Fishing for Fun and Food in the NC Outer Banks

fishing on the Outer Banks

Right off the coast of Cape Hatteras, two mighty currents collide.

One is the warm-water Gulf Stream, flowing up from the Gulf of Mexico. The other’s the Labrador Current, which carries much cooler water down from the Arctic Ocean.

Where these two streams meet, numerous fish species flourish. In fact, the waters around the NC Outer Banks furnish one of the richest fishing grounds in the world.

No wonder these beautiful barrier islands are considered an angler’s paradise, with endless opportunities for all kinds of recreational fishing.

A Variety of Fish Year ‘Round

What’s biting at the Outer Banks? That depends on multiple factors: time of year, time of day, winds, tides, water temperatures, and precise location.

Some fish are plentiful eight or nine months a year – bluefish, flounder, kingfish, and spotted sea trout, for instance. Others abound mainly during warmer months – pompano, cobia, Spanish mackerel. But even in the depths of December, you can reel in a black or red drum or a feisty striped bass.

Easiest Way to Get Started? Fish from the Shore

No fishing boat? No problem. Simply step out the door of your oceanfront rental – or stroll to the nearest beach – and cast your line from the shore.

The Outer Banks offer more than 100 miles of beautiful, sandy shoreline where surfcasting is free of charge.  All you’ll need is a fishing license, a surf rod, some bait, a tackle box, and a cooler to store frozen bait and freshly caught fish.

Want ultimate convenience? Opt for a rod holder, beach chair, and fishing cart. And if you’re planning to wade into the surf, be sure to wear waterproof waders.

Fishing licenses are available online, at any NC Division of Marine Fisheries office, at local Wal-Marts and K-Marts, and at many tackle shops. For as little as $5 (for NC residents) and $10 (for non-residents), you can purchase a 10-day Coastal Recreational Fishing License, which covers most OBX fishing for anglers age 16 and up. (Kids under 16 are exempt.)

Surf fish can put up quite a fight, so even if you’re a seasoned angler, you’ll relish the challenging thrill. Depending on season and weather, you may hook bluefish, striped bass, drum, flounder, croaker, pompano, sea mullet, Spanish mackerel, and more. 

Planning to keep your catch? Be aware of official bag and size limits. Some species are completely unregulated – you may keep as many as you like, regardless of size. But other species are strictly controlled. Flounder, for instance, must be at least 15 inches long; otherwise, you must catch and release. With bluefish, you can catch up to 15 per day, but only five can be longer than 24 inches. Ask your tackle shop for specifics or check online with the NC Division of Marine Fisheries.

Pier Fishing – Inshore Fun and Camaraderie

Ready to venture a little farther from shore (but not into deep offshore waters)? Try fishing from one of the Outer Banks’ fabled ocean piers, located at Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head, Kitty Hawk, and Hatteras Island (Avon and Rodanthe). All piers are covered by blanket licenses, so you won’t need to obtain individual CRFL licenses. However, you will need to pay a modest pier-fishing fee.

Bring your own rod and reel if you like. Or rent your equipment from any pier-side bait-and-tackle shop.

Getting started is simple. Just stake out your spot and cast your line for flounder, croaker, spot, cobia, sheepshead, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, and more.

Sound Fishing – Family-Friendly Angling in Brackish Waters

Saltwater fishing is not your only option at the NC Outer Banks. To the west, these islands border a complex network of sounds, channels, and inlets, where fresh water (from inland rivers) mingles with salt water (from the Atlantic) to form a brackish mix.

Thanks to grasses, marshes, and lush vegetation, these brackish waters provide plenty of enticing food for bait fish. And those bait fish, in turn, attract hungry, larger game fish. Result: a rich, fertile fishing ground.

Cast your line from a bridge, grass flat, or boat to hook bait fish like mullet and menhaden or game fish like redfish, black drum, flounder, speckled trout, and bass (largemouth and striped).

Offshore Fishing – the Ultimate Deep-Sea Challenge

Ready to reel in the big ones – marlin, tuna, sailfish, mahi-mahi, and more? Charter an offshore fishing excursion at the NC Outer Banks. These trips aren’t cheap, but you can split the cost among friends and family (typically up to six people allowed per boat).

An excursion usually lasts a full day. You’ll join a seasoned captain and crew in a specially equipped boat, motoring out to the Gulf Stream where giant billfish and other sportfish species thrive. Most charters provide bait, tackle, and ice… along with any info and assistance you may require. Typically, kids are welcome onboard, so your entire family can share in the memorable experience.

Come for the Fishing… Stay for Everything Else

You’ll find countless opportunities for family-friendly fun here in the NC Outer Banks. Visit anytime for world-class fishing, sailing, surfing, swimming, exploring, R&R, and much more.

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