In a state chock full of freshwater reservoirs and dozens of prime offshore fishing opportunities, there’s one spot that could be overlooked that offers a unique fishing opportunity for anglers.
The Chowan River runs from the Virginia State Line all the way to the Albemarle Sound and it’s fishing is fine. Think about this for a minute. Where else can you catch a crappie and a flounder in the same waters? The freshwater and brackish waters that come up out of the sound mix species quite frequently, especially down at the mouth of the river before it ends in the sound.
The Chowan is what natives call a blackwater river. It is formed by the merging of the Nottoway and Blackwater rivers near the North Carolina/Virginia Border. It is later joined by the Meherrin River and flows to the Albemarle.
What can you catch? We’ve already mentioned crappie and flounder. Most of the river is excellent for largemouth bass, striped bass, huge catfish and all kinds of panfish – bream, chinquapins, sunfish and the like. Down at the mouth of the river, there are also redfish for the taking as well. Live bait is best for flounder and redfish. The Chowan River is often called the “Capital of the river herring” fishery.
Freshwater fish like panfish are best on live bait like grass shrimp, crickets or worms. Crappie like to eat minnows, but will also hit jigs and other small artificial lures.
Bass anglers here find that spinnerbaits and buzzbaits work well early and late, especially in the semi-clear tea colored water of the river. When the fish get up in tops or other structures, plastic worms and creature baits work well. Worms work well along the cypress trees. Dark colors are the favorites for many anglers. Crankbaits will work as well, especially when the fish are chasing shad or small bream. Try to figure out what the fish are eating and match the color of your crankbait to either shad or bream patterns.
The river flows 50 miles and has a huge drainage area. There are a few deep spots in the river, like around Holiday Island, but for the most part the river is 15-18 feet deep. The drainage and the swampland that surrounds the river keeps it rich with nutrients. The rising and falling tide also keeps the water moving, although the tide heights usually vary between a foot or 18 inches based on low or high tide. The river is narrow in some places, less than a quarter mile wide. But it also has areas that are two miles wide, especially close to the mouth. All along the way, the river is lined with great fishing habitat provided by stands of cypress trees along the bank.
Being familiar with the waters is key. That’s why a good guide is worth the money. They can take you up the rivers or into areas like Bennett’s Creek, which connects the river with Merchant’s Millpond State Park. There’s also the Wiccacon River that is accessible if you know where to go. Striped bass fishermen use silver or shad colored baits, or hair jigs. The striped bass population is thriving here and there are quite a few older fish caught, which shows the fishing is healthy today and for the future.
Located near the mouth of the river, the town of Edenton is the County Seat and the largest community along the river. Edenton has several motels and bed and breakfasts and lots of restaurants and places to get fishing supplies. It’s also home to several great guides.
Edenton is a historical site with lots of things to do like visit the Edenton National Fish Hatchery, the Roanoke River Lighthouse or areas like the James Iredell House, the Penelope Barker House of the Elizabeth Gardens. You can also study up on the Civil War history of the region and stories about how Union ships sailed up the river bombarding Confederate posts along the way.
But if you play your cards right, you’ll be more interested in telling fish stories than old war stories.
Also, about halfway down the river, the Rocky Hock Campground also offers a place to stay overnight and launch your boat. It is located on the eastern side of the river.
While not as wide open and daunting as some of the North Carolina waters along the Atlantic Ocean, the Chowan River still offers challenges for anglers who are not familiar with the waters. Different species run in different spots along the river and there’s nothing more relaxing or rewarding than hiring a guide to take you down the river. Just the knowledge you pick up from a seasoned angler is worth a huge part of the price. Whether you want to catch a crappie or a flounder, check out local guides along the river and at the mouth near Edenton. It’ll make your trip one to remember.