchased from bait shops. Small live herring (locally called "shad") caught with a cast net at the base of Lake Gaston or Roanoke Rapids dams are a favorite. (See the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission Inland Fishing, Hunting, and Trapping Regulations Digest for rules pertaining to taking and possession of bait fish.)

Terminal tackle for using live or natural baits should consist of a rig that places the bait on the river bottom. The "slip-sinker" rig is commonly used and is made by slipping the end of the fishing line through a one- to three-ounce egg sinker (depending on river flows), then tying a good quality swivel to the end of the line. An 18- to 24-inch leader is then tied to the other end of the swivel and finally the fishhook is attached to the terminal end of the leader. As the fish takes the bait, line slips through the egg sinker, triggering a strike readily felt by the angler.

Alternatively, some anglers use a three-way swivel rig consisting of the line being attached to one swivel, a short leader with sinker attached to another swivel and a longer leader with fishhook attached to the third swivel. Because of all of the woody debris in the river, be prepared to lose and replace your terminal tackle many times during your trip. Remember, it is critical that the bait is on the river bottom.

A Word About Fishhooks

When using live or natural bait for striped bass fishing, the Commission strongly recommends the use of circle hooks. Studies we have conducted on Roanoke River striped bass as well as studies done elsewhere have shown that most striped bass caught on small, barbless circle hooks are usually hooked in the jaw. A jaw-hooked striped bass has a much greater chance of survival after being released than a striper that has been hooked in the throat or gut. Use the smallest circle hook that you can; one with a minimal distance between the hook point and shank. Unfortunately, circle hook sizes are not standard among hook manufacturers but we found circle hooks the size of the Wright-McGill Eagle Claw 4/0 circle hook to be effective for catching striped bass and reducing the incidence of deep hooking. Hooks of this size and shape made by other manufacturers would likely be just as effective. Our research also showed that larger circle hooks or circle hooks with offset points (hook points offset from the axis of the hook shank) were not effective in reducing the incidence of deep hooking.

Note that circle hooks have to be fished differently than regular "J" hooks. When you feel the fish take the bait, don't set the hook, just start reeling in your line. Remember: "Crank, don't yank." As the fish swims away, your line will tighten, the circle hook will begin to be pulled out of the fish's gut and throat and as the hook begins to exit the mouth cavity, the perpendicular hook point catches the bony jaw structure. In the beginning, you may lose a few fish because all of us have learned to "set the hook" when a fish bites. Setting the hook with circle hooks, however, usually results in pulling the bait and hook out of the fish's mouth. So when you feel a good bite, "Crank, don't yank." Let the circle hook do the work. Many stripers caught on circle hooks can be released to fight another day.

Keep in mind that whether you use circle hooks or regular "J" hooks, regulations only permit the use of a single barbless hook in Roanoke River upstream of the U.S. Highway 258 bridge each year from April 1 through June 30. Many experienced anglers use barbless hooks throughout the season because fish can be released very easily.

Download a pocket-sized information card here on releasing stripers safely (pdf)

So Many Lures, So Little Time

Ask 10 striper fishermen on Roanoke River about their favorite artificial lures and you'll get 10 different answers. Throughout most of the spring in Roanoke River, stripers feed primarily near the river bottom so sinking lures are a must. Bucktail jigs are a favorite and a local variation (referred to as a "hairy worm") seems to work very well. A hairy worm is simply a bucktail jig with the addition of a curly-tail, soft-bait to the hook. Curly-tail, soft-bait jigs by themselves often work well as do the paddle-tail fish imitation jigs. Fly fishing for stripers is becoming increasingly popular on the river with flashy Clouser minnow streamers being the preferred lure. Weighted fly line is a necessity to get these lures down deep.

Anything that remotely resembles a baitfish - minnow imitations, spoons and crankbaits - will catch stripers when conditions are right. If you're using artificial lures and aren't catching fish, switch to a different lure or observe anglers fishing around you. Sometimes, just a minor change in lure style or presentation can greatly improve your catch rate. Later in the spring, as water temperatures rise into the upper 60s, stripers can sometimes be caught on topwater lures. Topwater action usually occurs for an hour or so just after daybreak and again an hour or so before dark. Whatever your choice of lures, as is the case with natural bait rigs, expect to lose some to the woody debris of the Roanoke.

Regulations For 2007


The season for harvesting striped bass from the Roanoke River by hook and line opens at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, March 1, 2007 and closes at 11:59 p.m. on Monday, April 30, 2007.

Daily Creel Limit

2 striped bass per person. Only 1 striped bass larger than 27 inches may be included in the daily creel limit. During the open season, anglers may possess one daily creel limit of striped bass any day of the week.

Size Limits

Minimum length limit: 18 inches AND no striped bass between 22 inches and 27 inches in length may be possessed at any time.

Barbless Hook Regulation

April 1 - June 30 in Inland Waters of Roanoke River upstream of U.S. Highway 258 bridge, only a single barbless hook or lure with a single barbless hook (or hook with barb bent down) may be used.

For information on fishing license requirements and other fishing rules, see the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission Inland Fishing, Hunting and Trapping Regulations Digest or see the NCWRC online regulations.

Catch And Release Guidelines

Many anglers enjoy catching and releasing striped bass in Roanoke River either during or after the harvest season. Hooked stripers can die from injury or from the stress of being hooked, fought and landed. Ideally, striped bass should be landed quickly, handled little, if at all, and kept in the water while the hook is removed. You can greatly aid in the survival of released stripers by following these guidelines:

  • Know the fishing regulations and be prepared to release fish carefully.
  • If you are planning a catch-and-release fishing trip for stripers, do so when water temperatures are below 70 degrees. Research is conclusive that stress-related mortality in striped bass is much higher when water temperature exceeds 70 degrees.
  • Use strong enough tackle to land fish quickly, minimizing stress.
  • Use artificial lures instead of live or natural bait to reduce deep hooking. Replace treble hooks on lures with a single barbless hook to reduce injury and handling.
  • If using live or natural bait, use barbless circle hooks. Studies show that striped bass caught with small circle hooks are generally hooked in the jaw. A jaw-hooked striped bass has a much greater chance of survival after being released than a deep-hooked striper.
  • If using live or natural bait, use only one fishing rod per person. Do not use rod holders. An angler holding a fishing rod will have no trouble feeling the striper bite and can sometimes set the hook before the fish swallows the bait.
  • If legal, keep stripers that are bleeding heavily because their chances of survival are poor.
  • Keep stripers in the water while unhooking them, if possible.
  • Landing nets should be made of knotless nylon or rubber and used only when absolutely necessary.
  • If a fish must be boated to be unhooked, calm the fish by covering its eyes with a wet rag. Do not allow the fish to thrash about.
  • Carefully, but quickly, remove the hook using a dehooker, needlenose pliers or forceps.
  • If the fish is hooked deep in the throat or gut, cut the line and release the fish. Research shows that many striped bass are able to survive carrying a hook and many hooks are eventually expelled.
  • A fish that does not immediately swim away sometimes can be resuscitated by moving it back and forth to force water over its gills.

Tagged Fish

Should you catch a tagged fish from any of North Carolina's coastal rivers, please remove the tag and mail it to:

N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries

P.O. Box 769

Morehead City, NC 28557

Please include your name and mailing address, the date you caught the fish, the exact location, and the length of the fish. In return, you'll receive a nice embroidered hat identifying you as a participant in Division of Marine Fisheries' fish tagging cooperator program.

Return of fish tags is very important to biologists who need information on fish movement and fish growth. Tag returns also help biologists estimate the population size of various fish species.


Despite all of its beauty and richness, the Roanoke River can be a dangerous place to visit. In the lower river, swift currents, unseen logs and tree limbs and unexpected encounters with shallow flats can present life-threatening situations to boaters. In the upper reaches of the river, even swifter currents and the presence of rocks and boulders add to the list of navigational hazards. Here's a list of recommendations that will help make your trip a safe one:

  • Wear your PFD (life jacket) at all times. An unexpected dip in 55-degree water can overcome even the best of swimmers. Cold water is a killer. There are many approved life jackets on the market these days that allow free movement of the arms and upper body so "discomfort" is no longer an excuse for not wearing a PFD.
  • File a float plan. Tell someone at home where you'll be fishing, where you'll launch your boat and what time you should be expected to return. In some reaches of Roanoke River, there are miles of desolate areas between boat ramps so if someone knows where to look, a breakdown may only result in a minor inconvenience rather than an unplanned overnight stay on the river.
  • Prepare for the unexpected. Bring warm clothes and rain gear. Springtime cold fronts can drop air temperatures in a matter of hours. Bring plenty of food, water and sunscreen. A cool spring morning on the Roanoke can quickly turn into a baking hot afternoon. Stay abreast of weather forecasts. Riding out a thunderstorm on the water is life-threatening. Keep a properly charged fire extinguisher and a well-stocked first-aid kit in your boat at all times.
  • Watch for navigational hazards. The extensive wooded areas adjacent to Roanoke River result in numerous logs, trees and limbs being present in the water. Woody debris that you can see one day may still be present the next day but may not be visible due to a change in river flows. Upstream of Halifax, and especially upstream of Weldon, large rocks, boulders and rapids exist. Hitting a rock with your outboard, losing power and drifting into boulders or rapids can quickly overturn a boat. Venturing into the rocky areas upstream of Weldon is exceptionally hazardous.
  • Operate your boat at slow speeds. In addition to reducing the likelihood of impacting a navigational hazard, slow speeds reduce the likelihood of colliding with other boats and reduce boat wake disturbance as well. During the springtime, hundreds of anglers visit the Roanoke River in search of stripers and some reaches of the river become congested with boat traffic. Slow down, be careful and be courteous to your fellow anglers.

Striped Bass Q&A

[Editor's Note: This article was originally written and posted online in February 2004.]

As one of the most sought after game fishes in the state, striped bass have been thrilling anglers of all ages and skill levels for decades. Fortunately, North Carolina now boasts one of the best striped bass fisheries on the East Coast, with the restoration of the Albemarle Sound/Roanoke River striped bass population. Thanks to an aggressive striped bass management program initiated in the late 1980s, abundance of striped bass has increased from an historic low of 195,000 fish in 1988 to approximately 2 million fish today. Anglers, from all over, flock to northeastern North Carolina each spring to enjoy this world-class fishery.

Pete Kornegay, anadromous fisheries coordinator with the Commission, provides answers to some frequently asked questions about striped bass stocks and striped bass fishing in general. Kornegay has been working with striped bass for more than 26 years. His role in helping to restore striped bass stocks in North Carolina earned him "Biologist of the Year" honors from the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies in 1999.

  1. What is the status of the Roanoke River/Albemarle Sound striped bass stock?

    The Roanoke River/Albemarle Sound striped bass stock is in very good condition. Not only is the population very abundant, but we are now seeing good numbers of older fish in the population. This is a sign that our management strategies are allowing some fish to live longer and reproduce several times before being caught.
  2. When did striper stocks bottom out? How do those numbers compare to today's striped bass stocks?

    Our estimates of striped bass abundance indicate that the population was at its lowest point in the mid-1980s, around 195,000 fish. Beginning in the early 1990s, the numbers of striped bass rose steadily and by 2002, leveled out at around 2 million fish.
  3. How much more can Roanoke River striped bass stocks improve?

    We still have room for improvement in the age composition of the population. Having good numbers of the 30- to 40-pound female striped bass is really like having an insurance policy in case something goes wrong. Striped bass are notorious for having cycles of good and bad reproductive years. If we maintain a good percentage of the older fish in the population, their reproductive potential will assure that the stock can rebound should we have a back-to-back series of bad spawning years.
  4. To what factor(s) do you attribute the recovery of Roanoke River striped bass?

    Implementation of proper water flow conditions in Roanoke River during the spawning season and a significant reduction in harvest at a time when the stock was on the verge of collapse.
  5. Is this information being applied to other rivers in North Carolina that historically supported larger striped bass populations than they do now?

    Yes. The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently completed a Fisheries Management Plan for North Carolina's coastal striped bass stocks. The lessons learned on the Roanoke River will be used as a framework for restoring striped bass stocks in the Tar, Pamlico, Neuse and Cape Fear rivers.
  6. Are striped bass like salmon in that always make spawning runs up the same rivers where they were born? Or is it possible that a striped bass born in the Roanoke River will migrate up the Cape Fear River after it matures?

    Most striped bass return to their river of origin to spawn. We call this "natal river fidelity". But occasionally, a striped bass tagged and released in Roanoke River will be caught from the Tar or Neuse rivers a couple of springs later.
  7. Why does the Commission use a slot limit for Roanoke River stripers? Why not just use the simpler minimum-length limit?

    During our springtime harvest season, striped bass are so concentrated in the Roanoke River that we have to take extraordinary precautions to make sure they aren't overfished. The protective 22-to 27-inch slot limit is one measure that we use to make sure that large numbers of female striped bass aren't harvested. In addition, we time the harvest season (March and April) to coincide with the period when mostly male striped bass are present (they migrate upstream first). Our combination of seasons, creel and length limits results in about 80 percent of all striped bass harvested in the Roanoke being males between 18 and 22 inches.
  8. How is the striped bass creel limit determined? With striped bass stocks recovering, is there any chance the creel limit will be increased so anglers fishing the Roanoke can take home more striped bass?

    Since the early 1990s, we have operated the striped bass harvest seasons for the Roanoke River and Albemarle Sound under a "Total Allowable Catch" (TAC) plan which is the total poundage that can be safely harvested without jeopardizing the population. Originally, the TAC was quite low. In fact, it was an 80 percent reduction of historical harvest. As the population recovered, the TAC was gradually increased. In 1993, the TAC for the Roanoke River/Albemarle Sound area was 117,600 pounds and, for 2004, the TAC will be 670,000 pounds. With regards to hook-and-line creel limits, fishery managers have to take into account the TAC for a particular year, the expected duration of the harvest season, and the intensity of fishing pressure.

    There's no doubt that many anglers would like to take home more fish, but because the striped bass population appears to have leveled out now and because the number of anglers participating in the fishery grows each year, increasing the daily creel limit seems unlikely.
  9. Last year, we saw heavy springtime rains and associated high water on the Roanoke River. Anglers seemed to catch many more large striped bass (25+ pounds) last year too. Is it true more striped bass and larger striped bass made spawning runs up the Roanoke River last year?

    We believe that the numbers of larger, older striped bass in the stock are increasing. High flows on the Roanoke River typically result in striped bass migrating as far upstream as they can, concentrating in the Roanoke Rapids area. On "normal flow" years, striped bass are much more spread out, and the larger fish, especially, locate themselves in rocky portions of the river where they are much less vulnerable to being caught. Last year, the high flows placed the larger striped bass in areas where they don't usually reside, and these areas also happened to be where they were easily caught by anglers.
  10. Conversely, did the drought of 2002 account for what was perceived to be an "off-year" in Roanoke River striped bass fishing?

    Exactly. The lack of flow in 2002 resulted in very few striped bass migrating upstream to traditional spawning areas. As one angler put it, "They were strung out from one end of the river to the other."
  11. Would you comment on what striped bass anglers might expect on the Roanoke River this year?

    Catches of striped bass in the Roanoke River are totally dependent on river flows and water temperature. Both of these factors are weather-driven so there's really no way predict how the season will progress. The extreme low flows of 2002 followed by the extreme flooding of 2003 illustrate how variable conditions can be from year to year.
  12. If you were planning a striped bass fishing trip on the Roanoke River, where would you launch your boat in mid-March? Mid-April? Mid-May?

    Generally speaking, mid March, I'd fish the Plymouth/Jamesville area; mid-April, the Williamston/Hamilton area; and mid-May, the Weldon area.
  13. What about shore-bound anglers? Is it worth their while to plan a striped bass fishing trip? If so, what should they do?

    Because the Roanoke River is bounded by wetlands in most areas, bank fishing generally is restricted to areas adjacent to public boat ramps. There is a public pier in Williamston at Moratuck Park, and at Weldon, there's a good stretch of accessible river bank upstream from the boat ramp. Bait-and-tackle strategies for bank anglers are really no different than for boat anglers.
  14. Put an end to the debate: natural baits versus artificial baits.

    To be such ravenous feeders, striped bass can be pretty picky about what they eat. Cut bait and live minnows are the baits of choice nearly all of the time, but on some days, striped bass will bite only the freshest bait and ignore anything more than a day old or anything that's been frozen. At other times, artificial baits are just as effective as natural bait. We encourage anglers who use natural baits to use circle hooks, and, in the upper river, single barbless hooks are required. If a striped bass swallows a hook, we recommend cutting the line before releasing the fish and not trying to retrieve the hook.
  15. Does your answer about natural versus artificial baits change, depending on whether striped bass anglers are fishing from the shore or a boat?

  16. What kind of rod and reel and bait would you use if you wanted to catch a large number of striped bass?

    We recommend that anglers use medium-to-heavy weight rods and terminal tackle so that fight time and, consequently, stress on the fish will be reduced. If the angler's goal is to catch a good number of striped bass, we would recommend the use of artificial lures. Striped bass caught on artificial lures are generally not deep-hooked as they are with natural baits, so overall catch-and-release mortality generally will be less with artificial bait. Other factors such as high-water temperature and poor handling contribute to catch-and-release mortality so we encourage anglers to be prepared to release striped bass quickly and carefully.
  17. What kind of rod and reel and bait would you use if you don't care about numbers but want to catch a very large striped bass?

    Again, medium-to-heavy weight rods and terminal tackle. The old adage of big baits catching big fish is very true with striped bass.
  18. When is the best time to fish topwater lures for striped bass, and what topwater lures would you suggest striped bass anglers throw at that time?

    After striped bass have completed spawning, generally by mid-May, topwater lures can be productive, especially at dawn and dusk.
  19. What is the single most important thing a first-time striped bass angler on the Roanoke River should know?

    Without question, wear your life jacket. Roanoke River is an absolutely beautiful resource, but it is also unforgiving. Underwater rocks, logs and other debris can flip a boat in a matter of seconds. In the springtime, water temperatures are in the 50s and 60s so even the best of swimmers can be stunned or worse.

James W. "Pete" Kornegay is the anadromous fisheries coordinator for the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. For more information call the NC Wildlife Resources Commission at (919) 733-3633. Also, keep checking the Wildlife Resources Commission's Web site ( for developments, as well as the weekly Roanoke River fishing report that they will post online each spring.