Cape Fear Rockfish

It's a funky place, Wilmington.  A weird mix of beach luxury, old in-town money, yet grittiness of a port city with a blue collar and service economy backbone, and poverty and drugs and violence in the "wrong" part of town, and people who grew up there with roots reaching down through generations of sandy dirt, and now more than ever a mix of "new" people from all over and North and West.  

It's a funky river, the Cape Fear, and her sister, the Northeast Cape Fear.  It's sometimes a dirty river---industry, logging, chemicals and heavy metals, fuel, both nearby and upriver, and the sprawling semi-urban and suburban landscape of New Hanover and the quickly developing Brunswick and Pender Counties.  It's an old river, full of history.  From the Native Americans who first called the area home, to the English colonists and the raiding Spanish at Brunswick Town, to the economy of naval stores and tar and pitch and turpentine, to the last port and  "lifeline" of the Confederacy with the blockade runners and the Wilmington to Weldon Railroad, to the World War II Port of Wilmington and the workers who flocked to the city to build the Liberty Ships, helping keep America and our allies afloat and shipping men and material to Europe, and fueling the growth the city.  

That growth, though, along with industry and overfishing and dams upstream, took its toll on another part of the river's history---the striped bass, or "rockfish," the anadromous fish that run from the salt water up the river to spawn.  However, thanks to moratoriums and stocking, the Cape Fear rockfish seems to be making a bit of a return.  

Go up the river a bit on a winter day, and the city quickly fades behind, into a tidal river and marsh and reeds, and the logging cuts and canals and creeks and the slave-dug ditches.  Damn I pity them, the slaves generations ago, must've been hell on earth, digging and hacking at cypress stumps and trudging through the muck with the snakes and alligators and swarms of mosquitos.  

It's best when you catch the river in a stage of a bit more clarity, not as muddy and mocha as it can be.  You look for the drop offs, the feeder creek mouths, and structure.  You can find them right downtown, or you can find them up river or sometimes down.  There's a lot of mess to snag your bait or lure or fly on, so be prepared to empty out some tackle.  They're aggressive, too, so big baits seem to be the ticket.  

When you get one of those fish on the line,  when one slams your bait, one of the best fighting fish around pound per pound, especially fighting against the flow and tide of that powerful old river, you're connected with that river and the history and it's a great thing.   Here's to hoping those fish aren't just history, but are the future, too.  


  1. This is awesome. I've spent so much time chasing stripers, from the landlocks in SC to the ocean run in mid-coast Maine. They will always be one of my favorites. Its remarkable the habitat they thrive in, and I liked your take on the urban fishing . Every year in New England some of the biggest stripers are caught in downtown centers. Hard to beat an electric chicken fly!

    1. Thanks for checking out the blog! They really are awesome fish. I need to make it up to New England and experience some of the fisheries up there! And very true, something about that color combo!


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