When cold winter weather blankets North Carolina, freshwater fishing prospects usually falter, but fishermen who are braving the conditions at Lake Hickory are being rewarded with striped bass.

Cold slows down most freshwater fish, but not stripers, which prefer the mercury dipping low.

“We’re still catching fish at Lake Hickory,” said guide Joe Jobin of Xtreme Striper Fishing. “The water temperature is holding at 42 degrees.”

That’s just about perfect for stripers, who congregate in deep water during the winter and wait on anglers to drag a rainbow trout in front of them.

“Right now they’re at the creek mouths,” said Jobin (704-240-0165), who uses his depth finder to locate stripers while fishing 4- to 5-inch trout on down lines.

“You could use (gizzard shad), but they’re also lethargic now and hard to catch with a cast net,” he said.

Stripers aren’t difficult to recognize with a fish-finder.

“You don’t have to worry about (marking) catfish,” he said. “From the end of October and on through the winter, catfish seem to disappear at Hickory. I don’t think anyone knows where they go.”

Jobin trolls at 0.5 mph, pulling four baits. He sets his rigs to keep the baits 3 to 6 feet off the bottom.

“When I locate stripers, I sit on top of them.” he said. “You leave the baits long enough to agitate them.”

Jobin said Lake Hickory stripers are running between 24 and 28 inches, on the average, which puts them in the 7- to 10-pound range. Larger fish are always a possibility.

Anglers may keep four stripers per day, but they must be at least 20 inches in length.