Richard Andrews of Tar-Pam Guide Service in Bath said striper fishing in the lower Roanoke River is good, really good, and unless there is a drastic change, he anticipates the action to remain hot for when the keeper season opens on March 1.
Andrews said every day isn't classic, but even on slow days when the water is muddy and the fish are more difficult to locate, his clients are catching 20 to 40 fish; on good days, the release numbers easily top 100.
“I expect it has been frustrating for fishermen wanting to keep stripers, but that will change in a couple of weeks," Andrews said. "The season is open in the (Albemarle) sound, but most of the fish have moved up into the rivers. When the season opens in the Roanoke River on March 1, it shouldn't be difficult to fill limits. A good number of the fish we are releasing were in the 22- to 27-inch release slot last year, and they have grown 5 inches or so and are above the slot this year and are nice and fat."
Andrews said there are also a lot of 18- to 22-inch fish in the catch, plus some that wouldn't make the 18-inch minimum size and a good mix of the 22- to 27-inchers that must be released. He said they are all fun to catch and are in mixed groups, so you have to be ready for the next strike to be a big one.
Andrews (252-945-9715) said the winter striper fishing in the Roanoke River is "sonar driven," and a key is learning to read the fish finder and knowing what stripers look like on the screen. He said they are all deep and holding on the bottom; you must be able to pick them out of structure and other marks. Andrews said stripers like current and will be in it, so he searches channel edges, points and shoals in 15 to 25 feet of water and stops to fish when he marks them.
"With the fish holding deep and especially when they are right on the bottom in deep water with current, it takes a heavier jig head to get the bait down to them," Andrews said. "I consider 3/8-ounce a minimum, and many days it takes a ½-ounce jighead. There are also places in the river that the bottom is so littered with stumps and sunken structure that a regular jighead will stay hung up. I like Mission Fishin' jigheads, and they make a standard one, with a good heavy hook to use on clear bottom and several weedless jig heads that use weed guards or worm and swimbait hooks for fishing around broken structure."
Andrews said he prefers Z-Man soft plastics and has been using the 3-inch MinnoZ, the 4-inch DieZel MinnowZ, the 3-inch PogyZ and 5-inch StreakZ.
"I generally like lighter colors," Andrews said. "I consider whites and off-whites as my go-to colors and add chartreuse and pink in muddy water. The other colors I like are electric chicken, pearl/blue glimmer and opening night. With the different sizes and actions, these colors give a good cross section, and the stripers usually are ready to eat one or more of them most days."