Before I started guiding full time, I was a television producer doing fishing shows for the Outdoor Channel and Fox Sports South. While shooting a show at the National Catfish Championship at Randolph's Landing on Santee Cooper almost twenty years ago, I witnessed something that really made an impression on me when it comes to fish being sensitive to water levels.

It was a catch-and-release tournament, so there were over a hundred big catfish being held in what was normally a large concrete block tank used to keep blueback herring.  Nate, the guy running the tournament , and I were looking at the dozens of forty and fifty pound catfish slowly swimming around in the tank when he showed me something I'll never forget.

"You've heard fish are sensitive to water levels, right?" I told him yes but he proceeded to show me just how sensitive they are. There was a PVC pipe holding the water level at about four feet. Nate simply said "Watch this" and pulled the pipe out of the drain hole. Instantly – and I mean literally in one second – the big catfish all over that tank began wildly splashing and trying to jump out. Even the fish nearly a hundred feet away instantly went crazy. They were just that sensitive to dropping water levels. NAte put the pipe back and they instantly quieted down. He did this several times just to prove his point, and that memory has stuck with me all these years.

I have been lucky enough to fish the Roanoke River seven days a week for the past ten or twelve springs, and the stripers in the Roanoke are no different than those catfish in the herring tank in South Carolina. They are extremely sensitive to water levels, both rising and falling.

When you want to come fish the Roanoke this spring, I can't emphasize enough the importance of water level for a great day's fishing. Water level on the Roanoke at Weldon, and downstream for that matter, is controlled by the outflow of the Roanoke Rapids Dam.

This dam is owned by Old Dominion Power, and on their website they have a projected flow for the following thirty six hours. I have the same information on my website at captainponytail.com on my Roanoke Adventure page. It's set up as a graph , and here's what to look for: Everything is measured in cubic feet per second, or CFS. 20,000cfs is just below flood stage. Normally during the spawn, they will be trying to keep levels between 8,000cfs and 12,000cfs. I've had some awesome days in really high water situations and when they are running water in the 8 to 12 thousand cfs range, it's really time to come.

But the real key is the stability. Watch that graph and when the water levels stay the same that's the key. The third day of stable water allows the stripers to settle and get in a really strong feeding pattern. I've always had my epic days on the third day of stable water. Other days can be really good, but if you can catch the river in the third day of stable water, you're in for a real treat. My guess is that the fish just get more comfortable.

Rising water scatters them and sends them to the bank in the trees. Falling water generally scatters them worse and makes them drop back downstream. Stable water makes them eat. Just like those catfish in the Herring tank in South Carolinaa, the stripers in the Roanoke are extremely sensitive to water levels, so check here daily and try to get there when the river hs stabilized and the stripers are comfortable and ready to eat. You'll have one of those days that have made the Roanoke one of the most incredible fishing destinations in the country. 

Starting early in April I'll be posting fishing reports and pictures on my website and the Ponytail Facebook page. Keep up with the fishing there and always take a look at the discharge projection graph to pick your absolute best fishing days.

Captain Rod Thomas

Captain Ponytail Guide Service