Striped bass are a springtime staple for anglers during their spring spawning run up North Carolina’s Roanoke River, but, that’s not the only place to catch them and not necessarily the best time, according to Mitchell Blake of Chocowinity.

Blake, who runs FishIBX Charters, said many of the same fish that flood the river in warm weather begin staging in the western Albemarle Sound as early as Thanksgiving and are there consistently throughout December. While stripers may be more active during the spring, they’re constantly on the move and more scattered than early winter fish. This is when Blake (252-495-1803) sets his sights on mussel beds and stump fields in the western region of the sound to find large concentrations of hungry rockfish.  

After a chance encounter several years ago when he noticed a large raft of diving ducks feeding in an area of open water, Blake made a few speculative casts that resulted in stripers. When a jig snagged a mussel shell on another trip, he made the connection, then took the idea and found that it applied to all the areas of the sound that he fishes, from Batchelor and Swan bays to the NC 32 bridge.

“I will primarily be looking for mussel beds in 10 or more feet of water,” Blake said. “I’ve got my depth finder tuned in to where I can find them. It’s very similar to marking a hard bottom. I can put it on side scan and ease along.  It highlights the shells against the mucky bottom.

“Depending on what kind of weather patterns we have, I like to throw a big swimbait across them, but my second- favorite technique would be throwing a jig and bouncing it across the bottom.”

During warm spells in December, Blake casts a 4- to 5-inch swimbait rigged with a ¼- to 3/8-ounce swimbait hook. He likes bright colors such as chartreuse to get the fish’s attention in the typically murky water. He also has success with green and a natural herring colors such as blue and white. 

At the other end of the temperature spectrum, he casts a slightly smaller, soft-plastic paddletail on a ¼- to 3/8-ounce jighead and hops it across the shells. Blake ties both baits to a 15-pound piece of fluorocarbon leader that he attaches to the 20-pound braided line on his reel.  

While finding mussel beds may take some time and practice, Blake also targets stump fields that can be found in most of the bays ringing the western area of the sound. He prefers those in 6 feet of water or greater and employs the same baits and techniques.