Tournament Reports – Cape Fear River Watch StriperFest
The health of the Cape Fear River fishery has been concerning to a lot of anglers over the years, and 2018’s Hurricane Florence certainly didn’t help things.
“There’s no doubt,” says Capt. Jamie Rushing, “that the fishery took a hard hit during the storm. We lost a lot of fish.”
Capt. Rushing was the winner of the Big Fish category in 2019’s StriperFest, a striped bass tag & release tournament hosted by the Cape Fear River Watch to benefit and raise awareness about the health of the fishery. His team’s striper measured 24”, and it was the only fish that he, Kevin Bloom, and Dak Willis caught.
“After fishing the whole winter with low numbers,” Capt. Rushing adds, “everyone went in knowing it was going to be a tournament with few fish.”
Rushing and company have won the Most Fish category on multiple occasions, but this was his team’s first time snagging the Big Fish win. The striper fell for a Saltwater Assassin at 9:30 in the morning in the Northeast Cape Fear River, just after the tournament started.
“After that,” says Rushing, “we really couldn’t get anything else going.”
The Most Fish category went to tournament veteran Capt. Jon Huff and the Intracoastal Angler Team, which was comprised this year of Blair White and Chris Beard.
On the status of the fishery, Huff echoes Capt. Rushing, saying that things “all came at once with the Hurricane, and they never let up.” The trio won with just two stripers, which measured in at 15.5” and 15”.
“We did everything we could do,” says Capt. Huff. “We didn’t leave anything on the table.” One of their stripers fell for a soft plastic, while the other hit a crankbait.
Cameron Gilmore won the Junior Angler category with a 16” striper, which was also fooled by a crankbait. He was fishing with his dad Jason Gilmore, his uncle Aaron Gilmore, and Capt. Jason Dail. Like Rushing and Huff, Gilmore’s winner was the only fish that the boat caught that day.
“We fished extremely hard, and went to places that I know should be holding fish this time of year,” Capt. Dail says.
While disappointed with the current state of the fishery, all three winning captains were hopeful for the future. Striped bass anglers in the Cape Fear are used to fluctuation, and while this past autumn and winter was a little harder on the fish, life always finds a way.
“Quite a bit of bait was moving around,” says Capt. Dail, “which is promising.”
Capt. Huff believes that the presence of smaller stripers now means that bigger fish will be around in the years to come. He says that he has been “seeing smaller fish on specific places that you would normally never see a fish under five or six pounds.” After striper fishing in the Cape Fear River since 1997, he would know.
Capt. Rushing was pleased with the weather and water conditions, which have certainly improved since Florence moved through the area.
He has faith in the Cape Fear River Watch, and says that the Tag & Release tournament is “extremely important to us as guides.” Rushing wants to encourage more people to help, which you can do by visiting CapeFearRiverWatch.org to learn more about the health of the Cape Fear River fishery and what you can do to influence it.