Carolina Beach is well-known as one of the best Cape Fear destinations to drop a line, and with good reason. With a host of charter fishing businesses, ample inshore fishing grounds, and miles of Atlantic Ocean facing beaches, there’s arguably a fishing spot everywhere you turn in this small island community.
Make the most out of the exceptional waterfront scene, and try your hand at the many ways to go fishing in Carolina Beach. From oceanfront piers to open river waters, the fishing is unforgettable and unbeatable in this corner of the North Carolina coastline.
What you’ll Need to Fish in Carolina Beach
The first thing an angler will need to go fishing in Carolina Beach, and particularly along the ocean beaches, is a Coastal Recreational Fishing License, which is commonly referred to as a saltwater fishing license. Required by the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries and easy to obtain, a saltwater fishing license is an inexpensive necessity that must be in hand before dropping a line.
There are several ways to get a saltwater fishing license. Anglers can purchase one online before or during their vacation at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/recreational-fishing-licenses-and-permits, or can pick one up at virtually any bait or tackle store, or at several larger sporting goods stores that offer fishing supplies in and around nearby Wilmington.
The rate for a saltwater fishing license depends on the length of the license (i.e., 10 day, 1 year, or for a lifetime), as well as whether an angler is an in-state North Carolina resident or an out-of-state visitor. For example, a fishing license for 10 days is approximately $5 for an NC resident, and $10 for a visitor coming to Carolina Beach from another state.
It should be noted that a fishing license is not required for anglers under the age of 16, and is also typically not required for charter fishing trips, as the captain’s license traditionally covers everyone on board.
What you’ll Catch in Carolina Beach
What an angler catches in Carolina Beach depends on two factors – the location and the season.
Fishing is typically at its best during the fall and spring months, although the summertime is also a popular season for surf fishing, pier fishing, and offshore charter fishing for the big species (like dolphin, sailfish, and marlin.)
Depending on the time of year, anglers can expect to reel in the following catches in the various regions that are close to Carolina Beach:
Inshore / Cape Fear River fishing: Anglers targeting the inshore or nearshore waters of the Cape Fear River / Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) will want to look for drum (including red drum, black drum, and puppy drum), striped bass, speckled trout, flounder, cobia, Spanish mackerel, sheapshead, and even catfish. The tidal flats can also be good hunting grounds for crabs and clams.
Surf / Oceanfront fishing: Anglers along the beaches and on the oceanfront Carolina Beach Fishing Pier can expect to reel in King mackerel and Spanish mackerel, drum, mullet, bluefish, croaker, blowfish, sea bass, pompano, perch, cobia and the very occasional tarpon or false albacore.
Offshore / Gulf Stream fishing: Visitors who take a charter boat way out into the ocean waters to the Gulf Stream can expect to land a wide array of big sport fish, including blue marlin, white marlin, and sailfish, as well as a number of tasty game fish such as yellowfin tuna and blackfin tuna, mahi, wahoo, red snapper, albacore, amberjack, and much more.
Local Fishing Piers and Boat Ramps
While virtually any stretch of shoreline can serve as a fine launching point for a day of fishing, anglers who want to increase their odds of reeling in a big catch will want to check out these local fishing piers and / or boat ramps that are found in and around Carolina Beach.
Carolina Beach Fishing Pier
1810 Canal Drive, Carolina Beach, NC 28428
This fishing pier in the heart of Carolina Beach extends 700’ ft. into the ocean waters and features an on-site bait and tackle shop for supplies, as well as a grill and snack bar, a game room, a restaurant, and a full ABC permit for refreshments.
Kure Beach Fishing Pier
Avenue K, Kure Beach, NC 28449
Located just south of Carolina Beach, the Kure Beach fishing pier is 712’ ft. long and features a number of on-site amenities including a tackle shop, grill, and an arcade with pool tables. Alcohol is NOT served or allowed on the premises.
Johnnie Mercer's Pier
23 E Salisbury St, Wrightsville Beach, NC 28480
The Johnnie Mercer's Pier is the longest fishing pier in the area at roughly 1,200’ ft. long, and is located in the neighboring town of Wrightsville Beach. The pier features an on-site tackle shop, an arcade, and a restaurant.
Snows Cut Park & Ramp
220 Annie Drive, Carolina Beach, NC 28428
Situated on the edge of Snow’s Cut, which connects to the Cape Fear River and the ICW, this boat ramp features five launching lanes, a separate hand launching site for kayaks and canoes, fishing areas and public restrooms, and parking for roughly 100 vehicles.
Carolina Beach State Park Boat Ramp
B Road, Carolina Beach, NC 28428
34° 02'59.05" N 77° 55'08.71" W
Located in the heart of Carolina Beach State Park, this launch site that borders the Cape Fear River has two launching lanes, a separate kayak launching area, and 40 parking spaces for vehicles with trailers. Seasonal boat and kayak rentals are also available at the site.
Federal Point / Buzzard Bay
2515 South Fort Fisher Blvd., Kure Beach, NC
33° 57' 34'' N 77° 56' 30'' W
Located south of Carolina Beach in the town of Kure Beach, this launch site features instant access to the Cape Fear River and Atlantic Ocean, and features 36 parking spaces for vehicles with trailers, and multiple launching areas for kayaks, canoes, and larger vessels.
River Road Park Boat Ramp
River Road Park, Wilmington, NC 28412
Located on the edge of the Cape Fear River in nearby Wilmington, this public park features an on-site fishing pier that’s close to picnic areas and public restrooms, as well as a boat ramp for various sized vessels.
Trails End Park
621 Trails End Road, Wilmington, NC 28409
Located close to Masonboro Island in the nearby town of Wilmington, this park and boat ramp features parking for 40 vehicles, a launch lane, and an on-site fishing pier for anglers.
Wrightsville Beach Boat Ramp
Channel Walk Drive, Wrightsville Beach, NC 28480
Located on the edge of the Wrightsville Beach Causeway, this boat ramp is just a few miles away from the Wrightsville Inlet, and features parking for 68 vehicles with trailers as well as five launch lanes.
Castle Street Boat Ramp
Dram Tree Park (Corner of Castle Street and Surrey Street), Wilmington, NC 28401
Situated on the edge of the downtown area in nearby Wilmington, this boat ramp on the Cape Fear River features a separate kayak launching area, a launching lane, and parking for 36 vehicles with trailers.
Smith Creek Park
633 Shenandoah Street, Wilmington, NC 28411
This larger freshwater lake in nearby Wilmington has an on-site fishing pier, a floating dock for smaller vessels, picnic facilities, and public restrooms.
Inshore Fishing Charters in Carolina Beach
More than 20 charter businesses in and around Carolina Beach offer inshore fishing trips, which are easy expeditions that target the Cape Fear River, the local sounds and inlets, and even the ocean waters up to a few miles offshore.
These fishing trips can accommodate anywhere from roughly 2-6 passengers, and are generally available in 1/2 day, 3/4 day, or full day excursions. Typically less expensive than an offshore outing, an inshore fishing trip is a great way to explore area fishing grounds that are both fruitful and close to home.
In addition, many inshore fishing trips can also be catered to an individual party’s taste, which makes an inshore fishing trip especially family friendly. For example, parties can spend time fishing, as well as cruising to neighboring deserted islands like Masonboro Island for shelling, or for crabbing / clamming in shallow tidal flats. Ask ahead to see if a “special’ trip can be accommodated to cater to your fishing party’s interests.
Carolina Beach is also home to several larger head boats, or “party boats,” that can accommodate 20 passengers or more in a single fishing trip. These trips are budget-friendly and a great option for anglers who want to spend a little time fishing in the open ocean or river waters without breaking the bank.
Offshore Fishing Charters in Carolina Beach
A number of charter boats in the Carolina Beach area offer offshore expeditions, which are trips that venture far out into the Atlantic Ocean, (anywhere from 15-40 miles), to target the big catches that are found near shipwrecks, the Gulf Stream, and other noteworthy sites
While a Gulf Stream trip can be arranged, these charter trips often concentrate on famed fishing spots that are situated roughly 20 miles or so off the coastline, (like The Dredge Wreck, the Ten-Mile Boxcars, and The Liberty Ship), where the big species are found. Regardless of where you go, expect to reel in trophy worthy catches like mahi, yellowfin or blackfin tuna, sailfish, snapper, and more while enjoying a full-day fishing expedition.
Offshore fishing trips can generally accommodate parties of 6 to 8 people at most, and are usually more expensive than their inshore counterparts due to the amount of gas, tackle, and supplies involved. All rods, reels, bait and supplies are provided on an offshore fishing trip, and the captain usually has a first mate on board to help anglers reel in and gaffe the super large catches.
Both offshore and inshore fishing charters should be booked as far in advance as possible, and there are multiple options for reserving a charter trip online through individual fishing providers and / or through local marinas. Scout out your options well in advance, and enjoy a Carolina Beach fishing adventure that you’ll never forget.
Tips and Tricks for Carolina Beach Fishing
- Want an easy way to bring all your fishing gear to the beach? Head to Freeman Park. This park is open to 4WD vehicles, which means that anglers can load up their truck with everything they need, and go. A permit is required to drive on the beach, and is available on a daily or annual basis.
- Carolina Beach is home to variety of fishing tournaments that lures in anglers from all across the state and beyond. Check out popular tournaments that are held throughout the year, like the East Coast Got-Em-On Classic King Mackerel Tournament in July, the Carolina Fall Flatfish Tournament, and the three-day Pleasure Island Surf Fishing Challenge to enjoy a little competition.
- Don’t have any bait handy? Head to the beach. In the summer, anglers can scratch around in the wet sand close to where the waves are washing up to collect sand fleas, or “sand diggers,” which double as exceptional bait for surf fishing.
- Anglers can also enjoy instant access to great fishing by renting an oceanfront vacation home. These properties often have direct boardwalks or pathways to the beach, as well as a suite of on-site extras for fishermen, such as fish cleaning tables, hoses and outdoor showers, and grills to prepare the day’s fresh catch.
- The local Carolina Beach State Park is also an enticing vacation option for anglers, as it’s a shell’s throw from the Cape Fear River, has an on-site boat ramp / marina, and is within walking distance of the local beaches.
- Can’t decide when to plan a fishing vacation? Try fall. Fall is an exceptional time for anglers in Carolina Beach, as the fishing is hot, and the prices at local hotels and vacation rentals are generally less expensive than in the prime summer months.
Fishing is arguably Carolina Beach’s favorite sport, and for good reason. With a landscape that’s surrounded by water, and with ample opportunities to head to the Atlantic Ocean or to the local rivers, inlets and sounds, there’s great fishing to be found in every direction.
Plan an inshore exploration, a kayak fishing adventure, or just a day at the beach to make the most out of the fantastic fishing conditions that this town has to offer. After a couple days on the Carolina Beach Fishing Pier, or onboard a boat that’s launched from the Carolina Beach State Park or a local marina, you’re sure to be hooked.