Outdoors: Spring fishing heats up

By Mike Zlotnicki

Fishing in North Carolina

April and May are prime time for sea-run striped bass
on several Coastal Plain rivers.
Photos by Mike Zlotnicki

One of the many blessings of living in the Tar Heel State is the myriad fishing opportunities. From the mountain streams to the Gulf Stream, there is something for any angler.

Don’t overlook the anadromous fishes of the Coastal Plain rivers: the American shad, the hickory shad and the striped bass.

Starting in late February and lasting into early April, the American and hickory shad start their spawning runs up the Roanoke, Tar, Neuse and Cape Fear rivers. (Anadromous means they live in the saltwater and spawn in freshwater.)

The shad precede the stripers, which usually start heavy in April and run through May. The American (or white) shad are larger than the more common hickory shad. Americans average 2-4 pounds, while hickories go 1-2 pounds. When they’re thick, it’s not hard to catch 50 to 100 “hicks” in a day’s fishing. Tackle is pretty straightforward. For conventional tackle, a light or ultralight spinning rod with 6- to 8-pound test is fine. Lures for shad include shad “darts” (a type of jig) and small spoons, sometimes in tandem with the spoon at the bottom and a dart and foot or two above on a short leader tied to a swivel.

You can certainly just use small crappie jigs, marabou or plastic bodied, in green, chartreuse and pearl. Fly anglers using 4- to 6-weight outfits and sinking lines do well too.

Roanoke River striped bass (aka rockfish) has become one of the great wildlife recovery stories in North Carolina. The run of spawning stripers is heavy in April and May, and catching 50 to 100 on a good day is not unusual. The easiest method is to drift or anchor below the landing in Weldon using Carolina-rigged shad or large (“bass”) minnows on typical largemouth bass tackle. Line weight should be 12- to 17-pound test. A quicker fight and landing reduces mortality in these fish. Sizes range from a typical 5- to 10-pound male fish to females running 10 on up to over 40 pounds. Artificial lures include swim baits, ½-ounce to 1-ounce jigs and stickbaits.

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Single hooks with pinched down barbs are mandatory on the Roanoke River during spring fishing.

There are limited bank-fishing opportunities on all the rivers. Weldon has some at the landing. There’s also a new fishing pier at Lock & Dam No. 1 in Riegelwood. A boat of some type is best, and on the Roanoke you will see everything from canoes to cabin cruisers.

The daily creel limit within the Roanoke River Management Area is two striped bass per angler. The minimum length limit is 18 inches, and no striped bass between 22 and 27 inches can be possessed at any time. Only one striped bass larger than 27 inches can be included in the daily creel limit.

Anglers are required to use a single barbless hook or a lure with a single barbless hook when fishing in the upper Roanoke River from April 1 through June 30. The upper Roanoke River is defined as the main river channel and all tributaries upstream from the U.S. 258 Bridge near Scotland Neck to Roanoke Rapids Lake Dam.

For more information on shad and striped bass fisheries, go to www.ncwildlife.org/Fishing.aspx.