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table of contents
Fishing Licenses
Fishing Reports
Fishing Piers (49 bytes)Wilmington (49 bytes)Wrightsville Beach (49 bytes)Kure Beach (49 bytes)Southport-Oak  Island (49 bytes)South Brunswick Islands (49 bytes)Topsail Island
Surf Fishing
Boat Ramps
Head Boats and Charters
Southern Coast Saltwater Fishing Tournaments
Tide Tables
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North Carolina’s long strand of barrier islands lie between the ocean and shallow waters, which form estuaries, brackish swamps and mud flats that are nurseries for shrimp, crabs, finfish and shellfish. As one of the top 10 seafood-producing states, North Carolina has more than 4,000 miles of shoreline and 2.5 million acres of marine and estuarine waters. Approximately 5,000 full-time commercial fishermen and 1.7 million recreational anglers enjoy the state’s marine resources.

The southern coast of North Carolina is an angler's paradise. As long as the weather cooperates, an angler can enjoy fishing 12 months of the year. With ocean temperatures ranging from the 70s in the Gulf Stream to the 50s near shore in the winter months, king mackerel, sea bass and tuna can be caught in the ocean, while striped bass can be caught in the rivers. During the spring, summer and fall months, sheepshead, spot, tarpon, red drum, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, whiting, trout, flounder, amberjack, striped bass, croaker, white marlin, blue marlin, sailfish, shark, wahoo and dolphin are available.

The North Carolina Recreational Coastal Waters Guide for Sports Fishermen, listing length minimums and creel limits for various species, is online at Many other sources for information on fishing can be linked from this site; or you can call (252) 726-7021 or (800) 682-2632 (NC only). At is information identifying and describing all North Carolina fish by common name, with data and color illustrations of the species. Extensive data on the fishing licenses required, especially the new N.C. Saltwater Fishing License, which goes into effect in 2007, can be linked from the DMF site, or you can call (252) 726-7021 or (800) 682-2632 and ask for the license office.

Since the early 1970s, the Division of Marine Fisheries has helped create artificial reefs that provide habitat for sea life. These reefs consist of old ships, railroad cars, bridge rubble, concrete and FADs (fish-attracting devices). Using the motto "We sink 'em –  you fish 'em," reef architects have built 39 ocean sites and seven estuarine sites. Judging by the number of sheepshead and mackerel landed on an average day, the program seems to be paying off. Charts are available to lead you to these sites. GPS coordinates are available at

Fishing is quite good in the Cape Fear River, with available species including largemouth bass, sunfish, catfish, herring and American and hickory shad. Spring is the peak season for largemouths, which usually range between 1.5 to 3 pounds. Bass can be located near the mouths of the larger tributary creeks, such as Turnbull, Hammonds, Sturgeon, Livingston and the upper reaches of Town Creek.

Bluegill are plentiful in the Cape Fear River and are available during the spring spawning season near locks and dams. Bluegills average one-half and three-fourths of a pound, while redear sunfish run about a pound.

Catfish fishing is excellent in the Cape Fear River, which also hosts the three largest members of the freshwater catfish family -- the channel, blue and flathead, available from Lillington to the Black River. Catfish are considered non-game fish and they have no size or creel restrictions. They can be taken by a variety of fishing methods. April, May, September and October are the best months.

American and hickory shad can be found in the lower Cape Fear River below Wilmington and can be taken by recreational fishermen below each of the three locks and dams above Wilmington. Information on inland water limits and licenses is available at or by calling (919) 707-0391 or (888) 248-6834.

The North Carolina Regulations Digest, containing regulations for inland fishing, hunting and trapping, is available from North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, 1722 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1722. The entire digest is also online at the aforementioned web site.

Note that fishing from most bridges in the area is restricted or prohibited because the bridges often traverse boat channels. Be sure to check the signs on bridges before casting. Small-boat owners have many fishing opportunities around the mouths of creeks and inlets, especially during incoming tides when the boat and the bait can drift in with the bait fish. Small boats should use caution at ocean inlets during outgoing tides because the currents can be strong.

If you’re traveling without tackle, rental gear is fairly abundant. Among places to check are these shops in addition to some of the fishing piers listed below. Rod and Reel Shop at 3401 Holden Beach Road SW (on the mainland side of the bridge in Holden Beach), (910) 842-2034. Rod and Reel also repairs tackle. Another renting location for both onshore and offshore tackle is Seagull Bait & Tackle at 608 S. Lake Park Boulevard in Carolina Beach, (910) 458-7135. Tackle shops abound along the coast, but be sure to call ahead to determine if they rent equipment.