Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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Charter Fishing and Sailing in North Carolina

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“We live in a unique place,” says Capt. Frank Smith. “If we can get people down here for a week or ten days, they can do it all. They can go inshore fishing, offshore fishing, sailing, you name it. We’ve got great bed and breakfasts. It doesn’t get any better than this.”

As a former commercial fisherman, Capt. Frank of Sea Power Charters knows the waters of North Carolina. And he’s right. The state has something to offer every boater – from sailors to fishermen, novice to expert – there are plenty of chartering options for visitors looking to hit the water.

Fantastic Fishing

Offshore charter captains run sportfishing boats from the Outer Banks, Beaufort and Morehead City, and Wrightsville and Carolina Beach. The state’s position on the Atlantic coast provides world class fishing grounds.

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“You’ve got to get out to the Gulf Stream, so we go to Hatteras or Oregon Inlet,” says Capt. Frank. “The state sticks out hundreds of miles into the Atlantic Ocean, and with the Gulf Stream and the Labrador Current, there’s just great fishing for all kinds of fish.”

He targets fish based on what’s running and where, but the species include wahoo, blue and white marlin, sailfish, tilefish and tuna. He has his favorites, but ultimately he lets the charterers decide the agenda for the day aboard Wild Card, his 35-foot Bertram.

“I want them to participate – this is their boat,” he says. “If they want to rig the baits, they can do that. If you let them do it and show them how to do it themselves, and a fish hits that bait that they tied, that’s it – they’re hooked for life. That’s my world, that’s where I’m happy, and if I can share it with them, and they can have a good time, that’s a good day for everybody.”

Mary Keith Garrett says she grew up fishing in Texas and has fished the Atlantic coast from Florida to Rhode Island. “I’ve had the joy of several trips with Frank,” she says. “Fishing is my secret love, and every time I get the chance, I’ll do it. With the variety of the fish and the quality of the water, North Carolina is the place to go. The anticipation of those really big fish is just exciting!”

Inside the barrier islands (known to as the Inner Banks) is a whole other world of fish. The sounds, rivers and creeks are home to drum, flounder, speckled trout and striped bass, just to name a few. Inshore fishing guides offer trips for those looking to experience light-tackle sport.

“We have one of the best fisheries for striped bass on the eastern seaboard, the red drum as well,” says Capt. Mitchell Blake of FishIBX. “Our system is extremely diverse in what it has to offer – salt, fresh, high-flow, shallow, deep.”

David Emerling, who spent a day fishing with Capt. Richard Andrews of Tar-Pam Guide Service, says they fished for specks and rockfish. “It was a relaxed, pleasant day of fishing with a good level of activity, and with the incredibly beautiful surroundings of our creeks and sounds. I don’t think there’s an experience that can match it. Being able to share that with my son was just icing on the cake.”

Historic Cruising Grounds

North Carolina has much to offer the cruising charterer as well. The Intracoastal Waterway slices right through picturesque settings. Charterers – whether they choose to sail or motor – get a chance to poke around in areas many transient cruisers miss as they pass through the state to points south or north. Countless creeks and coves are great for pulling up to a secluded beach, fishing or anchoring out for a swim and a bite of lunch.

Numerous towns and cities dot the shores, many with history dating back to colonial times. The town of Bath boasts the state’s oldest church, built in 1734. The Havens Wharf building in Washington served as a warehouse for merchant ships in the 1800s and was used as a prison by both sides during the Civil War, making it the oldest commercial building still in use in North Carolina. Ocracoke is an island community with only a few hundred year-round residents, many descended from the original settlers who made their living on the sea.

There’s Oriental (billed as the sailing capital of North Carolina), Manteo and the Outer Banks, New Bern, Southport, Wilmington, Beaufort, and Morehead City, each with their own attractions and all accessible by boat. The waterways are wide enough and deep enough to sail, yet protected and well marked.

“There are all kinds of creeks you can go in and anchor out,” says David Boyuka, who has returned several times to charter sailboats from Carolina Wind Yachting Center in Washington, N.C. “The little coastal towns have great places to go out to eat and get out among the local people. There’s lots of history… It’s a vacation on the move – a great way to have a unique family experience.”

Carolina Wind provides bareboat or captained charters ranging from three-day weekends to a week or more aboard sailboats ranging from 30 to 45 feet, accommodating a range of group sizes and providing plenty of time to visit multiple stops and to sail along the way.

Boat Bumz Charters provides cruises and charters in New Bern and Havelock. In Wrightsville Beach, II Dolphins Sailing Charters takes passengers aboard a beautiful dark-hulled Pearson 33.

Oriental’s School of Sailing  offers charters on its 24- and 34-footers; and Bow to Stern Sailing School in Oriental provides captained sailing charters aboard a 52-foot Irwin, day charters for up to 34 passengers aboard a 37-foot catamaran, and rentals of smaller sailboats and dinghies.

“When you leave from here, you have great destinations to the north and south, the Outer Banks to the east, or you can stay local in the creeks or travel up the river to New Bern,” says Jim Edwards of Bow to Stern Sailing School. “As soon as you pull out of the basin in Oriental, you have a river that’s four miles wide and opens to the sound.”

For those who would prefer to cruise a trawler, Cape Lookout Yacht Sales and Charters offers a Mariner 38 named Water Lily, based in Oriental. Cape Lookout and Ocracoke are popular destinations, says owner Sonny Conover. “You have a variety of waterways, from beautiful beaches to gunkholes, wildlife from wild horses to dolphins and sea turtles,” he says. “The Crystal Coast of North Carolina, in my opinion, is one of the most beautiful areas for boating that you’ll find.”

A combined dose of history and sailing is available in Washington with an afternoon or sunset cruise aboard The Schooner Jeanie B, a 72-foot schooner reminiscent of the working vessels that once plied the waters of coastal North Carolina. “When you look at the natural harbor and the history, there’s a tradition of that kind of ship on the waterfront,” says the Jeanie B’s owner, Dr. Lee Sutton. “Before the trains came, the schooners were part of the town, so I love the romance of that.”

North Carolina Fishing Charters:

North Carolina Bareboat and Crewed Charter Companies:

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  1. FYI, Cape Lookout Yachts no longer exists. Oriental’s School of sailing has a new domain – sailingschoolnc.com. Sailing school contact is Will Flannery.


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Jules Norwood is a UNC-Chapel Hill alumnus and operates Carolina Wind Yachting Center along with his father David. Jules is an avid sailor and has worked as a newspaper and magazine writer and editor.

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