Fishing North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks

Looking North Up The White Oak River

Looking North Up The White Oak River

One of the reasons that my wife and I moved to the North Carolina coast was that I wanted to be able to fish.  Fishing has been a life long passion and my most memorable fishing has been here along the Crystal Coast portion of the Southern Outer Banks.

Beyond that magic October day in 2005 in the Beaufort Inlet when with the help of a local guide I caught trout, puppy drum and flounder until I could hardly fish , I have had some very satisfying days on my own fishing near Swansboro, North Carolina.  I remember a day when we caught bluefish until our arms ached.  Last fall there were a number of times that I caught three or four puppy drum every day that I managed to get out with my kayak.  In the fall of 2011, I caught a number of trout including one that weighed over two pounds.  While we would always like to see the fishing better, I catch enough to be motivated to keep looking for the next nice fish especially in my own backyard.

There were other reasons why we moved to the area besides fishing.  Chief among those reasons was the access to modern services in the area. We did not want to live where finding a restaurant or a hardware store involved miles of driving.  We did that when we lived in Canada’s Maritimes.  You can read about that in our book, A Taste For The Wild.  Beyond the basics, I need relatively good Internet connectivity to do my work and at least we can get cable modem in our subdivision.  We also wanted to be in an area which had a wide variety of people and the area around Swansboro fits that need perfectly.  As I mention in my book, The Road To My Country, this is a very friendly area which welcomes newcomers.

We could have found better fishing by moving farther east along the Core Banks.   Unfortunately with the better fishing comes some other things which are not so good.  The area is lower than western Carteret County so it floods more easily and getting to a grocery store requires a fair amount of driving.

Fishing on the North Carolina coast is something of a challenge.  There are plenty of commercial fishermen who use gill nets.  There are also some recreational fishermen who keep everything that they can.  Our fish stocks have a hard time handling the pressure from both groups.

People want to eat fish.  Fishermen catch them to support their families and there does not seem to be a good way to transition from current commercial fishing practices to something more sustainable.  A few guides are little more than meat fishermen in disguise.  Recreational fishermen when they pay a few hundred dollars for a couple of hours of fishing feel entitled to what they catch so they do not throw back as much as they should.  I feel fortunate to count some more enlightened guides among my friends.  Other than keeping half a dozen blue fish or Spanish mackerel and about twice that number of spots, I rarely keep more than one fish.

Managing the fish stocks properly will take a more intelligent government than we have or are likely to get.  I would like to see some of the rivers and creeks closed to gill netting and have smaller daily catch limits for recreational fishermen.   We need some nursery areas but I am no fishery expert.  I can tell you that we have plenty of bait up our way and not nearly enough big predator fish to eat it.  Still I catch enough fish to be excited about fishing.  I hope to keep going for a long time.  The challenge of catching  a nice meal keeps me motivated and sometimes I will try all my tricks to come up with a meal.

On August 5, 2013, I took my skiff on an early morning fishing trip into the marshes on the south side of the Intracoastal Waterway close to Swasnboro’s Harbor.  I was back home eating breakfast by 9 AM.  I caught no fish but had a couple of nibbles.   Not long after that I slid my kayak into the water and went after some fish in the White Oak River. I only managed one small bluefish.  Late that afternoon I headed over to the Point and tried my hand at fishing in the surf.  Again I only managed one small bluefish.

With almost a full day of fishing under my belt, the morning of August 6, I got up and after having breakfast decided that my best chance of catching a fish that we could eat was to head back out in the river in my kayak.  I was on the water by 11 AM and by 11:38 AM I had brought an eighteen inch flounder to my net.  I fished about fifteen more minutes before paddling the six tenths of a mile back to my dock.  I cleaned the flounder, showered, cooked the flounder, and helped clean up the mess.  We were done before 2:30 pm.

A nice fish like that keeps you going for a long time, but I have often said that fish are optional when fishing.   I hope we can make the fishing along North Carolina’s coast better, but as long as I can catch a few, I will remain happy with our decision to move here.  It is a great place to live and fish.  Even if you do not catch something every time, you are surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery in the world while fishing.

You can view albums of pictures taken on my marsh fishing trip near Swansboro, my August 5, White Oak River trip, and my evening surf fishing at the Point.  I also posted some pictures of my successful flounder trip on August 6.