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Fishing in Wilmington

With a range of praised inshore fish available year round and beastly game fish offshore, Wilmington fishing charters have a really difficult task deciding where to head first. The town itself is a real sightseeing treat for scores of beachgoers who vacate here. History and museum lovers will have a lot to explore and anglers have relatively easy access to some of the most iconic fishing on this part of the coast.

Wilmington fishing spots

Wilmington may not be as close to the continental drop-off as Hatteras, but local fishermen have a rich selection of game fish and table fare right off their porch. Whether it’s streams, rivers, inlets, surf, or epic Billfish and Tuna offshore, you could be hitting a game fish jackpot on your next full day trip.

Cape Fear River

Flowing west of the town and emptying into the Atlantic, the Cape Fear River is home to superb Striped and Largemouth Bass fishing. This body of water once used to send chills down local fishermen’s spines as a chance of running asunder was quite real. Now, this fishery produces stunning Bass action from spring onwards. As it flows towards the ocean, the slow current of this river is a perfect setting for a relaxing light tackle action.

Inshore fishing spots

Anglers who want to establish themselves as fully-fledged fishermen should definitely check out the inlets and onshore fisheries right out of Wilmington, towards Carolina and Wrightsville Beach. These waters are packed with the fares of inshore species. That’s right, it’s Red and Black Drum all over the place. They are generally available year round but the action gets super hot when these fellas make their run in the fall. October and November are the months to visit if you want monster Drums.

The numerous cuts, inlets, channels and small bays that surround the Masonboro Inlet and Wrightsville Beach oceanfront offer outstanding fishing for Red and Black Drum. The nearby salt marshes and ocean creeks are home to Flounder, and for some Spotted Seatrout action, search around the jetties, rock walls, and backwater surrounding the Masonboro Inlet.


When a Wilmington charter sets sail towards the Atlantic, anglers onboard bring their absolute best to land the big names of offshore fishing. Offshore reefs and wrecks are home to King Mackerel, Mahi, Wahoo, Blue and White Marlin, monster size Bluefin and Yellowfin Tuna. It’s more than just bravado, as these fish will strike hard and rip your line to smithereens. You’ll need a charter captain with experience before you venture out to make the most out of your trip.

Travel anywhere between 20 and 40 miles offshore for some solid action that will see you fishing already within the first hour. These waters regularly see schools of Mahi, and you can troll for King Mackerel, do kite fishing for sailfish, or present the bait to Tuna.

The proximity of the Gulf Stream, which flows about 20 miles offshore, makes fishing here super hot even on the coldest winter days. And an hour boat ride -- and often shorter -- will see you fishing right above a major drop-off, as the continental shelf starts sliding down, plunging from 200 ft to 600 ft.

The Outer Shell Reefs, found off the coast of Wilmington and right on the edge of the continental shelf, mark the place with a significant drop in depth. As the ocean floor plummets from 150 ft to 600 ft, you will find rich marine life, with plenty of sponges and beds of corals. They make a place-to-call-home for a healthy stock of Tilefish, Vermillion Snapper, Sea Bass, and Snowy Grouper.

How much does it cost?

Anglers looking for a family trip should probably go on a half day trip. These run between four and six hours and will take you fishing around nearshore hot spots, where you can still target Mackerel, Sharks, Bonito, and more. These trips cost about $500 for up to six anglers and mostly include all the licenses, gear, and ice.

If you’ve set your eyes on a trophy-size catch, you should book a full day charter and head far our. Depending on how far you want to go, you’ll be fishing for monster game fish up to 40 miles offshore for about $1,000. A bit farther out, up to 70 miles, a standard 12 hour trip will cost about $1,600, and you will have a good shot at landing the next record Marlin, Tuna, or Sailfish, as well as a chance to explore the offshore bottom fisheries.

For the ultimate fishing experience, you will want to book an overnight trip and stay near the Gulf Stream to be there in time for the bite early in the morning and during the night. These trips are perfect for hardcore anglers.

Fishing techniques

Whether it’s light tackle action inshore for the likes of Redfish and Black Drum, or trolling offshore amidst a Bluefin Tuna bonanza, Wilmington has a fine selection of fishing techniques to enjoy.

Rivers and creeks

Let’s start at the beginning. If you’re planning to explore inshore fisheries, Wilmington has rivers, estuarine waterways, sounds, inlets, creeks, and inshore fisheries in the Atlantic that put to the limit even the seasoned angler. Scenic river fisheries at the west boundary of the town lend themselves to incredible light tackle action, where spinnerbait works well with Striped Bass and Largemouth Bass. Look for grass areas near the shoreline.

Inshore fishing

Inshore waters are home to impressive Redfish, Black Drum, Spotted Seatrout, and Flounder. Reds make the best inshore fish to target come fall, as the local fisheries see a surge in Bull Reds. Most fishing charters target Redfish and both adults and kids love fishing for them. They respond well to live bait such as shrimp, while you can use spoons and topwater lures for equal success. Follow these steps, and chances are high that each cast will be matched by a solid thud.

Black Drum make a somewhat different beat. They are a tad more finicky, but work well on live bait such as shrimp and crabs. If you like using artificial lures or flies, head to skinnier water, where you can also try sight fishing.

Offshore and deep sea fishing

Words hardly do justice to the offshore and deep sea fishing Wilmington has in store. From King Mackerel, Amberjack, Wahoo, Mahi, White and Blue Marlin to incredibly savage Bluefin Tuna and Yellowfin Tuna, here you can try trolling, bottom fishing, kite fishing, deep sea fishing, and so much more. The question is, when do you want to be fishing--and for what?

Trolling is a super effective way to get big fish. What starts out as a relaxing cruise down the ocean soon turns into a blitz as Mahi and Wahoo strike the bait. Mahi feed near the surface so you will want to keep your bait near the top of the water, while solitary Wahoo forage a bit further below. To get them, use a downrigger to sink your bait and set the speed at about 12 knots.

White and Blue Marlin are swimming far offshore, anywhere from 40 miles and beyond. Use live bait when trolling and stay alert once they get hooked. Blue Marlin will often make run towards the boat so you’ll need to act fast and retrieve the line to keep it tight. White Marlin are fished more and more with circle hooks. Troll with dead bait Ballyhoo and downsize your gear as White Marlin can be managed on light tackle too.

Bottom fishing for Amberjack and Black Seabass is nothing short of spectacular. Get the bait all the way down near offshore wrecks. Use heavy tackle for Amberjacks and drop the bait all the way to their layer, often at 100+ ft depth. The trick is to use big bait, or as of recent, butterfly jigs
Further down, you can also get Tilefish, which are a textbook example of deep dropping. You will need to sink the bait all the way to the ocean floor where these bottom browsers spend their days. You can use several pounds heavy sinkers to get present the cut bait. Bait your circle hooks with varied bait, mostly crabs and sea worms.

Need to know

If you’re fishing from a licensed charter boat, you don’t need a fishing license. Trips on these vessels are a perfect way to explore Wilmington fisheries as you will have a local captain at the helm and that’s as safe as it gets to reach the honey holes teeming with fish. Most charters here are private which means when you book a trip, you actually book the entire boat for your party and get all rods, reels, tackle, and most often ice to keep your catch cool.

What you need to have in mind is that weather can change quickly, especially if you’re fishing far offshore, so it’s best to bring clothes in layers, and sometimes clothing for foul weather. This of course varies from season to season. Pack sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses. You may also want to bring seasickness medication as offshore waters can seem overwhelming for some novice anglers. Even if you’re less experienced, your charter captain will help out and will work to make your trip memorable.

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Wilmington Fishing Seasons

It’s only the start of the year, but Wilmington waters are in full swing. Offshore, imposing Bluefin Tuna strike with abandon.

Superb fishing for Redfish and Black Drum. Take an offshore trip and aim for Bluefin Tuna or sink your bait to get Amberjack.

Stay inshore for a rich selection of table fare, including Redfish, Black Drum, and Spotted Seatrout. If you fancy more demanding action, head offshore for Yellowfin and Bluefin Tuna.

You will find a good bite from trophy size Bluefin Tuna, and decent fishing for Wahoo, White Marlin, and Mahi Mahi.

The water’s heating up, but the warm currents of the Gulf Stream are as hot as ever. Head offshore to land Wahoo and Yellowfin Tuna, or pull Amberjack up from the floor.

Go offshore and do trolling for King Mackerel, Mahi, some Marlin, and more game fish. The waters are bustling with fish of all sizes and hues and you could be landing the fish of a lifetime.

As the summer heat kicks in, inshore and offshore action are in full force. Head 70 miles out for some deep sea fishing and target Billfish, or stay closer and savor Tarpon fishing.

Wahoo fishing is incredible these days. They are fast and brutish, turning the line into a pretzel if you’re not cautious. Mahi, Barracuda, and Sailfish make up for excellent angling action.

Head to offshore wrecks and do bottom fishing for Amberjacks. There’s a steady bite from other big fellas, including Sailfish, Tuna, and Marlin.

You can expect a fair bite from Blue and White Marlin, Sailfish, Yellowfin and Bluefin Tuna. Trolling for Mackerel is a fun way to spend the day. Inshore, a good selection of Black and Red Drum.

Yellowfin Tuna blitz offshore is a spectacular sight to witness. Head 50 miles offshore and your patience will likely pay off big time. Stay close to the land for magnificent Drum action.

If you want a colossal catch for Christmas, head offshore to land impressive Bluefin Tuna. Inshore waters are filled with excellent Redfish, Black Drum, and Spotted Seatrout.

Wilmington Fishing Calendar

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Top Targeted Species in Wilmington

King Mackerel (Kingfish)

King Mackerel (Kingfish)



Spanish Mackerel

Spanish Mackerel



Speckled Trout

Speckled Trout

Barracuda (Great)

Barracuda (Great)



Dolphin (Mahi Mahi)

Dolphin (Mahi Mahi)