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
|Holden Beach||King Mackerel, Cobia, Seabass, Redfish, Spanish Mackerel, and Flounder||Tyler Hailey of Carolina Traditions Fishing Charter|
|Wilmington||Redfish, Flounder, Trout, Spanish Mackerel, and Sheepshead||Pierre Agena of Rising Sun Fishing|
|Carolina Beach||Redfish, Sheepshead, Flounder, Tripletail, Trout, and Mackerel||Bryan Armstrong of Port City Inshore Guide Service|
|Manteo||Redfish, Spotted Seatrout, Flounder, Striped Bass, and Grouper||Terry Payne of OBX Inshore Fishing|
|Cedar Point||Redfish, Flounder, Black Drum, Speckled Trout, and Sheepshead||Jacob Boucher of Southern Tides Fishing Charters|
|North Topsail Beach||Black Drum, Redfish, Spotted Seatrout, and other inshore species||Anthony Osborne of Marker23 Inshore Adventures|
|Hatteras||Kingfish, Flounder, Black Drum, Amberjack, Trout, Cobia, and Red Drum||Jerry Teel of Got-em Charters|
|Mooresville||White Perch, Striped Bass, Largemouth Bass, Hybrid Bass, and Catfish||Justin Goodson of Fishers Of Men Guide Service|
|Wrightsville Beach||Snappers, Groupers, Mackerels, Cobia Sailfish, and Mahi Mahi||Monty Childers of Captain Big Fish|
|Beaufort||Sailfish, Mahi Mahi, Tuna, Wahoo, Cobia, Kingfish, Little Tunny, and more||David Berrane of Hawk Charters|
North Carolina Freshwater Species Breakdown: Best Times
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.
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 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
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 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.
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 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 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 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 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 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
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 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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