Mitchell Blake of said the early winter striper fishing in the Pamlico and Neuse Rivers has started off with a bang – and some big fish. He said the stripers arrived a few weeks earlier than usual and are hungry and feeding.  

“I’ve been concentrating on the rivers around Washington and New Bern,” Blake said. “In the Pamlico River, the stripers have been from where it becomes the Tar River at the bridges in Washington down to around Bath. The Neuse River has been similar,with most of the stripers being from the general area of the Hatteras Yacht plant just above New Bern down to around Havelock.”

Blake said rather than concentrating on fishing structure that has produced in the past, he has been looking for fish out n the main bodies of the rivers. Plenty of baitfish, especially small menhaden, are still in the rivers, and the stripers are feeding on them, which makes it simple: find the bait and find the fish.

“Most of these stripers out in the river feeding on the bait schools are larger fish, too,” Blake said. “Ten-pounders are pretty common, and most are 22-inches-plus, with a few exceeding 30 inches. They’re large enough that after catching them a while, most of my clients would rather stay and catch and release the stripers than move into the creeks and catch 2-pound speckled trout. Even those who go chase the specks often ask to go back to the stripers after catching a few. It really is a lot of fun.”

Blake has some soft plastics – Z-Man Minnowz and Ye Haw jerkbaits – rigged  and ready at all times, but he has been using a lot of live baits, too. 

“My thought is that if the stripers are feeding on schools of menhaden, that is what they want to eat,” Blake said. “It’s a lot easier to catch them on what they want to eat than trying to convince them to eat something else. Sure, we catch fish on the plastics, but when you pitch a menhaden that is struggling a little having to carry a hook over into that school of bait, it gets eaten – and usually pretty dang quickly, too.”   

Blake’s live-bait rig is pretty simple; the key is a wide-bend Gamakatsu hook, 6/0 or 8/0 depending on the size of the bait. A short piece of heavier, fluorocarbon leader is added to the fishing line from the reel, with the hook tied directly to the end. 

Blake uses a small pinch weight just above the hook with larger baits, but he fishes smaller baits with only the weight of the hook. He wants the bait to flutter down through the school.