December 6, 2012
Outer Banks Angling: Earning your stripes

By ROB ALDERMAN


December is here and most of the inshore fishing will fall off as water and air temperatures drop.

The speckled trout fishing will generally pick up and puppy drum fishing can be good.

However, most people have come to look at December as the beginning of striped bass season. These fish are also known as rockfish, rock, or stripers.

These fish make excellent table fare. They are almost pure white meat with a flaky texture and no hint of fishy oils. Pound for pound, they make a great meal. Whether the striper is 5 pounds or 30 pounds, the meat retains its texture and flavor.

Stripers gave us a lot of entertainment and put some extra money in the local economy from the turn of the century through 2007. These fish were getting caught in huge numbers by recreational fishermen. Boat, pier, surf, and kayak anglers usually had two months or more of getting to play with these fish.

The winter influx of anglers chasing these fish could be seen every weekend.

Oregon Inlet Fishing Center would need two state troopers to direct the traffic from recreational boaters, and you could see lines of trucks at local tackle shops waiting for a fresh delivery of menhaden.

Since 2008, however, these fish have been a lot harder to come by, although they did make a brief appearance in the winter of 2011 and the recreational and charter boats did well.

While there is a resident population of stripers that live and breed in our waters, the bulk of those that get caught in a good season are migratory.

The stripers push down from New England, New York, and New Jersey as the water temperatures in those areas begin to drop.

The fish come down the coast looking for warmer water temps and their food of choice --menhaden.

Numerous theories have been posed as to why striper season has plummeted on the Outer Banks over the past several years. Lack of a good stock of migratory stripers or migratory menhaden and/or weather patterns that have affected migration have all been suggested.

I don't pretend to be a marine biologist, so I'll make no personal guess.

Our resident population took a beating during the good years, as they were the first of the stripers biting in this area.

Recreational and charter boats could usually find them in late November or early December hanging out on the shoals of Oregon Inlet. The hardcore boaters and captains would get right on the edge of the breaking water and fire eels straight into the white wash of the shoals.


Surf fishermen could generally start finding them at the same time around Oregon Inlet and on the north end of Pea Island.

Using bait, large metal lures, or top-water poppers, the action could be decent.

Anglers on the catwalk of the Bonner Bridge could feed live eels into the current and pick these fish off.

Now is the time to be chasing resident fish, but that is more difficult right now.

The channel at Oregon Inlet is suffering from record shoaling, and it's almost impossible for a lot of boaters to navigate it.

Only the north end of Pea Island – to the temporary bridge over Pea Island Inlet -- is currently open.  The rest of the refuge is closed to all parking and users while repairs are made to Highway 12.

If you can't get to them, it's hard to catch one.

I don't know if we'll see migratory fish this year or not.

The East Coast is currently seeing record high temperature from the north to the south. If the water to the north does not cool to below 50 degrees, we'll never see those stripers. They'll stay put and feed until it's time to make their return journey.

The Outer Banks is the southern-most point for striper migration. So if the weather doesn't cooperate, we need not worry about it.

Our neighbors to the north in Virginia have seen a recent surge in striper fishing the past 10 days.

I made two runs in the past week to chase some smaller stripers (schoolies) from my kayak around the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel and did very well.

There are large stripers getting caught on the ocean side of the Chesapeake Bay, and we could see some of these fish -- if the weather cooperates.

So, we could catch some stripers around here as the season moves forward, but for now anglers are going to have to work to earn their stripes.

I hope the stripers make an appearance. It's good for morale and winter doldrums. 

The surf fishing has almost ground to a halt overall. Scattered speckled trout, puppy drum, and flounder have made the reports, but they are very scattered.

The few boats running offshore have been doing well with blackfin tuna and have managed some yellowfin tuna.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed that the striped bass make a fair showing.

Go fishing.


(Rob Alderman is the owner of the Hatteras Island Fishing Militia website and is a kayak fishing guide. Rob has 10 years of fishing experience on the Outer Banks, and is host of the “Outer Banks Angler” television show. You can follow more of his extreme adventures or contact him at www.FishMilitia.com)
 
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