Although the weather outside may be frightful, lower Roanoke River winter striper fishing has hit its stride.

Many anglers believe once the March-April spawning migration ends, stripers leave the river and head for the ocean, only to return the next spring. But that’s true for only a few fish.

“We have a resident striper population that stays in the river, the lower Roanoke area and Albemarle Sound all year long,” said Richard Andrews, a Bath-based guide. “The nice thing about it is we’re finding as many fish as last year, but a lot bigger fish.”

A great year class of rockfish spawned in 2011 has added length and girth and offers drag-pulling action for anglers during the winter.

“We’ve had several 100- to 200-fish days,” said Andrews (252-945-9715). “I expect that to happen all the way through March.”

Fish have averaged 18 to 22 inches in length lately, he said, but some fish have been larger.

The Roanoke River/Albemarle Sound Management Area includes the Roanoke, Cashie, Middle and Eastmost rivers. Stripers live in those rivers and their tributaries, plus other local creeks that flow through the cypress marshes of the Roanoke River watershed.

“The ones in the creeks are chasing herring,” said Andrews, who has been casting 3/8- to ½-ounce leadhead jigs with soft-plastic Z-Man paddletails and jerkbaits. Effective colors have included white or clear with pear/blue glimmer flecks.

“Stripers also are in Albemarle Sound all winter,” he said. “It’s a resident population that never leaves – or at least they don’t leave until they reach a certain age.”

Current regulations allow only catch-and-release fishing. Keeper seasons in the sound, rivers and feeder streams are March 1-April 30.

Fishermen carrying fly rods are having good success with Clousers.

“What makes this fishery so great is anglers have an opportunity to have triple-digit catches in one day,” he said.