If it’s April, dogwood blossoms in North Carolina must be “as big as a squirrel’s ear” and striped bass will migrate inland — or at least that’s what old-time Roanoke River anglers say.

Water temperatures usually reach 60 degrees by April, triggering migratory spawning. However, with February’s extremely mild weather, an early striper spawn may occur that may result in bigger fish caught up and down the river during the March 1-April 30 season.

Anglers use all kinds of lures and baits to land Roanoke River stripers. 

Richard Andrews of Bath’s Tar-Pam Guide Service (252-945-9715), likes a Z-Man Minnow-Z paddletail in white with blue-fleck that imitates herring that are residents of the river resemble herring. He prefers 7-foot spinning outfits spooled with 8- to 10-pound braid and a 21/2-foot fluorocarbon leader. When he uses a fly rod, he chooses a 7-weight, 9-foot rod with sinking line and an 8- to 9-foot tippet tied to a Clouser or Deceiver fly.

Anglers using bait often soak river herring that can’t be longer than 6 inches (to protect herring stocks). Lead weights to put bait chunks on the bottom are favorite rigs.

But water flow is crucial.

“Anywhere between 5,000 and 6,000 (cubic feet per second) is good for a topwater bite,” said Andrews. “At 9,000 cfs, the river covers the rocks at Weldon.”

“When the water temperature reaches 64 degrees, every (female) striper will move toward Weldon,” said Chad Thomas, a biologist with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission who indicated that males will head up the river at 55 degrees. 

With a daily creel limit of two fish per day in the river, its tributaries and Albemarle Sound, anglers often catch 10 to 50 stripers in a day, sometimes more.

“Under the best-case handling, with a single barbless hook in cool water, six of 100 die,” Thomas said. “As the temperature creeps toward 70, for each one degree of increase, mortality doubles. That’s when you start to see floating fish. At 70, one of four (released) stripers will die.”

Stripers in the Roanoke system are managed with interesting regulations. All lures or baits must be fished with a single, barbless hook, and fishermen can keep two fish per day between 18 and 22 inches; one fish longer than 27 inches can be kept.

Anglers may catch stripers in the Roanoke River all year, but outside the spring season, it’s a catch-and-release fishery.