There is a moratorium on possession of stripers in the Cape Fear River and its tributaries, but that doesn’t keep fishermen from playing multiple rounds of catch-and-release in the three rivers that converge at Wilmington. This year, the stripers arrived early, but the word leaked out and fishermen are already having fun with them.

“Not only did the stripers return to the Wilmington area a little early this year, they came in good numbers and include some really nice fish,” said Capt. Jot Owens of Jot it Down Fishing Charters. “We are already seeing fish 30 inches and longer regularly. Even better, right now an average day is catching eight to 14 stripers, and on a good day that might increase to 18 fish or more.”

Owens said the early arriving stripers have been biting all day, even on sunny days, and have been feeding on all stages of the tide as long as it is moving. They get lockjaw for that brief period when the tide goes slack during the tide change, but they begin feeding as soon as the water begins to flow again.

“Even with the ups and downs of the weather and air temperature, the water temperature is just about perfect for stripers,” Owens said. “For the past couple of weeks the variance has been from 51 to 56 degrees, which is the range where they are the most active and are feeding heavily.”

Owens (910-233-4139) said there are three distinct techniques for catching Cape Fear stripers.

There has been an excellent topwater bite with a Top Dog or Top Pup around first light. In the low-light conditions stripers are holding shallow on flats and where bars run out from creek mouths. He keeps a rod rigged with a spinnerbait and Gulp! Ripple Mullet trailer on hand in case the stripers miss the topwater plug when they blow up on it. 

As the sun rises, the stripers usually move off the bank into slightly deeper water. Owens fishes around stumps and along drops to locate them with 4- and 5-inch Gulp! Jerk Shad in chartreuse/pepper/neon on a swimbait hook.

“When we get those occasional days that are real sunny with light winds – you know, the days that are almost too nice to fish – the fish move deeper and you have to get down to them,” Owens said. “For this, I like crankbaits and big-lipped divers. The new Sebile ACAST Minnow in chartreuse, pearl and fire tiger has been producing well.”