Top Spots for North Carolina Fishing in 2012

No other state has fishing variety North Carolina has to offer. Some game fish species bite best in cold weather, others in the heat of summer. With so many fish to catch over the course of a year, an angler may need help making up his mind. Here are our 36 favorite fishing trips.

JANUARY

Cape Hatteras

Striped Bass

Striped bass migrate to Cape Hatteras in winter, where anglers can expect to catch many fish weighing 25 pounds or more during a routine day.

The fish are concentrated around Oregon Inlet within a mile or two of the beach. Good fishing occurs when winds are calm or when a westerly wind is held at bay by the beaches, making the waters slick enough to fish in comfort.

The fish are easy to locate by watching for birds circling above the baitfish that stripers have chased to the surface. A striped bass school may cover several acres. Tossing a topwater lure, spoon, or jig into the school is certain to draw a strike.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore has many access points for driving along the beach. Surf fishermen watch for birds, surface-feeding fish and parked vehicles of other anglers.

FEBRUARY

Fontana Lake

Smallmouth Bass

At 11,700 acres, Fontana Lake offers some of the best smallmouth bass fishing in the state. While smallmouth scatter to the depths, making them difficult to locate in the huge lake during warmer months, during February, the fish move up to shallower cover where they are easier to catch. Colder water temperatures also shut down competition from largemouth bass.

Smallmouth bass bite best in 10 to 30 feet of water and the best place to find them is along a rocky point or rock outcrops. If the water level is low, anglers find that fishing visible rocks becomes even easier.

The best bets for lures include tube jigs, Carolina-rigged lizards, crankbaits and spinnerbaits. Soft lures are best for clear days when the fish are deep, while crankbaits and spinnerbaits are the best bets early and late or on overcast days.

For many anglers, fishing with a live minnow is the best bet for Fontana's winter smallmouth. The bait's depth can be controlled by using a slip-float rig or by weighting the line with a split shot.

MARCH

Sutton Lake

Largemouth Bass

This New Hanover County Lake is only 850 acres in size, but it has some huge largemouth bass. A trophy regulation prohibits keeping bass in March and ensures the continuation of its legendary status.

Because it provides cooling water for the L.V. Sutton plant, the lake has a series of dikes to increase flow length before the water is re-used. This flow regime makes Sutton one of the warmest lakes in the Southeast. As a result, the pre-spawn largemouth bite occurs a month earlier than in other North Carolina lakes. Catches of more than 20 fish are common and several bass weighing 8 pounds or more are landed every March. A fish weighing more than 10 pounds is a possibility.

The best tactic is fishing the first three "ponds," because they have the warmest water. Casting inside the plant's discharge canal, which is very close to the boat ramp, is also a good bet.

Most anglers use Carolina-rigged plastic worms in February. But a few anglers cast medium-depth crankbaits and spinnerbaits.

APRIL

Albemarle Headwater Rivers

Striped Bass

April is the best month for catching striped bass in the Roanoke River system. Catches of 20 to 100 fish are possible, bringing anglers from far beyond North Carolina.

While the world-class action draws crowds the Weldon area along the upper river, savvy anglers catch the same fish downstream without worrying about crowds or the rocks of the upper river.

"Rockfish" enter the Roanoke and three other rivers downstream of Weldon near Plymouth. The four rivers come together at the headwaters of Albemarle Sound to offer striped bass fishing just as good as that of the Weldon area. The Cashie, Roanoke, Middle and Eastmost are accessible from a NCWRC ramp at the south end of the N.C. Highway 45 Bridge and the pay ramp at Shipyard Landing at the north side of the bridge.

Anglers troll deep-diving lures in the channels or cast bucktail jigs, soft plastic flukes and crankbaits along the shoreline. Unlike the rocky upper Roanoke, the downstream rivers' structure consists of standing trees, stumps or fallen trees submerged in the water. Mud banks and bars also hold striped bass.

Check out the top spots for North Carolina fishing for May, June, July and August on page two

MAY

Randleman Regional Reservoir

Largemouth Bass

Randleman Regional Reservoir offers the best largemouth bass fishing in the state. The lake opened for fishing in 2007 and was stocked with bass and bluegill sunfish three years before. Catches of largemouth bass weighing more than 5 pounds are common, with the potential for catching many 8- to 10-pound fish coming off the beds in May. The fish exhibit the rapid growth typical of new lakes.

Big soft-plastic worms with ripple tails are the best lures for trophy bass. Anglers fish them on Carolina rigs in the standing, dead trees. At rocky points and outcrops, anglers have good luck casting crankbaits and spinnerbaits. At the dam and bridges, schooling bass strike topwater lures, jigs and spinnerbaits.

The downstream 2,500 acres of the 3,007-acre lake are open to the first 100 powerboats that pay the launch fee at the PTWRA Park. The area upstream of the N.C. Highway 62 Bridge is open only to non-fuel powered watercraft and canoes and johnboat rentals are available at Guilford County's Southwest Park.

JUNE

Flounder

Carolina Beach

The best flounder fishing in the state occurs at Carolina Beach. The deep water and hard structure of the Cape Fear River, Intracoastal Waterway and artificial reefs and ledges just offshore create area ideal flounder habitat.

Most anglers use live mud minnows, menhaden or mullet hooked on Carolina rigs to catch flounder. Each year, several flounder topping 10 pounds are landed from Carolina Beach Inlet, Johns Creek Ledges and AR 378.

In June, the flounder arrive in large numbers following baitfish schools. The sizes of fish continue to increase during the summer. One reason the area is so productive is that three species of flounder occur, including southern, summer and Gulf flounder.

Some anglers have excellent luck using bucktail jigs tipped with scented soft plastic trailers. This tactic is particularly good for catching flounder at the artificial reefs and natural ledges where there is little current flow.

JULY

Lake Waccamaw

White Perch

Lake Waccamaw is a natural Carolina bay lake of 8,936 acres located in Columbus County. A low dam helps maintain a constant water level. The lake is unusually clear and has a limestone outcrop that neutralizes the acidity of the water, making it the most productive of all the state's bay lakes.

White perch are native to the lake, migrating upstream in the Waccamaw River and swimming over the dam during spring floods. They are extremely plentiful and grow large, creating the potential for earning a North Carolina Angler Recognition Program (NCARP) award from NCWRC for a one-pound or 12-inch fish possible during any fishing trip.

In July, the fish can be seen chasing baitfish at the surface, creating small bubbles as they feed. Sometimes the fish are deeper, but the average water depth of 4 feet makes them easy to locate by trolling with small crankbaits, spoons and inline spinners. Once a school is located, anglers can catch them by drifting along, using cut white perch, worms or minnows as bait.

AUGUST

Neuse River

Red Drum

The Neuse River enters Pamlico Sound near Oriental. The ramp at the N.C. Highway 55 Bridge is the place where anglers launch their boats to catch

some of the biggest red drum on the planet.

Adult redfish enter the sound to spawn in July, August and September, with the full moon phase of August the time period when they are most active. The fishing is a catch-and-release adventure because a typical red drum measures longer than the 40-inch minimum to qualify for an NCDMF citation for live release.

Anglers find shallow drop-offs along the edges of bars that the fish use as travel lanes and cast big chunks of mullet, croaker or other fish in a fan pattern on the bottom to intercept them. Night fishing was once the most productive way of fishing. However, as red drum numbers have increased, more anglers are targeting them during the day.

Discover the top spots for North Carolina fishing for September, October, November and December on page three

SEPTEMBER

Bluefish

Masonboro Inlet

In September, the bluefish run along the coast offers the fastest fishing action in the entire state. Bluefish move to the all of coastal inlets, with Oregon, Beaufort, Barden, Ocracoke and New River inlets being excellent for sight-fishing the massive schools. Masonboro Inlet at Wrightsville Beach is one of the best bets for big bluefish, with fish entering the Intracoastal Waterway and forming huge schools along the beaches and tide lines north and south of the inlet. Rock and concrete jetties protect the inlet, making it one of the best places to fish from a small boat.

Anglers find the fish by watching for birds working the baitfish schools or by trolling with metal spoons. When the fish are at the surface, they will strike anything that flashes and moves fast. The more commotion the lure makes, the better it is at drawing strikes. Tossing a topwater lure or metal casting spoon draws savage surface strikes.

OCTOBER

False Albacore

Beaufort Inlet

When the false albacore migrate to Beaufort Inlet in October, anglers arrive to take a shot at the fish with fly-fishing gear. The fish move swiftly, with terns in hot pursuit of the tiny glass minnows "Fat Alberts" are chasing at the surface.

Fly fisherman use boats to sneak into an area where there is plenty of activity, waiting for a school to surface within casting range. Clouser flies in pink and green colors work best for attracting the attention of the albacore. Anglers should use saltwater fly rods of at least 9-weight because the fish can weigh 20 pounds and are incredibly powerful.

Anglers can use medium spinning and baitcasting gear to catch the fish as well. Spoons, jigs, soft plastics and trolling lures will all entice strikes from false albacore. While flies imitate the small baitfish the false albacore prefer to eat, the bigger lures draw reaction strikes.

NOVEMBER

Lake Norman

Blue Catfish

Blue catfish are stormin' Norman in November, following big schools of white perch. While the big catfish, which routinely top 30 pounds, travel with the perch schools, the best places to catch them are in the deeper channels and on the expansive flats.

The reason to fish these areas is that they have fewer underwater snags — tree stumps, mountaintops and rock outcrops. Anglers should fish an area until they have mapped a good trolling alley with their GPS; the only way to figure out a fishing spot is by trial and error.

An electronic depthfinder shows the location of white perch schools, which bring catfish to the area. White perch can be caught with Sabiki rigs tipped with tidbits of cut bait, shrimp or worms while the boat is drifting or trolling for catfish.

A walking sinker rig, with a long wire extending upward from a lead weight dragging the bottom, or a sinker made of several buckshot inside a piece of parachute cord, are the best ways to deflect snags. A big circle hook with a white perch steak or perch head completes the rig.

DECEMBER

Speckled Trout

Topsail Beach

Topsail Beach is one of the few places that allow beach driving. Driving is permitted at the south end October 1 through March 31. The permit can be obtained from the town marina or town hall Thursdays through Sundays during the season.

It's a long walk down a desolate stretch of sand to get to Topsail Inlet, so those with four-wheel-drive vehicles are thankful for the town's generosity. The inlet has a longstanding reputation for producing big speckled trout and large numbers of keeper fish.

Editor's Note: Mike Marsh's new book, Fishing North Carolina, details the fishing opportunities at 100 lakes, rivers, parks, sounds, beaches and piers. To order, send a $26.60 check or MO to Mike Marsh, 1502 Ebb Drive, Wilmington, NC 28409. To order online, or for more outdoors information, visit www.mikemarshoutdoors.com. 

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