Striped Bass are one of the most sought after game fish in North Carolina.
Striped bass have been thrilling anglers of all ages and skill levels for
decades. North Carolina 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, come to North Carolina each spring
to enjoy this world-class fishery.
North Carolina waters where
Striped Bass are Stocked.
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
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
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
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