There's nothing like loading up the fishing gear for your next angling adventure. Here are some great North Carolina destinations for fishing all year 'round. (February 2010)
CAPTION A: Justin Marsh holds up one of the favorite saltwater fish in North Carolina -- a nice-sized flounder. This one was taken at the Cape Fear River.
–ª Photo by Mike Marsh.
Every angler needs some sort of "fishing trip wish list." With that in mind, here are 36 of our favorite fishing trips.
Bluefin Tuna: Southport
While the bluefin tuna run along the North Carolina coast has been known worldwide for two decades, the bite in recent years has been sporadic. One reason is the number of boats fishing for the giant fish in certain areas. Better known hotspots like Cape Hatteras, Oregon Inlet and Morehead City were once receiving all the glory for producing giants that can top 500 pounds.
However, the best fishing during the past four years has taken place off Cape Fear. A local fleet has been taking on the fish, whereas most local captains once headed to northern hotspots.
The best fishing occurs in January. Bluefin are attracted by baitfish, which can be false albacore, gray trout, menhaden or bluefish. Therefore, finding the baitfish is the key. As big as bluefin grow, anglers usually find them by watching for seabirds and porpoises feeding on the same baitfish as tuna.
There are two choices in bluefin gear. Bent-butt rods are used for catching them with fight belts. This is referred to as "stand-up" gear. Only experienced anglers should use stand-up gear because there is a possibility that a big fish will pull the fisherman overboard. It's easier to fight a bluefin from a fight chair, with the angler strapped to the rod and a mate to swivel the seat to face the fish.
For more information, contact Capt. Brant McMullan, Ocean Isle Fishing Center, (910) 575-3474.
Fontana Lake: Smallmouth Bass
Fontana Lake has largemouth and smallmouth bass. But where largemouths takeover the lake in the warmer months, smallmouths are most aggressive during the icier months.
Smallies move from the deep water to the shallower areas in January, where they are vulnerable to spinnerbaits, crankbaits or soft-plastic lures.
The best bet in winter is to begin fishing at a windy point that has a sloping contour. Smallmouth bass are attracted to baitfish on these points.
The next choice is a rock facing the sun. The rocks radiate heat, which attracts smallmouth bass.
Docks are secondary structures that hold plenty of smallmouths. Many anglers casting or trolling live minnows near docks have excellent success.
Fontana Lake's smallmouths can grow rather large. A 2-pounder is not at all rare, and a 5-pound fish is always a possibility.
Contact Ronnie Parris, Smokey Mountain Outdoors Unlimited, (828) 488-9711.
Harris Lake: Largemouth Bass
Harris Lake has produced many limits of outsized largemouth bass. It is a very fertile lake that has a lot of hydrilla and other vegetation. March bass are just moving to the edges of the plant beds. More likely places to catch bass early in the month are the edges of submerged creek channels.
The best bet for fishing a channel is following the contour with the aid of a depthfinder using a soft-plastic lizard to locate fish. The fish may not show on the depthfinder screen, since they will occur as single fish hugging the bottom among submerged stumps and rocks.
A spinnerbait cast to a rock ledge in 10 feet of water or less is likely to get a response. Crankbaits cast along the hydrilla beds are also good bets.
For more information, contact Phil Cable Fishing Guide Service, (919) 762-9697.
New River Inlet: Atlantic Bonito
Atlantic bonito are abundant in April, providing the best opportunity for anglers to catch a great fighter with light tackle. They often mix with schools of Spanish mackerel, but there's no question when a bonito strikes. The fight is a bulldog fight, compared with one or two runs made by a Spanish mackerel. It ends with a spiraling battle straight down beneath the boat as the bonito doggedly expends its strength in its effort to escape.
The New River inlet is shallow, compared with other inlets. But launching at Sneads Ferry or Jacksonville and making the trip in a center console boat is worth the trouble.
The fish are easy to find. Watch for birds, baitfish and bonito and make a cast. Use a spoon, jig, fly or topwater lure and hold on tight at the strike.
For more information, contact Capt. Jamie Rushing, Seagate Charters, (910) 232-9693.
Bluefish: Surf and Piers
Bluefish were officially declared recovered from overfishing by NOAA in 2008. The big choppers are back, and the best time to catch them close to shore is May.
Most ocean piers host bluefish runs. The fish strike live baits fished on trolley rigs and cut baits fished on bottom rigs.
Surf-fishermen get in on the action, with Cape Lookout and Cape Hatteras national seashores the best places to fish.
Contact: Kure Beach Fishing Pier, (910) 458-5524.
Flounder: Carolina Beach
Every saltwater inshore fisherman likes to catch flounder. But catching a big flounder, a doormat weighing more than 5 pounds, is the flounder of a lifetime. Nevertheless, there is one place where a 5-pounder scarcely raises an eyebrow.
The fertile waters of the Cape Fear River intermesh with the waters of the Atlantic Ocean near Carolina Beach -- "Flounder Central" to those who know their flatfish.
The Cape Fear River, Snow's Cut and other ICW waters, Carolina Beach Inlet and the Carolina Beach boat basin all hold monster fish.
Live minnows are the best bet for flounder. The sandy bottom areas of the inlets and ICW allow drifting as a tactic. Drifting the open bottoms yields smallish fish. But fishing the hard structure areas -- the boat docks, dredged channels and rock ledges -- where trophy flounder lurk requires stationary tactics. For fishing in the junkyards, anglers anchor up an
d drop large menhaden and mullet to the bottom on Carolina rigs.
Contact: Capt. Dennis Barbour, Carolina Beach Fishing Charters, (910) 458-3409.
Tarpon: Pamlico Sound
Sometimes tarpon show up in large numbers and sometimes in not-so-large numbers. But the best tarpon guides feel that fishing for two days will give most anglers at least a shot at one of the big silver fish that can top 125 pounds in Pamlico Sound.
The fish arrive as early as June, after migrating north and swimming into the sound through the various inlets. Guides watch the surface for rolling or jumping fish. Rolling fish are usually lazy fish, not active feeders like the jumpers. Tarpon have a reputation for feeding perhaps 15 minutes a day.
The boat is positioned in front of a school of fish by guessing which way they are traveling. Chunks of croaker, mullet or other baitfish are cast with large circle hooks on spinning rigs in all directions to cover lots of bottom.
But catching tarpon is like watching paint dry -- until the moment of the strike. Then pandemonium rules the cockpit as the angler keeps the line tight and bows to the fish to avoid a break-off every time the fish jumps.
Contact: Capt. Gary Dubiel, Speck Fever Guide Service, (252) 249-1520.
White Perch: Lake Waccamaw
While white perch have been distributed widely, and illegally, across the state's waters, they occur naturally in Lake Waccamaw.
White perch are extremely abundant in the lake, but locating them is the key to catching them. They stick to the deeper areas of the lake in summer. Trolling until a water depth of 8 feet is found is the best tactic. But while an angler is trolling an in-line spinner, crankbait or spoon, he should watch for surface-feeding fish.
Surfacing white perch leave bubble trails. The smaller fish typically show on top, with the larger fish schooling beneath them.
Any small fly, spoon or crankbait will attract white perch. But the schools move quickly and the bite can end as fast as it begins. Using markers to show the locations of strikes is also a good tactic. Looking back across a trail of markers can show a trolling or casting alley so the angler doesn't lose track of the fish.
King Mackerel: Wrightsville Beach
While kings occur all across the Atlantic and Gulf states, the epicenter has remained in the offshore waters outside Masonboro Inlet. Anglers catch king mackerel from the local piers, as well as the nearshore and offshore natural ledges, live bottoms and artificial reefs. Anglers fishing in aluminum johnboats have boated kings exceeding the citation weight of 30 pounds, fishing just outside Masonboro Inlet.
Live baits are the ticket to the biggest kings. But frozen cigar minnows and sardines will also work.
The electronic depthfinder and GPS unit are the best modern gear for king fishing. Locating the structure and the baitfish holding on the structure is the key to finding kings in the offshore waters. However, yeomen can still get in on the action by watching for baitfish on the surface and fishing the tide lines. In a pinch, the price of a pier ticket and a trolley rig setup is a cheap way to get in on the sport of "kings."
Contact: Johnnie Mercer's Pier, (910) 256-2743; Capt. Lee Parsons, Gottafly Guide Service, (910) 540-2464.
Striped Bass: New Bern
When it comes to striped bass, the channels and bridges of the Neuse and Trent rivers near New Bern are one of the best places to catch them. The best combination of weather, baitfish and striper concentrations occur in the fall.
Anglers should cast swimbaits and crankbaits near the pilings early and late in the day for the best success. But jigging and trolling tactics work as well.
Fish may surface at any time. A topwater lure cast to a surfacing school is sure to entice a strike. Striped bass are also suckers for live eels fished on light lines or float rigs.
Contact: Capt. Mark Hoff, Sweet Water Guide Service, (252) 249-2811.
False Albacore: Harkers Island
The false albacore run at Harkers Island is legendary. False albacore, also called "Fat Alberts" are one of the speediest and strongest game fish of nearshore waters.
They arrive in large swarms, feeding on glass minnows. They are so ravenous that a school of false albacore eats and eats until the school of baitfish disappears.
Fly-fishing is the way to go for false albacore. But be forewarned, Harkers Island is the place where 8-weights go to die.
Contact: Capt. Lee Parsons, Gottafly Guide Service, (910) 540-2464.
Crappie: Hyco Lake
This out-of-the-way northern Piedmont lake has a surprising number of crappie, and they are large crappie.
The crappie orient to shoreline structure, including downed trees, buttonbushes in backs of coves and bridge pilings. Live minnows are the preferred bait. But jigs work too.
The after bay, which regulates the downstream river flow, has an excellent crappie population. Try fishing the bridge pilings a short way from the road ends that serve as ramps where the former roadbed enters the after bay.