The Outer Banks are an angler's paradise.
North Carolina's outer banks, a series of barrier islands in the Atlantic, are rich in history. The infamous pirate Blackbeard once patrolled those waters. And of course, everyone knows the Wright brothers flew the first airplane at Kitty Hawk.
But today, the area is best known for offering an incredible fishing experience in the beautiful waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
The Outer Banks are a place of sportfishing variety. There are dozens of different saltwater species of fish to target. From Kill Devil Hills to Cape Hatteras, this is everything you need to know about fishing there.
Is a fishing license required in the Outer Banks?
There can be a little confusion on this issue because there are a few exceptions in North Carolina's regulations, especially if you're hiring a licensed offshore charter or visiting a private fishing pier. Both types of businesses can buy "blanket" fishing permits that cover anyone who uses their services.
If you are bringing your own boat, or going surf fishing, you'll need a coastal recreational fishing license. Fortunately, it's cheap. A 10-day license is just $5 for residents and $10 for non-residents. An annual license is just $15 for residents and $30 for non-residents.
If you plan on coming back to OBX for fishing trips year after year, it's worth looking into their lifetime costal license, because $250 will allow residents to fish there for life. For non-residents the cost is bumped up to $500. Disabled residents and disabled veterans can get one of these lifetime licenses for just $10.
You can purchase these licenses either online or via dealer tackle shops stationed throughout the banks at all the most popular fishing spots.
What species can I fish for?
There is literally something for everyone when it comes to Outer Banks fishing. You can literally go inshore fishing one day for red drum, striped bass, or speckled trout near Roanoke Island one day, and then go offshore fishing off Nags Head for giant white marlin, blue marlin and sailfish the next.
The list of saltwater fish caught here is seemingly endless. The Outer Banks hold cobia, wahoo, mahi-mahi, black drum, snapper, sheepshead, yellowfin tuna, bluefin tuna, Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, sea mullet, croaker, flounder, pompano and more.
In the end, it might be simpler to list all the fish you CAN'T fish for in the Outer Banks. It is little wonder this place is so popular with anglers.
One of the more popular species to target is bluefish. There is a very good reason. The IGFA world record, a 31-pound, 12-ounce monster, was caught there off Hatteras Island in 1972.
What should I bring?
This depends greatly on how you're fishing and what type of species you'll be targeting. If you're surf fishing, you'll want to look at obtaining specialty surf fishing rods and reels. Most people target bluefish, speckled trout and drum. Sometimes people target sharks from the beaches as well.
Surf gear is usually pretty heavy and it's not just for playing the fish you'll be after either, it's meant to withstand the punishment of the currents and waves.
One thing about the Outer Banks is that natural and live baits are king. Squid, worms, shrimp and cut fish like mullet are sold almost everywhere and are going to be your best odds of success.
For Outer Banks pier fishing, the gear can be very similar. You'll usually be using light to medium action spinning outfits. The most popular way to fish piers is with the baits I mentioned earlier fished on bottom fishing rigs. For mackerel, pin rigs are quite popular.
For some piers, like Jennette's Pier in Nags Head, you don't even need fishing gear. You can rent everything you need on site.
It's a similar situation for hiring a charter boat. Literally the only things you need to bring are a camera and a sense of adventure. The charter will not only take you to the fish, but they'll provide you with the means to catch the big one too.
Both options are great if you've never gone saltwater fishing before and aren't sure where to start.
Paying to fish at an Outer Banks Pier
As we noted, some piers supply gear rentals and everything else you might need for your trip. Most charge around $12-15 a day per adult to fish. Most also offer passes good for three to seven days for slightly more. Some offer season passes for around $300 per person.
Some, like the Outer Banks Fishing Pier, have a restaurant on site in case and you get hungry. A few other piers to check out include the Rodanthe Pier on Hatteras Island, Avalon Pier in Kill Devil Hills and Avon Pier in Avon.
You will have to deal with some crowds at these piers depending on the time of year you visit. Spring and early summer can prove quite busy. Expect especially large crowds when the bluefish are running.
While there are crowds, it is also a cheap way to get in on the saltwater fishing action in the OBX. There are usually plenty of fish to go around.
Hiring Outer Banks fishing charters
Hiring a charter fishing outfit is generally the best way to go if you want to experience some serious inshore or deep sea fishing from a boat. There are charters scattered up and down the banks, willing to take you and your family out for a full day or half day of fishing.
If you're looking to target some prized species like sailfish or marlin, your best bet will be from June through October. You might want to book reservations with the charter of your choice because sometimes spots can fill up fast.
When it comes to rates, most fishing guides will charge between $500-700 for a half day trip and $1,200-2,000 for a full day offshore in the Gulf Stream. Most charters expect a deposit and then the rest paid in full on the day you arrive.
One thing to keep in mind that is not included in most costs is tips for the mates of the boat. Often, these deckhands are not getting paid unless you tip them, so reward their hard work! The usual tip is expected to be around 15-20 percent of what your trip costs.
For charters, we'd recommend A Salt Weapon in Manteo, Pirate's Cove Marina in Manteo, Oregon Inlet Fishing Center, Outer Banks Charter in Wanchese, the Albatross Fleet on Hatteras, Rock Solid Fishing in Nags Head, The Reel Thang in Wanchese Salt Minded Fishing Charters in Kill Devil Hills, Fish On Chaters in Corolla and Overdrawn Charters in Manteo.
Another option for charter fishing is to book time on a head boat. This style of fishing has you sharing a large boat with others. But it is super cheap for a fishing charter.
You can get a half day of fishing for mackerel, flounder, bluefish, croaker, sea trout and more for $30-50. Not bad for five hours of fishing! Check out the Crystal Dawn in Manteo and the Miss Oregon Inlet in Oregon Inlet for this style of fishing.
When is the best time to go fishing in the Outer Banks?
If you're looking for Outer Banks fishing reports, there is no shortage of those to help you narrow down the time of year for your visit. Almost every charter and pier out there has daily updates rolling in on their websites on what's biting and at what times.
As we mentioned earlier, in general, deep sea species like marlin and sailfish are generally best in mid-summer. For tuna, those are mostly caught in the fall and spring. Other popular species like the mahi-mahi, mackerel, wahoo and cobia are good through most of the summer and into the fall.
Really, the true answer to this question is anytime. There is almost ALWAYS something biting in the area!
A saltwater fishing adventure to fit any budget
The Outer Banks are not only an incredibly scenic place to fish, they're also a very affordable place to try your hand at saltwater angling. Whether you dive in head-first with an offshore blue marlin trip or just want to wet a line off a pier for a few hours, it's a very accessible area filled with fantastic fishing opportunities to fit any budget.
The variety of species available to fish for also means you won't ever get bored while fishing the Outer Banks!