Variety makes Eastern North Carolina Fishing Special

Dempsey Benton of Raleigh, left, and Bill Ross of Chapel Hill display a double header of old drum caught on a charter with Capt. Richard Andrews of Tar-Pam Guide Service.
Dempsey Benton of Raleigh, left, and Bill Ross of Chapel Hill display a double header of old drum caught on a charter with Capt. Richard Andrews of Tar-Pam Guide Service.

Stretching more than 500 miles from the Appalachian Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean, the state of North Carolina slopes gradually downward from the peaks in the west to the marshes and estuaries of the coastal plains in the east – creating tons of diversity in North Carolina fishing.

To the delight of resident and visiting anglers, the state offers fisheries as diverse as its landscapes. There’s fly fishing in the mountains, and a fleet of large sportfishing boats makes its home at the coast for saltwater fishing along the beaches and out to the Gulf Stream. In between, a vast network of rivers, creeks, and sounds known as the Inner Banks offers its own wide variety of fishing, which residents have long known and enjoyed, and which others are starting to notice as well.

Captain Mitchell Blake of FishIBX said the variety of fishing in his home state is what led him to start his own fishing guide service.

“I love traveling and fishing in different places,” he said. “In doing that, I went to Mexico, South Carolina, Florida, Hawaii – I’ve fished quite a few places, but some of the best fishing I’ve seen is right in my backyard in Eastern North Carolina. Other places have fishing destinations, guides. I thought, ‘Who’s promoting it here?’”

Blake, who holds a degree in fish and wildlife management, said he enjoys all kinds of fishing but loves inshore. The variety of species, and bodies of water ranging from tiny creeks to large open sounds, allows for year-round fishing.

“The thing that’s so appealing about the area is the variety,” agreed Captain Richard Andrews of Tar-Pam Guide Service. “We have fishing all year, and any given day you can go out there and catch at least four different quality sportfish species – striped bass, flounder, drum, and speckled trout. That variety is really the key – I’ve literally caught three or four different species on consecutive casts.”

The stripers are the staple – anglers start the year fishing the Albemarle Sound and the lower Pamlico and Roanoke rivers, following the fish as they trek upstream to spawn.

“Sometimes we’ll follow the stripers all the way up to Weldon,” said Blake. “They can be found before, during, and after the spawning period. That’s a fantastic five months right there. It’s high-volume fishing, really good quantity and quality of fishing.”

During the summer and fall the other species become more active.

“In June I return to the Pamlico, and fish there June through essentially December,” Andrews said. “In the summer, until the middle of August, we do light tackle fishing charters on the Pamlico River and the Pungo River – flounder, speckled trout, puppy drum. I do chase some tarpon around in July. It’s not something that I can depend on for charters much, but it’s something I like to do on my own. Starting in the middle of August is the big drum fishing, and that runs through the end of September. In October we’re into our fall season, with light tackle again.”

Fishermen from outside the region have begun to discover what it has to offer. Blake said those from nearby states especially, are coming to the Inner Banks for striped bass and red drum.

“We have one of the best fisheries for striped bass on the eastern seaboard, and the red drum as well,” he said. “Our system is extremely diverse in what it has to offer – salt, fresh, high-flow, shallow, deep. If you’re new here and you’re thinking about going fishing, you want something you can do on your own and teach your kids. I try to show them different options.”

“I’ve been impressed by how much demand there’s been,” Andrews added. “My goal is 200 trips a year, which is a heck of a lot of fishing in one year, five, six days a week.”

Still, the water is far from crowded. Because of the large physical size of the fishery and the rural nature of the surrounding areas, there are plenty of open spots.

“There are places you can go that are great fishing spots, and you can be there on a holiday weekend and the only boats you’ll see are crabbers or an occasional boat passing on the ICW,” said Andrews. “We have a great resource, and we just need to protect it and market it.”

The need to protect and improve the region’s natural resources is something both guides recognize. Past experience has shown the harm that can be done by ignoring the impact of human actions, including both overfishing and pollution.

“Right now in North Carolina there’s a lot going on with fishery management,” Blake said. “There’s a lot of work being done through the university systems to enhance and improve the fishery. There’s definitely a lot of interest among the anglers. There are certainly some obstacles out there, but the public awareness is improving, and there’s a lot of good work being done, looking at what other states are doing. People are working together better than they have in the past.”

Like Blake, Andrews was drawn back home by the fishing. After spending a few years fishing on the coast and earning a graduate degree in wetland ecology, he wanted to get involved in environmental efforts and fish; he now works part time with the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation, a non-profit group, in addition to operating his guide service.

“There’s just great fishing here,” he said. “Within an hour you’ve got lots of opportunities for year-round fishing, which is something a lot of places don’t have. If we can put some conservation measures in place, we could potentially have a national destination fishery, where people would be flying in from other states to come fishing.”

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Jules Norwood is a UNC Chapel Hill alum and operates Carolina Wind Yachting Center along with his father David. Jules is an avid sailor and has worked as a newspaper reporter, editor, and newsroom manager.


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.