Offshore Fishing From the North Carolina Coast

A quick look at a map of the North Carolina coastline shows you how the state juts out into the Atlantic Ocean, meaning the Gulf Stream and lots of great offshore fishing await anglers in the know. In fact, much of North Carolina’s coastline is closer to the Gulf Stream than anywhere in the United States north of Stuart, Florida.

A wide variety of charter fishing operations makes it easy for you to get offshore in search of the big one. Because coastal North Carolina marks the spot where the cool Labrador Current collides with the warm waters of the Gulf Stream before it heads toward Europe, fish also converge from both directions throughout the year.

The long list of possibilities of fish out in the Gulf Stream and closer to the coast include: sailfish; blue and white marlin; dolphin; amberjack; bluefish; yellowfin, bluefin, and blackfin tuna; king and Spanish mackerel; wahoo; oceanic bonita; barracuda; false albacore; cobia; channel bass; sailfish; several shark species; and varied bottom fish – like triggerfish, sea bass, tilefish and grouper.

Though spring to fall is most popular for offshore fishing, there are fish to be found out in the Atlantic year-round – including the growing popularity of bluefin tuna come winter. Seasoned North Carolina captains and their mates help find the fish, with tips of 20 percent for the mates the norm for their hard work. Fish cleaning and ice normally carry an extra cost.

North Carolina has a long history of world-class offshore fishing dating back to at least the 1930s, when commercial fisherman out of fabled Hatteras Village started offering offshore fishing trips to visiting fishermen. Hatteras and the Outer Banks are just 15 or so miles from the Gulf Stream.

The late Capt. Ernal Foster and his Hatteras-based Albatross Fleet are widely credited with beginning the state’s offshore fishing craze that’s bigger and better than ever more than 80 years later.

Northern Coast

The Outer Banks remains a hub for offshore fishing opportunities, including boats heading out of Hatteras, Manteo, Wanchese and Oregon Inlet. As with the rest of our state’s renowned outfitters, the typical offerings include varied half-day and full-day charters and regularly scheduled “head boat” options, with half-day trips staying to the west of the Gulf Stream – where there’s also world-class fishing – and full-day trips heading to the heart of the Gulf Stream. There are some even shorter trips available, as well as overnight options that would have lured Ernest Hemingway onboard.

The Hyde County destination of Ocracoke Island’s Ocracoke Village provides another great base for offshore fishing. Quaint Ocracoke includes several charter fishing operations, as well surf fishing along part of sprawling Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Southern Coast

To the southwest of the Outer Banks and Ocracoke Island, the beloved Crystal Coast awaits with a similar variety of options out of Beaufort, Morehead City and Atlantic Beach. Down in the Wilmington area, offshore fishing operators head out of Wrightsville Beach and Carolina Beach for a wide variety of nearby fishing options.

North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands also feature a number of offshore fishing options, with boats based in Southport, Oak Island, Holden Beach, Ocean Isle Beach and Calabash.

Those with less time, inclination or a budget for heading offshore should also consider one or more of our state’s great array of piers. More than 15 different piers create “offshore” fishing access across coastal North Carolina, meaning lots more fish are within your range. Of course, surf fishing remains an excellent option as well.

Whether or not you have luck offshore, it’s easy to enjoy fresh North Carolina seafood at many restaurants throughout the state. The North Carolina Catch supports the work of four local seafood initiatives stretching from the northern Outer Banks down the coast to the Brunswick Islands. When in a restaurant, grocery store or seafood shop, look for the logo from Ocracoke Fresh, Brunswick Catch or Carteret Catch to guarantee your seafood is fresh from North Carolina waters.

Updated July 2, 2021
About the Author
Cele and Lynn Seldon

Cele and Lynn Seldon

Cele and Lynn Seldon are currently #midfiftiesgypsies, but they miss the sunsets and walks on the beach in Oak Island, where they basked in the North Carolina sunshine for 15 years.

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