A Fisherman’s Guide to North Carolina’s Crystal Coast

Of all the fun Atlantic Beach things to do, fishing is definitely at the top of the list. Whether you’ve been fishing for years or are new to the hobby, the Crystal Coast of North Carolina is an ideal place to get out on the water and cast your line. We have a great selection of Atlantic Beach rentals for fishermen, and some guests book their whole trip around the activity!

While you’re in town enjoying Atlantic Beach fishing, there are a few things you should be aware of, and we’ve got your complete guide. 

man fishing on the inlet

Fishing Seasons

Fishing in the Atlantic Beach area is wonderful almost all year long, but if you’re aiming to catch a certain type of fish, you’ll want to be aware of the seasons. For the spring months, it’s not uncommon to see species like bluefish, red drum, striped bass, and sea bass. You may also see some king mackerel, though these aren’t quite as common.

For the summer, you’ll have a wide variety of species to try to catch, including Spanish mackerel, amberjack, cobia, and pompano. Most of these are found along the beaches, perfect for those looking to stay on the shoreline.

In the fall months, you’re more likely to find fish like red drum, black drum, croaker, sea mullets, and flounder. Occasionally, sheepshead come through the area as well. Many anglers consider October to be absolute prime fishing season along the Crystal Coast, largely due to the migrating drum making their semi-annual run throughout the area.

Fishing License

If you plan to fish in any coastal body of water in North Carolina, you’re going to need a fishing license. Anyone over the age of 16 will need a NC Coastal Recreational Fishing License (CRFL) to fish along any beaches, in the sound, or in waters considered coastal or joint waters of the state. The exception to this rule is charter fishermen. Normally, if you choose to go on a fishing charter, the company will have a universal license on the boat that will cover everyone on the trip. 

Luckily, it’s incredibly easy to get your fishing license before you head out to the water. You can get a 10-day license for only $5 if you live in North Carolina, but if you live elsewhere, it’s just $10. If you plan to come back often, you can get an annual license. These licenses cost $15 for North Carolina residents or $30 for out-of-state guests.

You can get your fishing license online by visiting the Division of Marine Fisheries website. If you’re already in town and don’t have a license, almost every bait and tackle shop on the Coast can sell you a license.

man in waders

Where to Fish

When fishing in and around Atlantic City, you’ve got three main options for your fishing location: offshore, piers, or inshore and the sound.

Many anglers flock to the Crystal Coast for offshore fishing because of its close proximity to the Gulf Stream. Atlantic City, Beaufort, Morehead City, and other towns are all full of offshore fishing charters for hire. Depending on when you fish, you might catch snapper, king mackerel, yellowfin tuna, wahoo, amberjack, and tons of other varieties of fish found on the Crystal Coast of North Carolina

If you’re looking to go pier fishing, you’ve got two main options: the Oceanana Fishing Pier in Atlantic Beach or the Bogue Inlet Pier in Emerald Isle. The Oceanana Fishing Pier extends out 1,000 feet into the ocean and also offers guests a pier house restaurant, tackle shop, children’s playground, and private beach. If you head to Bogue Inlet Pier, you’ll find that it also extends 1,000 into the water and offers lights to guide your way in the morning or evening. Other features include fish cleaning stations, a pier house store, an observation deck, and bathroom facilities.

Inshore fishing charters are a great way to get in the water. You’ll typically be taken about 5 miles out, either into the ocean or soundside. You can get a high-quality fishing trip for much less than what you’d pay for an offshore charter, and even if you only want to take a half-day trip, you’ll still have plenty of time to sightsee, watch wildlife, and catch some great fish.

Especially if you’ve got some beginners in your group, the marshes in the Back and Bogue Sounds can be excellent spots to fish. You can choose to either wade into the marsh (be sure you’ve got your waders!) or take a kayak to make the most of your time in the water. To get to the marshes, you can go either to the sound side of Fort Macon State Park or on either side of the bridge leading to Emerald Isle. 

man on a boat with fishing supplies

Biggest Fishing Tournaments

Fishing is clearly a big deal around here, so it should be no surprise that the area hosts multiple fishing tournaments each and every year. Starting in the late spring and early summer, you’ll find the BlueWater Fishing Tournament (typically held in late May) and the Youth Fishing Derby (held around Memorial Day). These are two incredible events that kick off the prime fishing season for the area and give anglers of all ages a chance to show their stuff.

The first big tournament of the summer is the Big Rock Blue Marlin tournament, usually held in the first or second week of June. This event is one of the Eastern Seaboard’s biggest offshore fishing tournaments and comes with a prize range of over $100,000! You’ll quickly understand that this tournament is truly a community affair.

Finally, late July brings two more tournaments: the RSWSC King Mackerel Tournament and the Cape Open King Mackerel Tournament. If king mackerel isn’t your thing but you still want to compete in late July, you can visit the Gulf Stream for the tournaments within the Governor’s Cup Billfishing Series.

man on a fishing charter

Fishing Charters

For the ultimate Atlantic Beach fishing experience, book a fishing charter! They’re great for anglers young and old and can help you find exactly the fish you’re looking for. 

The Capt. Stacy Fishing Center is a popular option for those wanting a personalized charter. You can embark on a deep-sea bottom fishing trip or even book an excursion for shark fishing! Either way, Capt. Stacy will help you spot Spanish mackerel, black sea bass, blue marlin, and so many other varieties. The company offers half-day trips on Tuesday, Thursday, and every other Sunday, as well as full-day trips on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday.

Anglers new and experienced will all enjoy a trip with Family Time Fishing Charters. Captain Justin Hill will take you through the local waters to catch a wide range of offshore and nearshore fish. You’re welcome to book a half-day, full-day, or full-day Gulf Stream trip. Captain Justin is a former US Marine and is fully licensed with the US Coast Guard, so you know you’re in good hands!

Reelax Fishing Charters is perfect for fishing with your family. You can choose from multiple excursion options like pelagic trolling, deep drop bottom fishing, family trips, and more. They even offer dinner cruises! The goal at Reelax is to ensure you and your group have an incredible time and catch some amazing fish, and guests will testify that Captain Corbett can make it happen! 

Best Vacation Rentals for Fishing

Our Atlantic Beach beachfront rentals are ideal for any family looking to get out on the water for some quality fishing, and they’re conveniently located near tons of other attractions, too. We do have several specific rentals that are perfect for fishing. If you truly want as much time as possible on the water, consider one of our homes with boat slips! There’s never been a better time to head to Atlantic Beach or any of our other rentals along the Crystal Coast. Contact us today to learn more!