Here are three trip reports on Roanoke River fishing, and one general info piece:
Here's a picture of yours truly holding a shad at Weldon, taken in March of 2000. This is on the rocks on the far side of the river at the Weldon Ramp.
We arrived at the Weldon ramp about 9 to find the river slightly higher than normal and muddy. A couple dozen spin fishers were bunched together at the foot of the ramp casting into the current. Occasionally someone would pull in a shad and deposit it into the ubiquitous five gallon bucket. We left and drove upriver to the ramp in Gaston.
At Gaston, the river wasn't as high, or as muddy. A lot of rocks were visible and one of the locals told us that VEPCO(Virginia Power and Electric Co.) which operates the dam had generated all night and just recently stopped. With the low water, the current wasn't terribly imposing, so we launched the canoe and headed upstream towards the dam. That turned out to be no more than good exercise and after reaching the dam, we turned around and paddled back.
By now, it was past noon, and finally warming up, maybe to the mid 50s. I drove back to Weldon, leaving Gary with the canoe, and rode the few miles back to the Gaston ramp on my mountain bike. We finally pushed off about two.
At this point, the river is fairly wide, 150-200 yards. We had been advised to stay on the stay on the south side of the river as exposed rocks would be more treacherous on the north side. We paddled across the river and headed downstream.
Paddling at a leasurely pace, we stopped occasionally to get out on rocks to cast. I wasn't really expecting to find any bass yet, and wasn't disappointed, but did locate some very nice holding areas that should produce for us later.
About 5, we were in sight of the Weldon ramp and noticed quite a few people on shore with bent rods, cranking in shad. Without a word, we pulled up on a midstream rock and scrambled out. Using a 6-wt. with a sink tip and a small pink gotcha, I began casting. After a few minutes and no strikes and after watching some guys on the shore using small white spinners reel in a shad on every cast, I switched to a small white crazy charlie. On the first 3 casts, I hooked up, and over the next hour and a half, I caught and released 15-20 1-2 pound shad. Then, the action abruptly halted, but we were satisfied. We climbed back in the canoe, paddled to the ramp, packed up, and headed home.
So, the trip was a success. We found some lightly fished areas of the river that should have good numbers of striped bass when the run begins and as an added bonus, caught some fish.
The shad are definitely running in the Roanoke. William Ivey, his brother in law Gary, and I made the trip. Many dozens of fish (my estimate is about 80-100) were introduced to higher forms of intelligence this past Saturday. (Though this would of course exclude the 50 or so fish that William Ivey caught -- I'm still not sure what kind of intelligence they encountered). WE WILL BE RETURNING TO THE ROANOKE THIS WEEKEND, MARCH 15-16. IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN MAKING THE TRIP, LET US KNOW!
Details: Having heard that no fish were being caught at Roanoke Rapids, we put in at Weldon at daybreak, and rowed the River Rat around near the ramp for a couple hours. Caught a few fish, but it was slow. As the crowds increased, we decided to pull the boat out and head up to Roanoke Rapids, figuring we could do the 5 mile float back to Weldon during the least productive hours of the day, and get away from the crowds.
Put in at Roanoke Rapids about 9:30, and immediately headed downstream (the paper plant having a particularly malodorous air that morning. Thank goodness it was a southeasterly wind!). Got nothing until we reached the I-95 bridge. Pulled up on the temporary construction causeway that had been built to facilitate the building of the new highway bridge, and quickly started hooking fish in the eddy below the rapid under the bridge. An hour there: @25 fish. We then moved downstream, occasionally working eddies and the seams of currents. Located a couple of honey-holes and took the rest of our fish by anchoring up and repeatedly casting to the holding spots. We did not see another soul in this section of the river.
Ivey gets the most-fish award, having caught about half of the total that the three of us took, and during one 45 minute period having hooked up or caught a fish on virtually every single cast. The award did not, however, come without a price -- the level of ridicule Ivey received was directly proportional to the number of fish he took. (In my boat the operative principle is that people catching fish catch shit, too).
Here is the skinny on the fishing: Most fish were 2.5-3 lbs, 16-20 inches. They look like baby tarpons, and they make strong, short fights, often topped with aerial displays. We used 6 wt rods, sinking tips, #2 or #4 hooks dressed in white, chartreuse (sp?), occasionally with a dash of red or yellow. The most effective fly of the day: a custom Ivey 2-Beer Fly: #2 or #4 hook with bead eyes and a chartreuse plastic curly-tailed grub attached using fill-a-gap superglue. I estimate these take about 3 minutes to tie, and I would bet that white, yellow, and maybe red grub tails might be successful on occasion. Double flies on the line seemed to stimulate more strikes. A large net is helpful; shad have papery mouths and it is often difficult to land them.
Some info to consider: This float can be done in a canoe, jonboat, or other rowable craft. You should be able to negotiate easy whitewater conditions. No rapids harder than easy class II -- IF YOU TAKE THE BEST CHANNELS! Be warned! The left channel should be avoided because of tight passages; the left center channel should be avoided as the construction causeway there has constricted the river-flow, and in high volume conditions there are huge standing waves that would be very difficult to avoid. The right channel flows by the sewage treatment plant, and there is a long pool (@ 3/4 mile) of unremarkable water just before you rejoin the main channel.
Best bet is the right-center channel, viz: From the Roanoke Rapids ramp you pass the paper plant on river-right, cross under the train bridge for the paper plant, and the river splits about a half-mile downstream. STAY ON RIVER- RIGHT! You will pass a residential area on river-right. A few hundred yards beyond the end of the residential area the river again splits. One channel does a hard right, heading toward the power plant (the smokestacks for which you should see to your right) and the sewage plant. This is a passable channel, but as I said, not a desirable one. If you continue straight through at this split, you will be in the right-center channel. You will encounter a few minor rapids and then the I-95 bridge. You are now about 2.5 miles into the float.
At the I-95 bridge a construction causeway has been built from the left bank, constricting the river. At high volume (20,000+ cfs) the constriction produces a huge sluice with a 3 foot drop; looks like a slide made of water -- easily runnable. After this, just wander downstream. You will shoot a number of smallish rapids, and about 3/4 mile downstream from the bridge, a larger rapid that prevents motorized craft from Weldon from moving further upstream. The area between the bridge and the "big rapid" was the most productive for us. At high water the rest of the trip from the "big rapid" is free of whitewater; at lower volumes a few relatively straightforward rapids re-appear, along with the horseshoe rapid just above the ramp at Weldon (which would further restrict motorized traffic upstream).
William Ivey and I would be happy to provide any more details, and we would encourage you to get out and fish the shad soon as their spawning run does not last long. Again, we will be returning next weekend (15-16 March), so there should be "shuttle service" available.
In addition to the information that others have provided about chasing shad in the Roanoke, Brian Thomas' queries raise a few other issues worth thinking about before striking off to Weldon. All of these apply to striper fishing, too.
1. If the fish are in the river below Weldon, they may not be above Weldon. On reports that "there are fish in the river," many times in the past we have floated the upper section in the McKenzie boat, only to get skunked while others are slaughtering them below the Weldon ramp. And on a few occasions we have found that the fish might move into the rapids above Weldon, but that they just seem to stop at the upriver end of the first island upstream. It is a short (but often impassable) distance up from Weldon, and a long float down from Gaston, to reach that point in the river. Take my word on this: "fish in the river" may not mean "fish above Weldon." It is worth being clear about this if you want to avoid a frustrating outing.
2. Unless you are an incredibly powerful paddler, or you are content to stay within sight of the ramp, or have days to spare, you can't do a float below Weldon. This is motorboat territory. The current is very stiff. The next downriver access is many, many, many miles away (unless you can get access to some of the private ramps on the west bank between Weldon and Halifax). And that assumes you don't get swamped by the yahoos flying up and down the river in their motor toys. Trust me: it is no fun to row a boat from the Weldon ramp.
3. In ideal conditions, the upper (or whitewater) section has much to recommend it. There are fewer people. The scenery is nicer. The river is more interesting and varied (last year we even recovered a dead body!). And if the wind is blowing the right way, you only have to smell the stench from the paper mill for a little while.
But NOTE WELL: Most of the rapids wash out at readings above 15,000 cfs. This makes for easier floating, but more challenging fishing, and more boat traffic coming upstream. Lower readings (below about 13,000 cfs) almost eliminates the boat traffic coming upstream from Weldon, but it also makes the rapids much more of a challenge to negotiate. We have had our best fishing when the water is running between 15,000 and 8,000 cfs. Below 9,000 cfs some of the rapids will produce adrenaline rushes for open-boat paddlers. Below 6,000 cfs the fish seem to scatter (and spook easily). Below 3,000 cfs the big rapid at Weldon starts to look like boat-eating class III whitewater. (If you are tricky, you can negotiate it, but I can tell you from experience that many people will be watching you to see if you are going to capsize).
Bottom line: know what you are getting into, or you may spend the day fishing for nothing, or fishing for hours before finding the fish, or fishing your gear out of the river when you dump your boat. Having done all of these things on the Roanoke, I figure that someone else might benefit from my experiences.
Hope these pointers help.
-- Steve Leonard
Well, I figured that today (Thursday 3/15) was one of the few times that I could make it up to Weldon to chase
shad. So, in spite of the crappy weather forecast, I called one of my buddies, Stan Carson, and headed up...
We got to the ramp at Weldon at 10:30AM and fished until 3PM. Actually, it rained lightly for about an hour, stopped a few minutes, then poured for about an hour (enough water in the boat for a shad to swim :-) ) and then stopped about 1PM...
How 'bout those shad? Wow, are they in there! This was Stan's first time, and he was having to learn about speed of retrieve, hooking 'em, etc. and consequently he only manged to catch 32 :-). I tried really hard to move around the boat and give Stan the best spots, but I still managed to catch about 3 to his one...so I recon I caught close to 100...I caught so many my casting/rod holding arm is sore...what a happy thing!
I had my Jonboat there, so we motored across the river from the Weldon ramp (below the big rapid) and anchored on the right side (as you head upstream) of the main flow (in the eddy behind the rocks). The water level seemed to be higher than I was expecting; looking at the graph it looks like they let more water through today...though it's hard to guesstimate the time and the water level at Weldon from the Roanoke Rapids gauge. There are so many shad in there that around all the large rocks you could see them milling around, with the dorsal fins and tails out of the water...some sort of shad orgy, I guess :-)
We caught fish on the left; we caught fish on the right...many times during the day we each had a fish on at the same time...
We each used the same fly -- I listened to the wise counsel of the list, and made sure it had gold, and I remembered seeing one dude last year clobber 'em on orange, so I made up something and tied my flies like this:
size 6 streamer hook
large bead chain eyes
orange estaz body
gold krystal flash on each side
orange deer hair wing on top
Here's a picture of the fly...
Stan and I each briefly tried to use some green/white deceiver-type flies but didn't do anything, but why mess with something that's working well.
The only bad thing at all was that I broke one of my rods; snapped in the top section. Probably got hit by a hook on a bad cast & weakened. The good thing is that I had a second rod with me, and the break happened late in the day...
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