If you still have doubts about whether the Outer Banks (or “OBX”) are a wise choice for your next vacation, we assure you: they are. Not only will you find sandy beaches and dunes, but also some of the country’s best game fishing. And it’s not just for pros – Outer Banks sound fishing is a classic family activity, too. The only question is where to go. Here’s an in-depth guide to help you decide.
Which sounds can you fish in the Outer Banks?
The Outer Banks are a stretch of barrier islands on the coast of North Carolina. They look out onto the Atlantic to the east and face a network of sounds to the west.
These shallow waters make up the Albemarle-Pamlico sound system. It is the second largest estuary in the US, only slightly smaller than the Chesapeake Bay. It’s also a starting point for thousands of anglers who vacation in these beachfront towns each year.
The best known of these fisheries are the Albemarle, Currituck, Pamlico, Croatan, and Roanoke Sounds. And if you don’t mind a boat ride, you can head south to explore the skinny waters of the Core and Bogue Sounds.
These waters are teeming with fish of all shapes and sizes. You can hook into bottom dwellers like Flounder or battle massive Redfish and Striped Bass. The key is to know when and where these fish will be. Read on to learn how to locate them.
The Appeal of Outer Banks Sound Fishing
OBX fishing spots are a combination of saltwater from the Atlantic and freshwater flowing from the many river tributaries. This creates a brackish brew, ideal for Mullet and Menhaden. They in turn attract schools of game fish which you can catch year-round.
One thing anglers on vacation love is the proximity of the fishing grounds. Many popular summer resorts stretch along the OBX barrier islands. From there, you can launch into the sounds and catch the limits of fish even on half day trip. The sounds are simply that productive.
Plus, if you’re fishing with kids, you’re almost guaranteed that they – and you – won’t experience seasickness. These waters are shallow and still. Most sounds are about six feet deep or less, which also makes them great for wading and kayaking. However, you will occasionally come across 20 feet deep holes that hide fish. Be sure that you identify them before the trip or pair up with a local guide.
Where are the fish?
The Outer Banks sounds owe a lot of their fishing potential to salt marshes, grass beds, and salt-tolerant flora. These waters are rich in fish food, such as Crabs, Shrimp, and Mullet.
Plus, the wind carries a lot of ocean sediment and sand from the dunes right into these sounds. So, what happens to all the flora and fauna that ends up in the sounds?
The ocean sediment and grass blades decompose, becoming a rich source of food for smaller organisms. These smaller organisms attract bait fish. And remember the good, old fishing rule – where there is bait fish, there is your fish, too.
These “mats” of vegetation are the main reason you can catch a variety of fish here. Redfish, Speckled Trout, Flounder, Striped and Largemouth Bass, and Black Drum are the most common. The fish can eat and hide – it’s a perfect spawning ground.
Outer Banks Sound Fishing Tips, Bait, and Spots
If you decide to fish on your own, look for grass flats, sloughs, and stump fields. You will find shrimp and anchovies among them, as well as tasty game fish that you can take home.
Look for deep channels, especially during hot summer days when the fish want to escape the heat. The key is to look for areas where the fish can hide. Any kind of “structure” will do – vegetation, piers, or bridge pilings. Make sure to check out Manns Harbor Bridge and Pirate’s Cove Bridge.
Remember all the sediments and grass we talked about? They make for a perfect fish shelter, but they also make the sounds murky. So, even though you will be fishing skinny waters, you won’t do a lot of sight fishing. You will need to do blind casting and try to cover as much water as possible.
Fishing with live bait is the most common and successful way to get the fish. The fish species that live in the Outer Banks sounds have access to various foods: Crabs, Shrimp, tiny insects, Menhaden, Anchovies, and Mullet. Using these as bait works well with a variety of game fish.
Albemarle Sound: Shallow Home of Big Redfish
The Albemarle Sound is one of the biggest, most productive sounds in the Outer Banks. You will find brackish and freshwater fisheries that hold Striped Bass, Catfish, Perch, Crappie, Herring, Shad, and Flounder. There are also many other fish species that live in the ocean but come to these sheltered sound waters to spawn.
Redfish often inhabit the main basin of the sound, joined by Speckled Trout and Black Drum. These fish are the best of light tackle action. And if your kids want to give it a try, there are Spots and Croaks which are easy to reel in and also fun to catch.
The Albemarle Sound is quite shallow. Its murky waters don’t run deeper than 5–6′. Another peculiar feature of this body of water is the many tributaries that feed its basin: the Pasquotank, Perquimans, Chowan, Little, and North Rivers all hold a healthy stock of freshwater species. You can get the best of both worlds on a single trips. Plus, you can choose the type of fishing you like most.
A major advantage of Albemarle Sound fishing is the proximity of Kitty Hawk fishing grounds and Nags Head fisheries. These two towns are well-known for fishing and vacationing. You can explore sandy beaches, waterfront activities, and piers.
Big Fish and Water Sports in the Pamlico Sound
Nothing beats the Pamlico Sound! Not when it comes to fishing, nor when it comes to other water activities. The Pamlico Sound is a vast space (80 miles long, and 20 miles wide) of shallow waters ripe for fishing.
These waters are shallow, like elsewhere in the Outer Banks. But you can find deeper holes where schools of fish hide. You can return home with limits of Redfish, Speckled Trout, Flounder, Kingfish, and Rockfish.
The best of action takes place during the summer months, when Tarpon swarm the area, looking for Blue Crabs. You will find them around the murky waters where river tributaries flow into the brackish waters of the sound’s main basin.
On top of that, the Pamlico Sound boasts a rich wildlife: you can see turtles, seals, some whales, and sharks. Make sure to bring your camera!
And if this still doesn’t do the trick for you, the towns that overlook the Pamlico Sound are perfect for kayaking, windsurfing, kiteboarding, and parasailing. And, they are just an hour away from superb offshore fishing grounds.
You can fish the sound in the morning and catch Redfish. Then head offshore out of Hatteras, Portsmouth, Ocracoke, or Atlantic Beach to chase Tuna and Marlin in the Atlantic. All the fishing Outer Banks fishing in one place!
Currituck Sound: Fishing in the Morning, Fine Dining in the Evening
The Currituck Sound will give you a perfect taste of Outer Banks sound fishing. These shallow waters are spotted with barrier islands and beaches to the north, all the way to the North Carolina–Virginia border. It has no direct access to the ocean, so all the fish that come here swim up from the Albemarle Sound which lies to the south.
As the ocean waters don’t mix with the Currituck, this fishery has lower salinity than the other sounds. You will find more freshwater species, Largemouth Bass being the most popular. Still, brackish water species, such as Redfish, will make their way into the Currituck Sound. You can take a dip in the ocean in the morning, then switch to fishing for massive Bass in the afternoon.
But this is not all you can catch here. Spotted Seatrout and Flounder appear in winter and spring brings King Mackerel and Striped Bass (known as “Rockfish”). The summer months are the best – Cobia, Spanish and King Mackerel, Tarpon, Pompano, Seabass, and Sharks all swarm the sound, making it a supreme fishery. And all this at your doorstep, with the towns of Duck and Corolla as an ideal launchpad for a fishing charter.
Once the vacation season starts, these coastal towns balloon – their population swells from 400 to over 20,000 people. Families enjoy them over and over again. Come evening, vacationers crowd numerous beachfront restaurants, bistros, and cafes to enjoy anything from freshly grilled fish to clams, crabs, sandwiches, and pizza.
Roanoke and Croatan Sounds: Skinny Waters Full of Monsters
Croatan and Roanoke Sounds are small but scenic bodies of water. These salty fisheries are the home and spawning grounds of a variety of fish species. You can catch Striped Bass, Red Drum, and much more.
The Croatan Sound is especially popular among Striped Bass lovers. Check out the Manns Harbor Bridge for a year-long fishing bonanza, which peaks in late fall.
The Pirate’s Cove bridge in the Roanoke Sound produces Trout, Sheepshead, and Rockfish. If you fish the eastern end of the bridge, you may also catch Redfish, Trout, and some Flounder. There is a grass mat there, as well as deeper holes.
You will find numerous fishing guides in Wanchese. If you’re staying on the northern part of the Roanoke Island, fishing guides in Manteo are your go-to choice. They can take you to good spots which are either hard to reach, or can be dangerous for less experienced boaters/anglers.
Both Roanoke and Croatan Sounds experience drastic changes in water levels and choppiness. If you want to fish from your own boat, pick a day without too much wind and look for out shallow parts.
The summer months are perfect for any water activity – the waters are calm and warm. The Roanoke Sound is one of the most popular spots in the Outer Banks, as you can go jet skiing, kiteboarding, and angling. It’s a perfect spot for families with kids.
So, have you ever fished the Outer Banks sounds? How was it? What fish did you catch? Is there any other piece of local fishing knowledge you’d like us to share? Let us know in the comments below so that we can help you prepare for your next fishing trip.