North Carolina State Fish – Two Fish, Too Furious

Oct 11, 2023 | 3 minute read
Reading Time: 3 minutes

North Carolina has some of the best fishing on the entire East Coast. From mountain streams to shallow sounds and beyond, anglers have a lot to be proud of in the Tar Heel State. But which fish is their favorite? Naming one North Carolina state fish was clearly impossible, so they went for two instead. Here’s a short look at what makes them so special.

Brook Trout – the Freshwater Favorite

A Southern Appalachian Brook Trout in shallow water next to a fly fishing rod

Average size: around ½ a pound

State record: 7 pounds, 7 ounces

They say that beauty is subjective, but we challenge anyone to not fall for Brook Trout. With their wavy back, colorful bodies, and white-tipped fins, these are real head-turners. They’re not just a pretty face, either. Brookies put up a great fight and punch well above their weight. Did we mention that they’re delicious? Seriously, you can’t help but fall in love with them!

Another great thing about Brookies is that they only live in beautiful places. Despite being nicknamed “Mud Trout,” they like the cleanest headwaters and mountain streams. The best place to look for them is in the Appalachian Mountains in the west of the state. In fact, NC’s fish are a specific strain called Southern Appalachian Brook Trout that you won’t find elsewhere.

Brook Trout are a favorite among fly fishers, taking dry flies, nymphs, and streamers without a second thought. Conventional anglers can also have a ball with small spoons and spinners. Natural baits like worms work well, too, but they’re not allowed in many wild Trout waters. Be sure to check the rules and seasons for the stream you want to fish.

Red Drum – the Saltwater Staple

A happy angler sitting on a boat and holding up a Red Drum, one of the two North Carolina State fish

Average size: around 5 pounds

State record: 94 pounds, 2 ounces

No surprises when it comes to the saltwater state fish of North Carolina. Red Drum are an iconic catch wherever they live, and this is one of the very best places to target them. These inshore bruisers are never afraid of a fight. They’re huge fun to catch and even better to eat. What’s more, they look plain cool, with their golden glow and unmistakable spotted tail.

Red Drum go by a variety of names, including Redfish, Spottail Bass, and Channel Bass. There are also two different types of fish: smaller “Puppies” and large “Bulls.” Puppy Drum are a fun catch for amateur anglers and make for a great meal. Bull Reds regularly top 40 pounds in North Carolina, and will put even experienced anglers through their paces.

You can catch Red Drum throughout North Carolina’s shallows, especially in the sounds and beach fronts of the Outer Banks. You’ll often see them “tailing” through water just a few inches deep. This makes them a dream target for sight fishers. Wherever you find them, they’re not shy. Drum will gobble up plugs, spoons, and soft plastics, as well as natural baits and even flies.

North Carolina State Fish: The Best of Both Worlds

The North Carolina flag, with a Brook Trout and a Red Drum superimposed to show the two state fish

Brook Trout and Red Drum are an interesting pair to have as state fish. One lives in the western mountains, the other in the eastern shallows. One likes the cleanest streams, the other hunts in murky marshes. What they both have in common is a fighting spirit and some of the tastiest meat around, with great looks to round things off. No wonder they’re the signature species of the Old North State.

Have you caught either of these fish before? Going fishing in North Carolina soon? Drop us your stories or ask us a question in the comments below – we love hearing from you!

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