Surrounded by water, the Outer Banks is known for world-class fishing and phenomenal seafood. OBX fishing is an activity suited for all ages and stages of life, one that can range from an unforgettable offshore fishing trip of a lifetime to a quiet afternoon dropping a line into the Sound. Whether you’d like to go fishing offshore or inshore, our guide can help you choose the right type of fishing for your group.
OBX Fishing Seasons
Fishing in the Outer Banks is a year-round activity, however, most of the fish commonly caught are in season during particular times of the year. This chart gives an overview of some Outer Banks’ fishing favorites, including where and when they are most likely to be hooked.
OBX Fishing License Information
If you want to go fishing in the Outer Banks, a Coastal Recreation Fishing License is required for anglers 16 years of age or older. A license is not required to fish from a fishing pier or a charter boat, as they have blanket fishing licenses. Fishing licenses can be purchased online, but we recommend visiting a local bait and tackle shop to obtain your license. Visiting a bait and tackle shop includes the added bonus of getting local advice on equipment, bait, and which fish are running and where.
Types of OBX Fishing
Fishing in the Outer Banks is typically referenced in two categories: offshore or inshore.
“Offshore fishing” means that you will be fishing in the open ocean, most often on a charter boat with an experienced captain and crew. The ultimate offshore destination is the Gulf Stream, which is a strong ocean current that carries warm water from the Gulf of Mexico up the east coast of the U.S. The current brings larger, deep-water fish with it. Due to the proximity to the Gulf Stream, the Outer Banks is widely known as a premier destination for Deep Sea Fishing.
“Inshore fishing” means that you will be fishing in the calmer waters of the sound, the body of water bordering the western side of the Outer Banks. The depth and width of the sound varies based on which Outer Banks town you are closest to, and the five sounds in the Outer Banks are: the Currituck Sound, Albemarle Sound, Croatan Sound, Roanoke Sound, and Pamlico Sound.
Outer Banks Surf Fishing
Fishing from the beach is the quintessential laid-back Outer Banks vacation activity. With miles and miles of beaches, surf fishing is easily accessible no matter which OBX town you’re staying in. A Coastal Recreation Fishing License is required and can be obtained at a local bait and tackle shop. Surf anglers have the most success in the early morning and late afternoon hours, but fish can be caught in the surf all day long. Be sure to get equipment designed for surf fishing, as fishing in the dynamic waters of the coastline is very different from fishing inland. Consult with a local bait and tackle shop on a rod/reel combo, fishing line, rigs, and a fishing rod holder. Stick your fishing rod holder in the sand, cast into the surf, then sit down in a beach chair with your favorite cold beverage and wait for the fish to bite.
Outer Banks Pier Fishing
Pier fishing is a fun, family-friendly Outer Banks activity. Fishing from a pier offers the opportunity to fish in a bit deeper water than surf fishing. It also offers smaller anglers the chance to reel in a fish from the ocean without having to worry about getting wet and sandy in the surf. There are several fishing piers to choose from on the Outer Banks. Daily and weekly rates are available at each pier.
Avalon Pier has been in the heart of Kill Devil Hills since 1958. The pier house includes a bait shop, snack bar, arcade, and a bar. Fish commonly caught at Avalon Pier include croaker, mullet, flounder, bluefish, pompano, and spot.
Nags Head Fishing Pier is one of the oldest and longest fishing piers in the Outer Banks. The pier features a tackle shop, full-service restaurant, and tiki bar. After a long day of fishing, settle in at the tiki bar and enjoy some live music.
Originally built in 1939, Jennette’s Pier has been a part of the Nags Head coastline for a long time. The pier was destroyed by Hurricane Isabel in 2003, but the new Jennette’s Pier is an outstanding facility. Part fishing pier and part education center, Jennette’s Pier is part of the North Carolina Aquarium family. The 1,000-foot concrete pier features three large windmills that harness the power of the wind to help power the facility. Along with all of the modern features and education center, there is a bait shop and snack bar like the other fishing piers. Jennette’s Pier also offers a family-friendly Fishing 101 program on certain days that includes instruction, equipment, bait, and the fishing fee.
Outer Banks Fishing Pier in South Nags Head is another long-standing OBX pier. Featuring a tackle shop and video games, this pier also has a full-service restaurant. Fishheads Bar & Grill is the ultimate place to kick back and relax after a day of pier fishing.
Outer Banks Sound Fishing
“The Sound” is an intercoastal body of water on the west side of the Outer Banks. It could be called the Currituck Sound, Albemarle Sound, Croatan Sound, Roanoke Sound, and Pamlico Sound, depending on which OBX town you are in. The sound is a more shallow, calmer body of water than the ocean. Inlets that connect the ocean and the sound allow fish to migrate from the ocean into the sound. You can catch flounder, trout, drum, and striped bass in the sound.
Wetting the line from your fishing pole isn’t the only way to fish in the sound. Crabbing is a popular sound fishing activity, great for the little ones and no fancy equipment is needed. Get a roll of string, some chicken necks, a net, and a bucket. Find a very shallow, calm area, like the short dock at the town of Duck boardwalk. Tie a string snug around a chicken neck, toss it in the water, and wait. When a blue crab comes along and starts picking at it, scoop him up in the net and drop him into your bucket. Steam your catch in a large pot with Old Bay seasoning and have a fun evening picking and eating crabs.
Outer Banks Kayak Fishing
Kayak fishing is popular in the Outer Banks and can be done in the ocean or in the sound. Kayak fishing allows for a more budget-friendly version of fishing from a boat. For less experienced kayak fishers, we recommend starting in the sound due to the calmer waters. It’s much easier to balance yourself and your fishing equipment in the sound before taking on the waves in the ocean. If you’ve never fished from a kayak and aren’t familiar with our waters, there are several local companies that offer guided kayak fishing.
Outer Banks Deep Sea Fishing
Deep Sea fishing is the ultimate Outer Banks offshore fishing experience. Dream of reeling in the big one? Deep sea fishing is for you! The Outer Banks’ proximity to the Gulf Stream makes it a top destination for anglers chasing that once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Even if you don’t have the chance to reel in a marlin, there are some tasty fish that you can catch offshore. Tuna and Mahi are our absolute favorites to eat, but you can also catch king mackerel, wahoo, amberjack, and barracuda off our coast. Offshore deep sea fishing trips are typically full-day so there’s enough time to travel to and from the Gulf Stream.
Outer Banks Charter Fishing
OBX charter fishing is a fun activity for the whole family. Fishing experience level and age of the anglers in your group can help you decide which type of charter fishing is best for you. Fishing charters on the Outer Banks are available for trips offshore, inshore, and nearshore.
Offshore charter fishing trips to the Gulf Stream are a great way to get a full-day OBX fishing experience. Reeling in a trophy big fish is an amazing experience but so is catching dinner for your family. Keep in mind that you’ll typically be on a boat in the ocean for the entire day. Prepare accordingly if you or anyone in your group experience motion sickness.
Inshore charter fishing is a great option for kids, as half-day trips in the calmer waters of the sound are available. Inshore fishing captains are typically knowledgeable about where certain types of fish are in the sound, so they can navigate your group toward places where there’s some “catching” to go along with the fishing. For larger groups, a head boat is a great option for inshore charter fishing. Head boats are great for first-timers, kids, and family members that simply want to go for a boat ride.
Nearshore fishing is a great meet-in-the-middle option for anglers looking to catch larger fish, but don’t want to spend an entire day out on the water. Nearshore fishing charters travel into the ocean, up to around 5 or 6 miles offshore. If you’re in town during cobia season (May – July), book a trip! Spanish mackerel and bluefish are also commonly caught just off the coast.
OBX Fishing FAQs
Outer Banks fishing is a broad topic in our area. These FAQs can be helpful in guiding you toward the right OBX fishing experience for your group.
I booked an offshore fishing trip. Where do I get on the boat?
Offshore fishing charter boats must travel from the sound through an inlet to the ocean. Oregon Inlet is between the southern tip of Nags Head and the northern tip of Hatteras Island. Farther south, Hatteras Inlet is between the southern tip of Hatteras Island and the northern tip of Ocracoke Island. Oregon Inlet Fishing Center, Hatteras Harbor Marina, and Pirate’s Cove Marina are three of the larger marinas where offshore fishing charter boats dock.
What should I take with me on my charter fishing trip?
We recommend bringing sunscreen, sunglasses, a bathing suit or other clothing that can get wet, a camera, drinks, snacks, and plenty of enthusiasm!
What type of OBX fishing do you recommend for someone that gets seasick?
Fishing in the sound from a dock is a great option for anyone that gets seasick. Fishing from the concrete Jennette’s Pier is also a great idea.
How do I clean the fish I caught?
If you caught your fish on a charter boat that docks at a marina, the boat captain or mate can point you toward the fish house. Experienced fish cleaners can clean and filet your fish for you. Be sure to verify with the captain or mate beforehand to see if the fish cleaning fee is included with your charter.
How should I cook my fish?
Many local restaurants will prepare your fish for you. Once you choose a restaurant, call ahead to be sure that you can bring in your own catch.
What Kind Of Fish Can You Catch In The Outer Banks?
The Outer Banks is surrounded by water, so there are many different species of fish that can be caught. Check with a local bait and tackle shop to see what’s biting since most fish are in our area seasonally. Common fish caught in the waters around the OBX are tuna, mahi, wahoo, mackerel, trout, flounder, cobia, spot, bluefish, and grouper. It’s important to mention OBX shellfish as well: blue crabs, shrimp, scallops, and oysters.
When Is Tuna Season In The Outer Banks?
We may be biased, but tuna season is the best season! If you’ve seen the National Geographic show Wicked Tuna: Outer Banks, you’ll know that the giant Bluefin Tuna are caught in the winter months, typically November through April. The tasty Yellowfin Tuna, also known as ahi, can be caught off of the Outer Banks year-round, but most are caught in March and April when the ocean water starts to warm up. Bigeye tuna, the other tuna known as ahi, can be caught in deep waters from May through November.
What Fish Are In The Currituck Sound?
The Currituck Sound is shallow, making it a great fishing destination for families and kayak fishers. Blue crabs can be caught close to shore. Flounder, trout, and drum can also be caught in the waters of the Currituck Sound.
Camping and Fishing on the OBX
It’s no coincidence that many of the Outer Banks’ best campgrounds are located close to some of the best fishing spots on the OBX. Experiencing camping and fishing during the same Outer Banks vacation is the ultimate experience for outdoor enthusiasts.