A Guide to Deep Sea Fishing in the Outer Banks

Jan 31, 2022 | 8 minute read
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Famous for its pristine beaches, wild horses, and numerous outdoor activities, the Outer Banks area draws in more and more vacationers with each passing season. But besides the natural beauty, this piece of the East Coast is also renowned for its incredible angling. In particular, deep sea fishing in the Outer Banks offers amazing potential for adventure, both in regard to the species you’ll face, and the rush you’ll get while fighting them.

An aerial photo of the Outer Banks coastline.

It all takes place 30 or more miles from the coast in the cobalt blue waters of the Gulf Stream. Out there, you’ll have the chance to face some of the most prestigious game fish on the planet. From predatory Billfish to deep-dwelling heavyweights, each species you meet in these waters will present a unique angling challenge.

Below, we’ll provide a breakdown of the kind of fish you could encounter while deep sea fishing in the Outer Banks. We’ll also list some of the techniques you’ll use once you’re out there and a few starting locations. If you’re ready, let’s dive into it!

Top Deep Sea Fishing Targets in the Outer Banks

The Gulf Stream provides a migratory path for different kinds of pelagic fish. Besides these, the ocean depths also hold various bottom species that are both fun to catch and delicious to eat. Have a look at some of the fish you may run into while fishing in the OBX.

Tuna

In terms of sheer strength and endurance, there are very few fish that can go toe to toe with Tuna, especially if it’s a big one. These fish are capable of fighting for hours on end and will put all your skill and willpower to the test. This being said, there’s hardly a finer prize than reeling one in.

An angler holding a sizeable Yellowfin Tuna, caught while deep sea fishing in Outer Banks.

Along the OBX, you’ll see four different types of Tuna. If you’re out on a charter, you’ll mainly target Yellowfin Tuna, with smaller Blackfin and Bigeye coming in as bycatch. Of course, big Bluefin Tuna also make their way through these waters. However, they do so during winter, when the weather is less predictable and most deep sea charters slow down.

Marlin

While Bluefin Tuna may be the toughest fish in the ocean, Marlin are certainly among the most athletic. Blessed with incredible speed, vigor, and leaping power, these Billfish will pose a challenge for even the most seasoned angler. It takes both luck and expertise to catch a Marlin, making the prospect of reeling one in a fishing achievement you can take pride in.

An angler battling a Marlin that's leaping out of the water.

If you set out during summer and venture into the Gulf Stream, you’ll have the chance to hook into two species of Marlin – Blue and White. Of course, considering how elusive these fish are, you won’t see them every time. However, once you do, you’ll get to experience the kind of battle anglers spend their lives chasing.

Wahoo

Ask the experts and they’ll tell you: Wahoo were likely named after Oahu island in Hawaii. But somehow, that’s also the sound you’ll let out once you start fighting one. Coincidence? We think not! With lightning-fast runs and razor-sharp teeth, Wahoo are some of the most exciting fish you can run into, even in the company of other pelagic superstars. 

Two anglers on a boat, holding a huge Wahoo they reeled in while deep sea fishing in Outer Banks.

The best part is that if you’re deep sea fishing in the Outer Banks, you can hook into Wahoo for the better part of the year. They’ll usually start showing up around May and won’t leave until late fall. Besides the tussle they’ll put up, Wahoo are also delicious to eat. So if you’re fortunate enough to catch one, make sure you have the grill ready.

Mahi Mahi

While we’re talking about great table fare, Mahi Mahi are another fish you can find offshore of Oregon Inlet. Besides tasting fantastic no matter how you prepare them, they’re also a nice introductory fish if you’re a deep sea fishing novice. Mahi Mahi can get fairly big and they’re pretty quick, but they’re also very eager biters and won’t try to tear your arm off as you reel them in.

A couple on a boat, smiling and holding a Mahi Mahi.

Much like their fellow pelagics, Mahi Mahi start showing up in the Outer Banks as the waters get warmer. One advantage they hold over other offshore fish is that they’ll often come closer to shore than the likes of Tuna or Marlin. This means that while it would usually take you an hour or more to get to the Gulf Stream, you can hook into Mahi on much shorter runs.

…And More!

Of course, these are just some of the many species you can encounter on your deep sea quest. Among others, Sailfish and King Mackerel are frequent visitors in this part of the Gulf Stream. Or you can hunt for Swordfish – another highly-valued heavyweight you’ll see out here.

Two anglers standing on the back deck of a boat, holding a big Sailfish they caught on a deep sea fishing trip in Outer Banks.

And that’s all without even mentioning the bottom fish. Deep dwellers such as Golden Tilefish, Amberjack, Black Seabass, and different types of Grouper will all make for excellent targets if you decide you want to take a break from pelagics. They’ll also make for a fantastic meal, in case you’re looking to bring some dinner home.

How to Go Deep Sea Fishing in the Outer Banks

Compared to staying inshore or nearshore, offshore angling is a whole different kettle of fish. Before you even get started, you’ll need a vessel that can handle the open ocean. Then you have to get equipment that can hold up against the deep sea predators. Most of all, you have to have knowledge and experience, both to stay safe and to find that prized catch.

Because of all this, the easiest way to have an offshore adventure is to hop on one of the deep sea fishing charters in the Outer Banks. In doing so, you’ll be pairing up with captains with decades of local experience. Not only will they be able to put you on fish, but they’ll also provide all the specialized fishing gear and teach you how to entice the bite. Take a look at some of the techniques you’ll be using on your deep sea trip.

Trolling

A photo of two trolling rods with the ocean in the background.

If you’ve ever seen the Outer Banks season of ”Wicked Tuna”, you may have noticed that they keep their boats constantly on the move. That’s because, around these parts, trolling is the name of the game when it comes to fishing for pelagics. Whether you’re hunting Tuna or species like Marlin, Mahi Mahi, Sailfish, and Wahoo, you’re likely to be trolling for them.

The good news is that this technique is very beginner-friendly. The crew will set up the trolling rods, bait the hooks, and drive the boat until a rod starts bending. While it may seem simple, you should keep in mind that you’re going to be dealing with big fish. If you plan on reeling those in, you’ll still have to flex your muscles and show off your angling skills.

Bottom Fishing

Four anglers bottom fishing over the starboard side of a boat.

Much like the previous technique, bottom fishing is relatively easy to grasp, as you don’t need to know how to cast in order to do it. It’s also a fantastic option for whenever you want some more variety on your trip. Your captain will take you to reefs, wrecks, or underwater ledges, and keep the boat steady as you lower your bait down to the bottom.

Depending on what depth you’re fishing in, you may use a subtype of bottom fishing called deep dropping. This is usually done with electric reels and it’ll allow you to reel in fish from greater depths. It’s also the technique you’ll be employing if you want to catch Swordfish. As with trolling, the basics of bottom fishing may be easy, but the fish will still try their best to escape your hook.

When to Come Deep Sea Fishing in the Outer Banks

Like the rest of North Carolina’s coast, the Outer Banks feature year-round fishing. However, things can work a little bit differently if you plan on going offshore. Many local captains don’t really offer deep sea fishing trips during winter. This is partly because of the unpredictable weather and sea conditions, but also because many charter guides turn to commercial Tuna fishing from January through March.

A charter boat leaving the Wanchese harbor.

While winter warriors exist, most charter guides start offering deep sea trips starting in April. At this time, there may still be some Bluefin around, along with the oncoming Yellowfin Tuna and Mahi Mahi. The summer is definitely the high time to go deep sea fishing in the Outer Banks. By then, the Gulf Stream will be teeming with all kinds of pelagics, including Blue and White Marlin, Sailfish, and more.

So long as the weather holds up, you’ll still get to reel in plenty of Mahi Mahi, Yellowfin Tuna, and bottom fish come fall. As the year draws to a close, Bluefin Tuna will start showing up again. If you’re lucky, it could be a good time to bring in some sashimi.

Where to Go Deep Sea Fishing in the Outer Banks

Bodie Lighthouse near Oregon Inlet in Outer Banks.

The Outer Banks cover around 200 miles of barrier islands. However, most charter captains are concentrated in a few hotspots, making it fairly easy to decide on a starting point. One such place is Wanchese, positioned at the southern end of Roanoke Island, as well as nearby Manteo. You’ll also see captains depart from the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center, offering a quick exit to the open ocean.

Further south, Hatteras and Ocracoke serve as great starting points for deep sea trips. Due to its position, departing from Hatteras will give you faster access to the Gulf Stream than most other places. In Ocracoke, you’ll find plenty of restaurants, and you may even get to hear the unique High Tider dialect.

Anything else?

An infographic image that says "Outer Banks Deep Sea Fishing Regulations" and "What You Need to Know" against a blue background.

In North Carolina, you won’t need to worry about getting a fishing license if you’re fishing aboard a charter boat. As you plan your trip, it’s wise to get familiar with the local size and bag limits, because it’ll help you set expectations and pick your targets. You should also keep in mind that Billfish are traditionally released after you reel them in.

Finally, remember that you don’t have to venture as far as the Gulf Stream if you’re only starting your deep sea fishing journey. Staying in the 10 to 20-mile range and battling it out with the likes of King Mackerel, Cobia, or Sharks can make for nice practice before you move on to bigger game.

And You’re Ready!

An aerial view of Hatteras Island in Outer Banks, NC.

From tasty Tuna and Mahi Mahi to nimble Marlin and speedster Wahoo, the offshore waters off the Outer Banks coast are like a game fish highway. Sure, it’s a bit of a journey to get there, but the pure potential these waters hold is almost unbeatable. It’s a place where fishing legends are born. So why not take part in creating your own?

Have you ever been deep sea fishing in the Outer Banks? What’s the fish you’re most proud of catching? Scroll down to the comment section and let us know!

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