Tar River stripers bite hot in the cold

The Tar River has a great striper fishery from January through March. (Picture by Brian Cope)

Striped bass bite like mad in cold water

When the mercury drops down in December, the striper bite turns hot on the Tar River, and Capt. Richard Andrews of Tar-Pam Guide Service is a big fan of catching them.

“This is one of my favorite eastern North Carolina rivers for catching stripers in the winter,” said Andrews.

December is the beginning of this run, which lasts into March.

The cold water doesn’t discourage stripers from biting. On the contrary, it seems to get them charged up to feed. These fish are not sluggish like they can be during the summer, when the heat can take a toll on them.

This is fairly simple fishing, with Andrews preferring to let his boat drift with the current while casting soft plastic lures like Z-Man swimbaits.

“This is a great winter fishery, and we primarily catch these fish using 3/8-ounce jigheads with a 3-inch soft plastic swimbait. And as we drift with the current, we cast out and let our lure sink all the way to the bottom,” he said.

And once the lure hits bottom, Andrews suggests giving a sharp jerk to raise the lure up, then let it fall again.

“When you feel it hit the bottom, you just want to give it a quick snatch. That brings your lure up, then you just let it fall right back down to the bottom,” he said. “We usually get our bite on the fall.”

It’s important to keep the fishing line tight the whole time, reeling in slack when necessary.

Big vibrations

The water is often high and muddy here in December, but that shouldn’t discourage anglers from fishing.

These lures give off big vibrations as they fall, Andrews said. And the stripers can feel the presence of those lures, even when they can’t see them.

“They can sense it through their lateral lines. These fish are very aggressive and have no trouble finding these baits,” he said.

When the water is unusually high and the current unusually strong, he’ll bump the size of his jighead up to 1/2-ounce. And he’ll sometimes swap out his 3-inch swimbait for ones a little larger.

“And we’ll also fish 4-inch, and 5-inch soft plastic jerkbaits,” he said.

Andrews (252-945-9715) prefers an unpainted, double-barbed jighead. The dual barbs help keep the lure on the jighead, even after numerous aggressive hits from striped bass.

These fish, Andrews said, are primarily junvenile stripers that range from 15 to 30 inches in length.

Light spinning rods paired with reels in the 2000 to 3500 sizes are more than adequate for these fish, and help keep it fun for anglers who enjoy feelling the entire bite as they reel in the fish.

“In my opinion, this is about the most fun you can have with a rod in your hand in North Carolina during December,” said Andrews.

About Brian Cope 2762 Articles
Brian Cope is the editor of Carolina Sportsman. He has won numerous awards for his writing, photography, and videography. He is a retired Air Force combat communications technician, and has a B.A. in English Literature from the University of South Carolina. You can reach him at brianc@sportsmannetwork.com.

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