The Bite Is On: Get to the Outer Banks and Get Fishing

The Bite Is On: Get to the Outer Banks and Get Fishing

My personal fish whisperer texted me last night. Just two words: It’s time. In my family, those words require no explanation — they mean that the bite is on. It’s time to get to the Outer Banks and get fishing.

What’s biting? Dinner.

Spectacular beaches and lighthouses aside, North Carolina’s barrier islands are renowned for great fishing. And not just sport fishing. I’m talking about the kind of fishing that’s accessible to regular folks on a budget. And I’m talking about the kind of fish you bring home for dinner.

Fall fishing on the Outer Banks is superb. Fall means that sea trout, slot drum, Spanish mackerel, stripers, and blues are coming into season. Serve them up grilled, blackened, fried, or broiled — even people who don’t like fish will find these fish tasty. 

Surf Fishing.
Image courtesy of Paul Brennan from Pixabay.

What do you need to fish the Outer Banks? 

The great news is that you don’t actually need a boat. You can reel fish in off a pier, or even try your hand casting into the surf.  But, it definitely takes some prep and gear.

  • First, you’ll need a fishing license. Everyone over 16 years needs a Coastal Recreational Fishing License; it’s a $50-200 fine if you get caught without one. But a 10-day resident license will only cost you $6.  And it couldn’t be easier to get one (go online or call 888-248-6834).  You can also grab one from almost any tackle shop or outdoor store – even Walmart sells them. 
  • Next is tackle. Saltwater gear is different from what you’d use to fish inland. In fact, if you want to try the surf, you’ll need surf-specific tackle. That means rods substantial enough to help you cast beyond the breakers. Find a bait or tackle shop near your fishing spot – they’ll know exactly what you need.  And consider bringing waders, or at least hip boots.  The Atlantic surf gets right chilly this time of year.
  • Lastly, there’s bait. Getting the right bait is a bit like nailing the secret sauce: eight parts recipe, two parts magic. There are entire books, internet sites and television shows devoted to the pros and cons of different baits. Again, your most reliable guidance will come from that local bait shop. They’ll not only know what’s biting, but exactly which bait you should try.

You Should Have Been Here Yesterday

In the end, fishing is all about timing and location. When you hear that the bite is on, you drop everything and go. But if you don’t live on the coast, how do you know?

Instagram actually makes it easy to keep track of these changes. Follow a few local bait and tackle shops. When the fish are in, these shops will post photos of them. And when they do, well … you should have been here yesterday.

Still unsure of when is the right time to fish? Take drum, for example (the big ones called Bulls or Bull Reds). Fishermen dream of landing a drum off the North Carolina coast.

But right now? Well, you could fish every single day from now to next August, with the perfect bait and great casts.  But you aren’t going to catch one. Why not? It’s the wrong time; the drum are heading south to Florida. But what about sea trout? Now that’s a different story: sea trout like the cold weather and are coming up the coast. They’ll be around through the end of the year, and they are an excellent eating fish.

Too complicated? There are always boats.

What if all that sounds too complicated? Try a headboat. Big group fishing boats (also called “head boats”) carry 50 to 100 people at a time. For a moderate fee, they’ll set you up with everything you need — the gear, the bait and the license — and they’ll work hard to put you on a fish.

Charter Fishing.
Image courtesy of Paul Brennan from Pixabay.

Finally, if what you’re really after is a deep-water fish experience, consider a charter. A deep-sea fishing charter can be a once-in-a-life-time adventure. But be prepared — it can be expensive. A charter can set you back several hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on how far out you sail. Call a marina or ask at a bait shop for a list of charter boats with experienced captains and crews. Don’t forget the Dramamine.

Now you know: fall means the bite is on. So get to the Outer Banks and get fishing. And while you’re at it, check out NC Coast, Outer Banks and Lifestyle coverage for more things to do while you’re there.

Find information on North Carolina’s fishing seasons, limits, licenses, and more at  NC Wildlife. Be sure to check their COVID-19 page for up-to-date information on closings, cancellations and postponements.