Catching wintertime stripers on the Cape Fear River

Capt. Rennie Clark of Tournament Trail Charters said striper fishing is hot during February on the Cape Fear River. (Picture by Rennie Clark)

Cape Fear River stripers thrive in cold weather

Cape Fear River system stripers and striper fishermen received great news late in the fall of 2021. The Corps of Engineers announced they had completed the redo of the rock arch rapids at Cape Fear River Lock and Dam Number 1 to make it easier for larger anadromous fish, like stripers and sturgeon, to cross the dam headed upstream.

The redo has larger pools. Larger fish can easily swim upstream to the next obstacle at Cape Fear River Lock and Dam Number 2.

This river was considered one of the top five striper rivers on the East Coast before three lock and dam systems were constructed in the early 1900’s. After that, fish couldn’t reach their traditional spawning areas farther upstream. Fish ladders still don’t exist at the upper two lock and dam sites.

Still, stripers perform limited reproduction in the river and the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is stocking. A moratorium on possessing stripers in the entire Cape Fear River System has been in place for more than a decade. But many fishermen enjoy catch and release striper fishing.

The primary location for striper fishing in the Cape Fear River System is in the Cape Fear, Northeast Cape Fear, and Brunswick Rivers and adjoining creeks around Wilmington. A few stripers are present all year. But the fishing picks up late in the fall and remains pretty good into the spring.

Try soft plastic swimbaits

Capt. Rennie Clark of Tournament Trail Charters (, 910-465-8943) in Wilmington is better known for catching lots of trout and redfish a bit farther down the river. But when the weather chills during the winter, he guides fishermen to fun days catching stripers.

Clark likes to fish higher stages of the tide and work the shallow areas along the banks, especially those with trees and stumps or where small creeks run into the river. However, he said fish are located around lower tide stages when they tend to move out to where the bottom drops into the channel.

“I primarily fish Suicide Croaker lures from Category 5 Outdoors,” Clark said. “They are soft plastic swimbaits that I can fish on 1/8- or 1/4-ounce Eye Strike weedless jigheads. Being weedless is important in the rivers, especially the Cape Fear, as there is an abundance of lure-grabbing structure.

“Stripers like them, so I stay with them to fish deeper also,” Clark said. “I simply add a plastic bobber stopper above the jig head to hold a 1/8- or 1/4-ounce pinch weight just in front of the jig head.

About Jerry Dilsaver 1172 Articles
Jerry Dilsaver of Oak Island, N.C., a full-time freelance writer, is a columnist for Carolina Sportsman. He is a former SKA National Champion and USAA Angler of the Year.

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