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Albemarle Sound Rockfish - Striped Bass

Striped Bass Fishing in North Carolina can be Awesome

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Photo © Ron Brooks

Albemarel Sound Rockfish

Photo © Ron Brooks
Fall weather means more than just a change in temperatures for anglers living around the Albemarle Sound in North Carolina. It means rockfish (striped bass) season has started and for the next seven months they will be able to take home some of these hard fighting fish. We fished the sound recently to find out just what these rockfish were all about.

History

North Carolina has gone through a major effort at restoring the rockfish populations through some strict regulations and bag limits. Today it is possible to find just about all you want if you know a few secrets for catching them.

Anglers in other states farther up the Atlantic coast catch rockfish as well, and it seems that the methods change only slightly as you move farther north. But, here in North Carolina, and in particular the Albemarle Sound, two basic methods prevail. Trolling is the preferred method for larger boats, while jigging is more easily done by smaller boats with a trolling motor.

Tackle

In the fall, medium tackle is all you need. We fished with medium spinning and casting tackle with 15 pound test line. The resident fish in the sound during the fall and winter months seldom reach over 26 or 27 inches in length and medium tackle is all you really need. We used spinning tackle to do the jigging and casting tackle to troll.

Bait

Rockfish can be caught on natural and artificial bait. In the sound, however, artificial baits are used almost exclusively. Rockfish are generally bottom fish, and baits that get down deep close to the bottom work best. Occasionally, a school of rocks will surface and feed on a wad of baitfish. If you are fortunate enough to be around them when they surface, a topwater bait that matches the size of the baitfish will be annihilated. But in general, plan to fish deep.

A variety of jigs and deep running crank baits are used to catch these fish. The jigs consist of a 3/8 to ½ ounce jig head and a plastic tail of some type. Crank baits need to be able to run down to 15 feet or more when trolled. The colors tend to revolve around something white. White jig tails with a chartreuse or pink tail are very popular. Chartreuse seems to be the most preferred. Crank baits run a wider variety of colors, but it seems that the longer baits are more preferred that the shorter varieties. Again, white and variations of white are the predominant color scheme

Locating the Fish

In the sound, deep water is a relative term. The deepest part of the sound may be 20 to 25 feet deep. Locating the fish becomes the challenge in this wide expanse of water. Rockfish identify with structure. They hang around it and feed around it. This structure can be a rock – as the name implies, a piling, or even something as simple as a hump on the bottom.

Locating these fish in the sound becomes quite simple when you realize that one huge structure dominates the water. The Sound Bridges runs north and south across the middle of the sound, and it holds a ton of rockfish. On any given day, there are multiple boats around the pilings under the bridge. The larger boats will usually be trolling crank baits, while the smaller boats will be fishing with jigs. The jigs need to be fish in a vertical pattern. Deep jigging comes to mind here. They are dropped straight down, very close to one of the bridge pilings and jigged up vertically. In almost every instance, the rockfish will hit the jig as it drops back down. Sometimes these are subtle hits – a slight tick on your line. When you feel the tick, set the hook – otherwise he will spit the bait when he realizes it is not really food.

Crank baits are trolled as deep as you can get them and still remain off the bottom. This is a comparatively fast troll, probably six or seven knots. The baits are trolled parallel to and as close to the bridge pilings as possible. In fact, most anglers prefer that the big lip on the crank bait actually bumps the edge of the piling. Strikes more often occur just after a bait hits a piling.

Some Tips

Here are some tips for fishing the Sound Bridge – and they will probably apply to any other bridge on the northeast Atlantic coast where rockfish are prevalent.
  • Stay with the piling that produced. Whether jigging or trolling, when you catch a fish, stay with that piling. These fish are not loners, and where you catch one, you will most certainly catch more. Try trolling to find one, and then stop and fish a jig on that piling.
  • Look for subtle changes on the bottom. Underwater humps, where the depth comes up from 20 feet to maybe 12 feet or so are ideal locations. Fish will be either on top of the hump on off on one side of the hump.
  • Ledges offer the same type of structure as humps. A dredged or natural channel edge will hold fish.
  • Keep a clean bait. Whether trolling or jigging, grass and trash on your lure will make the lure look unnatural, and you will absolutely not get a strike.
  • Avoid wooden opilings if at all possible. When trolling the pilings, a lure will often hang on a concrete piling. Simply going back to the piling and releasing pressure on the line will get your lure back. If you hang it on a wooden piling down fifteen feet, you will probably not get your fifteen dollar diving bait back. You will not see many boats trolling around the wood.
Try these tips and methods for rockfish wherever you live. They work in the Albemarle Sound, and while the fish are not monsters here in the fall, they are many, and they can be caught.

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