Chad Thomas, a fisheries supervisor for the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, holds a largemouth bass in excel¬lent condition collected from a North Carolina coastal river.
Chad Thomas, a fisheries supervisor for the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, holds a largemouth bass in excellent condition collected from a North Carolina coastal river.

Public waters within the eastern region of the state provide good fishing for striped bass, American and hickory shad, largemouth bass, crappie, assorted sunfish (redear, redbreast, bluegill, flier, warmouth and pumpkinseed), white and yellow perch, and channel, blue, white flathead and bullhead catfishes. However, fishing information pertaining to these resources and its availability to the public has been limited.

Some of the more noteworthy waterbodies in the eastern region with public access are discussed in this article, as well as fish species present (see table below) and fishing methods. The Fishing Access Guide for the Coastal Region of North Carolina publication provides a list of fishing access areas available to the public within the Coastal Region of the state. The publication also includes directions to access areas, and information on fisheries present and universally accessible amenities, if applicable.

Although most streams and rivers in the state are considered public waters, access to a stream or river may not be. Always obtain permission from the landowner before entering, crossing or fishing from private property. A valid North Carolina fishing license is required in all public waters.



Fish Species

Currituck Sound

largemouth bass, sunfish*

Lake Phelps

largemouth bass, sunfish*, yellow perch, catfish**

Lake Mattamuskeet

largemouth bass, sunfish*, crappie, white perch, catfish**

Lake Sutton

largemouth bass, sunfish*, crappie, catfish**

Lake Waccamaw

largemouth bass, sunfish*, crappie, white perch, yellow perch, catfish**

Chowan River

largemouth bass, sunfish*, striped bass, white perch, crappie, catfish**

Roanoke River

largemouth bass, sunfish*, striped bass, white perch, yellow perch, crappie, shad, catfish**

Tar/Upper Pamlico

largemouth bass, sunfish*, striped bass, white perch, yellow perch, shad, crappie, catfish**

Neuse River

largemouth bass, sunfish*, yellow perch, white perch, striped bass, crappie, catfish**, shad

Northeast Cape Fear River

largemouth bass, sunfish*, shad

South and Black Rivers

largemouth bass, sunfish*, chain pickerel

Cape Fear River

largemouth bass, sunfish*, striped bass, catfish**, shad

Lumber River

largemouth bass, sunfish*, chain pickerel, redfin pickerel

Waccamaw River

largemouth bass, sunfish*, crappie, chain pickerel, redfin pickerel

*Sunfish includes: bluegill, redear, redbreast, pumpkinseed, flier and warmouth
**Catfish may include: white, blue, flathead, bullhead and channel



Currituck Sound

Currituck Sound is located in the extreme northeastern corner of North Carolina and widely known for its "brackish" water fishing. It is approximately 30 miles long, has an average width of 4 miles, and an average depth of approximately 4 feet. It is separated on the east from the Atlantic Ocean by the Currituck Outer Banks, a narrow barrier island.

The sound, considered one of America's premier largemouth bass fishing waters during the 1910s and most of the 1980s, has suffered a drastic decline in its freshwater fisheries, especially largemouth bass. Droughts during the late-1980s were associated with elevated salinity levels in the sound, to the point where freshwater fish were not able to reproduce successfully for several years. Recovery and subsequent quality of the sound's largemouth bass and other freshwater fisheries totally depend on sufficient quantities of fresh water entering the sound to keep salinity levels low. Submerged aquatic vegetation, SAV, is also important for providing habitat for fish and shellfish of life stages; a moderate level of SAV abundance is also related to good fishing.

The best months to fish the sound are April, May, September and October. Currituck Sound has an abundance of aquatic vegetation, and weedless lures are a must. Fly rod fishermen have had good success with large popping bugs.

Motels are available in Elizabeth City, Point Harbor and Kitty Hawk. Campgrounds are available at Waterlily, Coinjock, Kitty Hawk and Nags Head.

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Lake Phelps

Lake Phelps is a 16,000-­acre natural lake located in Washington and Tyrrell counties. The lake and most of the surrounding shoreline make up Pettigrew State Park. The lake has a maximum depth of 12 feet, an average depth of 4½ feet, and more than 20 miles of shoreline. The lake provides excellent shoreline bass fishing as well as good fishing for pumpkinseed sunfish.

April, May, October and November are the most productive times to fish Lake Phelps. Most of the fishing is done along the shoreline in areas dominated with "structure," such as flooded woodlands, marsh grass fringes and lily pads. Many fishermen prefer anchoring their boats in these productive areas.

Motels are available in Plymouth and Columbia and camping is available at Pettigrew State Park. Electricity or water hookups are not available at the park; however, a large bath house is located on the campgrounds. Additional information concerning camping can be obtained by contacting Pettigrew State Park, 2252 Lake Shore Road, Creswell, NC 27928; 252-797-4475


Lake Mattamuskeet

Lake Mattamuskeet, a national wildlife refuge, is the largest natural freshwater lake in North Carolina. It is approximately 42,000 acres, has a maximum depth of 10 feet and an average depth of 2½ feet. The lake is located in Hyde County off U.S. 264 near New Holland. N.C. 94 crosses the western end of the lake. There are numerous canals located around the lake that were constructed in the 1930s in an attempt to drain it and make it suitable for agriculture. The federal government acquired the lake in 1934 and established a waterfowl refuge.

Largemouth bass are the most sought after game fish in the lake with the peak season occurring in the spring and fall. Most bass average between 2 and 3 pounds, although larger bass are caught occasionally. The canals located around the lake are prime fishing areas in the spring. Wading along the shallow northern and western shores among the cypress trees and stumps can be productive for bass in the early spring.

Fishing in Lake Mattamuskeet is under federal control and closed to boat anglers during the waterfowl season (Nov. 1 until March 1). A valid North Caroling fishing license is required to fish the lake. Because the lake is very shallow, some anglers wade while others use small boats and kayaks to reach their favorite fishing holes. Motel lodging is available nearby in the town of Fairfield, and camping is available at various locations around the lake.

Sutton Lake

Sutton Lake was formed in 1972 when Carolina Power impounded Catfish Creek, a tributary to the Cape Fear River. It has a maximum depth of 25 feet (old creek channel) and an average depth of 5 feet. Standing timber was not removed prior to flooding, leaving numerous stumps and logs that provide ideal habitat for largemouth bass. The lake is located approximately three miles northwest of Wilmington off U.S. 421.

The peak fishing season for largemouth bass at Sutton Lake is between March and June and from September through November. Due to the warmwater discharge from the power plant, winter bass fishing also can be good. Night fishing is very popular at Sutton Lake during the hot summer months. The water in Sutton Lake is relatively clear, requiring the use of fairly light line (6-8 lb. test). The spring spawning period (April to June) is the most productive time to fish for sunfish.

Lake Waccamaw

Lake Waccamaw is the third largest natural freshwater lake in the state and covers 8,936 acres. This state-­owned lake is approximately 6 miles long and 5 miles wide with a maximum depth of 11feet and an average depth of 7 feet. It is used extensively for swimming, water skiing, boating and fishing.

The lake provides good fishing for white and yellow perch, crappie, redear sunfish, pumpkinseed and largemouth bass. Bluegill and white catfish are also present but only support fair fishing. White perch can generally be taken year-round, drifting or trolling in water 6 feet deep or greater, using artificial or natural baits. Nice catches of largemouth bass and crappie are taken along the north shore of the lake in the area adjacent to the four major tributary streams entering the lake. March and April are the most productive months for this area with live minnows being the best bait for both species. The aquatic weed beds located along the southwestern shore of the lake provide excellent fishing for redear sunfish and pumpkinseed during April and May.

Lodging is available in Lake Waccamaw and in nearby Whiteville. Primitive camping is available at Lake Waccamaw State Park, six miles southeast of town. Facilities available at the 1,508-­acre state park include picnic tables, barbecue grills, pit toilets and a hand pump for water. In addition, primitive group camping sites are available for a nominal fee.

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Chowan River

The Chowan River originates near the Virginia border and flows through the northeastern region of the state for 35 miles before emptying into Albemarle Sound near Edenton. The width of the river varies from approximately 1/5 of a mile in the upper reaches to almost 2 miles at its mouth. Virtually the entire river is flanked by cypress swamps, which provide good fish habitat.
Some of the finest freshwater fishing in the state can be found in the Chowan River. Largemouth bass are the most sought after freshwater sport fish in the river, and tournaments are often held throughout the river at many of the access areas. During the spring, anglers typically cast plastic worms and other artificial lures along the shoreline; while in summer months, largemouth bass may be enticed with jigs presented in deep water around the numerous log jams in the river.

The river also provides good fishing for sunfish during the spring spawning period, which is April through May. Tributaries to the Chowan, such as Sarem Creek, Bennett's Creek and Wiccacon River, are good bream fishing streams. These same waters also produce good catches of black crappie during spring months and white perch during the summer. Fishing for white perch typically begins before sunrise by drifting the boat down the middle of the river with an array of cane pole/bobber rigs using either worms or shrimp for bait. Anglers without a boat can use the Chowan River Fishing Pier at the mouth of the Chowan River to get in on the action as well. Action can vary from none to furious once a school is located. As with most summer fishing, catch rates decline with the rising sun.

Roanoke River

The Roanoke River is located in northeastern North Carolina, where it is the major tributary to Albemarle Sound. The river flows 138 miles from the dam at Roanoke Rapids Lake to Albemarle Sound. This section of river has a width varying between 300 and 900 feet and offers excellent fishing for striped bass, largemouth bass, sunfish and catfish.

The Roanoke River is the principal spawning stream for the Albemarle Sound population of striped bass. These trophy game fish enter the mouth of the river in late March or early April on their annual run up the river to their main spawning grounds near Weldon. During March and early April, most anglers fish for stripers with natural bait on the bottom. Striped bass in this area can also be caught on artificial lures that imitate minnows.

The Roanoke River also offers very good fishing for white perch, which run up the river from late March to late May to spawn. As the weather warms and the striped bass and white perch head back downstream to Albemarle Sound, fishing for largemouth bass, sunfish and catfish begins to peak. Fishing for largemouth bass peaks in May but may remain good until cool weather slows the action in November. Bluegill is the most abundant species of sunfish but fliers, redear (shellcrackers), redbreast and warmouth are caught frequently. Catfish—primarily channel catfish, white catfish, blue catfish and bullheads—are caught along the entire length of the river and provide excellent table fare. Although most catfish weigh less than 4 pounds, channel catfish and blue catfish weighing more than 20 pounds are frequently caught.

Tar River and Upper Pamlico River

The Tar River originates in the Piedmont and flows in a southeasterly direction for approximately 195 miles to Washington, where it becomes the Pamlico River. The river averages approximately 50 feet in width and 2 feet in depth in the upper reaches, while downstream it averages 160 feet in width and 15 feet in depth. The section of river between Rocky Mount and Old Sparta serves as an important spawning area for anadromous fish, including American shad, hickory shad, river herring and striped bass. Between Grimesland and Washington, fishing pressure for game fish is heavy and good catches of striped bass, largemouth bass, sunfish, and white and yellow perch are common.

Largemouth bass are abundant throughout the Tar River watershed and receive a great deal of fishing pressure during May and early June, which is the best time to fish for them. Sunfish (bluegill, redbreast, warmouth, flier and pumpkinseed) are also abundant in the river, especially in some of the larger tributary streams such as Tranters Creek, Swift Creek and Fishing Creek. The prime time to fish for sunfish is during the spring spawning period, April through May. Fishing for striped bass in the Tar River occurs from late March through early May, and is restricted to the main river below Rocky Mount. White perch can be taken in the river between Greenville and Washington.

Lumber River

Drowning Creek becomes the Lumber River in Scotland County at the U.S. 15-­501 bridge just north of Laurinburg. The river flows southeasterly for about 87 miles where it enters South Carolina two miles southwest of Fair Bluff. The average width and depth of the Lumber River vary from approximately 66 feet wide and 4 feet deep in the upper reaches to almost 170 feet wide and 8 feet deep at the N.C. 904 bridge at Fair Bluff. The Lumber River has been designated a National Wild and Scenic River.

The Lumber River provides good fishing for largemouth bass throughout Robeson County and especially in the vicinity of Lumberton. However, due to the number of fallen trees and submerged logs in this section of river, small one-man boats and weedless lures (plastic worms rigged Texas style, weedless spoons, jig ­and­ pigs, etc.) are a must. April through May is the prime time to catch largemouth bass with most bass averaging between 1 and 2 pounds. The river also provides good fishing for sunfish, redfin and chain pickerel from Wagram to Lumberton.

Large boats can navigate the river from Boardman to the South Carolina state line while small boats and canoes are recommended above Lumberton. There are also numerous secondary roads with bridge crossings that provide additional access to the Lumber River.

Waccamaw River

The Waccamaw River originates at the outlet to Lake Waccamaw in Columbus County and flows southeasterly for approximately 56 miles where it enters South Carolina, two miles west of Iredell. It contains good populations of largemouth bass, black crappie, bluegill, redbreast, warmouth, and chain and redfin pickerel. It has an average width of 80 feet and an average depth of 6 feet.

Redbreast sunfish and bluegill are the most numerous species caught. The preferred fishing gear for largemouth bass includes small spinnerbaits and natural baits on light spinning tackle while the favorite gear of bream fishermen is a cane pole, crickets and worms. The peak fishing season for all species is April and May when the fish are bedding.

Neuse River

The Neuse River forms at the confluence of the Eno and Flat rivers and flows southeasterly for 242 miles where it enters Pamlico Sound below New Bern. It supports abundant and varied fresh and brackish water sport fisheries. Both commercial and sport fisheries exist in the Neuse River below New Bern for striped bass, southern flounder, Atlantic croaker, spot, bluefish, gray trout and channel bass. Above New Bern, freshwater sport fisheries exist for largemouth bass, sunfish, catfish, and yellow and white perch.

The variety of fish in the Neuse River (below New Bern) varies with salinity concentrations that change seasonally depending upon the amount of freshwater inflow and wind tides. The primary freshwater fishing area on the lower Neuse is between Streets Ferry and New Bern. Important tributaries below New Bern are the Trent River, Upper Broad Creek and Brices Creek. Some better fishing streams above New Bern are Swift, Batchelors, Contentnea and Turkey Quarter creeks.

Largemouth bass and sunfish are abundant in the river and its tributaries. Fishing with live bait (minnows, crickets and worms) and artificial lures is productive. Black crappie are among the most sought after fish in late fall and early spring and are fished for with live minnows primarily. Important commercial and recreational sport fisheries exist for American and hickory shad in the Neuse during their spring spawning run. Prime areas for shad fishing include Pitch Kettle and Contentnea creeks above New Bern, with the peak season occurring between March and May. Striped bass fishing in the Neuse and Trent Rivers is best in the early spring and fall. Popular areas include the bridges near New Bern and in the deep holes in the Neuse and lower Trent.

Northeast Cape Fear River

The Northeast Cape Fear River originates in Duplin County and flows approximately 130 miles southeasterly to its confluence with the Cape Fear River. This is a beautiful blackwater stream that offers good fishing for largemouth bass, sunfish and channel catfish. There are also seasonal fisheries for shad (American and hickory). This river has an average width of 55 feet and an average depth of 4½ feet above the N.C. 41 highway bridge and an average width of 150 feet and depth of 8½ feet from this point downstream to the N.C. 210 bridge.

The Northeast Cape Fear River above N.C. 24 (Duplin County) is difficult to fish due to numerous obstructions (fallen trees and underwater snags). Below the N.C. 41 bridge, the river widens and deepens and provides good fishing for largemouth bass and bluegill. The best time to fish for bass is April through May. The section of river from the N.C. 41 bridge to the N.C. 210 bridge also offers good fishing for largemouth bass, bluegill, warmouth and catfish. The peak time to fish for sunfish is from mid-­April through mid-­June, but nice catches can also be taken throughout the summer and early fall. Within its upper reaches (Duplin County), the river is most easily fished using a small boat and motor. American and hickory shad can be taken from mid­March through early May in the lower reaches of the river below Kenansville.

South and Black Rivers

A major tributary to the Black River, the South River originates in Harnett County and flows in a southerly direction for 57 miles to its confluence with the Black, three miles southeast of Ivanhoe in Bladen County. It has an average width of 55 feet and an average depth between 3 and 4 feet. During dry periods the river becomes impassable above Ivanhoe, and wading is recommended at that time.

The Black River, a major tributary to the Cape Fear River, forms at the confluence of Six Runs Creek and Great Coharie Creek in Harnett County and flows southeasterly for approximately 50 miles to its junction with the Cape Fear River, three miles north of Phoenix in Pender County. This river has an average width of 80 feet and an average depth of 4 feet in the upper reaches and an average width of 184 feet and an average depth of 7 feet in the lower reaches.

Both the South and Black rivers offer good fishing for largemouth bass, bluegill, pumpkinseed, warmouth and chain pickerel. They offer excellent fishing for redbreast sunfish averaging ½ to ¾ pound. April through early June is the best time to fish for largemouth bass. The spring spawning period offers the best fishing for sunfish, with good catches continuing through the summer and early fall. Small one- or two-man boats or canoes are recommended on the entire stretch of South River and above Kelly on the Black River.

Cape Fear River

The Cape Fear River forms at the confluence of the Deep and Haw rivers in the Piedmont Region of North Carolina and flows southeasterly for approximately 170 miles, where it discharges into the Atlantic Ocean near Southport. Below Fayetteville, the river is regulated during low and moderate stages by three federal navigation locks and dams. The river varies in width from approximately 400 feet at the N.C. 401 bridge in Lillington to more than 2 miles at its mouth. The average depth is fairly uniform due to maintenance dredging of the river for barge traffic and varies between 12 and 15 feet from Fayetteville to Wilmington.

The Cape Fear River provides good fishing for largemouth bass, sunfish, catfish and American and hickory shad. Spring is the peak season for catching largemouth bass in the river. Largemouth bass up to 8 pounds have been caught in the river but usually range between 1½ to 3 pounds. Bass can also be caught around the mouths of some of the larger tributary creeks (Turnbull Creek, Hammonds Creek, Sturgeon Creek, Livingston Creek, upper reaches of Town Creek) just before or after a light rain.

Bluegill are the most abundant sunfish in the Cape Fear River. Large numbers of these fish are caught below the lock and dams during the spring spawning season on red worms, crickets and nightcrawlers. Bluegills between ½ and ¾ of a pound are caught fairly often and redear sunfish approaching one pound are not uncommon.

Some of the better catfish fishing in North Carolina occurs in the Cape Fear River. This river is "home" to the three largest members of the freshwater catfish family—the channel, blue and flathead. All three species are abundant from Lillington to the mouth of the Black River. Catfish are classified as nongame fish in inland waters and there are no size or creel restrictions regarding their harvest. They can be taken by a variety of fishing methods. April, May, September and October are the best months to fish for catfish.

Seasonally important commercial and recreational sport fisheries exist for American and hickory shad in the lower Cape Fear below Wilmington. Both species are taken by recreational fishermen below each of the three locks and dams as the fish move upstream to their traditional spawning grounds. Small white-and-yellow "shad darts" on light spinning tackle and light line can be very productive.

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Striped Bass and White Perch

Fishing for striped bass is generally best in the spring, fall and winter. Peak fishing occurs during the spring when these fish migrate up our large coastal rivers to spawn. Preferred baits are live or cut bait (e.g., sunfish, large minnows and bloodworms), which are normally fished on short shank 1/0 hooks with enough weight to keep them near the bottom. The boat either can be drifted downstream along the banks or in the channel or tied to a tree on shore.

The preferred artificial lures include long slender crank baits, bucktail jigs, minnow imitations and weedless spoons. These lures are productive when either cast to surface-feeding fish or trolled slowly downstream. Good depth finders are invaluable in locating schools of fish and fish-­attracting structure.

White perch usually average between ½ and ¾ of a pound. One effective technique is to anchor the boat and fish on or near the bottom with small pieces of cut fish, shrimp or earthworms on size four to one hooks. They can also be caught on small spinners and small white or yellow jigs.

American Shad and Hickory Shad

The shad dart is the preferred lure for American and hickory shad. Shad darts are small, brightly colored leadhead jigs, which are normally fished with light tackle on light line. The preferred colors are yellow and white jigheads with red eyes. Shad darts are most often fished by casting and slowly retrieving the dart or by suspending the dart in the current. Fishing is most productive in flowing water, either in the main river or stream channel or in backwater slough areas during high water. Small gold or silver spoons are also popular shad lures.

Largemouth Bass

The largemouth bass is the primary sport fish in North Carolina. Bass begin spawning at water temperatures between 64 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit, and fishing normally peaks during May, the height of the bedding season. Depending upon water clarity, depth, temperature and amount of cover, bass can be taken on a wide variety of artificial lures. Some of the more popular ones include: plastic worms, spinnerbaits, crankbaits, topwater lures, jigs and stickbaits. Bass can also be taken on natural bait including earthworms, crickets, minnows, golden shiners and small sunfish. Light spinning tackle and small white or yellow spinnerbaits are productive for bass in the smaller rivers and their tributaries, such as the South and Black rivers. In those rivers and creeks that are tidally influenced, successful bass fishermen prefer to use a black and chartreuse jig with either a rubber crawdad or frog trailer. The most popular colors for the trailers are white, green, and black/chartreuse. In addition, most bass fishermen who fish tidally influenced rivers and creeks recommend fishing the falling tide.


The channel, blue, white and flathead catfishes provide excellent table fare and can be taken by a variety of fishing methods. Catfish fishing peaks during the warm summer months when "stink" baits, such as cut fish, shrimp, chicken livers, beef livers or hearts, cheese, blood baits and prepared baits, are especially productive. Catfish have big mouths so large, strong hooks are recommended.

The channel cat feeds primarily on or near the bottom of the river channel. Its diet includes fish, aquatic insects and crayfish. Adult channel catfish can be found in and around drift piles, submerged logs and other cover during daylight hours. At night they move into shallow areas to feed, making this the best time to fish for them. Deep-diving crankbaits fished slowly along the bottom, spoons and, occasionally, spinners are some of the better artificial lures used to catch this fish. The best months to fish for channel catfish are April, May, September and October.

Like the channel catfish, the blue catfish feeds primarily on or near the bottom, consuming aquatic insects, crayfish, fish, freshwater clams and freshwater snails. Unlike channel catfish, adult blue catfish can be found in the deeper pool areas of the river where there is a noticeable current. After dark is also the best time to fish for this species as it is more active at night. Trot lines and set hooks baited with cut fish are the preferred methods for taking this fish. Blue catfish are rarely taken on artificial lures. April, May, September and October are also the best months to fish for this species.

The flathead catfish is the most abundant catfish in the Cape Fear River. Young flatheads feed primarily on aquatic insects while adults feed almost entirely on fish and crayfish. Adult flatheads are structure oriented and, for this reason, it is best to fish for them in and around submerged logs, drift piles, standing timber and on the downstream end of an outside bend in the river where there is plenty of deep water. It is best to use only live or freshly cut bait when hook­and-line fishing for this species, especially if one wants to catch a very large flathead. They can also be taken on trot lines with cut bait.


Sunfish, or bream as they are more commonly known, are several species that have the same general body shape. They include the bluegill, redear sunfish, redbreast, flier, pumpkinseed and warmouth. Red worms, nightcrawlers and crickets are the most popular natural baits for these species but they can also be taken on popping bugs, spinners and artificial flies. Redear sunfish, or shellcrackers, begin spawning in April in water averaging 6 to 7 feet deep. Bluegill begin spawning in May and locate their beds in shallower water.

A favorite fishing technique of bream fishermen throughout the Coastal Plain involves casting or flipping crickets under shoreline trees and bushes with either a cane or fiberglass pole. Fishing around cove areas, piers/docks and submerged weed beds in deeper water will generally produce nice stringers of bluegill. In addition to these species, redbreast sunfish can be taken using worms and crickets during the spring spawning period, which normally occurs in April and May. Generally, sunfish can be taken during the warmer months when other sport fish can be quite finicky.

Black crappie

Black crappie, or speckled perch, are a very popular fish in this region and are most commonly caught during the spawning season, typically late February through March as water temperatures range between 65 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit. While some anglers may use one or two rods to fish for crappie, many anglers modify their boats to fish with eight to 12 rods, known as spider rigging. Some anglers continue to catch black crappie throughout the year when the fish are suspended in the deep runs and pools of the coastal rivers or found in natural or artificial structure. When fishing for crappie, locating the school followed with the appropriate presentation of jigs, minnows or combination can yield some excellent catches of crappie, ranging from 10 to 12 inches.

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