In February, two fishing games keep angler hopes alive at the central coastal region of North Carolina — red drum in the ocean and striped bass in the rivers.

While fishing for drum can have some weather-related drawbacks, plenty of rivers cross eastern North Carolina, and one of the most-convenient for anglers is the Neuse River near New Bern.

Guide Joe Ward of FlyDaddy Charters fishes for stripers in February and March; he knows their favorite haunts from Oriental upstream from New Bern to the bridge pilings around the US 70, US 17 and NC 55 bridges across the Neuse and Trent rivers around New Bern.

“In the main river, (stripers) hang out around concrete bridge supports,” said Ward (252-229-4656). 

Bridge pilings deflect river currents and force baitfish through the underwater openings. They also offer ambush spots for stripers to feed on menhaden, herring or shad.

Stripers caught around New Bern typically weigh from 2 to 8 pounds but some come in magnum sizes.

“I fish with 1/8- to 3/8-ounce jigs,” Ward said, “and I like smoke-color Bass Assassin curlytail soft-plastic grubs or Jerk Shads in light-green, baby bass or smoke colors. I also jig Super Flukes and lipless crankbaits off the bottom near pilings.”

Fishing for stripers around bridges is a waiting game because fish won’t chase lures in the winter, when their metabolisms have slowed. They’d rather have baits come to them.

“It’s also why I want a lure or bait to fall slow,” Ward said. “Sometimes I use a split-shot a foot above a Fluke or other soft plastic — to make it fall a little faster than with no weight at all.”

He usually casts to the upcurrent side of a piling and lets it fall slowly toward the bottom. If he doesn’t get a bite, he’ll jig it toward the surface, cranking his reel handle a few times, then lets it drop again. He expects most bites to come 7 to 12 feet down.

Ward said stripers can also be caught trolling crankbaits in the river channel or fishing live eels around the pilings.