Stripers moving up the Cape Fear River into the Wilmington area have made a bit of a detour, thanks to cold, dirty runoff, and they’re being caught in the Northeast Cape Fear, according to Stuart Caulder of Gold Leader Fishing.

“I believe it is the combination of the cold and all the cold, muddy water running down the river that has slowed the bite,” Caulder said. “Over the weekend, the water temperature in the Northeast Cape Fear had dropped 5 to 7 degrees into the low 40s, and it doesn’t collect as much runoff as the Cape Fear. It was really pretty clear while the water in the Cape Fear looked like liquid mud.”

Caulder fished the cleaner side of Point Peter, where the Northeast Cape Fear runs into the Cape Fear near downtown Wilmington a few days this week and said there was a definite hard line between the muddy Cape Fear and the smaller, cleaner river. He said the muddy water creeps a ways up the Northeast Cape Fear on the rising tide, but cleans out pretty quickly when the tide begins to fall.

Caulder (910-264-2674) said the stripers that usually hang around downtown Wilmington have moved upriver into the cleaner water of the Northeast Cape Fear, but it is still only 42 to 43 degrees and they are holding deep. The shallowest he caught a striper on his last trip was 13 feet; he usually catches some in a couple of feet of water in creek mouths and on the flats along the river. 

“Saturday, I fished the Cape Fear River Watch Invitational Striper Tournament, and there were a bunch of good fishermen on the water who all saw the same thing,” Caulder said. “Everybody managed to catch some fish, but they were all deep and all were caught in the Northeast Cape Fear. Unfortunately, even though the temperatures have been pretty mild since then, there has been more hard rain, so the water has stayed cold and it’s still muddy in the Cape Fear.

“We have caught a few stripers by casting soft plastics, but (we) had to use heavy jig heads to get them to the bottom,” Caulder said. “White and chartreuse were the most productive colors, but nothing was hot. We are catching more stripers trolling deep-diving lures as slowly as possible. Even when trolling into the current, using the outboard at dead idle is too fast. I switch to the trolling motor and move so slowly I have to watch the bank to be sure we’re moving.”

Caulder said he pays close attention to the fish finder and when it marks fish, he moves the lures to that spot and keeps them there and just swimming against the current for a little while.

Jim Lister, fishing with Capt. Jeff Wolfe, caught the largest striper and senior-angler categories with a 29 ¼-inch fish. Nathan Edwards and Adam Meyer, who fished with Capt. Vernon, had the largest two-fish aggregate with 53.5 inches. Capt. Jamie Rushing’s team of Kevin Bloom and Dak Mills caught the most fish, four.