01-11-2006 05:25 PM
Crossing the Line(s), North Carolina Estuarine Striped Bass.
Albemarle Striped Bass
by Capt. Gary Dubiel
North Carolina’s Department of Marine Fisheries (DMF) and Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC) have established a complex management system to maintain a massive number of resident striped bass in the Albemarle/Pamlico Sound and Roanoke River. Once reduced to numbers small enough to make recreation fishing hardly worth the effort, “line siders” have now become the shining star of the Tar Heel State’s spring recreational fishery. Achieved primarily by eliminating commercial fishing and reducing recreational landings by literally drawing lines in the water, DMF and WRC had taken an over fished population of stripers and made it viable in a three year period. Today, these demarcations in the waters from Roanoke Island near Nags Head to the dam at Roanoke Rapids Reservoir near Weldon continue to serve as part of an excellent management plan. February can be cold along the Outer Banks. Harsh breezes from the Northeast and temperatures in the 40’s can make for impossible fishing conditions, but not ever day is that cold and miserable. Reasonably warm 50 degree days with less wind can make for a great outing. In fact, striped bass fishing can be as hot as a July afternoon.
The Albemarle Sound Management Area, at its southern end, begins at a line drawn from Roanoke Marshes Point 35` 48’ 12” N - 75` 43’ 06” W to the north point of Eagle Nest Bay 35` 44’ 12” N – 75` 31’ 09” W and extends northward to encompass the Roanoke, Croatan, Currituck, and Albemarle Sounds and their tributaries, excluding the Roanoke, Eastmost, Middle, and Cashie Rivers. This also includes the waters west of the Oregon Inlet Bridge. The open season for striped bass in this area began January 5 of 2005 and extended to April 30 with a daily bag limit of 2 striped bass of 18 inches or larger. The season is subject to change and visiting anglers who plan on taking their bag limit should check DMF’s latest regulations.
It is in the sounds behind the Outer Banks that the striped bass population concentrates each winter and its here anglers can come to cash in on this exciting winter fishing. Area hot spots include the Mann’s Harbor (Mann’s Harbor to Manteo) and the Wright Memorial (Kitty Hawk to Powell’s Point) bridges. Anglers should concentrate on the bridge pilings. Tossing subsurface baits that would include bucktails, Hyper Striper stump jumpers, or soft plastics like DOA’s new 5.5 inch CAL jerk bait will all prove to be your most productive angling method. The water will be cold and as long as it remains greater than 45` the stripers will remain active enough to feed, but fast moving baits and top water are out of the question.
Albemarle stripers are not the giants of the Atlantic Ocean and matching your tackle to tangle with and average 2 to 5 pounder will make for a more enjoyable day. Anglers should be prepared to take the occasional 10 to 20 pound, however, as both size and numbers have been on the rise since the implement of the current management plan. Fly anglers can also cash in by fishing weighted flies slow and deep.
Shore anglers can participate in on the winter festivities, but there is much less access to the fish by foot. Ideal wading areas around Oregon inlet and the small bridges near Roanoke Island can produce, but with more limited success.
Knowing the current water conditions and fishing report can be vital at this time of the year. Anglers should check in with a reliable source such as TW’s Bait and Tackle in Kitty Hawk or one of the areas guides before making the trek to the fishing grounds. By the end of February or start of March this mass of fish begin their ascent north and west to their tradition spawning ground of the Roanoke River. Prior to and during the travels, stripers can be found and caught in many areas of the large Albemarle Sound. The waters near Elizabeth City, for example, can be productive, but it the fish urge to get to the spawning waters of the Roanoke that will dictate the angler’s next move.
The Lower Roanoke River regulations begin with a line drawn at the highway 258 bridge near Scotland Neck and extend down stream to the Albemarle Sound and it includes the waters of the Cashie, Middle and Eastmost Rivers. The keeper season opens here on March 1 and traditionally extends to April 15. Fisherman can expect this time frame to be the peak of the fishing season as well. Again, anglers can take 2 fish per day over 18 inches, however WRC has created a slot to protect a group of highly product spawning fish and no striper may be taken between 22 and 27 inches.
The Roanoke flows through past the town of Plymouth and its here that anglers can use as one of there bases of operation to target stripers as they move to the spawning rounds on the upper river. Look for fish here near the highway 45 bridge in mid-March as well as in the Cashie and Middle Rivers. By the first of April concentrations of stripers will be near Jamesville, Williamston and Hamilton.
Unlike the fishing near the Outer Banks, the narrow and tree lined Roanoke makes life for the visiting angler much more predictable. The area is very scenic and ideal for small boat fisherman. Wind and fowl weather are not as much of a consideration here. Although the fishing can be very good on this stretch of river, the stripers have not completed their journey and they will not linger long.
Water temperatures are now reaching into the 50’s and striper feeding activity improves. It starts to be common to have 25 to 50 fish days and a wider variety of baits become more effect and angling methods here are similar to the upper stretches of the Roanoke, the final stop west. It’s an area marked by a line upstream of the highway 258 bridge and abruptly ends at the dam at Roanoke Rapids. Regulations for this piece of water are the same slot limits as are in place on the Lower River and open April 15 and close April 30. In addition, anglers are required to use a single barbless hook at all times. April 15 is a good starting time for fishing the waters of the upper river near the town of Weldon. The area just down stream from Weldon can be your most product of the fish’s entire journey. It’s here that 50 to 100 fish per angler per day are common, and its here that the fish are the most concentrating to begin the spawning ritual.
Spawning activity is locally known as “rock fights”, named for the regional term for stripers; “rockfish”. Spawning can start to be observed around the closing of the keeper season on the 30th of April and will peak as temps rise into the upper 60’s. Although the keeper season has closed, anglers can continue to fish for stripers into May.
Many angling methods are now very effective on the fish. The same artificals mentioned earlier will produce. Additionally, the top-water fishing can be excellent at times of low light.
Fly anglers will do as well as anyone utilizing the right methods. Much of the early dates and during the day light hours, 350 to 450 grain sinking heads a large brightly colored Clouser Deep Minnow will take fish consistently. Drifting down river, casting up stream and striping the fly quickly back to the boat or casting into structure along the shore will result in continuous hook–ups. Large poppers and a fast retrieve will as work well in the early morning and late evening.
Live bait fishing is very popular and although circle hooks are not mandatory, they are encouraged. Most live minnow work well, but some anglers prefer live shad or herring.
Fisherman should take care when live baiting not to deep hook the fish and cause an increase in mortality. Recently, groups of anglers and guides have been targeting the larger, 10 to 30 pound females with live 10 to 14 inch herring. This method of fishing has come under some scrutiny and it remains a questionable practice of target breeding females before the spawn.
The spawn is quite a spectacle; big females rolling on their sides and 10 to 30 males literally coming out of the water to fertilize her eggs, amazing every time you see it. Once complete the spawn is complete, stripers quickly return to the salt of the Albemarle Sound, soon to be followed by the next generation of young fish.
The keeper season remains closed in the Albemarle Sound Management area through the summer. Although anglers are permitted to catch and release striped bass during this time frame, fisherman are encouraged to avoid targeting them due too the high stress mortality related to water temps over 70 degrees.
As fall approaches, schools of estuarine stripers begin to become more active and aggressively feed from the upper stretches of Albemarle to Oregon Inlet. The fall season is set by proclamation by the Director of Marine Fisheries and can vary in time and limits. Anglers should consult the DMF website and publications or local tackle shops to be sure they are following the latest regulations.
Throughout the region fisherman can successfully target stripers in countless areas by numerous methods. Whether you’re fishing the mouth of the Pasquotank River near Elizabeth City or in the marshes along Roanoke Island, there will plenty of excellent striper fishing. Often striped bass will be taken in a mixed bag of both salt and brackish water game fish. With the approach of winter, the waters of the Roanoke and Croatan Sounds be come the temporary residence for the mobile group of game fish and the cycle will soon start over.
The license lines may be even more complex than the lines of demarcation that manage the stripes bass in North Carolina. A 2007 Saltwater license will be ready to issue, but it remains unclear if there will be a combination saltwater and fresh water license and who will issue them. Fresh water license requirements can greatly vary in the region and anglers should check WRC and DMF web sites and regulations and charts to see if they’re planning on a trip requiring a fresh water permit.
One thing is for certain, no matter what time of the season or what method of angling you prefer, North Carolina’s Albemarle/Pamlico Sound- Roanoke River estuarine striped bass can make for a memorable fishing excursion. Thanks to an excellent management plan and a hopeful continuance of the program, anglers will be crossing the line-siders for years to come. Capt. Gary Dubiel runs the SpecFever Guide service out of Oriental, NC. http://www.specfever.com
- Capt. Gary Dubiel
Replies to Article: Crossing the Line(s), North Carolina Estuarine Striped Bass.
Outstanding article Capt Gary, thanks for the insight.
"appreciate the art and the science of each discipline or pastime and pursue it with passion"