Capt. Jim Sabella led Dean Lamont and Ben Bowditch to the grand prize in the Cape Fear Riverwatch Invitational Striper Tournament on Jan. 19 in Wilmington.

The all-release tournament is part of the annual Cape Fear Riverwatch Striperfest. All stripers caught were tagged and released, with around 20 fish receiving sonic tags that record if and when they pass over the top of the rock-arch fish ladder at Lock and Dam No. 1 on the Cape Fear.

Lamont and Bowditch tagged and released 11 stripers to win the grand prize. Capt. Jot Owens Jr. was in on the other two major awards, for the largest striper and largest aggregate of two stripers. Duane Auman landed a 29 ½-inch striper that was the biggest caught and released, and Jot Owens Sr. added a 26 ½-inch fish for a 56-inch aggregate. 

The tournament drew 23 fishermen, who caught 39 stripers in six hours. Three of those stripers had been previously tagged. The other 36 received yellow spaghetti tags in their bellies and PIT (Passive Integrated Transponder) tags in their cheeks.  

N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries staffers hoped to place sonic tags in 20 stripers that were all 24 inches or longer. Unfortunately, only eight fish in that size range were caught, but all were tagged. DMF personnel will implant the remaining sonic tags during their regular surveys in the coming weeks. 

Chip Collier of DMF's Wilmington office said the sonic tags have internal batteries and transmit their codes every 90 seconds. When a striper with a sonic tag crosses the dam at Lock and Dam No. 1, its number is recorded. The goal is to show that enough stripers are using the new rock-arch fish ladders in attempts to reach their traditional spawning grounds that funding for similar projects at Lock and Dam Nos. 2 and 3 will be awarded.  

Cape Fear Riverwatch holds a Junior Angler Essay Contest for school children in the Wilmington area. Jonathan Lanier of Winnabow won the contest and had the opportunity to fish with Capt. Jeremiah Hieronymus. He caught stripers that measured 15 and 18 inches to earn Top Junior Angler honors. Fishing with Capt. Jeff Wolfe, Coty Conner caught a 20-inch fish to finish second.