From the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains in the west to the gorgeous outer banks, North Carolina is full of great fishing spots. Freshwater fishing enthusiasts have many choices where to go fishing for large and smallmouth bass in the many lakes and reservoirs.
Those with a passion for streams and hiking have thousands of miles of waterways, most with stunning rainbow and speckled trout. The best fishing spots in North Carolina are easy to find, too.
If all that fishing is not enough, there is the vibrant music scene. While bluegrass may be what most people think of when someone mentions North Carolina, you can listen to any musical genre you want while discussing your big catch over a craft brew from one of the state’s many breweries.
The vibe here is very different from other places like the East coast fishing areas in Connecticut or Maine.
Get ready for a great fishing trip because North Carolina offers some excellent opportunities for saltwater fishing. You can cast a line from the shore or pick a guided trip for some deep-sea fishing that you will never forget.
So, start packing up your tackle and gear because after reading this list, you’ll want to go fishing in NC.
- 1 1. Lake Fontana
- 2 2. Jordan Lake
- 3 3. Lake Norman
- 4 4. Lake James
- 5 5. Lake Chatuge
- 6 6. High Rock Lake
- 7 7. Ocracoke Island Outer Banks
- 8 8. Smoky Mountains National Park
- 9 9. The Tuckasegee River
- 10 10. The Nantahala River
- 11 Bonus North Carolina Fishing Destination: Sutton Lake
- 12 Last-Minute North Carolina Fishing Tips
1. Lake Fontana
With more than 400 miles of shoreline and a water surface of 10,230 acres with a ton of different branches, Lake Fontana is one of North Carolina fishing destinations that are best suited for bass fishing. Check out our step-by-step guide to catching big bass here.
There’s even an annual bass tournament on the lake (this year, it was held in March) were anglers can win real cash, have unrestrained access to entertainment venues, and try out the local cuisine.
You can even try your hand at trout fishing at one of the many different streams that feed into the lake. Record-breaking fish are common, making this one of the best fishing spots in North Carolina.
Make sure you are properly geared for your trip and make sure your fishing gear can stand up to some of the larger fish in the area. Bass over 10 pounds and huge catfish and muskie are routinely caught on the lake.
You can also pull up your boat and explore the ruins of old homesteads or hike a huge network of trails. The best part about Lake Fontana is that you have many options for both camping and fishing.
You may see these types of fish at Lake Fontana:
- Largemouth or smallmouth bass
- Kentucky Spotted Bass,
- Lake Trout
While there, be sure to visit Fontana Dam, which is the tallest dam on the eastern seaboard. When you are not fishing, it is worth the trip to take in this wonder. Be sure to check out Fontana Village for a bite to eat while you are there, too.
2. Jordan Lake
Jordan Lake is a 13,940 acre reservoir in the New Hope Valley just west of Raleigh. It is a popular destination for those who want to get out of town for some quality fishing time.
It has a depth that averages 14 feet and maxes out at 38 feet, so this is a shallow lake in an area that gets hot in the summer. While Lake Fontana has shoreline does not enable easy access to the lake, Jordan lake’s 180 miles of uninterrupted shoreline can meet every fisherman’s needs.
Thanks to the many campgrounds, local shops, restaurants, and accommodation opportunities, you can either come alone or bring the whole family with you. There’s something fun and engaging to do at Lake Jordan for everyone, from junior to grandpa.
You can hook these types of fish at Jordan Lake:
- Largemouth and smallmouth bass
- Channel catfish
- Black or white crappie
- White or striped bass
- Yellow perch
Largemouths are usually huge due to the generous aquatic vegetation that sustains and feeds the species. On average, a largemouth weighs more than 6 lbs, with the largest specimen ever caught at the lake weighing slightly over 14 pounds.
3. Lake Norman
Lake Norman is a 32,000 acre lake that draws in many anglers because it is an excellent place to fish for bass. While there are some big catfish in this lake, it also has an abundance of white perch.
Although this lake can be crowded at times, you can get good results when you put in a day fishing here. With 500 miles of shoreline, you can go off by yourself to fish and get away from the popular spots.
Excellent access and a variety of catfish means this is one of best fishing spots in North Carolina to wet a line. The types of fish you can catch at Lake Norman include:
- Largemouth, striped, white or spotted bass
- Channel, blue or flathead catfish
- Black crappie
- White and yellow Perch
The bad news is that you’ll need a fishing license to catch fish at the lake, the good news is that there are no seasonal restrictions when it comes to bass, you can catch it year-round. Striped bass should be no larger than 16″ while black bass and crappie should not exceed 14″ and 8″ in length, respectively.
For more info on the permit and fishing limitations, check out www.ncwildlife.org.
4. Lake James
Lake James is a 6,800 cold-water lake that boasts depths of 120 feet below the surface or more. This makes Lake James the home to many different species of fish, including those enjoying cool water. This lake is a great fishing spot especially in summertime.
For those of us who want something beyond the typical bass fishing experience, there is the thrill of chasing Northern pike or tiger muskies on this beloved North Carolina lake. But the most spectacular catches are smallmouths, which are often surprisingly big.
Lake James is popular for a lot of reasons beyond fishing. It is easy to access and has plenty of boat rental and camping facilities. It also has more than one marina, unlike a lot of lakes.
Plus, thanks to the amazing scenery and its crystal clear water, Lake James is one of the most beautiful lakes in the Old North State.
Here’s what you can expect to find at the end of your line at Lake James:
- Largemouth, white or smallmouth bass
- Blue catfish
- Black or white crappie
- Northern pike
- Tiger muskie
5. Lake Chatuge
Lake Chatuge 7,480 acre scenic lake located in the Blue Ridge Smoky Mountains along the North Carolina and Georgia border, which offers anglers over 7,000 acres of water surface in the summer. Spotted bass, white bass, largemouth bass, and hybrid bass are the most common fish you will find there.
But don’t be surprised to see a walleye on your line, too. You can use a Georgia or North Carolina fishing license, so it is a popular spot for anglers from both states.
Here are the species of fish you can catch at Lake Chatuge:
- Largemouth, smallmouth, spotted, or hybrid striped bass
- Channel catfish
- Black Crappie
- trout (nearby Chatuge Dam)
- and 22 more fish species.
Historically speaking, Lake Chatuge used to be the best place in Georgia to fish for smallmouth bass, but the species experienced a rapid decline after the illegal introduction of spotted bass into the lake. The blueback herring has also been an unwelcome guest in the lake since the ’90s.
Today, the most common species is the bass. The largest hybrid bass to be caught in Chatuge stood at a whopping 25 lbs 8 oz, an official state record that hasn’t been shattered to this date.
Also, the lake is known for hosting the largest walleye ever caught in the state (13 lbs, 8 oz in 1986).
6. High Rock Lake
High Rock Lake is 15,180 acres and the deep-water lake hosts some exquisite schools of bass and crappie. The large size means there is a lot of room to find your own special fishing hole to reel in the big ones. With 365 miles of shoreline, there is so much for everybody to explore.
You don’t even need a boat to wet a line thanks to the lake’s jaw-dropping 336-mile-long shoreline.
But if you really need a boat, you’ll want to check in on the boating regulations depending on what type of watercraft you plan to use. There are numerous marinas to supply your every need. You can also rent a boat to get out in the deeper parts.
Here’s the fish species that dwell in High Rock Lake:
- Largemouth, white, and striped bass
- Channel, flathead, and blue catfish
- Black and white crappie
Be wary that unlike the previous two lakes on our list, the water is not clear, so make sure that you stockpile plenty of brightly colored lures and spinnerbaits.
Check video above for a gentleman’s experience while boat fishing for crappie on High Rock Lake.
7. Ocracoke Island Outer Banks
If you want to get away from it all and enjoy some great deep sea or offshore fishing, go to Ocracoke. This remote community was once a popular hangout for pirates like the infamous Blackbeard.
While there, visit Teach’s Hole for some great swimming time near the shore and bountiful fishing further out.
Ocracoke is not for the faint-hearted due to its remoteness. There are a lot of vacation rentals on the island. However, they book up fast because it is a beloved place to escape the everyday insanity of big city life.
Anglers can count on catching:
- Spanish mackerel
- Sea mullets
On your way to Ocracoke try fishing near Swan’s Quarter. Most people take the ferry to get to Ocracoke. However, the remoteness and tranquility of Swan’s Quarter are worth fishing, if you have the time.
8. Smoky Mountains National Park
With thousands of miles of streams to fish along, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a great place to explore. You may know this is the most visited park in the entire National Park system.
However, most visitors only venture a few feet from their cars, leaving many places to drop a line in the water. You can discover many trout fishing spots by getting on the trail and fishing further out than most people dare to venture.
A backpacking-style fishing rod that collapses can help you have a more comfortable fishing expedition.
However, before going to the Smokies, you must purchase a state fishing license from either North Carolina or Tennessee first if you aged 13 or older. Kids aged 12 or younger are allowed to fish at no charge if they are with an adult that has purchased a permit of license.
The cost of the license largely depends on the type of fishing and the area you plan on visiting and you need to buy it before arriving at the park as you cannot buy it from the National Park Service.
All licensed anglers are allowed to fish from half an hour before dawn until half an hour after dusk (the official hours) year-round. There’s a limit to how many smallmouth bass and rainbow trout, brook, and brown trout you are allowed to take home (juts 5
per day per adult and 2 per day per kid).
9. The Tuckasegee River
If you love to fly fish, head to the Tuckasegee River, which fans have nicknamed, “The Tuck.” This gorgeous river is home to some great fly fishing.
In fact, it is one of the best fishing spots in North Carolina. For the bass fishing enthusiast, “The Tuck” offers some of the biggest smallmouth bass in the Smoky Mountain Region. This means you could catch bass that are close to eight pounds and 16 to 20 inches long.
This is a family-friendly river with good access. When you are not fishing, you can take rafting or tubing trips to cool off. Anglers on the river also enjoy catching the steelhead from Lake Fontana that start running into “The Tuck” in April.
You’ll spot trout and many other types of fish in the Tuckasegee, which is one of th ebest places in North Carolina to fish trout. However, don’t be surprised by the size of Tuckasegee River (around 40 to 100 yards in width).
The Catch-and-release period starts on Oct. 1st and continues through early June. It is a great fishing spot for beginner and advanced fishing enthusiasts alike that don’t mind catching mostly medium-sized fish. There are also many other great fishing spots nearby, like Fontana Lake and the Nantahala River.
10. The Nantahala River
Just down the road from the Tuckaseegee is the Nantahala River, one the best 100 trout-fishing rivers in North America and a popular place for national fly fishing championships.
It offers hands-down some of the best trout fishing experiences the state has to offer but you’ll need a state fishing license from NC with a trout stamp on it first.
This family-friendly river provides excellent fly fishing. You’ll want to avoid some parts of the river frequented by rafting trips, but there are plenty of choice spots.
This is a cold river, so you will want to wear some good waders. You’ll also need some outdoor clothing, even during the spring and summer months. This river is especially a great place to cool off from the summer heat.
The most common fish species here include:
- Wild/stocked brown trout
- Wild/stocked rainbow trout
The hatchery-supported ares are closed in March.
Bonus North Carolina Fishing Destination: Sutton Lake
When it comes to bass fishing, North Carolina has plenty of destinations to choose from. One of the best bass fishing lakes in North Carolina is an interesting place called Sutton Lake. The lake is a power plant cooling reservoir known statewide for its impressive largemouth population.
Sutton Lake has unusually warm waters even during winter months because of a nearby powerplant whose discharge keeps water temperatures of all the lake’s seven ponds into the 70s and 80s even in winter.
This fact makes the lake a surprising fishing oasis for all bass die-hards during the cold months. In addition, from December 1 through March 31 anglers are barred from keeping the catch. This translates into trophy-sized captures in late March and April.
Beside largemouth bass, Sutton lake hosts several other species:
- Black crappie
- Flathead catfish
Last-Minute North Carolina Fishing Tips
Sometimes the best fishing spots in North Carolina are where you must hike to. People fish out the easy to reach spots sooner.
So, if you can, try to catch fishing holes that require a 30 minute to one hour hike to reach. Here are some more fishing tips for you:
- Pay attention to individual area rules. Fishing in N.C. is great but there are some areas that have different rules than others. Catch and release-only areas can sometimes be on one section of a river while on another, you can keep your catch if you meet the size limits.
- Some spots are becoming more crowded. North Carolina is a beautiful state that is wonderful to live in and the secret is out. With more people deciding to make their home in the area or vacation to N.C., some of the choice spots are crowded. Going at non-peak times can help, too. You can also find a spot closer yet far far away from the crowd.
- Book lodging, guided trips, and boat rentals well ahead of time. During busy times of the year boats and lodging, as well as guided fishing trips can book up quickly. If you are determined to go to a certain popular place, the sooner you book the better. Guided fishing trips can be hard to get, especially if you have just shown up. Check out Airbnb and VRBO for affordable rates on local lodging.
- Expand your fishing knowledge. There are a lot of great places that offer lessons and chartered trips if you want to learn a different way to fish or get out from the shoreline. If you have never fly fished, sign up with a local guide to learn the best techniques.
If you have any spots that you think we’ve missed, feel free to drop us a line on Facebook or by email (subscribe to our list) and let us know!
Featured image by: Pixabay
My articles appear in Marketing Edge Magazine, on Gizmogrind, and with various Medium publications. But one thing hasn’t changed in all of my life: no matter where I was or what I was doing. I’ve always loved to be outdoors.
A man needs nothing more than a good flannel shirt, a well-worn pair of jeans, and comfortable hiking boots. I don’t go for all the fancy luxury stuff. Suits are uncomfortable and shaving sucks.