❝Rockfish or stripers (technically, Striped bass) are a highly-prized saltwater sportfish sought after by anglers up and down the east coast of the United States. These fish are both fun to catch and delicious.
Striped bass are an anadromous fish, which means that they are like salmon who lay their eggs in fresh water but spend most of their adult lives in the oceans. The majority of the fish that swim in the Outer Banks sounds spawn in the upper reaches of the Roanoke River near Weldon, North Carolina.
After being born in fresh water, these stripers stay in the estuary system—the transitional water between fresh and salt water—until they mature and begin their back and forth lifestyle. This article discusses the Striped bass that thrive in this brackish water.
When these rockfish reach sexual maturity, they move to coastal waters. They spend most of the summer feeding on bait fish, crabs, shrimp, and assorted invertebrates that live along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. They can be found as far north as Maine and Nova Scotia as they forage and grow. Regardless of how far they travel, these fish find their way back to the river of their birth.
Predators of Striped bass include sharks, larger fish, and fish-eating birds such as herons, egrets, and Ospreys.
Rockfish Fishing Techniques
Trolling is a preferred method that allows anglers to cover ground while searching for actively feeding fish. The most basic and highly effective technique is pulling a minnow-type artificial lure on medium-weight spinning tackle. The rod can be handheld or placed in a holder. Most anglers normally use 12- to 15-pound monofilament or braided line.
Effective Minnow-Type Lures
- Bomber® Long A™ Series
- Mann's® Stretch™ Series
- Cotton Cordell® Red Fin™
- Yo-Zuri™ Minnows
Standard colors include silver with a black back, silver with a blue back, white, or chartreuse patterns. Fish them at different depths using the appropriate sized lip or use in conjunction with an inline-trolling sinker. Rat-L-Trap™-type lures are effective as well.
Use a small seven-inch, four-arm umbrella with a three-foot trailer bait for excellent results. In the sounds of the Outer Banks we use four-inch shad bodies that are white, chartreuse, or dark green with a black back. For the trailers, we either use a matching body, spoon, or minnow-type lure. Use just enough inline trolling sinker to fish the middle to lower water column, but try to avoid snagging the bottom. This setup will produce fish when no one else is catching them. This requires a standard boat trolling rod and 30- to 40-pound test line. Braided line is nice because you can get deeper with less weight.
Striped bass are bottom hugging fish. The fish that they are eating are close to the bottom and they like to hang out there. This often means that you are faced with trying to present a bait to fish in deep water and strong currents. Use a medium-heavy boat rod with 40-pound braid. Attach the braid to the end of a three-way swivel. On the bottom of that swivel, tie three feet of 20-pound test of monofilament line. Tie a four-inch loop at the end of this line—it will serve as the sinker line. Tie eight to 10 feet line of monofilament to the empty eye of the three-way swivel. Your lure goes at the end of the line. Some effective lures include bucktail jigs with trailers and soft-body shad lures.
Medium-weight spinning and baitcasting is a good choice for casting for rockfish. Ten to 15-test line and ¼- to one-ounce lures. Bucktail jigs, lead-head jigs with a variety of soft-body trailers, minnow-type lures, and Rat-L-Trap lures are all good choices. If you see fish working the surface, throw a popper or Zara Spook™ at them for exciting visual strikes.
One of the easiest ways to catch any fish, including Striped bass, is by fishing with live bait. Menhaden, mullet, and many juvenile fish species all work well. Live eels, small crabs, and bloodworms work as well. You can also use all of these baits freshly cut.
Where to Find Rockfish
Look for structures such as bridges, canal markers, or underwater rock piles. Places with abrupt depth changes such as boat channels or underwater ledges are always good places to try. Sometimes even small changes in bottom depth can hold these fish so keep an eye on your SONAR unit and put your bait in these spots.
- Stripers love moving water so any time you have some current you are more likely to find actively feeding fish.
- These fish are sensitive to light and prefer cloudy days to clear skies and choppy water to calm surfaces.
- Whenever you spot gulls or terns congregate and dive to the surface, you should go there and cast. Often birds are eating bait fish that stripers are pushing to the surface.
Rockfish are an awesome game fish and excellent table fare. Enjoy the hard strike and fierce fight of these spectacular sportfish and please keep only what you need.
If you want to learn more about how to catch rockfish on the Outer Banks, contact me to book a fishing charter.❞