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Roanoke River Striped Bass

The spawning run is in full swing 200 miles upstream from the coast!


Brian Staples Striper

Brian Staples catches a Roanoke River striper

Photo by David Brooks
It’s that time of year in North Carolina. Stripped bass, rockfish, green backs – whatever the local name, the spawning run is making its way north from river to river. Along with many other rivers up and down all three U.S. coasts, the Roanoke River is bursting at the seams with stripers.

In an annual convergence of people and boats, the small town of Weldon has become a mecca of sorts for striper anglers from several hundred miles in all directions. Weldon sits just below the dam at Roanoke Rapids, right where the rapids begin. In a normal water condition, the stripers are somewhat blocked from going farther upstream and they end up settling in the wide pool area just below the rapids. It is here that the fishing can be just short of unbelievable.

The fertilized striper eggs need enough current to keep them moving and off the bottom for about fourteen days, at which time they hatch and go to the surface to gulp enough air to fill their air bladder. If they can’t get to the surface, they will die. The right amount of current insures they stay suspended in the egg stage for the fourteen day cycle.

In natures way, breeding fish must go far enough upstream to insure the eggs have the full the fourteen day float down the river. Weldon and the area of Roanoke Rapids is the exact area that gives the eggs that insurance. Many biologists believe that fish would not go farther than Roanoke Rapids even if they could.

Several studies done on Georgia’s Coosa River stripers show that they all spawn in the same half-mile stretch of river, even though they could go many miles farther upstream. Interestingly, the spawn in this river takes place literally in downtown Rome, Georgia.

Preceded by an earlier shad run of hickory and American shad, the stripers will willingly hit almost anything that comes in front of them. Catches of over a hundred fish a day are very common within site of the boat ramp in Weldon. Fly rodders can catch fish until their arms are sore!

While most fish that are caught are in the four to eight pound range, bigger fish are available for those that want to look for them. Big fish didn’t get big by being stupid. They are less likely to hit an artificial bait, opting instead for a good live bait.

The old rule about big bait – big fish is at play here; stripers over twenty pounds are usually taken on large live shad or blue back herring, both being expensive offerings from the local tackle shops.

Some boats anchor and fish the bottom, some drift either bouncing the bottom with live bait, chunking white bucktails, or fly casting large Deceiver and Clouser flies. The least expensive live bait is perhaps a large commercial bass minnow.

David Brooks of Zebulon and Brian Staples of Warrington opted for the live minnows and managed twenty fish in four hours of fishing. Here are pictures of Brian and David on the river, and one of David showing off his catch.

The limit is two fish per day During April, and all terminal tackle must use single barbless hooks. Catch and release fishing begins in May and runs through the end of June. The run will get stronger over the next two weeks, peaking in early to mid-May. At its peak, the fishery will see over 100 boats in a short stretch of river below Weldon, all of them catching stripers til their arms are sore!

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