With the arrival of winter, fishermen on North Carolina’s High Rock fishermen historically store their gear and lounge near the fireplace, awaiting the return of spring before they resume fishing.

“Around the second week of December, fishing for all species comes to a standstill at High Rock,” said Gerald Beck, a Lexington, N.C., bass pro with several Bassmaster Classic berths under his belt. “High Rock has never been known as a good winter lake.”

But as Bob Dylan said, “The times they are a-changin’” — along with the weather. In recent years, because of climate change or just weird weather, North Carolina winters have been fairly mild. The result has been some excellent fishing at High Rock for a variety of species including striped bass.

Jerry Hill of Triad Fishing and Guide Service said that whatever the conditions, water temperature is the key to catching winter stripers at High Rock.

“If the water temperature lingers in the lower 50s because of unseasonably warm weather, the stripers will roam the main body in pursuit of forage,” said Hill (336-247-1265). “At this time, they’re more open water-oriented than structure-oriented, so fishermen must use their electronics or watch for diving birds to find forage in conjunction with stripers.”

Once the water temperature drops below 50 degrees, Hill said stripers follow baitfish to the mouths of creeks and gradually into the creeks; the strike zone is 10 to 14 feet.  

“Usually, Flat Swamp and Abbotts creeks draw the most baitfish and the most stripers,” said Hill. “The fish become more structure-oriented in the creeks and seek out points, humps and islands.”

Wherever the fish may be, slow-trolls for stripers with artificials, disdaining the time required to catch live bait. 

Stripers become sluggish in cold water, so Hill downsizes his baits and trolls slowly at 2 mph. He favors 1/4- to 3/8-ounce green bucktails with green, soft-plastic plastic trailers and 3/8-ounce jigheads holding 3-inch Sassy Shad plastics.

His trolling spread consists of four 8-foot rods mated with Penn 320 reels spooled with 30-pound line. Two are fished on downriggers; two utilize lead-core line with 21/2 to 3 colors let out. All the outfits employ double rigs on 3-foot leaders.