Two lifesaving Weldon “River Rats” and two eastern North Carolina fisheries experts will tell tales of the Roanoke River’s past glory days and share about the river’s stable present and bright future during the third Weldon Heritage Speaker Series.
The event, being held at no charge, is from 5:30-7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 16, at Halifax Community College, 100 College Drive, Weldon, in the school’s Advanced Manufacturing and Corporate Training Center, room 825.
Included will be details about the recently initiated three-year effort to restock the river and Albemarle Sound with more than 2 million striped bass, also known as rockfish.
Formed in 2021, the nonprofit event sponsor Weldon In Action is a coalition of current and former Weldon residents seeking to revitalize the historic small town on Interstate 95 near Roanoke Rapids.
“To those living near its source in western Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, to those near its mouth in eastern North Carolina’s Albemarle Sound — and all points in between — we invite all lovers of the 410-mile Roanoke River to join this unique celebration right here in the ‘Rockfish Capital of the World,’” organizer Francis Kyle said in a release.
“This is the first of what Weldon In Action is planning to be an annual or biennial celebration of the Roanoke River,” Kyle said, adding that there will be future events, with a Weldon and Halifax County emphasis, with a focus on the river’s human history, a program on the Roanoke River National Wildlife Refuge in Bertie County, the nearly 140-mile Roanoke River State Trail that runs from Weldon to the Albemarle Sound, and the river’s economic value.
Featured “River Rats” include Halifax County natives and retirees such as Leemond “Boots” Branch, 94, of Weldon, and his son Robert “Bob” Branch of Cary.
The still-active fisherman father saved two strangers from drowning in the Roanoke River on January 15, 2010, after the men’s boat had capsized. The younger Branch was interviewed on the podcast “Better Fishing with 2 Bald Biologists,” the official podcast of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. Archived and accessible online, the 67-minute episode is titled “Roanoke River Striped Bass: River Rats and Hairy Worms.”
Fisheries biologists Charlton H. Godwin and Chad D. Thomas are also set to speak.
Thomas will moderate the opening discussion with the Branches and the question-and-answer segment, then briefly share about the new fisheries-based nonprofit he leads. Godwin will follow with his autobiographical and scientific data-driven presentation on the Roanoke River’s past, present and future regarding its fish and oftentimes colorful “River Rats.”
Bertie County native Godwin is the biologist supervisor for the Elizabeth City-based Northern District Office of the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries. A biologist since 2004 with the division, he has tagged over 50,000 striped bass on the spawning grounds near Weldon. He grew up exploring the Roanoke River, Chowan River and western Albemarle Sound.
A North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission retiree and graduate of North Carolina State University and Tennessee Technological University, Thomas was named the 2021 Fisheries Biologist of the Year by the Southeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. Thomas is the executive director of the North Carolina Marine and Estuary Foundation. Formed in 2017, the mission of the Raleigh-based nonprofit is “to build world-class fisheries and thriving coastal communities” and its vision is “to see North Carolina become the country’s premier fishing destination.”
Godwin and Thomas are both longtime members of the American Fisheries Society. Considered the world’s oldest and largest professional fisheries association, AFS formed in 1870 in New York City and is now headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland. On March 2, 2009, Weldon was officially recognized by the North Carolina General Assembly as the “Rockfish Capital of the World.”
For more information about WIA and its third Weldon Heritage Speaker Series event, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit weldoninaction.com or its social media pages.