36 Great Fishing Trips In North Carolina

North Carolina offers tremendous fishing opportunities across the state year 'round. Here are ideas for three great fishing trips every month of the year. (Feb 2009)

North Carolina has so many different species of fish inhabiting so many different kinds of water that it can be difficult for an angler to decide what to go fishing for and where to go after the fish.

Therefore, we've put together this year's selection of trips based on the most recent experiences of anglers from all across the state. These 36 fishing destinations are arranged by months to create a fishing calendar to give anglers a start on their planning for the upcoming year.

Lake James

Outside of some residents who live in the mountains, most North Carolina anglers have never even tried catching a walleye. But in more northern climes, walleyes are among the most highly sought winter fish. They fight well, form large aggregations and bite best in cold months. Along with all of that, they are also great to eat.

Lake James is one of the best places to catch walleyes in the state, and January is an excellent time to try it if you can stand fishing in the cold. The huge mountain lake has several ramps and high mountains along the shoreline to block the wind.

Walleyes love deep water and are likely to congregate along creek channels and the sides of underwater bluffs. Sometimes they also form large schools where creek channels enter the lake's main river channel.

Walleyes feed on baitfish concentrations and the sure way to find them is by trolling along slowly and scanning the nether depths with electronics. Once a school of baitfish is spotted on the depthfinder, the angler can continue slowly trolling with jigs, spoons or jigs tipped with minnows. A downrigger can come in handy because walleyes are often found in water as much as 100 feet deep.

Blue Ridge Fishing Adventures, (828) 385-1220.

Red Drum
Bogue Inlet

Almost unheard of a decade ago, Bogue Inlet has become one of the hottest destinations for red drum fishermen in the state. Bogue Inlet shifts and shoals like all non-jettied inlets, with the result being sometimes there is funding for dredging and sometimes the channel becomes precarious without maintenance.

The good news is that the channel is open and red drum form huge schools in the colder months after having left the sounds and rivers for the warmer ocean waters. Fishing early in the morning, when the sun is slanting, is the best way to spot the fish. A westerly wind that blows down the breakers is the best wind for fishing. Once the fish are spotted, there may be so many the water seems to turn purple.

The anglers can take turns casting and driving the boat, or approach near and allow the boat to drift to the fish on the wind and current. The fish also swim along the nearby beaches, and can be caught from the beach at Hammock's Beach State Park or from boats riding the surf.

Anchoring the boat just off the beach and outside the breakers is a great way to get in on the action. Red drum schools are often feeding in a concentrated location, moving in and out of casting range if the angler has the common sense to stay still and not chase them and alarm them.

Scented soft-plastic trailers hooked on jigheads are the most popular lures. But squid, shrimp and cut baits are also good baits for sight-fishing red drum schools.

Fish'n 4-Life Charters, (336) 558-5697.

Largemouth Bass
Sutton Lake

Sutton Lake stays warm all winter since it provides cooling water for Progress Energy's L.V. Sutton Steam Electric generating facility.

A few years ago, anglers became alarmed at the high numbers of bass exceeding 8 pounds being taken from the lake in March and asked the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission for special regulations (which have been implemented) to keep the big fish in the lake during the pre-spawn period.

For catch-and-release fishing, it doesn't get any better than Sutton Lake in March. The "hot ditch" discharge canal into Pond 1 is a great place to start fishing. Anglers should work their way around the dikes until they find a good concentration of fish, with the best action typically found in ponds 1, 2, 3 and 4 during the colder months.

Most winter fishermen cast soft-plastic lures and bump them along the bottom. But crankbaits, spinnerbaits and tube jigs all have their fans. On warm, calm days, it is even possible to entice topwater action with a spook or a propeller lure.

Striped Bass
Roanoke River

The Roanoke River-Albemarle Sound striped bass management zone has seen some changes for the better where anglers are concerned. Not only is the restored striped bass fishery fantastic, the regulations have been stabilized for the benefit of anglers.

April is the top month for keeping stripers from the river and therefore the most crowded with fishermen. Live river herring are no longer allowed for striper fishing, so anglers after trophy fish have switched to using live bream, shad and eels.

But any angler who uses lures is going to catch fish and plenty of them. Catches of 100 stripers or more are not unusual in the spring. Shad-tail soft plastics, large saltwater soft jerkbaits, topwater lures and jigs will all catch stripers. Flyfishermen will have shots at dozens of fish in a single day by casting large streamer flies on sinking lines.

Down East Guide Service, (252) 671-3474.

Jordan Lake

Crappie fishing at Jordan Lake seems to get better every year. Crappie are unusual fish because more often than not, high fishing pressure leads to larger individual fish. Where crappie are fished hard, the problems with slow growth or "stunted" fish are not as likely to occur as waters that receive little fishing pressure.

Jordan may receive the highest fishing pressure of any lake in the state, because of its proximity to high human population centers. But it is also an enormous lake, so it offers many different habitat types translating into many successful options for crappie fishing.

In May, the fish are moving to the backs of the coves for spawning. Any woody vegetation, especially buttonbushes, will typically hold crappie. They may be scattered, but they are there. Casting a beetle grub spinner or in-line spinner is the way to fish the bushes, as well as along the shoreline. Casting to any visible stump or fallen tree in the water is likely to result in one or several strikes.

Many anglers troll tiny tube jigs, feather jigs or curlytail jigs along the shoreline with good results. Other anglers cast live minnows beside boat docks and fallen tre

es that extend into the water.

Smallmouth Bass
Nolichucky/North Toe

The Nolichucky and North Toe River system is one of the top places in the state for catching smallmouth bass. While the fishing access depends on water level, the fish are always there. Smallmouth bass typically achieve weights of a pound or two, but fish of more than 5 pounds have been caught from the river.

Floating along in a rubber raft is the best way to take in the scenery while catching plenty of fish. Wade-fishing and bank-fishing are also popular and anglers can also launch kayaks from many roadways along the rivers to access the fishing.

Topwater lures and flies and soft-plastic lures work well. But shallow crankbaits, stick baits and jigs are also popular lures.

The best time to fish is when the river water is falling, or when it is flowing steadily at a moderate stage. Rising water seems to make the fish more tentative than falling water.

On The Fly Guide Service, (828) 659-0059.

Lake Waccamaw

While white perch bite well all year long at Lake Waccamaw, the best months for catching them are the summer months. The water is calmer and the air temperature is warmer, making it the ideal time for that favorite of Lake Waccamaw watercraft, the pontoon boat.

A pontoon boat is perfect for trolling several lines for catching white perch. It also provides an excellent platform for spotting the surface disruptions of feeding fish. White perch feeding on top make little bubbling splashes that can be difficult to spot in even the lightest of wind chops, so calm days are essential to top success.

Stunted white perch can occur through overpopulation in many inland lakes. But the native Waccamaw River and Lake Waccamaw fish are subject to many predators, including bowfin, largemouth bass and chain pickerel, which, along with a large population of anglers, apparently keep their numbers in balance.

Large white perch weighing more than a pound are not rare at the lake. The best way to catch them is by finding a visible school and sight-casting or by trolling an area where several schools are working the surface.

The shallow lake makes it difficult to find the fish with a conventional depthfinder, but a side scanning sonar can help an angler relocate a school after they leave the surface.

Spinners, jigs, spoons and flies are all popular white perch lures. White perch also eat worms and minnows.

Red Drum
Cedar Island

The red drum fishing at Cedar Island is among the best on the planet. In August, the heat keeps many anglers off the water, but night-fishing for the big adult drum, which can easily top 50 pounds in weight, is a great way to beat the heat.

Special rigs are used for dropping cut baits, such as mullet, spot and croaker, to the bottom for catching red drum. They consist of large circle hooks with the barbs bent down or filed off and a large egg sinker pegged on the leader near the hook. These rigs prevent the fish from swallowing the bait and being injured, which is important because they are above the upper slot size limit of 27 inches.

Heavy spinning rigs or conventional revolving spool rigs are used to cast the live-bait rigs in a clock-face pattern around an anchored boat. The best place to fish is along a channel edge or natural dropoff along a sandbar. The big fish migrate along the dropoffs in large schools at night. The fish are spawning at this time of year and form some large aggregations. Catches of a dozen big red drum in a single evening of fishing are not uncommon. Navigating the sound at night can be hazardous because of the many pound nets in the sound. It's best for newcomers to stay out all night and return in the daylight or become very familiar with the use of a GPS unit during the daytime and use a powerful spotlight at night to come home.

Old Core Sound Guide Service, (252) 725-7070.

Smallmouth Bass
Lake Santeetlah

Lake Santeetlah is one of the highest lakes in the state. But while other mountain lakes have low fertility, Santeetlah has a fertile watershed that translates into large numbers of big smallmouth bass.

Bass forage and grow fat on threadfin and gizzard shad, so lures imitating these baitfish are always successful. Soft shad-tail trailers on jigheads are excellent choices. Deep-running crankbaits and shallow-running stick baits are also popular lures. One of the best fall lures is a tube jig fished on a jighead. The water is extremely clear and the tube jig falls quickly to get down to the underwater rock ledges and cliff faces where the fish are holding.

September can also offer an excellent topwater bite. Live baits, always a good option for catching bass at Santeetlah, work well this month. The fish can be accessed by canoe, kayak or powerboat and there are several bank-fishing areas at the U.S. Forest Service recreation areas.

Ocean Piers

While ocean fishing piers are vanishing at an alarming rate, there are still 18 of them where anglers can get in on some of the hottest fishing action in salt water. The spot is called that because of the single spot on its side. While the fish is small, it can be caught in huge numbers when the schools come south on their annual migration.

Pier-anglers line the rails, casting shrimp, bloodworms or artificial bloodworm strips into the surf. A good spot run will have so many fishermen on a pier that they are standing shoulder to shoulder and catching fish two at a time on each rod.

A simple, two-hook bottom rig and a medium-action spinning rod is all it takes to get in on the action. But pier-fishermen also use baitcasting rigs, spincast rigs and conventional revolving spool rigs to catch spots. It's a sport for anyone who owns a rod and wants to fill a freezer with tasty fish.

Kure Beach Fishing Pier, (910) 458-5524.

False Albacore
Cape Lookout

In November, the false albacore make a showing at Cape Lookout. Anglers heading for the cape out of Harkers Island find the fish at Barden and Beaufort inlets, as well as along the beaches within sight of the cape.

While anglers in small boats stick to the protected waters of the inlets, anglers in larger center console craft find the fish just offshore. Birds working the same baitfish schools as the fish show anglers their location. For anglers casting lures, spoons and jigs are top fare. Fly-fishing for false albacore is one of the classic Carolina saltwater trips and requires rods of 10 weight and up for success with fish that can top 14 pounds and have the strength, speed and stamina of bluefin tuna in a more compact size.

False albacore can become boat-shy when many anglers are chasing them. Therefore, anglers should stalk the fish, moving alongs

ide the fast roving schools and getting ahead of them before casting.

Cape Lookout Charters, (252) 240-2850.

Speckled Trout
Tidal New River

New River is becoming synonymous with big speckled trout. It is an interesting coastal river because the river has a very minimal tide range that helps anglers fish no matter the time of day.

Anglers cast soft plastics and hard lures in the creeks and around any structure. New River Structure includes a submerged pipeline near the east side below the USO building, two bridges and several large oyster reef complexes. Some of the creeks that are legendary trout producers look more like places coastal anglers will catch largemouth bass, and indeed the two species mix in Southwest Creek, Northeast Creek and in the headwaters of the river upstream of Jacksonville.

Scented soft plastics hooked on various sized jigheads are top speck producers. Topwater action is good in other months, but for winter fishing, lures should be fished very slowly and near the bottom because the fish become lethargic.

Speckled Specialist, (910) 330-2745.

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