The ‘Tar Heel State’ truly has one of the most abundant and diverse fisheries in the United States, with both freshwater and saltwater angling options. North Carolina has excellent fishing year-round, with something for every angler regardless of their personal preferences. However, if you’re considering taking a fishing trip or holiday to North Carolina, you still need to know when the best fishing seasons are for your target species.

Before you plan your fishing trip to North Carolina, you need to know which fish are biting and when. In the following North Carolina fishing seasons guide, we’ve got you covered with accurate and up-to-date fishing information, tips, and the best local fishing spots.

There truly are some fantastic and diverse fishing opportunities in North Carolina. In the following North Carolina Fishing Seasons guide, we’ll cover:

If you are passionate about fishing, you’ll love this article, Master Bass Fishing: A Comprehensive How-To Guide for Bass Fishing, which covers tips and valuable information on successfully catching Bass for new anglers that have just gotten into Bass fishing in the USA.

Finding fishing spots in North Carolina is easy, but finding the best fishing spots is a little bit harder. Without intricate local knowledge, you’re up against the odds. Every angler needs a little help finding those local hot spots. If you want to catch some monster fish on your next North Carolina fishing trip, you’ll need the premium fish finder app. Thanks to the Fishbox App, you’ll know the perfect season to plan your destination fishing trip to North Carolina, including when your target species is most active.

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Expert Opinion on North Carolina Fishing Seasons

Pierce Latta

16 years fishing experience

“Now I may be a tiny bit biased having been born and raised in the great state of North Carolina, but this state is, in my humble opinion, a top ten (if not top 5) fishing state in this country. If you don’t believe me after reading both this article and this commentary, please hit me up in the comments section. I would love nothing more to break my views down for you. Anyway, let’s get into this article. I love this: off the rip, the article goes straight into what fishing looks like in different months for North Carolina. This gives readers a good, broad summary of what to expect throughout the year and hopefully can help them narrow down when they want to plan a trip or target certain species. The action continues with two awesome charts breaking down the level of bite for a variety of different fresh and saltwater species at different points in the year. Upon looking at this chart and having been a North Carolina native for over 19 years, I can tell you without a doubt that if I was planning a trip to fish in North Carolina, I would pick a summer month 11 times out of 10. Everything from fresh to saltwater is ripping. You could try to do it all but you would run out of time because the bite for so many species is so hot that you just couldn’t make it to everything. Another thing I would love to brag about for North Carolina is the sustained bite of so many species throughout the year. On the freshwater side of things, largemouth bass action stays hot just about year-round. That means at just about any given time, given the right tactics, you could pull up to a local pond and have a good chance at catching a bass. It gets even better on the saltwater side of things. Species like amberjack, black drum, bluefish, redfish, speckled trout, and tuna are biting at least good or great the entire year. Not only that, but the species I just listed give a huge variety of tactics you could potentially use to spice up your day on the water even more. Another thing that I loved about this article was the section on when to fish in North Carolina. If I was planning a trip or vacation, I would pay attention to this part. It gives more detail as to why you should choose one certain time of year over another. What do you know—it talks about how the warmer months can be more optimal for fishing. I’m telling you, come give our state a visit in the warmer months and it will not disappoint. The article finishes with two important sections regarding some popular fishing spots and then some information on regulations. Again, use these locations as starting points and not final solutions. These are designed to give you a foundation and you must build on them from there. Also, please don’t ignore the last section about regulations. When people ignore and circumvent regulations—fisheries suffer and die. So don’t be that guy who cuts corners just because he wants to keep a flounder out of season. Even if you know that nobody is gonna see it, know that God sees it. We are called to take care of His creation in Genesis 2:15 which says man is to “work [creation] and take care of it.” Do it for the creator of the world and for the future generations that will want to enjoy the water too. As always, good luck and tight lines!”

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Understanding Fishing Seasons in North Carolina

January Fishing in North Carolina

It might still be cold, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some fantastic fishing on offer in North Carolina. The Bluefin Tuna is cruising the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean for anyone brave enough to head out into the deep water. Closure to shore, Black Drum, Redfish, and Snapper are all available.

If you prefer freshwater fishing, there’s plenty of Panfish along with Largemouth Bass, with sunrise through to mid-afternoon your best chance to get a bite.

February Fishing in North Carolina

February offers more of the same, with the Bluefin Tuna the stars of the show. Getting onto a local charter operator is the best way to chase these deep-sea monsters. Closer to the shore, the bays, and sounds around North Carolina, Redfish are a great target species.

In the rivers and lakes, you have White Perch, Bluegill, and Crappie if you’re looking for a delicious feed of fish and some light rod action.

March Fishing in North Carolina

Spring is quickly approaching, which means that some species, in particular the hatchery Trout, are now off-limits to allow for spawning and a healthy fishery. However, freshwater anglers can still look forward to Striped, Spotted, and Hybrid Bass, as well as Perch.

The saltwater action is excellent, too, but it’s not the peak season. Inshore is probably your best bet chasing Redfish, Trout, and Black Drum. However, if you have the opportunity, a charter trip for Yellowfin or Bluefin is an option.

April Fishing in North Carolina

Fly fishing season is in full swing in North Carolina in April, with mountain streams in the Great Smoky Mountains region full of aggressive and hungry Trout. There are also Bass and Panfish hunting freshwater rivers, lakes, and streams too.

Kingfish, Cobia, and Amberjack are on the must-catch list of fish species for many saltwater anglers, and if you head out into the Gulf Stream, cruising YellowFin are lurking below the surface.

May Fishing in North Carolina

The peak fishing season in North Carolina has arrived, with both fresh and saltwater fishing firing everywhere across the state. Rainbow, Brooke, and Brown Trout are in full swing, and the Catawba River is well worth a visit. There’s also Hybrid and Spotted Bass, along with Crappie and Bluegill.

The big fish are still on their way offshore, but you may be lucky enough to encounter some early Mahi Mahi or Billfish along with some giant Tuna. Closer to shore, you have the hard-fighting Cobia and Kingfish.

June Fishing in North Carolina

Big game season is finally here! Wahoo and Mahi Mahi are cruising in significant numbers, along with Bigeye, Yellowfin Tuna, Billfish, White Marlin, Sailfish, and Blue Marlin. We can’t mention inshore fishing without discussing Tarpon. These fish will give you an impressive fight in shallow water.

The freshwater action is also firing off with Trout, Bass, Perch, and Panfish all on the target species lists.

July Fishing in North Carolina

As the heat reaches its peak in summer, the fishing action will slow down a little. Your best chance of landing a fish is early morning or late evening. If you’re freshwater fishing, Bass, Trout, and Catfish are all on the menu.

Inshore saltwater fishing for Speckled Trout, Redfish, Bluefish, and Tarpon is popular, but the action is fantastic offshore! You can target Sailfish, Blue and White Marlin, Mahi Mahi, Wahoo, and Bigeye Tuna.

August Fishing in North Carolina

With over 3000 miles of coastline, there truly are some great fishing opportunities for any anglers looking for a summer fishing trip in North Carolina. The Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds are packed full of fish, and offshore, you can target Mahi Mahi, Wahoo, Bigeye Tuna, and Yellowfin Tuna, with Billfish cruising the deep water.

The heat makes freshwater angling a little more complicated, but if you head out in the morning and evening, you have the opportunity to catch Catfish, Perch, and Panfish.

September Fishing in North Carolina

School holidays are over, and the summer vacation crowds have headed back to work, but the fish are still biting strong. The saltwater action is still the best in North Carolina, with inshore fish such as Tarpon and Redfish going strong, and offshore, you have Billfish, Tuna, Mahi Mahi, and Wahoo. 

Largemouth Bass will start to bite again towards the end of the month, and in the streams, Brook, Rainbow, and Brown Trout are biting well. 

October Fishing in North Carolina

While the summer angling peak is over, there’s still plenty of fishing action in North Carolina. For the patient angler, Billfish are still hanging around, and the Tarpon are still hunting closer to shore.

Peak fly fishing season has arrived again, with Trout action hot in the rivers and streams across the state. If you prefer Bass, the Largemouth, Spotted, and Hybrid Bass are all biting strong in October.

November Fishing in North Carolina

The Bluefin Tuna returned to North Carolina in November, but a lot of offshore fishing is going to be dependent on the weather. Closer to shore, you have Speckled Trout, Redfish, Black Drum, and Bluefish available if the weather offshore isn’t cooperating.

Trout are active in the rivers and streams across the state if you prefer a little freshwater action.

December Fishing in North Carolina

A lot of the charter operators have closed down over December, but that doesn’t mean there’s no fishing action to be had. Pick your day, and if the weather plays ball, you can still get out on the water.

If you time it right, there is still some fishing action to be had, with Catfish, Bluegill, Crappie, and a variety of Bass on offer.

Fishing Calendar for North Carolina

Below, we have a comprehensive freshwater fishing calendar so that you can determine the best time to hit the water in North Carolina to fish for your target species. 

Fish SpeciesJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
CatfishPoorPoorWeakFairGoodGoodGoodGreatGreatGreatGoodGood
CrappieGoodGoodGoodGoodGoodGoodGoodGoodGoodGoodGoodGood
Hybrid BassFairFairGoodGreatGreatGreatGoodFairFairGreatGoodGood
Largemouth BassGoodGoodGoodGreatGreatGreatGoodGoodGreatGreatGreatGood
PerchFairFairGoodGreatGreatGreatGreatGoodGoodGoodGoodFair
TroutPoorPoorFairGoodGreatGreatGreatFairGoodGreatGreatFair

Below, we have a comprehensive Saltwater fishing calendar so that you can determine the best time to hit the saltwater in North Carolina to fish for your target ocean species.

Fish SpeciesJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
AmberjackGoodGoodGoodGoodGoodGoodGoodGoodGoodGoodGoodGood
Black DrumGreatGreatGreatGreatGreatGreatGreatGreatGreatGreatGreatGreat
BluefishGreatGreatGreatGreatGreatGreatGreatGreatGreatGreatGreatGreat
CobiaPoorPoorPoorGoodGoodGreatGreatGreatGoodFairPoorPoor
FlounderPoorPoorPoorFairGoodGoodGoodGreatGreatGreatGoodPoor
KingfishFairFairFairGoodGoodGreatGreatGreatGoodFairFairFair
Mahi MahiFairFairFairFairGoodGreatGreatGreatGreatGoodFairFair
MarlinPoorPoorPoorFairGoodGreatGreatGreatGreatGoodFairPoor
RedfishGreatGreatGreatGreatGreatGreatGreatGreatGreatGreatGreatGreat
SailfishPoorPoorPoorPoorFairGoodGreatGreatGreatGoodFairPoor
Speckled TroutGreatGreatGreatGreatGreatGreatGreatGreatGreatGreatGreatGreat
TarponPoorPoorPoorPoorGoodGreatGreatGreatGreatGreatGoodPoor
TunaGreatGreatGreatGreatGreatGreatGreatGreatGreatGreatGreatGreat
WahooPoorPoorPoorFairGoodGreatGreatGreatGreatGreatGoodFair

If you’re looking to plan your fishing adventure in North Carolina, then you can use the fishing seasons calendar above and the in-depth information below to pick the perfect time to go fishing. Luckily, fishing is excellent year-round in North Carolina, so even if it’s not the best time for your target species, there’s always something great to catch.

Best Time to Fish in North Carolina

One of the great things about fishing in North Carolina is that regardless of when you visit, there’s always going to be a fish to catch. If you’re lucky enough to live in North Carolina, you are only minutes away from some of the best fishing in the United States. However, if you’re planning a destination fishing trip to NC, then you’ll need to plan around peak fishing seasons to maximize your opportunity of catching your target species.

When you plan your fishing trip to North Carolina, a lot will depend on what fish species you’re after. The big Tuna will show up in the cold months of winter, while Marlin and Sailfish prefer the warmer months of summer.

Closer to shore, you’re a little more spoiled with species such as Redfish, Bluefish, Drum, Speckled Trout, and Black Drum available almost year-round. If you’re fishing with a family or on a budget, then the inshore fishing with light tackle is a great option. Out on the close reefs surrounding the Outer Banks, you also have Cobia, Black Seabass, and Grouper.

In the cooler winter months, you have the option of heading inshore for the freshwater angling options, but the options for freshwater anglers are a little more limited during winter. The warm summer months are prime time for freshwater anglers.

Read also: Best States for Fishing: A Comprehensive Guide for Anglers

When to Fish in North Carolina

If you’re fishing from the shore in North Carolina, an hour before or after a low or high tide is always the best time to cast a rod in the water. If the prime tides line up with early morning or late afternoon, then you’ll be in a great position to land some fantastic fish. 

During the hot middays in summer, a lot of fish seek deeper water, coming into the shallows to feed when it is cooler, and they have more energy to hunt for baitfish.

The moon also plays a role when you go fishing. A new moon has the strongest effect on fish bites, while a quarter moon has the least effect. A few days on either side of a full moon or new moon is when fishing activity will be at its peak.

The Fishbox App was developed in collaboration with accurate weather data and expert fish behavioral analysis. These advanced forecasts will significantly increase your catch rate while reducing your time on the water. Take your fishing to the next level thanks to the expert advice from the Fishbox App team.

With so many great fishing locations in North Carolina, from saltwater inshore and offshore fishing through to excellent freshwater lakes, rivers, and streams, it’s hard to nail down the best locations. However, we’ve managed to narrow it down to our top three fishing spots in North Carolina, with freshwater and saltwater angling opportunities.

1. Morehead City, North Carolina

With plenty of coastline, Morehead City is home to a number of excellent offshore and inshore fishing charter operators ready to help you have a successful day of fishing. If you want to try your luck chasing Billfish, Blue and White Marlin, Yellowfin Tuna, Mahi Mahi, Wahoo, and much more. Close to shore there’s plenty of Kingfish and Kobia, along with a variety of excellent table fish to catch.

2. Cape Hatteras

Cape Hatteras is located on the Outer Banks and is another North Carolina fishing destination for anglers to visit. Close to shore, you have Red Drum, Striped Bass, Speckled Trout, and Blue Fish. If you prefer offshore action, there are a lot of experienced local charter operators available who can get you offshore and put you in the seat to reel in some fantastic pelagic species.

3. Lake Norman

If you prefer freshwater fishing, Lake Norman, a man-made lake located in central North Carolina, is a great place to check out. Not only is it full of Crappie, Catfish, Largemouth Bass, and a variety of Trout. There are a variety of campgrounds and parks surrounding the lake, so why not make it a weekend trip or bring your family along with you. While they enjoy the local area, you can fish to your heart’s desire!

Regulations and Licensing

Before you plan your fishing trip to North Carolina or cast your first line, you must have the right type of fishing license. For full and up-to-date information on North Carolina fishing licenses, visit the North Carolina Fishing eRegulations Website here.

If you plan on going saltwater fishing on a charter trip, there’s a good chance that your license is built into the price of the charter, but it doesn’t hurt to double-check before you arrive at the boat.

Any angler aged over 16 is required to have the appropriate fishing license. Below is a breakdown of the North Carolina fishing licenses you’ll need to purchase before fishing:

  • Annual Freshwater/Inland Fishing License (Resident) – $25.
  • Annual Freshwater/Inland Fishing License (Non-Resident) – $45.
  • Annual Saltwater/Coastal Fishing License (Resident) – $16.
  • Annual Saltwater/Coastal Fishing License (Non-Resident) – $32.
  • Combined Freshwater/Saltwater Fishing License (Resident Only) – $41.

Once you have your license, it’s essential that you familiarize yourself with North Carolina’s bag limits, size limits, and season closures. If you visit North Carolina’s DEQ website, you’ll be able to get a comprehensive list of every fish species, along with their size limits, seasons, and bag limits.

North Carolina has a rich, diverse, and abundant fishing environment, so it’s essential that, as anglers, we strive to protect it and ensure that it continues to thrive. One of the ways we can do this is by purchasing the correct fishing license, following the size and bag limits, and leaving the areas we fish as we find them.

By following the rules, we can all ensure that North Carolina’s diverse and abundant fishery continues for future generations of anglers to enjoy just like we do.

North Carolina Fishing Seasons: Your Comprehensive Guide – Conclusion

Now, you should have a much clearer idea of the different fishing seasons in North Carolina, including our comprehensive species fishing calendar, the best time to fish in North Carolina, popular fishing locations, and even what fishing licenses you’ll need.

North Carolina has a robust and healthy fishery, and as anglers, we all need to do our best to ensure that it stays that way. By buying a license, sticking to the rules and regulations, and cleaning up after ourselves, we’re ensuring that future generations of anglers will be able to enjoy fishing in North Carolina just like we have.

By utilizing the advanced technology in the Fishbox App, you’ll be able to track weather conditions accurately and predict the best times to hit the water when planning your fishing excursions in North Carolina. It combines predictive fish behavior with weather, lunar, and tidal conditions to deliver optimal fishing opportunities in North Carolina, regardless of whether you’re going fresh or saltwater fishing.

Get your personalized fishing map

Answer a quick quiz and get your own personalized fishing map

The Fishbox App was developed in collaboration with accurate weather data and expert fish behavioral analysis. These advanced forecasts will significantly increase your catch rate while reducing your time on the water. Take your fishing to the next level thanks to the expert advice from the Fishbox App team.

If you’re an experienced North Carolina angler and have any hot tips you’d like to share with other anglers who are considering a fishing trip to your gorgeous state, drop a comment below! Help a fellow angler have a great day on the water.

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