OBX Fishing Guide

August 19, 2020

North Carolina is home to some world-class fishing. The Outer Banks in particular is every fisherman’s paradise. We have diverse water habitats; hundreds of species; and gorgeous seasonal weather, making a “must stop” for anglers.

Outer Banks Surf Fishing

Surf fishing is one of the most popular activities on the OBX. The seemingly endless coastline makes surf fishing accessible for all.

The summer months, between May-September, offer warm enough waters for one to catch a wide variety of fish from our sandy beaches. The ocean floor’s topography in our area creates an especially ideal environment for surf casters. The most common catches include: bluefish, spot, croaker, sea mullet, flounder, skate, dogfish, pompano, and drum.


Simple tackle is all that’s needed for success. A walk along the beach, one may observe most surf fishers are using a rod between 6-10 feet in length (though larger rods may be used for more difficult fish, like Red Drum) and a standard ocean bottom rig (see illustration).

While there are some more advanced techniques to surf fishing, it’s generally easy enough using a bottom rig and casting into “holes”.

Holes, or troughs, are easily spotted by simply observing were waves are not crashing. This is due to the physics of wave energy. Waves only crash where the water is too shallow to support them. As such, the fewer the waves = the deeper the water = more area for fish to swim!


Casting into these deeper areas will put your bait right where you want it –where fish are feeding!

Success with surf fishing can be amplified by planning around tides. During high tide, the fish are moving into the deeper holes. The subsequent low tide may trap them in these holes (or at least, until the next high tide) AKA the perfect opportunity to drop a line!

In addition to bottom rigs, there are floating rigs. These are great for catching fish that differ from the aforementioned bottom feeders.

The floating rigs differ from bottom rigs in a pretty self-explanatory way. Floating rigs have small floats attached, which allow bait to sit higher in the water. This area is typically where species like bluefish search for food. Bluefish are an aggressive yet delicious catch!

Baits to use include bloodworms, squid, shrimp, sand fleas, and artificial alternatives.

Squid is relatively inexpensive and, once cut into 2-3″ triangles, are easy to get a snug fit on the hook.  Mullet is many folks preferred cut bait. Mullet is best when chunked in cubes/strips for hook placement.  Bloodworms are perhaps the most effective. This also, of course, means they’re consequently some of the most expensive. Heads up! Bloodworms may bite.

Spoons or “Gotcha” are shiny and/or brightly colored so as to catch the eyes of predator fish. The predators will see these quick and shiny objects, mistaking them for actual prey, and will act fast on quick-moving look-alikes. It makes perfect sense that the artificial fish are called Gotcha plugs/lures once you realize how great they are at tricking predators. 😉

Remember: Small hooks catch more fish! Don’t make the mistake of buying too large of hooks; you may only need a size 4-6 hook for in the surf.

Outer Banks Pier Fishing

Many piers speckle the shores of the Outer Banks. They include (from North to South): Kitty Hawk Pier, Avalon Pier, Nags Head Pier, Jennette’s Pier (the longest in length), Outer Banks Pier, Avon Pier, and Rodanthe Pier.


They are all excellent ways to get your fishing on! We’ve attached an illustration of where one may (roughly) find certain species. Of course, this changes, but this is a great way to get a head start on catching your desired fish!

Pier fishing has similar principals as surf fishing, except one has the advantage of casting from above, and at greater depths. Pier fishing provides the added opportunity of targeting larger catches, of which are typically found beyond the outer bar. This is where shallow, sandy waters end and open up to deeper waters. In prime season, fishermen on the piers are reeling in sharks, Cobia, and King Mackerel.


Most fishing piers are outfitted with bait & tackle shops, knowledgeable staff, food, restrooms, supplies, and, well, just about everything needed for a great day of fishing! Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head offers great educational classes, as well as rod and reel rentals!

Outer Banks Fishing Charters


Charters are a great way to get out on the waters and make memories! Many experienced fishing captains call the Outer Banks “home”. I mean, have you ever heard of the show Wicked Tuna? It’s no secret that OBX fishing has got it goin’ on!

There are inshore, nearshore, and offshore fishing excursions. Each of which offers a unique experience, with the same goal in mind: reeling in something neat!

Your trip will begin at one of our locally loved marinas, like that at Oregon Inlet fishing center, where many charter boats depart.  

Headboat Fishing

The best way for beginners or those looking for a more casual approach to fishing is to get out on a head boat. Head boats are targeted towards larger parties, as they can typically hold 20-30 people. They typically stay in surrounding sounds and waters for half-day — or shorter — excursions. These are ideal for families (especially with children) large groups, sightseers, and anyone looking for an affordable way to get on the water. 

Head boats will most likely have you bottom fishing, which sees catches like flounder and sea bass. These are delicious catches that are great to filet and serve up for dinner that night!

In-Shore Fishing

Inshore fishing will be the next tier up in regards to experience level and what one is hoping to get out of a fishing trip.  They are typically running in half-day increments, one may chose morning or afternoon timeslots.

These boats stay in the sounds and are a great alternative to anyone who loves to fish but is prone to seasickness. The calmer waters of the sound make for a steadier ride.

One can expect to find Spanish mackerel, bluefish, speckled trout, and potentially sight-casting for cobia.

Off-Shore Fishing

Offshore Charters are the kings of kings. Fish the world famous Gulf Stream on a full-day excursion. These are typically served up in full-day increments. While we are fairly close to the Gulf Stream on the OBX, there is still approximately a 35-journey to get where the “gettin’s got”.  Being this far out means one can anticipate “big game” fish such as: tuna, dolphin (Mahi Mahi), and billfish. This is how folks reel in those trophy catches. Helpful note: bring raw ginger to place under tongue to stave off seasickness.


Understandably, offshore is the most costly of all fishing options, as it is a full-day rigorous excursion, and uses top-of-the-line gear.  These trips can ring-in around $1,900/day.  However, since most are more than likely not going alone, split that cost between 6 people, and it’s not too bad.

If the cost or finding a large enough group is going to be a limiting factor, then let us share a great way to still get out there! Marinas will sometimes offer a “make up” charter. These are typically small groups of folks who want to go out but don’t have enough people. The marina will try to work with the small group and will offer this service in order to fill the boat entirely. It varies, but typically one can expect to spend around $200-$300 a person.

If interested in a trip, but are unsure as to which excursion is your best fit, give the marina a jingle and they’ll be happy to get you situated appropriately. Pro-tip: book as far in advanced as possible!

Other Ways to Fish


If you thought we were done sharing the many options to get your line in the water, then you’re mistaken. 😉 Get out on a kayak, a bridge, or paddleboard out for some spearfishing!

Kayak fishing is predominantly a intracoastal or soundside activity, though some of the more seasoned folks will take to the sea in their ‘yak. Often times, kayak fishers frequent bridges and ocean inlets as these areas provide a great mix of controllable water conditions, and the presence of game fish.

Spear fishing is a great oceanic activity; open waters and shipwrecks create a habitat that attracts a variety of marine life. There are charters one may take to shipwreck sights, which is 100% recommended for novices. However, many seasoned locals will venture out on their own, as they chart known shipwrecks and spearfish but it is possible to get out on the sea yourself and free-dive for fish.

Whether its inshore, nearshore, offshore, surf, or spear fishing, one can be sure of this: nothing beats spending time with the deep blue sea. You know what the old fisherman said: he fished all of his life to realize it wasn’t the fish that he was looking for.

Want to get out and experience OBX fishing for yourself? Southern Shores Realty would be happy to host your next fishing trip in one of our great Outer Banks Vacation Rentals.

Photo Credits: Dreamstime.com Charter Boats © Jennifer Thompson | Dreamstime.com Full Day Fishing © James Martin | Dreamstime.com