Tagged Striped Bass on the Cape fear

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Photo: Scott Kroggel

I got out on the Cape Fear river over the holiday with a good friend and caught my first two tagged striped bass.

As long as I’ve chased these fish, its amazing these are the first ones with tags I’ve ever come across. And two of them in the same day was quite the treat. I found stripers feeding readily as soon as I arrived at the first location. Shad were breaching the water trying to escape the aggressively feeding fish. I could see the linesiders thrashing the surface of the water, but my first hookup was a big largemouth bass.

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My buddy Scott Kroggel was along for his first river trip in his brand new kayak. Scott is a very talented artist, musician and photographer and he took several beautiful photographs during our outing. Below is a pic I snapped of him a few weeks ago on his maiden voyage with his new yak.

The river was a little high and the water was slightly stained, but I had success at first with a chugbug by jerking it across the surface. Fortunately, there was abundant cloud cover, wind was almost non-existent, and the river water was cool enough for the fish to be active. It was one of those perfect days.

Soon enough, I landed the first striper.

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The fish was quickly released, as they are still protected on the Cape Fear, and after a few more casts I hooked the first tagger, a red tagged fish close to 25″. These fish are worth $100 bucks to the NCWRC.

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After a couple pics it was also returned to the river. And the fish just kept biting; more stripers, a few white bass, a gar and then I caught a few carp for good measure…

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Photo: Scott Kroggel

This guy inhaled a small crankbait, which was a challenge to remove safely for the fish. But he seemed to swim away unharmed. Luckily, the tiny bait hung short of his gills.

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The white bass wanted the little crankbait too.

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The carp prefer sweet corn.

We moved to a different area and I found the yellow tagger. I was fishing directly beneath a spillway and my buddy took a couple really cool pictures. I couldn’t believe my luck. This fish is worth $5 bucks and a NCWRC marine fisheries hat. Once again, after a couple quick photos the striper was returned to the water to go about his business mostly unscathed and a little bit smarter for his trouble.

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Photo: Scott Kroggel

 

 

 

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Summer Stripers & White Bass

Big white bass and stripers were feeding good yesterday afternoon.

I got a call from Captain Stu Dill yesterday afternoon. He was on the lake and the fish were chewing. He had two white bass in the livewell and had already caught a largemouth bass and a crappie.

I got a few rods together and jumped in the truck to join him. It had been raining off and on all night and throughout the earlier part of the day. It was cloudy, the barometer was moving and there was a front stalled just off our coast.

Perfect.

I’m currently in the second round of editing on my book; this time with the publisher’s editor (so it’s easier now after the majority of the work has been done) so a break from the keyboard would be a nice distraction.

I got aboard in the early afternoon and we put the hammer down to cross the lake and drop lines. We went to a spot that’s been producing a few striped bass, but nothing was happening after a few passes watching the sonar. So we motored to the area uplake where Stu had been catching earlier.

After a few minutes of trolling we put the fourth species of the day on the boat; the scourge of the lake; the notoriously voracious white perch. We found them on humps and started catching them 2 and 3 at a time. It was fairly steady action for a while and after only landing one channel catfish aside from the myriad of perch, it took some discipline for us to leave those fish biting. They were stacked on humps just off the sloping red-clay banks that lined that part of the watercourse.

But we knew where we needed to go.

So we made the run back down to another area we’ve been checking lately and after dropping one rod back we started running too shallow, but as I was reeling up some line the rod doubled over in my hands. It fought like a striped bass, shaking its head violently, but after a few moments I saw the taller profile with the stripes and brought a nearly 15″ fish taco into the boat.

I just love everything about white bass. They feed readily in the right conditions, fight like crazy and make excellent table-fare. Especially fried in peanut oil! So now we had three nice ones already in the livewell.

After another pass we hung the first striper (feature photo). It fought hard as it took the crankbait, which was all we caught fish on all afternoon, they wouldn’t touch bucktails of any color, spinners or a Bama-rig. The fish was just short at 19″, but we made the call to put it in the livewell a few minutes to recover. To hell with the ticket if the warden would rather we throw it back to die. Striped bass can’t take the struggle and being thrown back into hot surface water right after the fight. So we took the chance and let it go when we felt it would live. And it did. Right to the bottom! If you can get them past that first 5 or 6 feet they’ll usually do ok.

We started catching perch again and a few more nice white bass before calling it a day. It was a 6 species outing with steady action all afternoon and I took home 5 fatty white bass for a fish taco dinner.

 

Gaston Lake Schoolie Striper Smackdown

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The striped bass have started biting on Gaston Lake, so Capone and I got out there this past weekend to get in on the action.

I had a little time Friday afternoon and got on the water about 4:00. First, I rode around and checked as many areas as I could before the last hour; places I’d caught stripers in spring there before. I’d caught a few largemouth bass on big #5 inline spinners in 50′ of water on the main lake as soon as I’d got to my first area. They always bust there in the afternoons when it’s warm, there’s low boat traffic and calm. But I hadn’t located any striped bass.

I planned to head back to Pea Hill Creek and hit a few more points and humps before sunset. It was warm but the cloud cover was well received. I passed under the bridge and started into the creek and quickly saw good marks on the sonar in 20′ of water. Nice marks with lots of color. So I dropped lines and started trolling, but as soon as I’d started the wind really picked up and a light rain accompanied it. The sun was peaking through at times and the cloud cover’s colors varied from dark, likely rain holding clusters to light and smooth, low-lying cirrus and cumulus puffs hovering at all heights. It was too windy to troll where I was, so I took off across the creek for cover.

The plan was to wait out the weather and then get back to fishing before dark. And after a few moments I was about to anchor up in a windbreak when fish started busting around a point near me. I dropped the anchor back in the bin, started the boat and carefully got to within casting distance of the commotion.

I had a rattletrap tied on a braid pole and soared it at the boiling water. One dip and a striper was on.

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I snapped a pic and tossed the schoolie striper back into the lake. Then, after a few more throws the fish stopped their assault on the shad. I saw lines on my sonar and opted to start trolling the area. The fish were in shallow water and were positioned in the slot of a cove near an island; so trolling was going to be difficult, but they weren’t hitting anything else.

It’s a good thing I decided to risk losing gear, because I didn’t lose anything, but man did I get on a school of short stripers. I had maybe a three-hundred yard run that ended at one end in a cove and the other in deep unproductive water, and had to navigate two humps that came up into 5′ of water. The fish were active in 15′. I was pulling my gear on leadcore with two colors out, which put me at close to 10′ with the lures. There was also the slot to deal with; I had to turn through both humps and hit the slot where the largest portion of fish were positioned. It was tough but I didn’t hang once.

First, they were hitting the ‘Bama rig.

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Then, the fish tossed any qualms they had with color, shape or size and hit everything I trolled by them. I didn’t measure any of them as I could tell they were short of the 20″ minimum, and I only snapped pics every few fish. The action stayed on fire for a good hour and I fished til dark. I probably caught 15 to 20. Here are the rest of the pics I took that afternoon.

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So the sun set on that day, but I decided to wake up at 5:00 am and get back out. I was hoping some bigger stripers would join the party.

The next morning started a little slow, and I started off catching perch in the same area I’d finished up the prior day. But pretty soon the stripers woke up again…

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It was basically a repeat of the previous day. No keepers, but a ton of fun action and Capone got in on the party!!

I had planned to help Pop out with a few things at the lake house at midday and ended up helping a neighbor with a little labor too. Then, we were gona head back out but another freakish windstorm cancelled afternoon fishing plans. So me, Pop and his wife just enjoyed the cooler weather on the porch and watched the hummingbirds. They’re just starting to visit the swings and feeders up there. There may have been a few cold beverages too.

We thought about fishing again Sunday morning, but I figured that school of fish was tired of my harassing behavior, so I just woke up, put the boat back on the trailer and headed back to town. People who know the lake wouldn’t believe me if I told them where these fish popped up. Never seen them there before and probably never will again. But it was a lucky coincidence of stripers hunting and baitballs escaping wind and current, and I was happy to have experienced and learned from it.

I’ll be back there soon when the action hits the main lake.

Six Species Slab Smackdown

 

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So this afternoon was a no-brainer to go after some slabs.

I wanted fish tacos and I was lucky enough to find the ingredients today. The weather was what I call perfect for fishing. Light winds, overcast, rainy-at-times and cool with constant approaching weather.

I got on the water around 2:00 and started catching fish right off. There was bait on top of the water, but I never saw any surface activity. I launched and headed into the back of a cove I’ve had plenty of luck in over the years and hit a keeper striper before I could get all three lines out.

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I had two rods spooled with leadcore already out and was dropping back a crankbait in the center of the spread when the first rod doubled over. It was a decent fish and fought hard, digging deep repeatedly in 20 fow. I lip-gripped the striped bass and brought it into the yak. It was about 21″, so I took a quick pic and released it. I was only planning on keeping whites or crappie.

I trolled through the area a while and picked up a few small catfish before landing the first white bass. I thought it was a striper, as usual with the bigger whites. It was almost 14″ (feature photo) and hit the ice. Then, I trolled right back through the same spot and hit a nice crappie, just about 12″ and it too joined the white bass.

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Then, the sun popped out, the temperature went up and the bait and fish vanished. The wind picked up a bit too, so I trolled across the lake and hit a different area. Once there, I found fish on structure and started jigging after a few passes with no takers. I caught several bream, with one nice one first. I thought about keeping them, but turned them back.

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Then, I caught another striper, it was short and also quickly released.

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Right afterwards, as the the bait sunk back to the bottom I pulled the first time and felt a huge bite. I was sure I was hung then felt the shaking and new I was on a nice fish. It dug good and shook its head several times before I turned it upward and was able to bring it to the side of the yak. Awww. Anyway it was nice fight…

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The afternoon started getting late and I was headed back to the ramp and the wind died. The clouds covered the sky again and I decided to tie on a chugbug. I love those things. Rivers, lakes wherever. I chucked it along a bank a few times and had one blow up. I figure it was a maybe two pounds, but it was fun for the sixth species of the day.

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After that the wind started up again and I split. Only kept the crappie and white bass but it was just enough. I love overcast calm days on the water.

 

Jordan Lake Stripers

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I got out on Jordan Lake today to chase striped bass and white bass and found the fish feeding readily.

I started out jigging in about 18′ of water and hooked the only striper I kept on a piece of metal. The fish fought like a much bigger striped bass, but once I landed the 21″ specimen I knew I had a grilled dinner, so I put it on ice. All I needed at that point was a fresh lemon. This fish had a fair amount of broken lines, but it was just a striped bass.

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But after a few more minutes of jigging and no takers I could see action on the surface of the water around me. The wind was light and I had trolling gear aboard, so it wasn’t long before I started pulling hardware. I started off in 15 FOW and had marks all around.

And I was quickly rewarded for the change of tactics. Clouds had been moving in from the west, and as the afternoon progressed, the colors changed from reds to purples tinged with orange as the sun found its way to the horizon. The wind slightly changed to a WSW and it wasn’t five minutes into the pass when the leadcore rod with a sassy shad doubled over. I fought the fish while keeping the other line moving and landed another nice keeper striped bass before releasing it after a quick pic.

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After I turned around to make another pass through the area I immediately found my sonar lit up again. And after another few moments the same rod doubled over again and I fought a really nice white bass to the boat. I thought it was another striper the way it fought, but once I boat-flipped the large panfish I knew I had another cooler fish. It hit the ice and I set back out.

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There was a slight lull and I changed jig heads as I was running through the same general area. At times I would pull cranks and at times I didn’t. But after a while I decided to change colors and ran a chartreuse Bomber over shallow structure. I’d been running a white Bomber as my prop-wash bait, but it was a deep crank, so I opted for a 6′ – 8′ model and quickly found fish receptive.

This was my first striper double of the year (feature photo) and after fighting the fish to the boat, I released them after taking pics. I only planned on keeping 1 striped bass for a grilled dinner over the weekend and the white bass was a bonus. As you can clearly see, one fish was caught on a sassy shad and one was landed on a crankbait.

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I caught a few others, but released everything else. All my fish were caught in 14′ to 24′ of water and almost every fish was caught using white sassy shads on chartreuse jigheads.

Good luck!!

Roanoke River April 2017

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Saturday, a good friend and I decided to launch on the Roanoke River in search of river-running striped bass.

We set out in Williamston NC and headed upriver. The current always seems to be strong there, but that day the water was clear compared to my previous trips. We’d planned to travel to Plymouth, but the shad report was good where we were, and with decent water clarity, we opted to go ahead and fish. We didn’t leave early by any means either and weren’t on the water til nearly 1:00.

We threw shad darts in white and chartreuse from the bank and had chasers nibbling as well, but they wouldn’t commit. So I tied mine on with a 1/2 oz trolling weight and let out plenty of line once we’d launched. The water was fairly deep, so I put out another line with a white sassy shad and a chartreuse jighead and headed hard into the current.

I wasn’t two-hundred yards up the river before I hooked my first shad of the year on the troll. It put up a great fight and I snapped a pic once I landed it.

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I continued upriver and it wasn’t long before a striped bass hit the sassy shad. It also put up a great fight and the current had me turned quickly. I thought I’d lose the other line and lures to the bottom of the river, but I was lucky and pulled them in after landing the striper. I took a quick pic and released it. I didn’t measure the fish, but I didn’t plan on keeping any unless they were at least 20″. It may have been a legal 18″ fish, but I decided to let the first one go.

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Shawn and I continued upriver again and after a while of fighting the current we found a great spot to try cut bait. We tied Carolina rigs and sent out baits into eddies and currents, but found no more striped bass. We did find a great bend in the river that gave us action until we left however. We caught plenty of catfish. They were the whitest channel catfish I’d ever seen. The fish were suspended in deep water, almost 40′, and we anchored on the point nearby and fan-casted the area.

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We caught several of these guys and released all of them. Then, we tried to search further upriver and trolled a ways again. But the boat traffic was heavy and we soon started running out of time. So we headed back to the area that gave the most action and that’s when Shawn hooked into the big gar (feature photo). I’d had two on prior to his hookup, but each fish came unbuttoned before I could get them to the boat.

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I paddled over to his position to get a few pics. Then, when I paddled off, he reeled in his other line and saw another gar take the bait at the boat. He fought that one and landed it too. That was the first gar-double I’ve ever witnessed.

The day had grown old by that point and we hadn’t found the striped bass in any numbers so we decided to call it a day and made the drive back to town. We honestly didn’t see anyone catch a fish yesterday and it was one of those afternoons when you saw the same boats running all over the place. Although, we were told the bite had been good. And I don’t doubt it, the fish don’t always know how nice a day it is. But we’d had plenty enough action to have a good time.

I advise anyone interested in this years striped bass run on the area rivers to check these shocking reports weekly. They update them pretty regularly and you can use them to plan your trips with an edge. They feature the Tar, Roanoke, Neuse and the Cape Fear.

Good luck!

 

 

Winter Stripers

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The water was glassy and I had winter stripers on my mind.

I got to the last day of January and realized I hadn’t been on the water yet in 2017. So I took the second half of the day off and decided to go after fish I knew would be fat and full of fight.

And I wanted to grill some fresh fish.

It was a mid-60’s day with no wind and it had been warm for a few days. Definitely a no-brainer to go kayak fishing.

I started fishing around 3:00 and it wasn’t long before I had my first fish of the year; it fought hard but turned out to be a foul-hooked white catfish; probably three pounds or so. I didn’t take a pic and thought, uh oh.

After jigging a spoon a short time later another fish was on. (feature photo) The fish was barely hooked, but I managed to swing it into the kayak without losing tension. It was just over 20″, and a perfect eating fish. So he went into the cooler. I fished a little while longer without another bite and decided to move around a bit.

After watching the sonar a while, I came over what looked to be a school of crappie. The vertical column of fish, I thought was unmistakable. I back-pedaled to stay right on top of the marks and dropped the spoon. It was struck hard instantly, but the fish broke off after a few seconds. I dropped back down and jigged again awhile without another bite. The fish had been feeding all day I could tell. They were lethargic, but it was mid-afternoon. I figured it would pick back up towards sunset.

After trying a couple other spots and marking very little, I again came over good lines on my unit. I dropped the lure and it was smacked on the drop again. This time the fish held though, and I fought it for close to two or three minutes before it was boat side. I hadn’t brought a net, I rarely do anymore (I prefer the fish grippers) but today, with fish again hitting only one of two treble hooks, I missed it. I lost a nice 24+” class fish within a foot of my arm.

It happens, but I was shaking.

I dropped right back down though and after a few moments I was on again. After another decent fight I had another winter striper at the side of the yak. I swung it in as it looked short, and once measured it was just shy of a keeper at 19″.

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I snapped a pic a tossed this one back in and dropped back down. Again, a fish hit the lure on the drop, but after another lengthy fight, and sighting another 24″ class fish barely hooked, I lost tension at the boat missing with the lip-grippers. It was then I decided to go back to bringing a net. You just don’t reach your hand into a striped bass’s mouth with treble hooks in play. And winter stripers are so full of piss and vinegar they fight as hard in the boat as they do on the line.

I was again shaking but dropped back down regardless. And after another few jigs of the spoon I had another strike.

I knew I had another nice striper on. I fought it just like I had all the others and soon had it too at the side of the kayak. It was a good one and just like the rest, only one of the hooks on one treble hook held it to my line.

But this time the lip-grippers found their mark and I pulled the second keeper in. It was 24″ and close to six pounds after weighing it later.

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Not long after I put that one on ice a stiff south wind hit the lake and vertical fishing was out. I paddled back towards the launch and snapped a close-to-sunset pic before heading out and cleaning fish.

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