North Carolina’s waters include lakes, rivers, sounds and the Atlantic Ocean, which have dozens of fish species ready to bite. Not all fish bite equally well at all times of the year, of course, but every month provides some good fishing somewhere in the state. Here, month by month, are some of the best fisheries.
Oregon Inlet Striped Bass
The striped bass fishing outside Oregon Inlet has been some of the most consistent in the nation. Anglers can catch and release many fish each day and have a good chance to catch fish weighing more than 20 pounds.
There is no secret to finding the fish. Anglers watch for surface-feeding stripers, schools of baitfish and diving sea birds that also feed on the baitfish. In the mix will be bluefish and, sometimes, bluefin tuna.
Weather is the key to safe and comfortable fishing. A westerly wind calms the sea, while an easterly wind creates rough waves.
Trolling is the most popular tactic, with anglers chartering boats out of Oregon Inlet Fishing Center (www.oregon-inlet.com/) or bringing their own and launching at the ramp. Sometimes the line of boats preparing to launch creates an hours-long wait.
OTHER OPTIONS: Anglers should hit the Marshall Steam Station hot hole on Lake Norman, which concentrates the recently stocked hybrids that are attaining keeper lengths. The new ramp at the Hyco after bay provides access to excellent white crappie fishing in the creek mouths and at the bridge.
Lake Waccamaw Black Crappie
While anglers expecting huge catches like those of the piedmont reservoirs will not experience the same abundance, the size of the crappie at Lake Waccamaw will wow a white crappie angler. The quality of the fish is excellent, with many anglers catching black crappie weighing an honest 2 pounds and some anglers catching 3-pounders from the lake each year.
The bite is earlier than in piedmont lakes, with the fish moving shallow to the piers by the end of February. With little structure in the lake, the smallest objects attract an abundance of fish. Some angler-sunk trees are in the lake and, if you can locate them, are good spots to set up. Other good structure includes the remains of an old artificial reef.
Trolling remains a good way to find the fish and the structure. Anglers can also look for concentrations of boats in a small area to locate the structure. Trolling small crankbaits such as Shad Raps and Rat-L-Traps that imitate the native Waccamaw silversides is an excellent tactic. Jigs and spoons also work well. Most of the cover is so small crappie may bite only in a tiny location. Once an angler gets a bite, tossing out a marker float is a good idea.
OTHER OPTIONS: Falls Lake white crappie will be staging in the creeks, with the Ledge Rock area a good spot for anglers who troll jigs outside the timber. Anglers can also shun the cold and head for the Neuse River to catch hickory and American shad.
High Rock Lake White Crappie
The crappie at High Rock Lake have become overly abundant, which results in fewer fish achieving larger sizes. The cure for this “stunting” effect is for anglers to remove a greater number of fish. The same is true of Tuckertown Lake. Last year, after public hearings, the Commission excluded both lakes the list of lakes that have creel or length limits for crappie so anglers can catch all the crappie they want.
“I have never seen so many crappie at High Rock,” said Maynard Edwards (Yadkin Lakes Guide Service, 336-249-6782). “Most are small, so it can be hard to catch a bunch of 8-inch fish, but there are enough big ones around to make the fishing interesting.”
Edwards trolls down-lines for crappie, hooking two minnows on each line by using a drop-shot rig with a bank sinker. In March, the fish are still staging for the spawn so most will be in deep water at the creek mouths.
OTHER OPTIONS: Lake Waccamaw’s yellow perch run in March when the river’s floodwaters overtop the dam. Worms and minnows are the best baits. At White Lake, the largemouth bass are biting small crankbaits.
Lake Tillery Largemouth Bass
Lake Tillery is an anomaly in the Yadkin chain. Its water level is relatively stable, so it has lots of shoreline grass for bedding cover and it warms faster than most other lakes.
“Largemouth bass will be come off their beds in the grass in early April,” said Rodney Crisco (Joe’s Bait and Tackle, 704-982-8716). “I like square-lipped crankbaits like the Speed Trap, KVD series and Shad Rap in crawdad or fire tiger colors. Alabama rigs or Zoom Trick Worms in green pumpkin or black are good bets for late April.”
OTHER OPTIONS: Hit the Cape Fear River at Lock and Dam No. 1 for two great opportunities. American shad will congregate below the rock-arch rapid, where anglers catch them with crappie jigs and darts. To catch blue cats that follow the shad migration, cut shad chunks and drop them to the bottom on weighted fluke hooks or Carolina rigs.
Randleman Lake Largemouth Bass
While the number of 10-pound largemouth that anglers were hoping for has not materialized, plenty of fish of up to 7 pounds are in Randleman. The wait to launch a powerboat at the PTWRA’s southern ramp can be long on the weekends since the lower lake is limited to 100 powerboats at a time.
Anglers have another option, which is launching or renting a small johnboat with an electric motor or paddle craft at Guilford County’s Southwest Park into the northern 500 acres of the lake for undisturbed fishing.
Many anglers prefer the powerboat-exclusion area north of the N.C. 62 Bridge. The water is shallow and rocky with more flats and small channels that have bass-holding vegetation. By May, topwater lures rule the shallows, with buzzbaits, Spooks and X-Raps the best bass enticers.
OTHER OPTIONS: Another bass bet is Lake Lucas, located in nearby Asheboro. It has one of the best largemouth bass condition ratings in the state. If you want a 10-pounder, it is the lake to try. May is also prime time for sight-casting artificial eels to Cobia at Morehead City.
Uwharrie River Bass
The Uwharrie River is the easternmost haunt of smallmouth bass. Therefore, southern piedmont anglers who want to fish close to home without a long trip to the mountains can have their cake and eat it, too. The river also has six other species of interest to bass anglers, including largemouth, striped, white, hybrid, rock bass and white perch.
Anglers access the river by crossing Lake Tillery from Morrow Mountain State Park Ramp. However, they encounter the first rapid not far upstream. Anglers can also launch small boats at the Commission’s new Low Water Bridge Ramp near Troy.
The best lure is a blue or purple jig with a sparkly trailer. Other great lures include inline spinners and Beetlespins.
OTHER OPTIONS: While the family is whitewater rafting on the Nantahala River, use your fly rod or a spinning rig to catch trout from the hatchery-supported waters. Although the tidal New River is better known for redfish and specks, 10-pound flounder lurk in its waters near Sneads Ferry.
Pigeon River Channel Catfish
Once one of the nation’s most polluted rivers, the Pigeon River was declared free of dioxin contamination in 2007. It is now one of the best places in the mountains to catch channel catfish. In a few places, the Pigeon River touches a road right-of-way, with the best access at the low water bridge at Harmon Den. Anglers can launch small boats or fish from the bank.
Channel cats are abundant in the river and Waterville Lake, where they commonly weigh 6 pounds or more. Best baits are worms, liver, shrimp, cut fish and commercial stink baits.
OTHER OPTIONS: Several unstocked trout streams enter the Pigeon. Although they are not on a regular Commission stocking schedule, the fishing for naturally reproducing trout is excellent and anglers can use any bait or lure. Catfish anglers in the lower piedmont should head for Badin Lake, which produces huge flatheads.
Neuse River Red Drum
During the summer, adult red drum, which can weigh more than 50 pounds, enter the Neuse River near Oriental to spawn. Anglers launch at the Commission’s Oriental Ramp and head for the river, using cut croakers and other baitfish to get in on the action. Professional anglers like Capt. George Beckwith (Down East Guide Service, 252-671-3474) find the drop-offs.
“A drop-off is actually a subtle change that drops perhaps 4 feet in 100 yards all around the edge of the river,” he said. “Red drum are never in the same place two days in a row and use the drop-offs as travel routes.”
Beckwith anchors his boat just before sunset, casting baits in all directions using Owen Lupton rigs as required by NCDMF regulations to prevent deep hooking of the large fish.
OTHER OPTIONS: Big blue catfish are biting at Blewett Falls Lake, where cut shad will catch them. King mackerel are running at Johnnie Mercer’s Pier (910-256-2743) in Wrightsville Beach, where trolley rigs baited with live bluefish are the ticket.
Southport Bottom Fish
As summer fall begins, so does the best fishing for grouper, snapper, gray trout, sea bass, grunts and other offshore bottom fish. Many anglers charter a six-pack boat, licensed to carry up to six anglers.
“Fall is a great time to get on the water,” said Capt. Butch Foster (Yeah Right Charters, 910-845-2004). Nearly every species is available and we usually fill a big cooler with between 100 and 200 fish including limits of several different species.
Anglers can bring their own rods, but charter boats have all the equipment needed including baits and rigs. All an angler has to do is remember to bring an ice chest along to carry his catch home.
OTHER OPTIONS: Jerry Neeley (Carolina’s Fishing Guide Service, 704-678-1043) said, “I’ve never seen white perch so abundant or crappie so big at Lake Norman. I find the schools with a depthfinder and drop down minnows and may catch both species at the same time.”
Kure Beach Spots
When October arrives, the spots come along with it. Anglers flock to the piers from all across the state to fill their coolers with fish. While all piers will see spots run, Kure Beach Fishing Pier (910-458-5524) usually hosts some of the most spectacular runs.
“They bite just about anything you put in the water,” said Kure Pier owner and operator Mike Robertson. “When they are biting slow, real bloodworms work best. But when a good run is going, they bite Fish Bites artificial bloodworm strips and red worms just as well.”
Anglers should fish during weather events, with a rainy, windy northeaster the best time to catch spots. The wind blows the fish closer to the beach as they are heading south during migration.
OTHER OPTIONS: False albacore will be schooling off Cape Lookout, where anglers can catch them with fly tackle and spinning gear. Kerr Lake striped bass will be striking live shad trolled on downriggers and lead-core lines.
Topsail Beach Spanish Mackerel
Some of the biggest Spanish mackerel of the year will be schooling at the ledges and artificial reefs offshore of Topsail Beach. The fish are so big that anglers may mistake them for king mackerel. It may be the best time of year to catch a Spanish mackerel exceeding than the NCDMF citation weight of 6 pounds.
The best tactic is slow trolling a live mullet or menhaden at one of the structure areas, with Dallas Rock a good place to try. Another spot is the Bogue Inlet Reef (AR 342). If the fish are thick, anglers can drop jigs and spoons down to the fish, which are usually schooling below the surface in the fall.
OTHER OPTIONS: On days when it is too windy to get offshore, anglers can catch plenty of red drum in the backwaters of Topsail Island and the nearby Intracoastal Waterway. The best tactic is casting a live mullet on a Carolina rig around any structure, including docks and seawalls. Cape Hatteras is the place to go for the biggest bluefish of the year, which will be biting in the surf.
Wrightsville Beach Speckled Trout
When it’s cold out, it’s time to catch trout. The Wrightsville Beach jetties are the place to go when the water clears in winter and the biggest specks of the year arrive.
“They come in surges,” said Capt. Jot Owens (Jot It Down Charters, 910-233-4139). “The best bait is live shrimp, which we fish on float rigs. But sometimes the pinfish and other bait-stealers are so bad, we have to go with artificial lures.”
Good artificial lures include Berkley Gulp shrimp fished on a jig or on a popping float rig or suspending twitch baits like MirrOlure MR17. However, the gold standard is the original MirrOlure TT 808 in black/gold/orange color.
OTHER OPTIONS: Hardy anglers should head for Hiwassee Lake for walleyes. Troll deep-running crankbaits or drift with minnows, take your pick. On the Cashie, Middle and Eastmost rivers near Windsor, crappie fishing has recovered. Anglers can catch them with red jigs.
Editor’s Note: To contact Mike Marsh or order his books (Fishing North Carolina, autographed, inscribed, $26.60 ppd; Inshore Angler: Carolina’s Small Boat Fishing Guide, $26.20; Offshore Angler: Coastal Carolina’s Mackerel Boat Fishing Guide, $22.20; or Quest For The Limit: Carolina Hunting Adventures, $15) send check or MO to 1502 Ebb Dr., Wilmington, NC 28409 or visitmikemarshoutdoors.com.