North Carolina’s unique coastal geography and climate lends itself to the great surf fishing experienced by anglers putting their lures and bait in our waters. From the grand view, North Carolina’s surf fishing is influenced by both the Gulf Stream and the Labrador Currents. The Diamond Shoals extending into the ocean out from Cape Hatteras are a dramatic physical example of what happens when these two currents collide. Our state’s surf fishery is in a transition zone between the Mid-Atlantic Bight to the north and the South Atlantic Bight to the south. This leads to a wide variety of fish available in our waters. While Cape Hatteras is considered the demarcation point for the Mid-Atlantic Bight and the South Atlantic Bight – this is not entirely true in the purest of sense. Casting a line in the water north of the Point will not yield a catch significantly different than what is caught south of the Point, however surf fishing along the NC’s northern Outer Banks is quite different then surf fishing along the southern beaches of Brunswick County at the far southern end of the state. The northern Outer Banks are as firmly part of the mid-Atlantic Bight as say Delaware or New Jersey. The Southern Brunswick County beaches are likewise solidly part of the South Atlantic Bight. The transition zone encompassing most of North Carolina’s coast is affected by many factors and varies with the seasons, prevailing winds, weather and many other natural effects (maybe even a butterfly flapping its wings in the Brazilian rain forest – who’s to say). From my experience, the area between Oregon Inlet at the north edge of Hatteras Island to the mouth of the Cape Fear River is the Transition Zone between these two regions.
Cape Hatteras as seen from space, 1989. – Note Diamond Shoals extending out from the cape.
While all three regions in North Carolina are productive, the Transition Zone is especially so for surf fishermen looking to target a wide variety of species. Cape Hatteras has a well deserved reputation for Red Drum. Without question, the red drum draw the surf fishermen to Hatteras Island. Case in point, surf fishing for Striped Bass is usually thought of as a northern pursuit. The waters around Block Island, RI, the shore along Montauk, NY or the coast of New Jersey. These are the places a surf fishermen goes to chase this fish. In North Carolina, I’ve seen incredible striped bass runs in the Mid-Atlantic Bight region of NC. One cold January morning near Oregon Inlet, I witnessed bait fish absolutely flinging themselves to shore to escape the striped bass feeding in the surf. That’s not to say striped bass are not caught further south in the surf, even south of Cape Hatteras. I have caught them in the surf along the False Point section of Hatteras Island, an area of the island far more well known for red drum. Our surf in the Transition Zone offers many exciting, sports species to pursue. The aforementioned Red Drum and Striped Bass of course, along with Bluefish, Black Drum, Cobia, Spanish Mackerel, Spotted Seatrout and Grey Seatrout to name a few. While fishing for sports species, you might want to wet a line for the various tasty pan fish our surf holds. Croaker, Pompano, Spot and Whiting all are caught in our surf and each are quite good and flavorful.
North Carolina’s Transition Zone is the home of several All Tackle World Record Catches. The most famous for surf fishermen being the world record Red Drum caught in the surf near Avon, NC . This behemoth fish weighed in at 94 pounds 2 ounces. The world record bluefish, weighing in at 31 pounds 12 ounces was caught by a fishermen trolling a spoon in Hatteras Inlet. The record Spanish Mackerel at 13 pounds was caught in Ocracoke Inlet. In the South Atlantic Bight zone of NC, two all tackle records exist – a 21 pound 6 ounce Hogfish was caught at Frying Pan Shoals (really at the edge of the Transition Zone) and a 4 pound 5 ounce Sand Tilefish was caught off Oak Island.
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