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36 Great North Carolina Fishing Trips

36 Great North Carolina Fishing Trips

Tar Heel anglers are a lucky lot. No matter where they live or what time of year it may be, hot-action fishing destinations are within a day's drive.


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By Mike Marsh

Tar Heel anglers are a lucky lot. No matter where they live or what time of year it may be, hot-action fishing destinations are within a day's drive.

Morehead City
Bluefin Tuna
Giant bluefin tuna have been keeping Morehead City offshore captains busy in cold weather. A large craft and a cockpit that is prepared to handle fish that can exceed 1,000 pounds is needed to fish the tuna areas, such as the Atlas Tanker.

Blue-and-white trolling skirts with "horse" ballyhoo are used for bluefin tuna. Bluefin tuna are found by trolling along temperature breaks and watching for surface-feeding fish or by locating them with sonar.

Striped Bass
Kerr Lake
Kerr Lake is a great spot for winter striped bass fishing. Several ramps are situated along the lake margin, giving anglers a choice of fishing areas to stay out of the wind.

Striped bass come to the top at dawn and dusk and on overcast days they may stay up all day. Topwater chugging lures that imitate shad cast into schools of feeding stripers entice savage strikes. Frozen, fresh or live shad trolled or drifted through schools of shad or at the depth stripers are seen on the depthfinder take deep-holding fish. Bucktail jigs and jigging spoons also work when the fish are deep.

Red Drum
Topsail Beach
For the past two seasons, Topsail Beach has had red drum in the surf during cold weather. Anglers can find them by heading to deep holes or to one of the inlets.

Porpoises eat red drum, tossing them into the air to break them apart. Seeing porpoises right on the beach is an indication that red drum are in the area. The fish are feeding on small squid. Therefore, anglers use jigs and natural baits like squid or shrimp to catch them from the surf.

Photo by Jeff Samsel

Cape Fear River
The Cape Fear River near Fayetteville holds some of the biggest catfish in the state. Several line-class records and two state records have come from that stretch of the Cape Fear and commercial anglers have caught bigger catfish on trotlines and set lines.

The colder the weather, the better opportunities there are for catching the really big fish. Smaller catfish and other potential competition cool off, while the big fish stay active.

Best baits for blue catfish are cut baits like shad, herring or mullet. Best baits for flatheads are live offerings, with the best bait a bullhead catfish. Anglers using homemade blood baits have caught the largest catfish.

Largemouth Bass
Fallen timber and rock formations offer bass cover in 2,800-acre Lake Santeetlah. Electrofishing surveys in 2,800-acre Santeetlah during 1997-99 caught largemouth bass at surprising rates of 30 to 80 fish per hour and they were up to 16 inches in size, with some even longer.

Anglers use light lines and spinnerbaits, crankbaits and jigs to catch largemouth bass from points heated by the sun on cold days in February.

Weakfish have made a strong comeback over the past couple of seasons. They show up at Southport all winter.

The WOFES dredge disposal has held the biggest weakfish concentrations. Artificial reefs and natural ledges also hold lots of fish. Spoons, jigs, cut fish or shrimp catch weakfish from waters as deep as 40 feet.

Largemouth Bass
Sutton Lake
Sutton Lake stays warm all winter, since it serves a steam-electric plant. Special regulations were implemented to augment the lake's trophy potential, including a prohibition against keeping fish through the colder months, when anglers were catching many largemouth bass on live baits and taking them home.

There is also an 18-inch size limit to increase the trophy potential of the lake's Florida-strain largemouths.

Soft plastics, medium-depth crankbaits and tube jigs are good choices for Sutton Lake bass.

Atlantic Bonito
Wrightsville Beach
Saltwater anglers anticipate the run of Atlantic bonito off Wrightsville Beach. Strong and fast, bonito are premier light-tackle game fish.

Anglers watch for flocks of birds diving into baitfish schools to find bonito, then get ahead of the school.

Flies that imitate glass minnows are used by fly-anglers. Casting anglers use bucktail jigs, spoons and poppers. Trolling crankbaits, spoons and jigs when the fish are deep or the water is rough will catch lots of fish.

Falls Lake
At Falls Lake, crappie are in the pre-spawn feeding mode. During the beginning of the month, they stage at creek mouths and points. As the water warms, they move into stands of dead, flooded trees.

Anglers trolling multiple rods catch big crappie along the creek channels. Purple and white, chartreuse and yellow tube jigs and twistertail jigs have been hot colors. The bigge

st fish bite the tiniest jigs, down to 1/32 ounce.

Cape Fear River
In April, anglers head to Lock and Dam No. 1 on the Cape Fear River at Elizabethtown. The dam blocks the run of American shad, which concentrate in huge numbers.

Shad can weight 8 pounds and offer great sport on light tackle. Anglers cast 1/8-ounce darts and twistertail jigs. Slower retrieves result in the most hookups.

Largemouth Bass
Harris Lake
Harris Lake has produced big largemouth bass for several years. Submerged and emergent vegetation create good areas in the backs of coves for big spawning fish.

Standing brush and creek channels running through in the shallower areas also hold lots of big largemouths. In the weeds, spinnerbaits and soft plastics work well, while along the creek beds and rock faces, crankbaits produce lots of fish.

Pisgah National Forest
In April, Wild Trout Waters in Pisgah are open to fishing with artificial lures and flies. There are so many streams that many of those in the upper elevations receive little pressure.

When the water warms, trout become more aggressive. The rocky pools are clear as crystal, so anglers use ultralight tackle with line of 4-pound-test to cast tiny spinners.

Oregon Inlet
Spanish Mackerel
In May, Spanish mackerel show up at Oregon Inlet. The fish are caught on the sandbars outside the inlet, in the ocean near the beaches and at the inlet mouth.

Birds working baitfish and jumping Spanish mackerel are dead giveaways about where to fish. Most anglers troll spoons. However, the fish can be caught by casting lures and flies.

Largemouth Bass
Salem Lake
A recent sampling of Salem Lake turned up some of the nicest largemouth bass in the state. Of the city lakes, it ranks highest in terms of numbers of fish and size of fish.

"Salem was by far our best bass lake," said NCWRC biologist Kin Hodges. "We caught 70 fish per hour in our electroshock survey, with not many below 14 inches. There were a lot of fish up to 23 inches. I'd put it up against Falls, Jordan and Harris."

Salem is about 400 acres and is undisturbed and gorgeous, although it is in the midst of Winston-Salem. The lake has produced over 200 largemouths over 5 pounds in a season.

Striped Bass
Roanoke River
The Roanoke River striped bass run will be excellent in May. While the season for keeping striped bass ends in April, anglers who want to catch dozens of fish per day for release will find the boat ramp at the U.S. Highway 258 bridge to be less crowded than during April. Jigs, live baits, flies and soft-plastic paddle-tail grubs work well for catching Roanoke River striped bass.

King Mackerel
Oak Island
At Oak Island, the three ocean piers host great fishing opportunities for catching king mackerel. Anglers use live baits suspended to the water surface on a trolley rig.

One rod acts as an anchor, casting a sinker that will hold bottom. The fishing rod is used to slide a bait to the water by means of a release clip that frees the line when a king mackerel strikes. A pair of treble hooks is inserted into the live bait.

Anglers use light tackle to catch spots, croakers, pinfish and other fish to use as king mackerel bait. The favored bait is a live bluefish.

White Perch
Lake Waccamaw
Lake Waccamaw is the place to be for fast action with white perch. In June, the fish come to the surface.

Anglers use silver spoons to catch white perch. They cruise the lake watching activity. If the fish don't show, find a concentration of baitfish and begin jigging or trolling with a spoon or dropping live minnows.

Smallmouth Bass
Little Tennessee River
The Little Tennessee River is a top spot for smallmouth bass fishing. Lots of fish are caught by anglers casting tube jigs and crankbaits while wading along the shoreline or floating in kayaks and inflatable boats between Fontana Lake and Franklin.

Twenty-fish days are common. Most are 10 to 12 inches, with one fish in 20 going 14 to 18 inches.

Linville River
When hatchery-supported trout waters open, anglers head to the Linville River above Lake James.

Lots of stocked rainbows are caught by anglers wading the river edges, while some anglers use small boats. Ultralight rods and fly rods have their following, with small spinners taking most fish. Public game lands allow good access.

Black Drum
The largest black drum are caught near Southport. The state-record fish weighed over 100 pounds and was caught from beneath an industrial dock at the Cape Fear River mouth.

Anglers use heavy bottom tackle to keep big drum away from pilings. Mole crabs, blue crabs, clams and shrimp make good baits.

Best fishing is near high and low tides and near the full moon.

Lumber River
Lumber River State Park has many launching points. Anglers ply the Lumber River in canoes, kayaks and johnboats to sample the excellent fishing for redbreast sunfish, bluegills and other panfish.

Most anglers take along a cane pole for dangling worms and crickets among the treetops. They also take along a spinning or spincast rod to toss beetle grub spinners into likely cover like cypress knees.

A spring limb-hook or slipknot tied around a limb works better than an anchor when fishing the Lumber.

Pamlico Sound
The tarpon are rolling at Pamlico Sound. Anglers head to Oriental to try their luck. When tarpon are spotted on top, anglers motor quietly ahead of the school. They then fan-cast a half-dozen baited rigs on the bottom, hoping a tarpon will pick one up on its way past.

Live and dead spots, croakers and menhaden are used as tarpon bait. Cut chunks are tossed into the water to give tarpon incentive to follow the scent trail to the boat.

Red Drum
Pamlico Sound
The biggest red drum begin to show up at Swan Island as they head into Pamlico Sound to spawn. These fish exceed 40 inches in length.

The fish are caught using large circle hooks and dead or live spots and croakers fished on the bottom. Baitcasting tackle and lines of 20- to 40-pound-test are used to catch the big red drum. The best bite is at dusk.

Striped Bass
Lake Norman
Anglers can beat the heat by night-fishing for stripers. Trolling is a common way to catch Norman stripers, with the tops of submerged hills good bets. Trolling lures capable of running 15 feet and deeper are best.

Electronic depthfinders are vital to trolling for stripers. The best trolling runs have lure-eating structure.

White Bass
Badin Lake
At Badin, white bass show up on top during fall, making for fast light-tackle action. Spoons, jigs and flies all work well for sight-casting to fish.

Lake Jordan
While overshadowed by other species, the catfish at Lake Jordan are plentiful and big. Anglers can fish from the bank while camping at night or fish from a boat in deep water. A depthfinder is useful to locate big catfish in submerged stumps.

King Mackerel
Morehead City
King mackerel show up right on the beaches at Morehead City and are the biggest fish of the year. Live baits and trolling lures will catch kings along the eastern side of Cape Lookout Shoals and at reefs and ledges near shore.

French Broad River
The French Broad River has a heart-stopping number of muskies, yet few anglers give them a try. Large fish of over 20 pounds are caught by anglers tossing large stick-minnow lures, spoons and spinnerbaits in the thickest cover they can find.

Morehead City
October is wahoo month at Morehead City. The Big Rock comes alive with some of the fastest action of the year. Trolled ballyhoos work the best for wahoos and yellowfin tuna, dolphin and other big-game species.

Largemouth Bass
Upper Tuckasegee Lakes
The upper Tuckasegee River lakes have good bass fishing. The lakes vary in size from 175 to 500 acres and include Wolf Creek, Bear Creek and Cedar Cliff. These lakes have deep, clear water and good boating access areas. They have populations of smallmouth and largemouth bass. Bear Lake is probably the best, with many fish over 12 inches.

Lake Phelps
Largemouth Bass
The best bite with Lake Phelps largemouth bass occurs in November. The bass are located along shoreline trees and grassbeds. Topwater action is hot, with poppers and walking lures great choices.

Striped Bass
Mann's Harbor
At Mann's Harbor, lots of striped bass are at the bridge pilings and nearby waters. Anglers cast bucktail jigs and crankbaits to the pilings or watch for birds and cast poppers to stripers chasing baitfish.

Beaufort Inlet
The Fort Macon rock jetties attract many species of fish. But bluefish are ravenous in the late fall. Anglers use cut baits, spoons, jigs and topwater baits to catch them.

Trolling or anchoring and casting to the rocks are good tactics.

Striped Bass
Nag's Head
At Nag's Head anglers use four-wheel-drives to access the beach. Driving along, they watch for birds feeding on baitfish that indicate stripers.

The fish are big, consistently above 20 pounds. Cut baits, spoons and surface lures work the beach.

Black Sea Bass
Wrightsville Beach
Black sea bass are abundant offshore of Wrightsville Beach. Artificial reefs and natural ledges hold large numbers of them from three to 20 miles offshore in December. Shrimp fished on bottom rigs catches them.

Spotted Seatrout
Morehead City
Morehead City anglers casting lures around oyster beds in the Newport River will catch some of the biggest fish of the year.

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