Fishing in the Outer Banks

With miles and miles of both deep and shallow open water, fishing in the Outer Banks is an angler’s dream. Plus, the water temperature remains mild most of the time, allowing sportsmen to cast their lines every day of the year.

Outer Banks fishing trips can involve thrilling sport fishing for white marlin and bluefish. In fact, the Outer Banks is often called the “Billfish Capital of the World.” The International Game Fish Associations lists over 90 world records for catches off the Outer Banks, including a 402 pound lemon shark from Buxton, a 67 pound amberjack in the Oregon Inlet, and a 348 pound tuna snagged in waters off Hatteras.

In addition to record catches, fishing in the Outer banks offers a variety of types of fishing: freshwater/brackish water, ocean fishing, sound, and river fishing. For visitors who bring their own boats, several public boat launch ramps are available up and down the islands. Fishing on the sound is great in a small boat, where visitors can expect to catch trout, flounder, and cobia, among others.

For anglers who don’t have a boat, several marinas offer rentals and Outer Banks fishing charters are available from several companies. Offshore boats carry around six passengers, where headboats are much larger and can carry as many as 50 anglers. Length of a charter trip can vary between offshore and inshore charters. The majority of trips are either for a half day, or a full day at the visitor’s choice. Outer Banks deep sea fishing charters, however, are usually an 8-10 hour trip.

Outer Banks fly fishing is a more recent addition to fishing on the barrier islands. Fly fisher Chico Fernandez discovered the islands in the late 70s. In 1981, he set an International Game Fish Association Fly Rod record in 1981 with a 42 pound, 5-ounce red drum on a 12-pound tippet. After that, fly fishing was a permanent fixture on the islands. Fly fishers cast their lines in the same places as conventional anglers, and can snag dolphin and marlin in the Gulf Stream, albacore and mackerel on inshore wrecks, bluefish in the surf and stripers in the sounds.

Though fishing is available year round, some types of fishing have specific seasons. Outer Banks surf fishing season and pier fishing season begin in March and runs until December. The peak months are normally May and November. Surf fishers have 100 miles of accessible beach to try their luck. Pier fishers have a choice of eight Outer Banks fishing piers from Kitty Hawk to Hatteras, including Avon Pier, Cape Hatteras Fishing Pier, and Nags Head.

As of January 1, 2007, fishing in the Outer Banks (including up to 3 miles offshore) requires a license. Children under age 16 are exempt. The Fourth of July is a free fishing day in North Carolina, which means a license isn’t required, but size and number limits are still in effect. Numerous bait and tackle shops along the islands offer these licenses for sale.

For specific information about fishing licenses and regulations, vacationers should check with the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries (NCDMF) at 800-682-2632. Different regulations and licenses apply to different species of fish and to different types of fishing. Licensing information can be found online, too, at

For information about fishing conditions, bait and tackle shops can usually give you the run down. To check conditions before visiting the islands, call the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau Fishing Line at 877-OBX-4FUN.

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