Fish of the Outer Banks
Whether you take to the water on your own or employ the services of one of the many charter companies, fishing Hatteras Island is sure to be a fantastic experience. Whether from the pier or out on the Atlantic should you be skilled and lucky enough to snag a catch, you’ll likely hook one of the species listed below. Learn about the fish of the Outer Banks before you head out!
The spot is one of the most popular fish to be caught and eaten. Although they’re available the entire fishing season, the best time to be fishing for spots are late summer and early fall. You can recognize a spot by the mark located above the top of the base of the pectoral fin. The size of the fish is usually between six and ten inches in length. During the fall, a larger type of spot called a “yellow belly” will appear in the water. This type of spot can weigh up to one pound.
Fishermen usually see spots traveling in schools, often near the bottom so they can pick for food. When fishermen see a school of spot, it usually does not take very long to have a cooler filled with these fish. More often than not, you will be catching more than one at a time. During the months of September and October, fishermen will pack the piers spot fishing.
The best way to catch a spot is by using a basic two hook bottom rig. Since spots have small mouths, hooks ranging from size 6 to size 2 work best to catch them. The best bait to use to catch a spot is blood worms. All fishermen need to do is put a small piece on their hook, and they will have great success spot fishing.
The sea mullet are usually spotted in shallow waters. They are very easy to catch while standing on the pier or surf fishing. The sea mullets are also referred to as whiting or kingfish. There are 2 types of mullet that are common in the Outer Banks region: the northern and southern kingfish. The weight of the fish can vary from 3/4 to 1 & 1/2 pounds. Sea mullets start appearing in the region during the spring and are caught throughout the season. You can see mullets feeding off a sandy bottom. The best way to catch them is to churn up muddy water, which lifts the mullet’s source of food up off the bottom.
The best type of bait to use to catch mullets is blood worms. Shrimp and other cut bait are used, but mullets prefer the taste of blood worms compared to any other type of bait. The best equipment to use to catch mullets are two hook bottom rigs and a medium weight rod and reel.
The croaker, also known as the hard head, is another fish that can be caught during the entire fishing season. This species of fish is also a bottom feeder. Small shellfish provide their main source of food. Croakers start appearing during the spring, as the water continues to get warmer. The croaker got its name from the distinctive sound of its swim bladder. The croaker weighs between 1/2 and 1 & 1/2 pounds. A good catch is any croaker that weighs over 2 pounds.
Since croakers swim in schools, it is easy to catch a lot of croakers in a day by standing on a pier or in the water. Boat fishermen can also catch a lot of croakers in their nets.
Any type of bait can be used to catch croakers. Most fishermen will use #1 or #1/0 hooks attached to a 2 hook bottom rig to catch them. Most croakers have large mouths. Medium-weight tackle provides the best success to catch them. That is the best type of tackle to use when catching bottom-feeding fish.
The flounder is one of the most prized food fishes. Flounder usually weigh between 1 and 3 pounds. The best time of year to catch flounder is October and November. The flounder usually buries itself in the sandy bottom of the ocean, usually near the beach. The purpose of this is to wait for any attractive food source to come by. A successful fisherman will slowly move the bait and hope it moves in front of the flounder. A flounder will slowly begin to swallow the bait. It is important not to set the hook at that time. It is best to wait until the fish has completely swallowed the bait to set the hook.
Flounder rigs have long shank hooks. The hooks range in size from #2 to 3/0. A torpedo float is usually placed ahead of the hook. Fishermen usually use light sinkers on their rod to feel the bite of the flounder better.
The bait used to catch flounder is made from the white belly section of flounder, squid, mullet, and shark. Minnows also prove to be a highly successful form of bait used to catch flounder.
Gray trout can be found in the waters of the Outer Banks during the entire fishing season. Fishermen are more likely to catch gray trout as the water temperature continues to climb during the season. They are referred to as weakfish because of their soft mouth structure. A hook can rip through the mouth of a trout. The best way to catch a trout is with a fishing net. Trout weigh between 1 and 3 pounds, but some can weigh over 10 pounds.
Most fishermen have luck catching trout when they are fishing from a boat. Casting a lure into the ocean can result in a great amount of trout being caught. Putting a lantern near the water also proves to be successful because the fish are drawn towards the light. A common lure used to attract the trout is pink and white Sting Ray grub.
Most fishermen use two hook bottom rigs to catch the trout. Usually shrimp or squid are attached to these types of hooks.
The speckled trout is referred to by two other names. It is called spotted weakfish or spotted trout. The speckled trout is considered to be one of the prettiest and best-tasting type of fish that is caught. Speckled trout usually weigh between 1 and 2 pounds. The best time of year to catch them is October. Fishermen have the best luck catching them while boat fishing.
The lure of choice to catch speckled trout are leadhead lures with plastic tails. The best conditions to catch the trout are when the tides are changing and the water is generally clear. Most trout fishermen go out early in the morning.
The Florida Pompano usually appears in the waters of the Outer Banks late summer. It is considered an excellent food fish. Pompano range between 1 and 2 1/2 pounds. Pompano are usually found near the beach. Their food of choice is a small crustacean called the sand flea. Fishermen usually attach the sand flea on gold hooks that range in size from #4 to 1/0 attached to a two- hook bottom rig.
Since pompano can be found near the shore, fishermen do not have to go very far out to catch them. The water has to be warm and clear in order to make an ideal situation to catch pompano.
The Spanish mackerel can be found in the Outer Banks from June until October. The fish has golden bronze spots which make it easy to spot. The average size of the mackerel is about 2 pounds.
It is best to fish for mackerel when the water is clear. These fish usually swim together in schools and they feed on small silversides and minnows. Small, shiny lures work the best in attracting the attention of the mackerel. Spanish mackerel have excellent eyesight and will strike at anything shiny.
The bluefish are considered to be one of the more aggressive fish that can be found. Their main food source is other fishes. They are a favorite catch of many anglers because of their aggressive nature. Fishermen should be careful in handling bluefish because of the razor sharp teeth in their mouth. Bluefish are classified into categories depending on the size of the fish. Snapper blues weigh less than 1 pound. Tailor blues usually weigh between 1 and 3 pounds. When the big blues arrive, it serves as a source of excitement for many fishermen. They can range between 8 and 20 pounds, and they make their appearance in local waters during April and May.
Different types of bait are successful for each type of bluefish. Artificial bait works well for snappers and tailor blues. Fresh cut mullets make ideal bait for big blues.
The East Coast striped bass has increased in population numbers, much to the delight of fishermen. Regulations set by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission have contributed to the increase in numbers the amount of striped bass found.
Striped bass migrate during spring and fall. Some stripers can be found along the Outer Banks during the winter.
The striped bass makes an excellent eating fish. An eighteen-inch striped bass usually weighs 4 pounds. When the fish reaches 8 years old, it is usually about 32 inches long, and weighs 15 pounds.
When the water temperatures drop, usually the big striped bass start showing up. This usually occurs in late fall. These particular fish can be caught through early winter.
Live eels make excellent bait when trying to catch striped bass. The best way to make sure the eel stays on the hook is by putting the hook through the lower jaw and then through the eye socket.
Catching a red drum can be one of the biggest thrills in fishing. An adult drum can weigh between 30 and 60 pounds. A smaller drum, called a puppy drum, weighs about 10 pounds or less.
Big drum can be spotted along the shore during the early spring. This usually occurs around April or May. The best places to fish for red drum along the Outer Banks are the waters between Ocracoke Island and Oregon Inlet. Hatteras Island is also a popular spot to fish for red drum.
Fishermen usually look for holes in the sand called sloughs. These are areas where drum look for fish and shellfish to feed on. The best time of day to fish for drum is during the early evening after the holes have been located during the day.
Fishermen have to use heavy duty tackle when fishing for drum. A 9 to 11-foot rod is needed to cast several ounces of lead and bait. Anglers also should use large spinning reels to catch the fish. Fresh cut mullet steaks make excellent bait for red drum. The drum is attracted by the smell of blood.
King mackerel are usually caught by offshore fishermen. King mackerel fishing usually hits peak season in late September and October. King mackerel usually weigh between 15 and 20 pounds. Some have been as large as 40 pounds.
Fishermen usually need two rods to catch a king mackerel. One rod is has a sinker that is needed to hold the bait rig in an area. The second rod usually has live bait, such as a small blue or spot attached to it.
Cobia are usually caught during the summer months. A cobia usually weighs around 30 pounds, but some can be as large as 40 to 60 pounds. Finding a cobia that large is not uncommon.
One method used to catch the cobia is a rig with live bait attached. Another way is to throw a jigging lure to a cobia that has been spotted. Large reels are needed to attempt to bring the fish in. The cobia tends to put up a fight as you try to reel it in.
Images courtesy of NC Division of Marine Fisheries