Most visitors are surprised that there are so many opportunities to catch freshwater fish on and near the Outer Banks. From the northern reaches of the Currituck Sound to inland lakes and rivers, if it’s freshwater you want to fish … you’ve come to the right place.
Sometimes the line between freshwater and saltwater can be hard to know down here. If you are confused, visit Descriptive Boundaries for Coastal – Joint Inland Waters.
Here are a few of our favorite places to freshwater fish in and near the Outer Banks. See boat ramps for freshwater fishing.
Alligator River Wildlife Refuge
The refuge is located on the mainland just west of Manteo. It is huge at over 150,000 acres. Some of the most enjoyable fishing on the refuge is simply stopping along the highway and tossing out your line!! There is a universally accessible fishing dock at the head of Creef Cut Wildlife Trail. Sawyer Lake, a part of the Milltail Creek Paddle Trails, offers peaceful fishing opportunity! All canals, creeks, and lakes on the refuge located in areas open to the public are open to fishing during State seasons. East Lake is a great spot for largemouth bass and many other species. It can be accessed from the Mashoes boat launch. See boat ramps.
Kitty Hawk Bay
The water in Kitty Hawk Bay is brackish to fresh. Species include largemouth bass, speckled trout, bream and more. Kitty Hawk Bay is the protected water surrounded by Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and Colington Island. Shallow water. See boat ramps.
Currituck Sound is a bit complicated. North of the Wright Memorial Bridge (but inside ) is considered jointly managed by US Fish and Wildlife and NC Wildlife so you must have a freshwater license. These "lines" can change so make sure you check with the fishing license office about where you can fish with which license. Other parts of the sound are considered saltwater. Currituck Sound is widely known for its "brackish" water fishing. It is approximately 30 miles long, averages four miles wide, and averages four feet deep. It is separated on the east from the Atlantic Ocean by the northern Outer Banks including Currituck. The sound, once considered one of America's premier largemouth bass fishing waters has suffered a drastic decline in its freshwater fisheries, largemouth bass included. Droughts during the late 1980s allowed salinity levels in the sound to rise so high that freshwater fish were not able to reproduce successfully for several years. Recovery and subsequent quality of the sound's largemouth bass and other freshwater fisheries totally depends on sufficient quantities of fresh water entering the sound to keep salinity levels low. The best months to fish the sound are April, May, September and October. Currituck Sound has an abundance of aquatic vegetation and weedless lures are a must. Fly rod fishermen have had good success with large popping bugs. See boat ramps.
Lake Phelps is part of Pettigrew State Park. Lake Phelps is a 16,000acre natural lake located in Washington and Tyrrell counties. The lake and most of the surrounding shoreline make up Pettigrew State Park. The lake has a maximum depth of 12 feet, an average depth of 4.5 feet, and more than 20 miles of shoreline. The lake provides excellent shoreline bass fishing as well as good fishing for yellow perch and assorted sunfish. Lake Phelps is known throughout the state for its bass fishing. The lake teems with largemouth bass, yellow perch and pumpkinseed. From land, try your luck on the fishing pier, boardwalk, or the overlooks at Cypress Point. Wade fishermen can enter Lake Phelps at the Pocosin Overlook. Excellent fishing spots can also be found along the banks of the Scuppernong River, in addition to all of the ponds in the park. April, May, October and November are the most productive times to fish Lake Phelps. Most of the fishing is done along the shoreline in areas dominated with "structure" such as flooded woodlands, marsh grass fringes, and lily pads. Many fishermen prefer anchoring their boats in these productive areas. Largemouth bass, sunfish, crappie, white perch, white and channel catfish, and striped bass. See boat ramps.
Lake Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge has the largest natural freshwater lake in North Carolina. It is approximately 42,000 acres in size, has a maximum depth of 10 feet and an average depth of 2.5 feet. The lake is located in Hyde County off US 264 near New Holland. NC 94 crosses the western end of the lake. There are numerous canals located around the lake which were constructed in the 1930s in an attempt to drain it and make it suitable for agriculture. The federal government acquired the lake in 1934 and established a waterfowl refuge. Largemouth bass are the most sought after game fish in the lake with the peak season occurring in the spring and fall. Most bass average between 2 and 3 pounds although larger bass are occasionally caught. The canals located around the lake are prime fishing areas in the spring. Wading along the shallow northern and western shores among the cypress trees and stumps can be productive for bass in the early spring. Early spring is also the best time to fish for striped bass, which are stocked periodically in the lake. Most fish average under 6 pounds and are caught at the culverts under the lake causeway on NC 94. Because striped bass are attracted to moving water, another good location to fish for them is where the canals exit the lake, but only during periods of high water. Fishing in Lake Mattamuskeet is under federal control and closed during the waterfowl season. Since the lake is very shallow, most fishermen use small boats and motors. See boat ramps.
West of the Outer Banks you will cross the Scuppernong River. Largemouth bass, striped bass, crappie, white perch, yellow perch, catfish, sunfish. Numerous boat ramps in Columbia and Creswell.
The Chowan River originates near the Virginia border and flows through the northeastern region of the state for 35 miles before emptying into Albemarle Sound near Edenton. The width of the river varies from approximately 1/5 of a mile in the upper reaches to almost two miles at its mouth. Virtually the entire river is flanked by cypress swamps which provide good fish habitat. Some of the finest freshwater fishing in the state can be found in the Chowan River. The river and its tributary creeks are spawning areas for blueback herring and alewife which provide excellent forage for largemouth bass, the most sought after sport fish in the river. During the summer and fall months, numerous bass can be found in the mouths of tributary creeks feeding on young herring. As a result of this abundant food supply, bass in excess of five pounds are common. The river also provides good fishing for sunfish during the spring spawning period (April/May). Tributaries to the Chowan are good bream fishing streams. These same waters also produce good catches of black crappie during spring months and white perch during the summer. Fishing for white perch typically begins before sunrise by drifting the boat down the middle of the river with an array of cane pole/bobber rigs using either worms or shrimp for bait. Action can vary from none to furious once a school is located. As with most summer fishing, catch rates decline with the rising sun. Largemouth bass, sunfish, striped bass, white perch. Numerous boat ramps in Chowan, Gates and Hertford counties.
The Roanoke River is is the major tributary to Albemarle Sound. The river flows 138 miles from the dam at Roanoke Rapids Lake to Albemarle Sound. This section of river has a width varying between 300 and 900 feet and offers excellent fishing for striped bass, largemouth bass, sunfish and catfish. The Roanoke River is the principal spawning stream for the Albemarle Sound population of striped bass. These trophy game fish enter the mouth of the river in late March or early April on their annual run up the river to their main spawning grounds near Weldon. During March and early April, most anglers fish for the stripers with natural bait on the bottom. The most popular bait is an alewife or blueback herring steak approximately one-inch thick. Herring gills are also an excellent bait, but they must be kept fresh and the hook must be rebaited often. Herring may be purchased from local fish dealers or caught by drifting small mesh gill nets in the run of the river. Just prior to the major spawning period in late April and early May, anglers prefer to use three to fiveinch live alewife and blueback herring. The Roanoke River also offers very good fishing for white perch which run up the river from late March to late May to spawn. As the weather warms and the striped bass and white perch head back downstream to Albemarle Sound, fishing for largemouth bass, sunfish and catfish begins to peak. Fishing for largemouth bass peaks in May but may remain good until cool weather slows the action in November. Bluegill is the most abundant species of sunfish but fliers, redear (shellcrackers), redbreast and warmouth are caught frequently. Catfish--primarily channel catfish and bullheads--are caught along the entire length of the river. Although most cats will weigh less than four pounds, channel catfish weighing more than 20 pounds are frequently caught. Largemouth bass, sunfish, striped bass, white perch, bullhead and channel catfish. Numerous boat ramps in Martin and Washington counties.