Tournament – StriperFest 2018
When it comes to the restoration and preservation of the Cape Fear River fishery, few organizations have done as much as the Cape Fear River Watch. The non-profit hosts an annual StriperFest fundraiser, which took place this year on January 12-13.
The event includes a silent auction, banquet, boat trips, educational opportunities, and more, but for anglers, the tag & release striped bass fishing tournament is the highlight of the weekend. Anglers compete in three fairly standard categories (largest fish, two-fish aggregate, and total fish), but what makes the tournament unique is that each striper caught is tagged before being released back into the water. This helps the River Watch monitor the migration habits of the fish, which in turn helps tremendously with their conservation efforts.
This year, Capt. Jon Huff and the Intracoastal Angler Team (comprised of Huff, Arlen Ash, and Ben Chesney) swept the admittedly fierce competition by winning all three categories of the tournament. Not only did they pull in a beautiful 29” striper to win the large fish trophy, but they also had the biggest two-fish aggregate at 57.5” and managed to tag and release the most fish with a total of six.
Most of the team’s fish (including the winning striper) were pulled in just off the river and within two miles of the downtown boat ramp. All were caught on diving plugs of various colors and sizes, which Huff said were getting hit hard, “We capitalized on most of our bites and didn’t really lose any fish… bites that we knew that we had, we caught.”
Ben Chesney explained, “Huff had a hunch that a spot of his was going to produce later in the day when the tide was right, so we spent all morning fishing miles and miles of water, just waiting for the conditions to be right.”
The team covered an area from above GE all the way down to Lilliput Creek without getting a single bite. Finally, they liked the tide and went to the deeper water spot that Huff thought would produce, and it did. They found their first fish on the trolling motor, and then anchored up and began catching a fish about every 10-15 minutes.
“We only had 1-2 smaller stripers,” added Arlen Ash. “The other four were all quality fish.”
Huff has been fishing the StriperFest tournament for the past six years, and while he has won in individual categories before, this was his first time taking home all three trophies. “We’re always trying to win,” he said. “Sometimes you get stomped. Sometimes everything swings your way. There’s always a strong field of competitors.”
He added that out of all the tournaments he fishes, StriperFest is “one of my favorites. It’s a great charity benefit for the River Watch and we always get to fish hard.”
According to Jot Owens, chairman of the tournament and member of the Cape Fear Striped Bass Foundation board, the charity aspect of the tournament is vital when it comes to improving the Cape Fear’s striper population. “The numbers are about what they’ve been,” says Owens, “and right now we’re working on reengineering and restructuring lock and dam number one for the stripers.” He adds that while dam number one is being worked on, architectural plans are being studied for dams two and three.
The project is a massive one, with agencies and non-profits from the federal, state, and local levels involved, and Owens says that while the locks and dams won’t be perfect for the stripers overnight, he’s hopeful for the future and confident that things are continuing to move in the right direction.
StriperFest is the Cape Fear River Watch’s biggest fundraiser of the year, with 100% of the proceeds going to support the River Watch’s mission. More information on the Cape Fear River watch and StriperFest can be found at www.capefearriverwatch.org.