In a couple weeks I will be packing my gear and trailering my skiff up to Weldon NC for the Roanoke River Striper Run. A few fish are starting to show up now, and it should really pick up in the next few weeks. This year the keeper season on the upper Roanoke is April 24th -30th and catch and release season will start again on May 1. I’ll be running trips starting May 1st and fishing until I run out of anglers or fish.
"If you have never experienced the “Rockfish” run on the upper Roanoke at Weldon,
you are missing out."
You aren’t guaranteed a 100 fish day (not that it’s not possible), but you can be guaranteed that all but the slowest day at Weldon is usually better than a good day anywhere else.
The conditions on the Roanoke can change on a daily basis, so be ready to adjust your gear and techniques. If you are interested in fishing the Striper run this Spring, here is a rundown of fly and spin gear that will get you a little closer to having one of those legendary fishing trips.
Let’s talk about fly gear first:
Rods: 7-9wt. Generally, you will be fishing either a heavily weighted line or bulky flies or poppers, so I usually stick with 8wts as a general rule. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to have the extra backbone if a big fish decides to eat your fly. I've been fishing my Mauser Waterman 8wts the last few seasons, but I'm looking forward to putting the Osmosis to work next month.
Lines: Floating lines are useful for topwater flies that will be fished at first light and right before sunset. I always keep a rod rigged up with a floating line and topwater fly. I generally fish the same Redfish lines that I use on the coast, something like a Scientific Anglers Redfish Taper or Grand Slam Taper. Sinking lines will see the most usage on the upper Roanoke. Once it gets bright enough to slide on your sunglasses, the stripers usually slide on down in the water column. I generally rig my rods with 300-400 grain full sinking lines. My personal preference is a Scientific Anglers Sonar Sink 25 Coldwater 350gr line. It loads great on an 8wt, and quickly cuts through the current and gets your fly 10-20ft down where the fish are hiding.
Leaders: Really basic stuff. On the sinking lines I usually use about 3ft of straight 20lb mono. That is really all you need, no reason to go fancy. You want that leader to act as a short “leash” on your fly, so that it behaves and sinks the same depth as the fly line. For the floating lines, I can usually get away with a stiff 7 to 8ft leader, which helps turn over heavy poppers. A section of 40lb, 30lb and 20lb hard mono blood knotted together works well for me.
Reels: Fly Reel selection is not nearly as important on the Roanoke, as most of the time you’re hand stripping the line in vs fighting the fish on the reel. I’ll have my standard Hatch Finatic 5plus and 7plus reels on the skiff.
Flies: Fly selection is pretty basic. I go through a lot of flies on the Roanoke, so I like to tie whatever is the easiest and fastest to tie. I rarely fish anything other than Clouser Minnows on the sinking lines. There’s probably nothing that you can tie faster, or that fishes more effectively than the good ol’ Clouser. Chartreuse over White is usually the ticket, but it never hurts to bring some in variations of yellow, green, pink, white…anything that will show up well in dark water. 3 to 4 inches long, on a #2 hook is perfect. Remember to pinch the barbs down on any fly before you fish it, so that you are staying legal on the Roanoke. For topwater, try a variety of poppers and gurglers. I generally will fish a pencil popper or one of Flymen Fishing Company’s Double Barrel or Howitzer poppers.
Time to talk about conventional gear.
Rods: For tossing poppers and weighted plastics, I generally use a 7ft ML or M action spinning rod. My go to rods are the TFO Inshore 7’ ML rated for 1/8 to ½ oz lures…but anything similar will work fine.
Reels: A 2500 or 3000 series spinning reel is the standard size most anglers use on the Roanoke. Again, I have my preference (Florida Fishing Products Ospreys) but all but the cheapest spinning reels will do fine on the Roanoke.
Line: I generally keep all my reels spooled up with 20lb Power Pro braid. It casts well, untangles well and it plenty strong enough to deal with the multitudes of underwater snags along the bottom of the river.
Leader: A few feet of 15lb or 20lb mono or fluoro leader attached to the braid with a double uni knot does the trick for me. I like keeping the leader as the weaker link on my setup so that I can break the lure off when (not if) we get snagged.
Lures: The two most important factors for lures on the Roanoke are (1) pinch the barbs and (2) bring a bunch. These stripers hold deep on structure during the day. If you are not getting hung, then you are fishing in the wrong spots. So, bring a couple dozen baits for a day of fishing. Keep it simple and affordable, no need for high dollar hard plastics (they won’t last long). I generally keep a bunch of packs of 4-5” soft plastic finesse baits and paddle tail baits in white or chartreuse. I rig these baits on lead head jigs ranging from 3/8 to ½ oz…with the occasional ¾ oz when the river is blown out and raging. Again, keep it cheap, no need for the fancy redfish jig heads…I like the old school Sea Striker style jigs due to affordability. For topwater baits, you can’t beat the old Rapala Pop-R lures but anything from Chug Bugs to Zara Spooks work well. Just remember, the rule on the Roanoke during the spawning run is single barbless hooks on lures. So, remove both trebles, and add one single hook on the back split ring, and pinch the barb down. I have started using the VMC Inline Single Large Ring hooks as replacements for my trebles and they are fantastic. A VMC size 3/0 works well for a popper or spook style lure.
Well, that about sums it up for gear on the upper Roanoke during the Spring Striped Bass run. If you have any questions about gear or tactics, or would like to book a trip, give me shout. Good luck!