As he pushed away from the boat ramp at the Dram Tree Park in Wilmington, N.C., Rennie Clark’s plan for a chilly, slightly cloudy fall day, was first to target stripers in the Northeast Cape Fear River, then head to the Cape Fear River for trout and red drum. 

That’s the kind of action anglers can expect in the Cape Fear area in December, where the weather is typically nice enough to produce a good, late-fall trout and red bite, with stripers making their first appearance as winter approaches — and once in a while, an incidental flounder for the cooler.

Cutting his outboard and using his trolling motor to ease within casting range of the bank, Clark pointed out several dead trees and tide swirls off points in the marsh grass as likely places for stripers to get a break from the current while waiting for the falling tide to sweep bait past.  

He started by casting a Category 5 paddletail and using a medium retrieve. After a couple of minutes, his rod tip bounced and he set the hook. The fish took off down the bank far enough that Clark thought it might be a red until it swung away from the bank and into deeper water, revealing it to be a striped bass, and he finally got it to the boat.  

The striper was tagged, and Clark recorded the tag so he could report it to the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries before releasing it as a moratorium on stripers in the Cape Fear required.

Clark caught a second smaller striper, then decided to make a move as the tide fell to a creek mouth where a rice ditch ran into the river. That creek produced a couple of stripers before  he moved to the junction of the Cape Fear and another tributary, the Brunswick River, to look for trout or puppy drum, then