North Carolina Fishing Seasons: The Best Time to Fish for All Species

From the abundant coastal waters to the stunning inland lakes and rivers, North Carolina presents a wide range of fishing experiences for anglers of all skill levels. The best time …

From the abundant coastal waters to the stunning inland lakes and rivers, North Carolina presents a wide range of fishing experiences for anglers of all skill levels. The best time to fish in the state varies depending on the targeted species. 

Spring and fall are generally great fishing seasons for Bass, Trout, and Panfish, while the summer is better for species like Redfish, Flounder, and Mahi Mahi. Winter offers opportunities for Striped Bass and inshore fishing. 

Offshore anglers can look to the summer and early fall for Tuna, Wahoo, and billfish encounters. With its year-round fishing potential, North Carolina welcomes you to explore its bountiful waters throughout the seasons.

Best Time to Fish North Carolina

When it comes to fishing in this state, there are a couple of things to keep in mind for the best chances of success. First, the time of day matters quite a bit for most species. Early mornings around sunrise and evenings before sunset are often the most productive times. 

The second thing to keep in mind is different seasons offer different fishing opportunities. In spring, as the water warms up, many fish become more active and move closer to shore for spawning and feeding.

Recommended North Carolina Fishing Guides and Charters

LocationSpeciesGuide Name
Holden BeachKing Mackerel, Cobia, Seabass, Redfish, Spanish Mackerel, and FlounderTyler Hailey of Carolina Traditions Fishing Charter
WilmingtonRedfish, Flounder, Trout, Spanish Mackerel, and SheepsheadPierre Agena of Rising Sun Fishing
Carolina BeachRedfish, Sheepshead, Flounder, Tripletail, Trout, and MackerelBryan Armstrong of Port City Inshore Guide Service
ManteoRedfish, Spotted Seatrout, Flounder, Striped Bass, and GrouperTerry Payne of OBX Inshore Fishing
Cedar PointRedfish, Flounder, Black Drum, Speckled Trout, and SheepsheadJacob Boucher of Southern Tides Fishing Charters
North Topsail BeachBlack Drum, Redfish, Spotted Seatrout, and other inshore speciesAnthony Osborne of Marker23 Inshore Adventures
HatterasKingfish, Flounder, Black Drum, Amberjack, Trout, Cobia, and Red DrumJerry Teel of Got-em Charters
MooresvilleWhite Perch, Striped Bass, Largemouth Bass, Hybrid Bass, and CatfishJustin Goodson of Fishers Of Men Guide Service
Wrightsville BeachSnappers, Groupers, Mackerels, Cobia Sailfish, and Mahi MahiMonty Childers of Captain Big Fish
BeaufortSailfish, Mahi Mahi, Tuna, Wahoo, Cobia, Kingfish, Little Tunny, and moreDavid Berrane of Hawk Charters

North Carolina Freshwater Species Breakdown: Best Times

Bass

North Carolina Bass
Best Bass fishing in North Carolina: spring and fall. Optimal times: early morning or late evening.

The best season for largemouth bass and smallmouth bass fishing in North Carolina is typically during the spring and fall. In the spring, Bass become more active as the water temperatures rise, and they move closer to shore for spawning. In the fall, they feed more aggressively to prepare for the winter.

Bass are known to be most active during low-light periods, such as early morning or late evening. These times are often referred to as the “golden hours” for Bass fishing. However, Largemouth and smallmouth bass can be caught throughout the day, especially if the weather is overcast or there’s a light drizzle.

Trout

North Carolina Brown trout
Best Trout fishing in North Carolina: spring and fall. Optimal times: early morning and late afternoon to evening.

For Trout fishing, the prime seasons are typically spring and fall. In the spring, Trout are more active as the water temperature increases, and they feed on aquatic insects and baitfish. In the fall, cooler temperatures make both rainbow trout and brown trout more active and more likely to strike a lure or take a fly if you are fly fishing. The same applies to brook trout.

Trout are generally more active during the cooler parts of the day. Early morning and late afternoon to evening are often the best times to target Trout. Additionally, overcast days can provide excellent fishing opportunities throughout the day, as Trout are less likely to be spooked by bright sunlight. Rainbow trout are typically found in faster water compared to brown trout.

Panfish

Panfish can be caught throughout the year, but the most productive seasons are spring and fall. In the spring, Panfish move closer to the shallows for spawning, making them easier to target. In the fall, they become more active again as the water temperatures cool down.

Panfish tend to be most active during the early morning and late afternoon hours. They are often found in or around vegetation, submerged structures, or near the edges of drop-offs. 

North Carolina Saltwater Species Breakdown: Best Times

Redfish Fishing Season

North Carolina Redfish
Best Redfish fishing in North Carolina: spring and fall. Optimal times: early morning and late afternoon.

Redfish can be caught year-round in North Carolina, but the best seasons are generally spring and fall. In the spring, Redfish move into the shallows to feed and spawn. In the fall, they become more active again as they feed heavily before winter.

Redfish can be caught throughout the day, but they are often more active during the early morning and late afternoon. During these times, they are more likely to be found near grass flats, oyster beds, or around structures like docks and jetties.

Barracuda Fishing Season

Barracuda are typically found in warmer waters, so the best time to target them is during the summer months when the water temperature is higher.

Barracuda are most active during daylight hours, particularly around dawn and dusk. They are known for their aggressive strikes and can be found near reefs, wrecks, and channels.

Tuna Fishing Season

The best season for Tuna fishing is generally during the summer and early fall. This is when Tuna migrate closer to the coastline and are more abundant. Tuna fishing can be productive throughout the day, but they are often most active during the early morning and late afternoon.

Mackerel Fishing Season

Mackerel can be caught year-round, but the peak season is typically from late spring to early fall. They often feed more aggressively during the early morning and late afternoon but can be caught throughout the day.

Grouper

Grouper fishing is productive from spring to fall when the water is warmer. However, specific regulations and restrictions may apply, so it’s important to check the local fishing regulations.

Groupers can be caught at various times of the day, but they are often more active during the early morning and late afternoon. Targeting them around reefs, ledges, and underwater structures can increase your chances of success.

Mahi Mahi

North Carolina Mahi Mahi
Best Mahi Mahi fishing in North Carolina: summer months. Optimal times: early morning and late afternoon.

The best season for Mahi Mahi is typically during the summer months when the water temperature is warmer. Mahi Mahi can be caught throughout the day, but they are often more active during the early morning and late afternoon

Flounder

Flounder fishing is popular during the summer and fall months when the water is warmer. They can also be targeted during the spring and winter, but their activity may be more limited.

Flounders are generally more active during daylight hours. Fishing during incoming tides or when the water is moving can increase your chances of catching them.

Sailfish

Sailfish are not as common offshore in North Carolina compared to other regions, but they can be found offshore during the summer months. They often travel in groups, so if you spot one, there’s a chance more are nearby. 

Sharks

Sharks can be found throughout the year, but the best season for targeting them is during the summer months when they are more abundant. Sharks are opportunistic feeders and can be caught during both day and night. Fishing during low-light periods or at night can increase your chances of hooking one. 

Marlin

Marlin fishing is typically best during the summer months when they migrate closer to the coast. Marlin are active during daylight hours, and the best time to target them is often early morning or late afternoon.

Wahoo 

North Carolina Wahoo
Best Wahoo fishing in North Carolina: summer and fall. Optimal times: throughout the day.

Wahoo fishing is generally best during the summer and fall months when they are more abundant offshore. Wahoos are known for their high-speed strikes and can be caught throughout the day

North Carolina Regions: Best Fishing Times

Outer Banks

The best fishing times often coincide with the changing tides, especially during the early morning and late afternoon hours. The rising or falling tides can bring in baitfish and game fish such as Red Drum, Bluefish, Flounder, and Spanish Mackerel.

Cape Fear Coast

Inshore fishing for species like Red Drum, Flounder, and Speckled Trout can be productive year-round. The best times often include early morning or late afternoon during incoming or outgoing tides. Offshore fishing for species like Mahi Mahi, Tuna, and Wahoo is generally best during the summer and early fall.

Crystal Coast

Inshore fishing for Red Drum, Trout, and Flounder is productive throughout the year, with early morning and late afternoon being optimal. Offshore fishing is popular during the summer and fall months for species like King Mackerel, Grouper, Snapper, and offshore game fish such as Sailfish and Mahi Mahi.

Albemarle-Pamlico Sound

Inshore fishing for Striped Bass, Red Drum, Flounder, and Speckled Trout can be productive year-round. Early morning and late afternoon are prime times, especially during tidal changes. 

Piedmont Region

Early morning and late afternoon in the spring and fall are generally good times to fish for Bass, Catfish, Crappie, and other freshwater species. During the warmer months, fishing in the evenings and at night can be productive for Catfish. 

Western North Carolina

Fishing is generally productive from spring to fall, with the cooler months providing good conditions for trout. Early morning and late afternoon are favorable, and focusing on shaded areas or fishing during overcast days can be beneficial.

North Carolina Fishing Tides?

High Tides

In areas like the Outer Banks or Cape Fear Coast, high tides can bring bait fish and crustaceans into shallow areas, attracting game fish such as Red Drum, Flounder, and Speckled Trout.

High tides can create ideal conditions for fishing around structures such as jetties, piers, or marshes, where fish seek refuge and feed on the abundance of prey. Having a boat is a big advantage for fishing high tides.

Low Tides

In areas like the Albemarle-Pamlico Sound or the Crystal Coast, low tides can expose mud flats or grass beds, where Red Drum, Flounder, and other species may search for prey.

Incoming Tides

Incoming tides occur when the water level is rising towards high tide. This movement of water can bring in baitfish, which attracts large predatory fish. Incoming tides are often favorable for fishing, especially during the early stages of the incoming tide.

Outgoing Tides

As the water moves, it can carry baitfish and other prey species with it, providing opportunities for feeding fish. Outgoing tides can be productive for fishing, particularly during the early stages of the outgoing tide when fish are actively feeding.

Is Winter Fishing Bad in North Carolina?

Although the weather turns cold, winter fishing in North Carolina can still offer opportunities for anglers of all experience levels, although it may be different compared to other seasons. While some species may be less active or migrate to warmer waters, there are still fish to target and fishing techniques to employ during the winter months.

Top Fishing Spots in North Carolina

Outer Banks

The Outer Banks provides excellent surf fishing along its coastline, with species like Red Drum, Bluefish, Flounder, and Spanish Mackerel being plentiful. Offshore fishing opportunities include Mahi Mahi, Tuna, Wahoo, Marlin, and Sailfish.

Cape Hatteras

Known as the “Billfish Capital of the World,” the Cape offers offshore fishing for species like Blue Marlin, White Marlin, and Sailfish. Inshore fishing for Red Drum, Striped Bass, and Flounder is also popular.

Morehead City/Beaufort

Offshore fishing in the Gulf Stream can yield species like Mahi Mahi, Tuna, Wahoo, and Billfish. Inshore fishing along the Intracoastal Waterway and estuaries offer opportunities to catch Red Drum, Flounder, Trout, and other species. The area is also known for its fishing charters and access to the abundant waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

Wilmington

Inshore fishing in the Cape Fear River and surrounding estuaries is productive for Red Drum, Trout, Flounder, and other species. The nearby Masonboro Inlet provides access to King Mackerel, Grouper, Snapper, and other species. Wilmington is also home to a vibrant fishing community and various fishing tournaments.

Lake Norman

Lake Norman offers opportunities for the angler to catch Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass, and Striped Bass. Other species like Crappie, Catfish, and White Perch are also abundant. You can enjoy fishing from the shoreline, piers, or boats, and the lake hosts several fishing tournaments throughout the year.

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AUTHOR
Jeff Knapp is an expert fisherman, guide and outdoor writer whose work is widely published across a range of sites including Tackle Village. Jeff is based in Pennsylvania and loves exploring the waterways of that state in pursuit of smallmouth bass, largemouth, panfish and trout.
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