Wednesday, 12 March 2014 17:48

Winter Fishing the Lower Roanoke River

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Over the years I have always heard about fishing the "upper" Roanoke River in eastern North Carolina in the springtime during the famous Striped Bass spawning run, and have had it on my "bucket list" of fishing trips for some time. Earlier this year while I was attending a local fishing expo I meet Captain Scooter Lilley of CWW Inshore Charters, (252)799-9536, and we started talking about the Roanoke and my desire to fish the river. Scooter is a great guy and during the conversation he said "If you really want to experience this fishery you need to fish the river in the winter months. During the months of November - March the Striped Bass will winter, and then begin their move up the river, and in the lower end it is not uncommon that my clients to have 100 fish days." I wasn't born yesterday, and can tell a good fish story myself, so I'm thinking how come I haven't heard of these 100 fish days before now. I mean, come on, that's not the kind of thing you can keep a secret. Well one day in the middle of February I was talking to Scooter on the phone and he invited me down for a day on the water. I don't know if he meant it or not, but I said how about tomorrow and we made a date. Little did I know at the time, but I was in store for one of the most amazing fishing days of my life.

The next day I woke up at 4:45am to the loud crack of thunder and heavy rain and thought Mother Nature was going to put a stop to this fishing trip. A quick check of the radar and to my disappointment the storm was headed straight for my destination of Jamesville NC. Knowing my drive was going to be about 2 ½ hours, and seeing how fast the storm was moving I looked at my watch and it said, "time to go fishing", and out the door I went. Sometimes in life things that don't look to good at the start of the day turn out great, and this was going to be just one of those days. After driving in the rain the whole trip I arrived to meet Scooter and the rain quit 15 minutes later. It was about 10:30am and we launched his Triton bass boat from the wildlife ramp on the west edge of Jamesville and after a short run up the river arrived at our first stop.

The area we pulled up to looked just like any other spot on the river to me, Capt. Scooter assured me this was not the case. "River fishing is different from other types of fishing. You're not looking for major structure changes but just small changes in the river that cause minor changes in current and water color. People can fish the Roanoke for years and if they don't know what to look for they go right past some of the most productive locations on the river. I've got 30 years experience fishing this river and I learn a little something new each time I'm on the water." After tying on a 3/8 oz. jig head and 5 inch paddle tail grub, my first cast proved that he knew what he was talking about. That first cast produced a fat 3 lb Striper, and over the next 2 ½ hours the action was non-stop with us losing count of the number of fish we had caught at close 100 in a stretch of the river no longer than 300 yards. "Not everyone can catch these fish" said Scooter, "you have to cast to the right location and let the lure drift and sink with the current, that's the trick. If you don't put the lure in the right location, or get impatient and reel it in before it gets to the right depth, you'll catch a few fish, but not the numbers we're catching."

It's hard for me to leave fish while they're biting, but about 1:30 Capt. Scooter assured me that no fishing trip to this part of the river was complete without a lunch stop at the famous Cypress Grill in Jamesville. The Cypress Grill is located right on the river in Jamesville and has been in business for decades serving fried fish to locals and fisherman from around the world who visit. Fried Herring is the specialty of the house this time of year, and I highly recommend it. I had the salted Herring with a little vinegar, and it's a real treat. After this short break it was time to get back on the water, and though we had left the fish biting, Capt. Scooter wanted to show me some more of the river and try something a little different. After spending 3 hours of almost constant action in the morning I was game for the change even if it meant the fishing slowed down. Boy was I in for a surprise.

The lower end of the Roanoke has a number of small "back water" feeder creeks and we went looking for one to see if the fish had moved in to them. The week before this trip North Carolina had been hit with our second snow storm of the season, but the week of my trip we were finally seeing our first string of warmer days. Even though the day had started out with rain and temperatures in the 40's the afternoon had cleared up and warmed to the mid 60's with some sunshine. Scooter shared some information, "This time of year these creeks can warm up a couple of degrees in the afternoon and that will be enough to send the Stripers up into them looking to feed. When they do that they are sometimes bigger fish. You don't usually catch the numbers, but you make up for it in size." We pulled into one of these creeks and started using a different technique from the morning. "These feeder creeks don't have the current as the main river so instead of letting the lure drift and sink we're going to be fan casting across the creek and slow reeling the same lure as we used this morning", Scooter informed me. The first part of the creek didn't produce a fish and we considered moving to another location, but roughly halfway up the creek we caught our first fish. From that point on the next 2 hours were once again fast and furious!!! The biggest fish of the day, about 8 lbs, was caught in the morning with the average fish being about 2 ½ lbs. These fish averaged a solid 3 ½ - 4 lbs with a number 5 lb fish, and all were full of fight.

I had my doubts at the fishing show, but I'm now a believer in fishing the lower Roanoke for winter, early spring Stripers. Capt. Scooter assured me that this days was special, we lost count of the fish somewhere north of 100, but that on an average day this time of year in this part of the river it is common to catch 25 – 50 fish. Now that's a great day on the water for anyone!!!

The key to the Roanoke River is knowing the water, and Capt. Scooter Lilley, of CWW Inshore Charters, (252)799-9536 is one of the most experienced guides in the area. My advice, that office work can wait, take a day off and go fishing. Give Capt. Scooter a call, grab a buddy, and go experience the world class fishing of the Lower Roanoke River.

Read 3138 times Last modified on Thursday, 29 January 2015 16:02

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