The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

May 18, 2012

Electrofishing on the Tar River in Rocky Mount

Rick Goines

TARBORO — Ever wonder what those NCWRC guys were doing out there in that funny looking boat?

I have heard them called the “shock troops” or the “juice boys.” The truth is that the NCWRC started electrofishing, or sampling the Tar River in 1996 for Hickory Shad, American Shad (locally we call White Shad), and Striped Bass (Rockfish).

They operate 9 boats statewide that usually have a 2-man crew consisting of a driver and a dipper. You can see our local boat working 3 sites regularly in the Tar River from Rocky Mount to Tarboro. The boat operates at idle speed along the shoreline with a sampling area approximately 10 to15-feet. The boat puts out 4.5 to 5 amps of electricity.

That’s enough juice to stop a human heart if exposed, so try not to fall overboard in the sampling area. Yikes! Fear not, each boat has several “dead man” switches for extra safety.

Original studies were conducted to determine sex ratios, age, and the number of fish in the river during spawning season for shad and rockfish. During sampling, they take lengths, weights, and tag the rockfish with bright yellow tags. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) uses the tags to track the fish.

After the ASMFC got involved they decided the research was important and effective enough that they mandated an annual sampling of shad and rockfish. Bill Collart, NCWRC Assistant District Fisheries Biologist, shared this interesting information with us:

“So we are mandated to sample at least 200 individuals of Hickory, American shad and as many stripers as we can get, taking scales or otoliths, for aging purposes. Otoliths are bones found in the head of fish sometimes called ear stones. Unfortunately to get the otoliths we need to sacrifice the fish, so we only take the minimum needed since we really don’t want to sacrifice any more than needed.

For 7 years, we were collecting American shad at Battle Park for the hatchery found at Watha, primarily for stocking the Roanoke River, but those fish did come back to the Tar as well. Starting last year, we stopped collecting brood stock from the Tar and now get them from the Roanoke.

This year we also started to collect brood stock stripers from the Tar to be stocked back into the Tar; previously, we stocked fish from the Roanoke into the Tar. We sent 4 females and 9 males to the federal hatchery at Edenton to be spawned and placed back in the Tar.

Some folks seem to think if sample (shock) a section of the river, we mess up the fishing for the day, which isn’t true; we have had people catch fish right after we pass. Fish that aren’t in our path will come across the river to feed on the forage fish we left behind; I have also seen fish caught shortly after we passed.

Granted if we (shocked) a fish, that individual probably won’t feed for a while, but we don’t affect the entire river or all the fish in it.

I apologize if we hit your favorite fishing hole one day, but we are just doing our job.”

Hotspot of the Week – It’s Tar River White Shad at Rocky Mount, however, it is ALL about water levels.

Rick’s Soapbox – Thanks go to Jimmy Dupree, Jr, for putting us together with Bill Collart, and thanks to Bill for all the good work you and NCWRC do for the fish, and the anglers that benefit from it.

Catching fish? Tell us about it. Better yet, send us a picture with all the details. We love to hear from you at

See you on the water, my friend!