North Carolina’s Crystal Coast Offers an Array of Fishing Opportunities

A wide variety of species can be found plying these waters.

Anglers fishing off North Carolina
Grab the gaff and open the fish box—meat fish abound for anglers hunting the Gulf Stream. Courtesy Zach Stovall

Target Species

  • Bluefin Tuna
  • King Mackerel
  • Wahoo

Its top fishing cred has to be the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament, the best-known big-game fishing competition in America. In 2022, the overall prize money was $5.85 million. Michael Jordan’s 84-foot Viking Catch 23 fished it last year. The Big Rock takes place in Morehead City, North Carolina, which is part of a constellation of barrier island towns known as the Crystal Coast. (Other towns include Beaufort, Pine Knoll Shores, Harkers Island and Atlantic Beach.) The variety of species goes far beyond big blues, and the fishing calendar is open year-round.

Winter wahoo is one of the seasonal headliners. Those willing to brave the offshore run and the fuel burn cruise to the Gulf Stream, where the striped torpedoes and kingfish are abundant. Meanwhile, back at the beach in 40 feet of water, giant bluefins move into the shallows. Capt. Joe Shute of Atlantic Beach guides and fishes the Cape Lookout area through the entire winter season, and he has a good handle on what to expect. As the winter progresses and the weather gets colder, the bluefins get larger. “By January, the largest fish are in, and they often run between 400 and 600 pounds,” Shute says. “After February, the fish begin to move offshore, down off the Big Rock.”

Angler with kingfish
Winter wahoo make for prime targets off the Crystal Coast. Courtesy Hawk Charters

But there is a full year of fishing here. Blue marlin appear in the spring. Sailfish and white marlin abound in the summer. In the fall, you’ll find hungry dolphin located around patches of sargassum strewn along the edge of the continental shelf, some 42 miles off Cape Lookout. Fly-fishermen can grab a box full of Clouser Minnows and zero in on shrimp boats near Beaufort Inlet to find the false albacore. Blackfin and yellowfin tuna come to forage at different times of the year.

The natural surroundings and wildlife are an added bonus. Check out Whitehurst Creek and North River Estuary by stand-up paddleboard, or cruise along Shackleford Banks to spot wild horses known as Bankers, descendants of a herd dating back to the 1500s.

Pelagic fishing jacket
If and when the weather rolls in, you’ll want to be sealed up tight. Pelagic’s Chubasco jacket and bib have sealed weather-resistant zippers, zipper garages, a quick-adjust, cinched hood, Velcro wrist adjusters, and quick-fit ankle snaps. When it comes to staying dry offshore in January, it’s a game of millimeters. $140; Courtesy Pelagic


Hawk Charters

  • 4.9/5 stars
  • Running a 35-foot inboard, Capt. David Berrane fishes for every species under the North Carolina sun. 

Back Sound Fishing Charters

  • 4.9/5 stars
  • Raised in Beaufort and currently living in Harkers Island, Capt. Jason Frivance knows the local waters well. You can launch from either Beaufort or Morehead City.

Lil Piracy Guide Service

  • 4.9/5 stars
  • Capt. Charles Timberlake’s 23-foot Key West lets him go inshore for redfish and trout, or nearshore for Spanish mackerel, kingfish and cobia.

Visit for top-rated Crystal Coast charters.

More Travel