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Albemarle and Pamlico sound
North Carolina Striped Bass Fishing

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Pamlico Sound Pamlico Sound is part of a large interconnected network of lagoon estuaries. It is a body of water separated from the Atlantic Ocean by the Outer Banks. There are seven sounds making up the whole: Albemarle Sound, Currituck Sound, Croatan Sound, Pamlico Sound, Bogue Sound, Core Sound, and Roanoke Sound.

Albemarle sound - Pamlico sound

Second only to the Chesapeake Bay, the Albemarle-Pamlico Sounds is at the top of the list for largest estuarine systems. It drains over 30,000 square miles between two states, five major river basins – Chowan, Roanoke, Pasquotank, Tar-Pamlico, and Neuse – and a number of beaches, marshes, and bottomland forests. To cover the Sounds' entire region, one would cross more than 9,299 miles of freshwater rivers and streams and over 1.8 million acres of brackish, estuarine waters. Wind-driven tides and relatively shallow water characterize its seven sounds – Albemarle, Currituck, Croatan, Pamlico, Bogue, Core, and Roanoke. The region’s rivers are an intricate part of habitat life as well, as they provide spawning grounds for striped bass, shad, herring, and other fish that live in the oceans but migrate up freshwater rivers to spawn. What's Distressing the Fisheries? The estuary represents the region's key resource base through commercial fishing, tourism, recreation, and resort development. It is one of the cradles of the ocean's harvest, with more than 90% of all commercially important finfish and shellfish depending on its waters. It’s believed that overfishing is a major caused of declining fish stocks. Downward trends in commercial landings of finfish species may an indication of these declining stocks.Eight commercially and recreationally important species of finfish and shellfish are believed to be endanger of severe depletion: Atlantic croaker, Atlantic sturgeon, Eastern oyster, red drum, striped bass, summer flounder, weakfish, herring. Other possible reasons for fisheries declines include habitat loss, physical damage, natural events and cycles, excessive harvest pressure, changes in stream flows, and water quality degradation.

Striped Bass questions and answers. (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 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 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 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 or worse.

James W. "Pete" Kornegay is the anadromous fisheries coordinator for the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.

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