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Seven Great North Carolina Fishing Destinations

These 7 fishing destinations make for great angling road trips this summer in North Carolina.

Seven Great North Carolina Fishing Destinations

North Carolina is home to some fantastic bass fishing. Local lakes and rivers draw countless tournament anglers each year.

The winter doldrums are now a distant memory and the unpredictable winds and showers of early spring are dissipating.

While a lot of anglers already have been fishing this spring, the warmer and more settled weather makes many of us start thinking about traveling farther from home to wet a hook.

If you find yourself feeling that irritation, here are some places across North Carolina where you can scratch the itch.

Lake Norman Largemouths

At 32,510 acres, Norman is the biggest lake in the Old North State and provides a popular bass fishery for anglers in the nearby Charlotte area. The lake holds populations of both native largemouth and invasive Alabama bass. The Alabama fish are found mostly in the open water of the lower lake, while the largemouths are in the backwaters, especially in the upper lake.

In May the largemouths are finished with the spawn but have not left the shallows. That’s because they are feeding heavily to recuperate. They are now concentrating on the bream that are spawning. Any place you find panfish bedding, the bass are close by.

The best and most exciting way to target the largemouths right now is tossing topwater baits around the edges of the bream beds. Pop-Rs, Rapala Minnows, or Zara Spooks are all good choices.

Locating bedding areas on such a large lake is the problem. But one way to find them is look for boat ramps. Bream hang around these and if you check out shallow coves near the launches, you’re likely to find bream beds. On the lower lake Blythe Landing Access Area fits this situation, as does Stumpy Creek Boat Ramp on the upper lake.

If You Go

Lake Norman State Park is located on the upper end of the reservoir, offering campgrounds and a boat launch convenient to the best fishing area. The park also has restrooms, swimming beach and miles of hiking and biking trails.

Little Tennessee River Smallmouths

With the weather warming up in May, the smallmouth bass become more active in the Little Tennessee River upstream of Fontana Lake. Through here the Little T is a lowland stream featuring mild riffles, long slower pools and shallow flats. This makes for ideal wade-fishing conditions in the shallower sections. There also are enough take-out points to make canoe or jon boat floats feasible.

Smaller inline spinners or plastic worms will catch fish, but for more excitement, a Pop-R or Tiny Torpedo tossed around boulders or log piles can’t be beat. This also is ideal territory for fly-rodding for bass. Popping bugs or Wooly Buggers are good offerings in a variety of colors. Don’t overlook any smaller potholes in the flats; these often will harbor one or two smallies.

Don’t expect a lot of lunkers here, although fish of 3 to 4 pounds do show up. But, you do encounter plenty of 12- to 15-inch bass throughout the section.


The river passes through patches of national forest land, providing access from the various Forest Service roads. However, the best options for getting to the water are from paved Needmore Road that runs south off of U.S. Highway 19/74 to the west of Bryson City.

If You Go

While road tripping to the Little Tennessee, stop by the Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians in nearby Bryson City. The facility has artifacts and interactive displays covering the history of fly fishing in the Smoky Mountain region (

Oregon Inlet Red Drum & Seatrout

Oregon Inlet on the Outer Banks to the south of Nags Head is synonymous with offshore fishing on the North Carolina Coast. But, for anglers more attuned to staying near the shore, it also offers good options for both red drum and seatrout in May.

To the south of Herring Shoals, Big Tim and Little Tim islands and to the north of the inlet, the area east of the main boat channel is a shallow hard sand flat. The section has only 2 to 3 feet of water on normal tides, but also has a couple of small channels running through it that drop down several feet deeper.

Tossing live shrimp under a cork, or free-lining them on the bottom is a good tactic for catching seatrout and puppy drum up to several pounds from those channels. Jigs tipped with either pieces of dead shrimp or plastic trailers also work well.

Small boats can anchor up-tide of the deeper runs (but watch the tides and don’t get stranded). This area also is popular with kayak anglers and it even is possible to wade out from the North Point to the channels to fish.

If You Go

Just inside the inlet on the north shore, Oregon Inlet Fishing Center is the jump-off point for angling in this region. Bait and tackle are available, along with a boat ramp, area to launch kayaks, and federally-run Oregon Inlet Campground. The camping area has a bathhouse, flush toilets and full RV hook ups.

Falls Lake Crappie

Falls Lake is a 12,410-acre impoundment on the Neuse River, just to the northwest of Durham. According to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission biologists, this 26-mile long lake has an above average catch-rate for crappie among the Piedmont impoundments. Electrofishing surveys have turned up two to three times as many fish as most of those other lakes.

The papermouths average 1 to 2 pounds on the lake, but bigger ones do show up. In fact, some 3-pound females have been caught here. That size structure likely is the result of Falls Lake getting less fishing pressure than other smaller impoundments near it.

As always with crappie, fishing jigs or live minnows are the go-to tactics. Trolling is a favored method but fishing a single rod and dropping those baits around any grass you can find in the water is good but targeting any wood structure is even better.

Local angler here prefer to fish for the crappie early in the day, pointing out that once the sun starts beating down on the shallows, the bite often dies. Favored locations for this angling are in the Lick and Little Lick creek arms on the southwest side of the lake, or Ledge Creek on the northeast shore.

If You Go

Finding a convenient bait shop is always a concern when looking for live minnows for crappie fishing. Near the mid-section of Falls Lake, a couple of options are on State Route 98 (Durham Highway). One is the Exxon Convenience Store near the junction with SR 50 and the other is Falls Lake Grocery near the Six Forks Road intersection.

Lake Townsend Largemouths

A small and often overlooked jewel of a bass destination Townsend is a 1,542-acre water supply reservoir owned by the city of Greensboro. The impoundment is just northeast of the town. While not large, it does offer good bass fishing. In fact, one leg of a three-small-lake BASS Elite tournament was held here.

In recent years the lake has given up a number of largemouths in the 6- to 9-pound range, with the lake record fish topping out at 12 pounds, 1/2-ounce. Expect, however, to catch more fish in the 2- to 4-pound bracket here.

The pattern that local anglers swear by here is to find the rocks and concentrate on them. By now the waters have warmed up in the lake and the fish strike aggressively around that structure. The easiest rocks to locate are the riprap areas along the shoreline. Look for those on the two Doggett Road crossing causeways on the north side of the lower lake, as well as around the Yanceyville and North Church streets’ causeways in the upper end.

Tossing jerkbaits, or lipless and shallow-diving crankbaits along the rocks works best. One local favorite crankbait is the Shakey Man from Dave’s Tournament Tackle.

If You Go

There is only one public boat launch on Lake Townsend. It is located near the dam at the Lake Townsend Yacht Club facility. It is a two-lane, paved boat ramp and a small fee is charged to launch. There also is a launch area on site for kayaks and smaller boats.

Lake Julian Bluegill

Lake Julian is located in suburban south Asheville and covers 300 acres. Like most, smaller lakes in May, the bluegill are headed to the shallows to spawn this month. The full moon will be on May 18 and the two days before and two after that event are the best of the year for catching big bull bluegill.

The lake’s main purpose is for cooling Progress Energy’s plant on it shores, but fishing is allowed. There is a ramp to launch private boats, but only electric motors are permitted. Fishing also is allowed from the shore, but access to the water is limited by shoreline vegetation.

Look for the pockmarked, moon-scape of the bream beds in the backs of coves. Once located, virtually any bait cast amid them will work. Waxworms, red wigglers and crickets are good natural baits, while 1/32-ounce inline spinners or Beetle Spins also produce. Fly-rodders using popping bugs or small nymph patterns usually reserved for trout can be very successful on these fish as well.

The two long creek arms on the south side of the lake are good places to start your search for the bluegill beds.

If You Go

Lake Julian Park on the north side of the lake offers a boat ramp, picnic area, playgrounds and restrooms. There also is a fishing pier. Jon boats can be rented onsite, but you have to provide your own electric motor. A fee is charged for launching private boats.

Hiwassee River Trout

Mention the Hiwassee River for trout fishing and most folks think of the tailwater in Tennessee. Much lesser known, the tailwater downstream of Lake Chatuge that runs past Hayesville in Clay County harbors wild stream-bred rainbow trout. That anonymity probably is because the NCWRC has never stocked the river and the stream doesn’t even show up on their interactive map of trout water.

The rainbows in the Hiwassee probably originally came down from its feeder streams and later were aided by private landowners adding fish. Either way the trout began spawning in the flow. The fish now show up from the weir dam below Lake Chatuge to Mission Lake at the Sweetwater community. Trout up to 20 inches have been taken here and fish up to 14 inches are common.

Any type of bait is allowed since it is not official trout water. Inline spinners and small spoons are favorites of spin anglers here.

Public access to the water is scarce since the shores are mostly in private hands. Float fishing is the best way to cover the river, using canoes or kayaks. There is one stretch of wadable water along Lance Creek Road, about half way down the trout water. The road is on the south shore, directly across from the mouth of Fires Creek.

If You Go

The best place to put in for a float trip down the Hiwassee is at the weir dam below Lake Chatuge. The drive leading to the weir is on the northeast side of Chatuge Dam Road. The take-out point is at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Sweetwater Community Park at the southeast end of the Fires Creek Road bridge over the river.

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