Along with the brisk winds of October comes a special time on North Carolina’s Albemarle Sound: keeper season for striped bass.
Although anglers have been releasing their catches since May, Oct. 1 gives them the opportunity to fill their daily creel limit of two fish at least 18 inches long per person through a variety of methods, including trolling, casting, jigging or chasing birds to find schooling fish.
Guide Jeff Onley of Albemarle Fishing Charters in Elizabeth City, N.C., is prone to use any of these fish-catching procedures in a day’s time, but he said each has its time and place for maximum effectiveness. In early October, when water temperatures are subject to be on the warmer side, he literally has signs to point him to the fish.
“In the beginning of the season, I like to run to the channel markers out in the sound and the rivers in 8 to 10 feet of water and jig 1-ounce Hopkins spoons and Stingsilvers,” said Onley (252-333-6524).
The Albemarle’s tributaries are fair game for keeper fish on Oct. 1, with the exclusion of the Roanoke River, which is managed under separate regulations. Onley favors fishing from Elizabeth City, where he is close to the Pasquotank, Perquimans and Chowan rivers.
As water temperatures cool, Onley heads to shallower water in the 3- to 7-foot range to fish the pilings of old trade piers found in the rivers and sound. Here, he casts ¾-ounce, silver/blue back Rat-L-Traps and 4-inch Gulp swimming mullets on ¼-ounce jigheads. Also, the rock piles surrounding any of the old lighthouses in the sound are hot spots. Business really picks up whenever he sees diving birds, signaling a schooling frenzy in the sound.
“Depending on the weather, the fish could school anywhere from mid-October to mid-November,” Onley said. “If it’s milder, they may school into December. They’ll definitely be seagulls on them when they are. You can get right over top of the fish and jig with a white or chartreuse bucktail or a 1-ounce Hopkins spoon or Stingsilver.”
If fishing gets tough, Onley trolls over stump beds near the receding shorelines of the rivers and sound in about 9 feet of water. The same Rat-L-Traps and swimming mullets are used, along with in 4- to 5-inch Rapala Husky Jerks. Onley trolls at about 2 knots with four baits about 30 yards behind the boat.