Albemarle Sound stripers gang up in prelude to spring spawning run

The author hefts a nice Albemarle Sound striper caught during the winter. (Picture by Dusty Wilson)

Don’t wait for warm weather; stripers don’t mind the cold

Anglers who catch themselves daydreaming about the Roanoke River spring striper run in December are in luck. Because waiting for warmer weather isn’t necessary.

According to guide Jeff Onley of Elizabeth City, N.C., striped bass begin their spawning migration by swelling the Albemarle Sound and filling their bellies. Onley is well-prepared, with a number of tactics ranging from trolling to casting at schools for putting hungry stripers in the boat.

“A lot of fish are going to be around the bridges,” said Onley (252-333-6524), who runs Albemarle Fishing Charters.  “The Wright Memorial Bridge, Mann’s Harbor, and Albemarle Sound bridge will all be hot spots. Trolling close to the pilings is the key.”

The Mann’s Harbor and Albemarle Sound bridges are at opposite ends of the Albemarle Sound. But they fish similarly due to their water depth. At 20 to 25 feet, they are two of the deeper structures that Onley fishes. That means that deeper-diving crankbaits like Mann’s Stretch 15s and 20s will be in order. He prefers these in blue/silver and chartreuse. A 1-ounce bucktail is also a good choice in white or chartreuse with a Gulp! swimming mullet trailer.

Troll slowly for best results

The Wright Memorial bridge stands in water only about 9 feet deep. Here, Onley will troll ¾- and 1-ounce crankbaits, also in blue/silver, to stay in the strike zone.

At all locations, he trolls at a speed just above idle unless he is running into the wind and an additional bump is needed.

“December is also a great month for casting to structure at the mouths of the rivers,” said Onley. “I’m using the same Rat-L-Traps I use for trolling. The fish will move up the Roanoke River as the month goes on. But the mouths of the Pasquatank, North and Little rivers will be good. Mostly what I’m casting to are the old trade piers that reach out into 7 to 9 feet of water.”

One of the most-exciting ways to catch Albemarle Sound stripers in December is to target schooling fish feeding under birds. Step one is to find the diving birds that give away their location, which usually means a lot of riding and looking. Once Onley finds his target, he positions himself in their path and jigs a ¾-ounce Hopkins spoon beneath the boat as the school passes.

Although surface-feeding fish can be picked off on top with a Rat-L-Trap, Onley usually finds the bigger fish on the bottom, where he snaps his spoon with a flick of the wrist.

About Dusty Wilson 274 Articles
Dusty Wilson of Raleigh, N.C., is a lifelong outdoorsman. He is the manager of Tarheel Nursery in Angier and can be followed on his blog at

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