Outer Banks Fishing

Outer Banks Fishing—Things You Need to Know

Outer Banks fishing is heralded the world over. Anglers come for Outer Banks surf fishing, pier fishing, inshore and offshore charter fishing, freshwater fishing and for the more laid back pier fishing. Many like to bring their own boat for some quiet ocean or sound fishing time.

A wide variety of fish are caught in the ocean and the sounds year round. And there’s more than one way to catch a fish. Outer Banks fishing includes head boats, offshore charters, surf fishing, fly fishing, pier fishing, inshore wading or private guides and charters. Tackle shops are found in great abundance on these islands, and the people who work in them are very cooperative and helpful.

Charter Fishing Directory

If you’ve never gone fishing before, we hope this primer will help you decide what to do first. Remember, there’s a reason they call it fishing and not catching. You won’t catch something every time you go out, but if you’re persistent, you’ll have something to show for your efforts.

Fishing Licenses

On January 1, 2007, the N.C. Coastal Recreational Fishing License went into effect. This means that all saltwater anglers in North Carolina are now required to buy a fishing license. The license can be purchased on a 10-day, annual or lifetime basis or combined with other licenses issued by the Wildlife Resources Commission. Children younger than 16 do not need a license. For-hire vessels and ocean fishing piers have the option to purchase a blanket license that covers all their fishing patrons, so you may not need the license to fish on a certain pier or charter boat; be sure to ask. Fishing licenses can be purchased online at www.ncwildlife.org or by calling (888) 248-6834 or at many of the local tackle shops.

Freshwater fishing in the northern Currituck Sound requires a Freshwater Fishing License. Licenses are available at tackle shops, Wal-Mart, Kmart and at the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education at Currituck Heritage Park in Corolla, or they can be purchased at www.ncwildlife.org.

Recreational Possession & Size Limits

For some fish, the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries limits the size and amount you can harvest. The laws are a little confusing to keep track of, but ignorance is not a valid reason for breaking them. If you are stopped with an illegal size or amount of fish you will be fined, no questions asked. So inform yourself before you go out fishing. Know, too, that many of the fish in local waters are not regulated and you can keep as many as you’d like of any size. Local tackle shops have all the information you need about bag and size limits, or you can see the limits online at www.ncfisheries.net. Marine Fisheries agents on the water can stop you and ask to search your coolers or live well. They can also ask to check your cooler at the boat ramp. And remember, it’s just good sportsmanship to never take more fish than you can use. Release any fish you won’t be able to eat.

Tackle & Bait

OK, so you know you need a rod and reel, line, hooks and weights, but what kind? There are different rods and reels for different kinds of fishing, the most common being surf-casting rods, trolling rods, light-tackle spinning rods and fly rods along with bait-casting (open-face) reels, spinning reels and fly reels. There are also several types of hooks and rigs, but the most commonly used and most versatile is the bottom rig. The bottom rig is weighted so that it sits on the bottom while the bait dangles above it. If you’re not sure what to use, go for the bottom rig. Get a variety of weight sizes because the amount you’ll need will vary depending on the amount of current flowing where you’re fishing. If your weight won’t hold on the bottom, switch to a heavier one.

Fishing line comes in pound test increments, which essentially means the amount of tension the line can bear before it breaks. If you know absolutely nothing about fishing, the best thing to do is to consult a tackle shop for advice. Tell them where you plan to fish and they’ll help you decide what type of rod, reel, line, hooks, etc. you’ll need. Many tackle shops and piers rent tackle, so if you don’t want to invest in fishing gear you’ll use only once a year, this is a good way to go.

Should you use live bait, fresh or frozen bait or an artificial lure? It depends. Live bait works the best, but it’s the most expensive and it’s the most difficult to maintain when you’re out fishing. Fresh bait, like shrimp or cut mullet is next best, then frozen bait, like shrimp or squid. Artificial lures require a little more technique, but they’re always at the ready and they don’t rot in the sun. Depending on where you’re fishing when, the type of bait or lure you use will vary. Again, tackle shops are the best sources of information for finding the bait or lure that will yield the best results for the type of fishing you’re planning to do.


The Outer Banks has more than 100 miles on which you can cast a line – for free. All you need is a surf rod and some bait. If you’re using frozen bait, be sure to bring a cooler to store it in. Not only will it rot in the sun, but also the birds may get it before the fish do. You may also want to use a rod holder; that way you’ll never have to lay your rod and reel down in the sand. Surf anglers with four-wheel-drive vehicles can drive right out onto on the beach in certain areas of Cape Hatteras National Seashore. This makes it really easy to get all your gear to the beach and find the best spot. You can pick up an Off-Road Driving Map at any of the National Park Service visitor centers.

Tide, Winds and Time

The bite is definitely affected by tide, wind direction and time of day. Again, ask at your chosen tackle shop about the best tides, time and wind/weather conditions for your chosen type of fishing. If it seems like too much to keep track of, don’t worry about it and just go out and have fun! More often than not, if you stay out long enough, the conditions will line up at some point and you’ll catch something.


A pier can get you out into the deep-water fishing grounds for an inexpensive price and without the hassle of a boat. There are several piers along the Outer Banks, and they all have bait and tackle shops. Some of the shops rent fishing gear so you don’t have to go out and buy it. All of the pier-house staffs offer expert advice on what’s biting and how to catch it.

Avalon Fishing Pier, Kill Devil Hills, (252) 441-7494
Nags Head Fishing Pier, Nags Head, (252) 441-5141
Outer Banks Fishing Pier, South Nags Head, (252) 441-5740
Hatteras Island Fishing Pier, Rodanthe, (252) 987-2323
Avon Fishing Pier, Avon, (252) 995-5480
Cape Hatteras Fishing Pier, Frisca, (252) 986-2533


Many species of fish are attracted to structure, which is why you often see anglers hanging around bridge pilings. If you have access to a boat, it’s easy to motor up to any bridge pilings to fish. But even without a boat, you can still access some Outer Banks bridges.

Herbert Bonner Bridge—On the southern end of the Herbert Bonner Bridge over Oregon Inlet is a catwalk—a dedicated fishing walkway that is separate from the roadway and therefore safe for anglers. Park in the lot on the southern end of the bridge.
Washington Baum Bridge—This bridge spans the channel between Roanoke Island and Nags Head. Underneath the west end is a nice pier and dock. The access area and parking lot are just across the street from Pirate’s Cove Marina.
Nags Head Causeway Bridge—Also known as “The Little Bridge,” this bridge has side walkways that make it easy for anglers to fish in the Roanoke Sound. It’s a good fishing spot and is often crowded.

Commonly Caught Fish


Bluefish, drum, spot, flounder, croaker, pompano, striped bass, sea mullet, Spanish mackerel


Striped bass, speckled trout, drum, flounder, croaker, spot


Striped bass, croaker, sheepshead, spot, black drum, trout


Croaker, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, spot, sheepshead, cobia, flounder, croaker


Blue marlin, white marlin, sailfish, yellow-fin tuna, dolphin (mahi-mahi), wahoo, cobia