Fishing the Outer Banks

The Outer Banks of North Carolina offer a plethora of angling opportunities.

The Outer Banks of North Carolina are one of the most popular fishing destinations on the eastern seaboard, and with good reason. This unique chain of barrier islands is situated adjacent to both the Labrador Current and the offshore waters of the famed Gulf Stream, which provides anglers with convenient access to an extremely wide variety of popular gamefish. These picturesque islands also happen to be closer to that rich southerly current than any other point of land on the eastern coast of North America, which depending upon prevailing conditions can be as close as 12 miles from shore.

Summer is definitely high season on the Outer Banks, but good fishing is available on a year round basis as long as the weather permits. Offshore charter boats fishing the Gulf Stream generally accommodate 4 to 6 anglers and target big game glamor species like marlin, tuna, wahoo and dolphinfish. 

For a great family oriented fishing excursion, consider fishing on a multi-passenger head boat. Less costly and often just as productive, albeit involving different species, either half or full day party boats generally fish around inshore wrecks and reefs for popular gamefish like croaker, flounder, spotted trout and grouper.

The Outer Banks are also famous for having outstanding surf fishing opportunities. It is not uncommon for onshore anglers to hook and land huge striped bass while wading and casting to fish swimming within 100 yards or less from the beach.

Anglers who are first time visitors to the Banks need not be concerned about their lack of familiarity with the local waters; this is one place where a high percentage of the populace loves to fish, and are usually more than happy to offer assistance if asked.

Initially, however, there is nothing like a certified fishing guide or skipper to help put you on the fish. If you plan on fishing in the area for an extended period of time, it is generally well worth the investment in the long run, since it can offer invaluable insight into where the best regional fishing spots are located. And, if your skipper has no objection, you can even mark and save the most productive waypoints on a handheld GPS for future reference.

From north to south, the small communities that intermittently dot the islands are similar, yet each manages to retain its own unique personality.

Corolla, at the northern end, was once an encampment for Native American tribes who relied primarily upon the sea for sustenance prior to the arrival of the first European settlers, who continued to work their way south to Ocracoke Island at the southern end of the chain. If you also plan on fishing in Corolla’s northern Currituck Sound, however, you will also need a freshwater fishing license in addition to your saltwater permit.

Duck, just to the south, is renowned as a popular angling destination. In addition to its great surf fishing, it also offers access to several party boats and sportfishing charters as well as nearby fishing piers.

Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head offer a bevy of excellent inshore and offshore fishing opportunities for everything from striped bass and flounder to billfish and giant bluefin tuna. Onshore anglers can enjoy productive fishing in the surf, on the Causeway or from the Nags Head Fishing Pier.

Roanoke Island has a rich history of commercial fishing, clamming, crabbing and shrimping that dates back hundreds of years. While it may not possess the same natural attributes for outstanding onshore fishing as its northerly neighbors, it still offers easy access to a variety of both inshore and offshore fishing charters.

Cape Hatteras is a Mecca for serious saltwater anglers. It has even been referred to as the sportfishing capital of North Carolina. It is one of the most convenient departure points for heading offshore to the Gulf Stream in search of blue and white marlin, sailfish and giant bluefin tuna as well as yellowfin tuna and dolphinfish. During spring and fall, the local surf comes alive with a variety of inshore species, which include red drum, striped bass and bluefish.

Ocracoke Island is situated at the southern tip of the Outer Banks, and enjoys the least amount of commercial development. Its miles of pristine shoreline allow motor vehicle access to some of the best surf fishing in the Banks, but you must first purchase a driving permit at the Ocracoke Visitors Center. Rental boats, docking facilities and a boat ramp are also available.

When fishing the Outer Banks, remember that a North Carolina saltwater fishing permit is required for all anglers 16 years of age or older. The only exceptions are when you are fishing from an appropriately licensed sportfishing charter or pier. These can be purchased on a 10-day, annual or lifetime basis from most local tackle shops or by visiting