Few places on earth can equal the eminent beauty of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Life in this land is as tied to the sweep of the tide as it is to the rising sun. Enveloped by the harmonies of the ocean, these singular barrier islands are more than just a beautiful place to hit the reset button. They provide access to some of the best fishing spots in the world. Fishing on the Outer Banks is a sensational adventure, but it can be constraining to first-timers or newcomers.
Unless you’ve grown up in the region, knowing when, where, and how to best procure a big catch can be cumbersome at best. Given the prevalence of the Outer Banks as a vacation destination, more out-of-towners than ever are catching onto the fishing scene in this infamous beach town. While this can be great for local tourism, it doesn’t always lend itself to a full understanding of what the fishing scene actually entails.
After all, most non-locals are familiar with which species of fish can be caught in this region or where to find the best fishing locales. Additionally, one might not know how to approach licensing in North Carolina or fishing best practices. In our guide, we’ll touch on every aspect of fishing, providing a thorough peek behind the current into the local fishing scene. Whether you’re just passing through or looking for a new spot to fish, this guide could land you the catch of a lifetime.
North Carolina Fishing Licenses
Believe it or not, tourists do need to procure all of the same licenses that a local needs in order to actually start fishing. It may seem like an unnecessary measure if you’re just passing through or going on vacation, but you still have to follow all local laws in order to fish legally in this region.
Prior to heading out for a fishing excursion, you’ll need to make sure you have all of your licensing ducks in a row. In the state of North Carolina, every person who is looking to fish will need to pick up either a fresh-water or saltwater fishing license. The saltwater license is required for all fishing done in these barrier islands, not just the offshore variety. You can purchase a license at any bait shop.
Additionally, if you plan on fishing in the sound, you’ll need to pick up a freshwater fishing license. Once again, this can be acquired at any local tackle shops or even at big box stores like Kmart or Walmart. Certain licenses can also be picked up at Wildlife Education centers.
Ways To Fish The Outer Banks
Now that you know about licensure and species, it is time to touch on how to actually go about fishing the Outer Banks. The type you want to partake in will depend on your budget, the gear you have on hand, and how you feel most comfortable approaching the fishing scene. For example, if you have your heart set on catching a prize-winning tuna, you’ll need to procure a charter boat to hit the deeper waters. If you simply want to try your luck from the beach, surf fishing may be more your speed.
Pier and Bridge
Fishing newcomers often enjoy the act of pier fishing as they can avoid stepping foot in the water without foregoing access to great fish species. Gear for pier fishing can either be rented or bought at local tackle shops or bait shops. From the pier, you can easily score fish such as Cobia or Sheepshead. Currently, you can choose from six distinct piers in the area, including Avalon, Nags Head, Rodanthe, Jenettes, Avon, and Outer-Banks South.
Let’s talk bridge fishing. Experienced anglers know that certain types of fish are drawn to structures. These structures provide adequate means to stalk and find prey, thus leading to a relative feeding frenzy below. Bridge fishing can prove highly productive to both novice and experienced anglers. If you have boat access, one can motor directly up to the bridge and fish. Without a boat, you can still fish from the bridge itself. There are three distinct bridges to choose from.
No matter which method you choose, you’ll get the same thrill that you would from setting charter well out into the ocean. You’ll also have access to all of the bait and tackle shops you could possibly need to reel in that trophy fish.
Read more about Pier Fishing: How to Fish From a Pier
Read more about Bridge Fishing: How to Fish Around a Bridge
If you want to experience the best of what this region has to offer in terms of big fish and brag-worthy hauls, you’ll need to head to your nearest marina for a charter boat. While you can choose to charter on your own, most recommend only going out on the water with someone who is familiar with the area. Trying to go it alone could have dire consequences, the least of which will be not knowing where to find any fish. A charter guide knows the gulf as well as their own reflection in a mirror, thus your experience will be safe, productive, and totally unforgettable.
One great thing about renting a charter boat is that the captain will provide everyone on board with the essentials they need to make the most of the day. That includes all the essential gear you could need to reel in giant tunas or even a lurk. Keep in mind that these are day trips, not quick outings. You will need to supply your own food and comfort items. A charter boat can be booked via any local marina. Most boats do have a requirement as to how many anglers can be on board at a given time.
Any angler can land unbelievable hooks right from the surf, including sharks and bluefish. Surf fishing is rather straightforward, but there are a few areas of the beach that will require a special all-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive vehicle in order to gain access. It is also important to note that some locations may be closed from time to time in order to protect wildlife species.
Not sure if you’re heading to a dead spot that’s closed? Any tackle shop along the way will be able to provide information about spot closures. This is where you can also pick up an off-roading map to access those more secluded fishing spots.
When to Fish in the Outer Banks
Only residents tend to be privy to the right time of day to snag a big catch. Does that mean a tourist is left to figure out the ins and outs on their own? Not exactly. There are a few key times of day to catch the fish biting. Ordinarily, the best times to snag a big haul are early morning and early evening. Of course, you can absolutely still make out quite well any time of day.
If you’re not sure where to start, head to the local tackle or bait shop for help. Generally, the best times of fish will be determined by the elements and the tides. Since these things can transform without notice, it is easiest to consult the professionals for a bit of advice on when to head out for the day. Here, you can also inquire as to which type of fish bite when and discover what gear you may need on hand.
Obviously, if you’re more about just having a bit of fun rather than sweating the small stuff, you can go out anytime you like. Odds are if you set up for the day in a single spot, you’ll eventually land some kind of catch. When it comes to the best season to land some fish, spring and fall tend to be the most productive. This is when the biggest and best fish tend to come out to play. Summer can be great weather-wise, but it won’t give you those big fish you crave.
If you’re on vacation or passing through, be mindful of the weather as coastal regions can experience frequent fluctuations from one hour to the next, especially in the warmer months.
Fish Species in the Outer Banks
In terms of fish species, those frequenting the Outer Banks are often treated to a true smorgasbord in terms of options. Shallow waters are chock full of inshore predators while warm ocean currents make for an unrivaled number of trophy fish. Types of fish caught in this region include Bluefish, Flounder, Striped bass, mackerel, sea mullet, and marlin among others. No matter what fish preferences you hold in terms of species, the Outer Banks should offer you a catch that suits your needs.
The Bottom Line
Whether you’re looking for that prized tuna or simply want to fish from the surf as your family watches on, the Outer Banks is a haven for anglers new and old. With so many options for fishing and so many distinct species of fish, you’ll never grow bored of the possibilities afforded by this barrier island region.
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