Fishing Hatteras and Ocracoke offers some wonderful options, from surf fishing the beaches to offshore trolling for blue marlin. Whether fishing from the beach, a skiff in the sound, or on an offshore charter, fishermen have a chance at a trophy fish and a memorable experience anywhere around the islands. Each fishing option guarantees beautiful scenery and the chance to explore the islands in a different way.
If you are fishing on your own, remember you need a North Carolina coastal recreational fishing license, available at authorized local tackle shops and online at www.ncwildlife.org. These are available at $10 for a 10-day pass or $30 annually. Piers and charter captains carry a blanket license for their operations which allows others to fish without obtaining a separate license, but if you are surf fishing or bringing your own boat, you will need to purchase your own. While you are getting your fishing license, pick up a copy of the fish size regulations and a ruler so you know what you can keep for the cooler. Be sure to check with a local tackle shop, marina, or pier if you have questions regarding the license or regulations.
On offshore charters, you may go trolling for yellowfin tuna, dolphin (mahi-mahi), wahoo, or king mackerel. It is a great adrenaline rush – the sound of a buzzing reel and the excitement of the strike. Depending on the season, a blue or white marlin or sailfish may join the mix to generate spectacular photos with acrobatic jumps high out of the water. Offshore charters also include captains who specialize in bottom fishing for snapper, grouper, triggerfish, or black sea bass near reefs or other structures. Large amberjack found cruising the upper water layers challenge strong anglers. I have always had the best results, and the most fun, by listening to the suggestions of the charter captain for fish to target and by listening closely to the mate for fishing instructions. These are the experts who fish these waters day in and day out and will provide you with the best advice. Talk with the marina or captain to match the trip to the experience you desire, whether it is a full-day offshore or a half-day charter closer to the islands.
The Pamlico Sound, one of the largest estuarine systems in the world, separates Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands from the mainland. The Sound offers an almost limitless variety of fishing opportunities. Inshore fishing, whether from a personal craft or a charter, allows you to take advantage of the fish that come into the sound to feed and spawn. Flounder can be found by drifting minnows or bait strips along the edges of holes, channels, and inlets. Bright jigs or small bucktails tipped with bait in the deeper holes can snag gray trout. Some fishermen target speckled trout and puppy drum in grass beds and around oyster bars close to deeper water, using grubs, lures, and bait. Small boat anglers are able to target big citation drum (over 40 inches) in the summer evenings by anchoring up near shoals in the sound. Anglers sight-cast to these big fish with large bucktails, or anchor and chunk large baits in likely areas. Spring, summer, or fall, you can create incredible fishing experiences from a small boat.
Surf fishing from late March through May can also result in citation red drum – when weather and fish cooperate – before they go into the sound for the summer. Big surf rods fished with large chunks of bait on fish-finder rigs are usually required for these large drum, which range from 30 to 100 pounds. Light tackle summertime favorites include early morning and late evening Spanish mackerel near points and inlets, and midday pompano found in the surf wash. Get the kids busy helping by digging sand fleas in the wet sand to use as bait. Flounder, puppy drum, sea mullets, spots, croakers, black drum, and an occasional sheepshead round out some of the fish that can be found in the surf midsummer. Late summer or early fall brings the annual runs of finger mullet, and fall fishing really heats up as the weather cools. Peak fishing weeks are usually in October, when fishermen look for the return of the citation drum and other fish fattening up on schools of bait. If accessing the National Park Service beaches, be sure to get an ORV (Off Road Vehicle) permit.
Look for structure, whether on the beach or on a boat. Piers provide great structure on the beach and make it easier for all fishermen to reach different surf zones. Inshore fishermen can work the flats at high tide, find moving water during the falling tide, and concentrate on deeper holes at low tide. Offshore fishermen look for reefs, ledges, and water temperature breaks that may hold bait and the game fish that follow. All fish, regardless of location and species, are dependent on the tides, water temperatures, bait, and wind. Ask the local shops to help with the details.
Once you come home for the day with your catch, there are many options for cleaning your fish. Many mates will clean what you have caught for a nice tip, and some charter services even have a vacuum bagging service dockside to ensure freshness for your trip home. If you use your own vessel, fear not – the service is still available for a fee at numerous marinas, and it may be included with your boat storage charges.
Although I enjoy all types of fishing, I surf-fish beaches the most. Whether I am enjoying the wonder of relaxing at water’s edge or wading out to fish a surf-washed bar, I can take my time to stop and appreciate the always changing transition of land and sea. Sometimes, it is casual fun with the kids just digging our toes in the sand, and other times I am alone looking for the next trophy. If you want to fish the sound or ocean, there are charter captains for every fisherman, from those who have never cast a line to the most experienced angler. Regardless of what type of fishing you decide to enjoy during your stay, you will want to stop by the local tackle shops and marinas for the best advice on bait, tackle, and locations. Have fun fishing!