possible reasons for fisheries declines include habitat
loss, physical damage, natural events and cycles, excessive
harvest pressure, changes in stream flows, and water
Striped Bass questions
and answers for 2004
Pete Kornegay, anadromous fisheries coordinator with the
North Carolina WildlifeCommission, 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 caught.
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
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
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 inches.
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
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 or worse.
James W. "Pete" Kornegay is the anadromous
fisheries coordinator for the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.