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Hudson column: Stripers on the Roanoke

Now is the time to make the three-hour drive to Weldon and the Roanoke River if you want to have one of the greatest angling experiences of your life. The striped bass spawn is in full swing and if you haven’t fished there then you are truly missing out.
“This is the absolute gem in the crown of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission,” according to Captain Rod Thomas, of Lexington, who guides for striped bass each April and May. “This is one of the only places in the state where anybody can come and catch a lot of fish. And I’m very confident that it is only going to get better from here.”
It wasn’t always this way. My father, Bill Hudson, grew up in Weldon, a little town situated on I-95 just south of the Virginia state line. His home was a short walk from the river. And his childhood memories include seeing fishermen using vast nets strung across the Roanoke to take every striper that came upstream to spawn. In the 1950s, nobody understood or cared that they were destroying the fishery.
“It was raped and pillaged until it was gone,” said Thomas, who operates Captain Ponytail Guide Service and fishes the Roanoke each April and May. “But leave Mother Nature alone and she will recover. There used to be no fish here. Now there are 50-pounders caught every year.”
The success is due to the fact that the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission took over the fishery and stopped the destruction. The effort has really paid off. “They’ve taken a river that was decimated and turned it into a world-class fishery.
“We are catching 30 to 50 fish per day, drifting down the river using live blueback herring or threadfin shad,” Thomas said. “The water temperature has been around 61 or 62 degrees. The stripers will spawn at 64, 65, or 66 degrees. Once that happens, the fish get real hungry. Just in the last day-and-a-half the fishing has gotten a lot better.”
Stripers return to the river in which they were conceived each year to spawn. Eventually, there were no stripers moving from Albemarle Sound to Weldon each year. It took aggressive protection of existing fish as well as stocking programs to bring the river back to its original glory. Now, this fishery is considered a major success story.
Striped bass fishing on the Roanoke Rive is still heavily regulated because of the history of the river and the effort it took to bring the fish back. For that reason, stripers can only be kept until the end of April. After May 1, all stripers have to be released. Quite honestly, the best fishing is in May. But keep in mind that no matter when you fish the Roanoke you have to use barbless circle hooks at all times. Anglers using artificial lures must remove the treble hooks and use one barbless circle hook in their place.
The Commission features detailed information about striped bass fishing on the Roanoke River at www. ncwildlife.org.
Thomas also maintains one of the most detailed and helpful websites for those wishing to fish there. Find him at captainponytail.com.
Glenn Hudson is a freelance fishing writer based in Salisbury. Contact him at littletuna67@aol.com.

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