KING: Winter weather makes finding rockfish more difficult

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The weather here in Eastern North Carolina is quite miserable today.

The clouds are thick and gray, the wind is blowing in stiff from the north, and a sleet and snow mixture is falling.

Looking outside from the living room windows, it is easy to see that we are indeed locked in the dead of winter.

The birds are forecasting the weather change of huddling together at the feeders.

The look cold with their feathers puffed out.

I was hoping the groundhog would help us out last week. Whether he saw his shadow or not depended on which hole he chose to visit. As for today, I expect he is curled up in a little ball deep within his burrow.

Such is the nature of the weather here in the eastern part of our state. One day might be nasty like this one, and the very next day might be sunny and much warmer.

Those winter days when the weather is more tolerable have actually been great for fishing. We dress in multiple layers of clothing and head for the lower portions of the Tar River.

The rockfish do not seem to mind that the water temperature is holding steady at 38 degrees.

They just do not seem to care about frigid water when it becomes feeding time.

It is winter, and the fisherman still has to practice a great deal of patience while searching for the rockfish. They do not bite all day, nor are they found all over the river.

Over the past few weeks, we have noticed the rockfish are slowly making their way up the river even though some days have been bitterly cold.

On almost every trip we have to serach out new places where these fish have decided to school up. They are constantly moving about the river. One day they might prefer to hang out in 16 feet of water and the next day we can only find them in feet of water.

Fishermen along the river are catching rockfish using many different tactics and a wide variety of lures. We see them casting, trolling and jigging.

Jigging is one of my favorite ways to entice strikes. We use soft, plastic lures that resemble minnows. We drop these lures to the bottom, then raise them about a foot.

Short, erratic jerks then slow descents back to the bottom will often produce vicious strikes. One downside to jigging is that the fish tend to be smaller, and many baits will be lost to the unmerciful tangle of fallen, dead tree limbs that litter the bottom of the river bed.

Most of my friends prefer trolling deep, diving baits as close as they can to the bank. We try to find long stretches of consistent water depth and areas that are relatively free of hangs.’

It is important to find baits that will get down near the bottom. Frequently we bump the river bottom as well as snag into large gars that are schooled up with the rockfish.

I have never seen the color of a lure matter as much as it seems to this winter. One day the rockfish will killl a blue and silver lure. The next day they will not touch it. Some days they like chartreuse, the next day white and yellow are the only colors that produced strikes.

We are starting to see some larger rockfish making their way into the lower river.

The fish have to be 18 inches long to be legally kept. No fish between 22-27 inches may be in the keep. Those are mostly females that lay the most viable eggs, and they need to be protected.

One rockfish per person over 27 inches long may be legally kept. These fish are rare, but we are starting to hear of more and more of them being caught on the river.

So on a day like this, with blustery cold and snowflakes flying, we can only think about fishing. It is not fit for man nor beast on the water today.

Shiver me timbers – maybe tomorrow.