After years of concerted effort on a coastwide basis, the recovery of the Atlantic Migratory Ocean Stock of Striped Bass has been phenomenal. The stock is listed as "viable." Coastwide, the ages and sizes of ocean striped bass continue to increase, with fish aged 13 and older becoming more abundant. Like many fish, the bigger and older a female, the larger the number of eggs she produces.
The spawning stock biomass is well above the target of 38.6 million pounds at 54.8 million pounds. Young fish continue to recruit into the adult category.
In North Carolina, the big news is in the Albemarle Sound/Roanoke River Management Area, which has an increasing abundance and age structure. However, the downside is there continue to be problems in the Central/Southern Management Area, where the stock is classified as "overfished."
Stripers are caught with live and cut baits, by casting lures and flies, or by trolling deep-diving plugs and spoons. Anglers fishing in the rivers and sounds use live eels fished on the bottom with float rigs, slow-trolled or drifted to catch stripers. At night, lighted bridges attract and hold numerous fish.
In the ocean, trolling and jigging are the most common ways to catch striped bass. But the big feeding boils absolutely beg to be fished with a topwater lure, such as a popper or stick bait.
In the surf, heavy metal casting spoons and plugs tossed with long spinning rigs are used to reach the fish that move in near the beach. Sometimes it's a race to get to a school that has moved to the beach. Everybody wants to get in a few casts before they move away. The ocean waters limit is two fish with a minimum length of 28 inches. Other limits apply for inland waters.
Nevertheless, the Cape Fear River has a good run of stocked Albemarle striped bass, which are hatchery raised and released by both the NCDMF and N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. Albemarle Sound is full of striped bass and the fish now migrate far up the Neuse and Tar rivers.
Alongside the bridges spanning the rivers and sounds are excellent places to catch striped bass weighing up to 20 pounds. In the inland waters, striped bass can be caught all year long. The larger fish are most abundant off Oregon Inlet, Cape Hatteras and Cape Lookout. The big fish can be caught from the surf or from boats and the best time to catch them is in January. Seabirds, gannets in particular, attracted to schools of stripers feeding on baitfish give away the presence of fish weighing 30 to 50 pounds that can cover many acres of water.
For more information, visit the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries Web site at NCFisheries.com