Try NC’s Trent, Neuse rivers for winter stripers, specks


Stripers, specks stay year-round in Neuse and Trent rivers

By December, most of North Carolina’s inshore gamefish have gone through inlets to the warmer Atlantic Ocean.

However, that situation doesn’t apply in the Neuse and Trent rivers, which make their way to the Pamlico Sound.

“We have a year-round population of stripers and (speckled) trout in the rivers because of baitfish, mainly menhaden,” said D. Ashley King, owner of New Bern’s Keep Casting Charters guide service. “Rockfish (aka stripers) and trout live from New Bern up the Neuse to Pitchkettle (Creek) and in the Trent.”

King (910-389-4118) has two main tactics — depending on the wind — to find both species.

“If we have a high wind and lots of current, I’ll troll until I find stripers with a side-scanner depth finder or I catch fish,” King said. “If it’s calm, I troll and scan until I see fish, then I cast to ’em.”

King trolls or casts similar lures — 4-inch Z-Man DieZel MinnowZs, MirrOlure Little Johns or Little John XLs soft-plastic grubs threaded on 1/8- or 1/4-ounce jigheads. If he finds a school of stripers, he stops, casts at ledges and bumps lures to the bottom. He doesn’t target specks, which are bonus fish that attack the same lures.

Guide Ashley King catches plenty of striped bass like this one in the Trent and Neuse rivers every winter. (Picture by Ashley King)

Look for ledges

Typical Neuse or Trent ledges range from 3 to 6 feet deep down to 20 feet. Stripers and trout orient on those ledges. King’s favorite lures include chartreuse or golden-bream 3¾-inch Little Johns or 4¼-inch XL Little John grubs.

“They’re fat, ugly lures that resemble a straightened-out tad pole,” King said. “People either love or hate ’em. But with braid, I can cast one like a bullet, 60 to 70 feet.

“I cast baits to (ledges), then bounce ’em off structure,” King said. “You don’t drag ’em or you’ll get hung, so I take plenty of lures.”

His tackle includes 7-foot, medium-light rods spooled with 10-pound braid and 15-pound fluorocarbon leaders.

Winter stripers range from 20 to 24 inches long, while trout may vary from 18 to 22 inches. Some bigger fish are caught

“Since the (striper) moratorium, people have caught 26- to 30-inch rockfish,” King said.

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About Craig Holt 1374 Articles
Craig Holt of Snow Camp has been an outdoor writer for almost 40 years, working for several newspapers, then serving as managing editor for North Carolina Sportsman and South Carolina Sportsman before becoming a full-time free-lancer in 2009.

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