Hurricane Matthew spared North Carolina’s coastal river fisheries last October, the first time that’s happened in 30 years after a monster storm.

“We dodged a bullet with Matthew,” said Chad Thomas, a fisheries biologist with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.

After the storm, Thomas’ teams surveyed many of the state’s eastern rivers, checking for fish kills. They found relatively few compared to the devastating results of previous hurricanes: Floyd, Irene, Isabel and Bertha.

Storm floods push oxygen-depleted (anoxic) swamp water into tributaries and main rivers. In effect, a cloud of deadly water flows downstream, smothering fish.

“But bass can move as creeks and tributaries become anoxic, ” Thomas said. “We also were lucky because Matthew didn’t hit during August or September when the water’s already so hot it has little oxygen.”

Matthew made landfall last Oct. 8 near Cape Romain, S.C., and tracked to the northeast along North Carolina’s coast, causing extensive flooding. The Neuse River crested at 28.31 feet, a foot higher than the record set by Hurricane Floyd in 1999. 

Ten inches of rain fell in 1½ days between Fayetteville and the coast. It took a decade or more after Floyd for river bass to begin to recover.

“Because Matthew hit later in the year, water was cooler, so oxygen was high enough to support aquatic life,” Thomas said. “Some bass also probably were pushed to the mouths of sounds that had well-oxygenated water. 

“Certainly bass were displaced, but when rivers get back in their banks, they will fill in those places.”