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  1. I’ve been wanting to write this up for a while, mostly so I can copy/paste parts of it as a response to posts, or direct folks to this when they ask some of the typical questions I see on here. Let me start by making it perfectly clear that I am NOT an expert on fishing the OBX, but I’ve been fishing down there for twenty some years and have been lucky enough to share the sand with some really good fishermen. I’ve also fished the North East a good bit and feel somewhat qualified to make comparisons. Please feel free to add anything or correct me if I got something wrong. This is not going to be a spot burn post, nor will I be mentioning the names of Tackle Shops or Hotels, you can figure that stuff out on your own. Other than “The Point” there is no magical spot, like surf fishing anywhere else, the most important ingredient for success is being able to read the surf. Most of my personal experience is from Oregon Inlet to Ocracoke, and that’s the area I’ll mostly be referencing, the area known as South OBX. A very good post on reading the beach can be found here .. Keep in mind that this post covers surf fishing the OBX and not fishing Soundside. The Sound often offers excellent fishing, better than the surf sometimes. But I’m a surf guy and really have no words of wisdom on fishing the Sound. The first thing to keep in mind is that the OBX is about 110 miles long, give or take 20 miles, from Corolla at the North to Ocracoke at the South. South of Ocracoke begins the Core Banks, both North Core which includes Portsmouth Island and South Core. They are not considered part of OBX, but do offer great fishing. The area from Corolla to Oregon Inlet, known as the Northern OBX, is considered to be the touristy part of OBX, not to say the fishing isn’t good, as it can be very good. But this is the area where you’ll find chain hotels, restaurants, gas stations, water parks, lifeguards, museums, bars and such. From the Oregon Inlet down to South Point Ocracoke, known as Southern OBX, is where most of the serious fishing occurs, and the most serious fishing occurs near Hatteras and Buxton. Not saying that’s where the fishing is best, but when serious fishermen think of the OBX, Hatteras and Buxton are the areas that come to mind. The Tri Village area of Rodanthe, Waves and Salvo (North of Buxton) are also popular areas, and of course we can’t forget Ocracoke. Southern OBX is lacking in traditional tourist amenities, most of the hotels, gas stations, bars, shops and restaurants are privately owned. There’s no boardwalk or neon lights, or not many. It’s a much more laid back area where almost all hotels have fish cleaning stations. So, when you ask for advice on fishing the OBX, the first thing you should do before asking the question, is to figure out where you’ll be. About the fish, and when what’s where. I’ll start by talking about Bass. OK, real simple, there ain’t none. That’s not completely true, but for the surf fisherman it might as well be. You might have read that Bass spend their winter months off the coast of NC, and that’s true. But the key word if “off”, as in off the coast, as in nowhere near the surf. Boat guys catch them, netters slaughter them, but it’s very rare that they make it anywhere near the surf. Some years, they do show up at Oregon Inlet, or at least they use to, some years, during the late fall/early winter. In my years of fishing down there, I’ve caught less than a handful. Fishing for Bass on the OBX is like fishing for Red Drum in NJ, yes you might luck into one, but the chances are slim. Drum are the star of the show, they are the Bass of the South, the fish everyone wants to catch. When you hear someone on the OBX talk Drum, they are talking about Red Drum of the larger size, those fish that are over 40”. Prime time for Drum is October through mid November, then again from mid March into the end of April, but they are always a possibility, though chances go down considerably during the summer and winter months. Heavy tackle and big baits are the norm, Drum will hit just about anything from shrimp to squid. But chunked mullet and bunker are the most common baits, with mullet heads being a favorite. Lately many guys have started using chunks of tuna belly and are doing very well on them. I’ll add that fishing at night will increase your chances of catching a Drum. Puppy Drum are simply smaller Drum, those fish that fall into the slot limit, between 18 and 28”. The nice thing about Pups is that they are almost always around, all year long, though the fall and spring months are considered to be the best times to target them. Shrimp and cut mullet are the two most popular baits, but they will also bite sandfleas and other cut baits. They can also be caught on bucktails or jigs as well as mirrolures and small spoons, gold Hopkins are a local favorite for Pups. Mullet. Just to make things confusing, I’m going to talk about mullet. The term mullet is used for two completely different species of fish on the OBX. There is the baitfish called mullet that I’ll talk about more in the Baits section. And then there is the Mullet that we fish for and that tastes so good. The mullet we fish for are also known as kingfish, whiting, roundheads and other regional names. But on OBX, they’re called Mullet. And they can be caught on Mullet, not the mullet we want to catch but the baitfish mullet. Confused yet? But anyway, Mullet are a popular summertime fish, generally caught on two hook bottom rigs baited with shrimp, bloodworms or fish bites. Pompano are often caught by the same guys that are targeting mullet, on the same baits. They are primarily a late summer species that tend to head South as soon as the water starts to cool down. Flounder fishing can be good on the OBX and some very nice sized ones are landed each year, yet few people specifically target them. Most are caught by bait fishermen who are targeting whatever bites. If you want to target Flounder, try bucktails tipped with gulp or finger mullet on a Carolina rig. I’ve caught Flounder every month of the year, though the best fishing is generally in the fall months. Sharks are plentiful the entire length of the OBX, and some of very impressive size are caught within casting distance of the beach. February and March can often offer spectacular Shark fishing around Buxton, Hatteras and Ocracoke. The very best way to catch a Shark is to target Drum, just ask any Drum fisherman.. Cobia is a species that I know very little about, I’ve caught a few small ones over the years but have yet to catch a big one. Yet guys catch them with some degree of frequency, mostly during the last couple weeks of May through mid June. I think most of the ones caught in the surf are caught on bait using the same methods as one would use for Drum, but that’s mostly speculation on my part. Bluefish, of the smaller variety, are almost always around and are caught frequently on both bait and lures. It seems like it’s been many years since there was a strong fall run of big Blues, those over ten pounds. There is a somewhat regular run of big Blues during the spring, April and May, on the Southern end of the OBX, Ocracoke in particular. But even in the spring, they do not show up in large numbers, one here, one there, seems to be the new norm. Spanish Mackerel are an important summertime fish that can provide some very exciting action if you happen to be at the right place at the right time. The right time seems to be dusk, though they can be caught at other times of the day. Most Macs are caught on Metals, Sting Silvers and Glass Minnows are the most popular and available at every tackle shop down there. Long casts, light lines and clear leaders are the ticket to catching these fun and tasty fish. Albies, aka albacore, little tunny, spotted bonito, Fat Alberts and properly identified as False Albacore are one of those fish that we love to see show up, but rarely plan for. If you really want Albies in NC, your best bet is to head South to the South Core Banks, Harkers Island in particular. But they do show up along the beaches of OBX during the months of October through early November. Sting Silvers are the preferred lure, but other metals will do the job, retrieved as fast as possible. They really do not show up with enough regularity to specifically target them, it's more like; Holy crap, there's Albies, grab the metal throwing rod as fast as you can and hope to hook up before they're gone, which will be in about five seconds. Other Species are also caught, some with regularity, like Black Drum, Pinfish, Spot, Croakers, trout, lizard fish, along with Skates and Rays. Then there are the not so frequent catches of the occasional Tarpon, Jack Crevalle, Bass and others. Let’s talk a bit about Tackle Shops and the fishing culture of the OBX. One of the great things about the OBX is that fishermen are considered a very important part of the tourist industry, and thus they are catered to and appreciated. There are numerous bait & tackle shops the entire length of the OBX, staffed by knowledgeable, mostly friendly staff. Please don’t stop at Walmart to buy tackle on your way down. In addition, just about every gas station, grocery store, convenience store, etc. has an assortment of tackle and at least some frozen bait. Most of the tackle shops try hard to always have fresh bait in stock, but that’s not always possible, so it’s a good idea to call the various shops while en route and ask what they have. There is a very nice car wash, high enough that you can keep your rods in the rack, in Buxton, it also has an undercarriage wash feature that is nice for cleaning the salt and sand out from under your vehicle. One amenity that is lacking is a laundromat, or at least I don’t recall seeing one. Anyone else know if there is one down there somewhere? While we’re talking about the culture of fishing the OBX, let’s touch on The Point and how it influences other areas of the OBX. The point is perhaps the most famous spot for surf fishing on the lower East coast, but it makes up a very small area of the OBX. Yet, many rigs, tackle choices and techniques used throughout the OBX were first used or developed at The Point. One prime example is the importance of distance casting, the ability to consistently make long casts with 8-n-bait. And while it’s true that the guy at The Point who can cast the furthest often does the most catching, the reverse is often true elsewhere throughout the OBX. So, keep in mind, just because something works really good at The Point, it might not be what works a mile away. If there’s two spots on the East Coast that could be considered the holy land of surf fishing, they would be Montauk NY and Cape Hatteras (known as “the point”)NC, yet fishing styles and what’s required for success in those two locations are as different as day and night. One of the most commonly asked questions from experienced NE surf fishermen is; what kind of plugs should I bring to NC? And the answer is none. Most experienced OBX surf fishermen will have some Mirrolure 52M’s in their possession, but that’s about it, and those are generally reserved for late fall trout and puppy drum fishing. Now, those same fishermen will have thirty pounds of metals with them, Sting Silvers, Hopkins, Glass Minnows, Deadly Dicks, Avas, etc. A one ounce gold Hopkins is standard hardware for winter time puppy drum. A well stocked tackle box would also include bucktails, or jig/grubs for Flounder and Puppy Drum. But the simple plain truth is that almost all surf fishing on the OBX involves chunking bait, bait n wait, whatever you want to call it. Yes, there will be times, depending on the season, when Blues, Spanish Macks or Albies will move in, that’s what the metals are for. But most of the time it’s bait fishing. Blitzes by anything bigger than 16” blues are rare, or at least uncommon. Big Blues used to make a showing around Thanksgiving, but that was many years ago. If you’re going to sit in your truck waiting for the birds to show you where the fish are, you’ll spend most of your time sitting in your truck. At OBX most fishing revolves around finding good structure and soaking bait. If you can spot a good piece of structure at IBSP in NJ, or Assateague Island in MD, you’ll do just fine at the OBX. Many people ask if 4WD is really needed to fish the OBX, and the answer, in my mind, is yes, absolutely. But of course, that’s not true, many people successfully fish the OBX without 4WD. Some of my fondest memories of fishing the OBX was when I was a young, strong guy and I’d randomly park along RT-12 somewhere on Pea Island and drag my surf cart over the dunes. I’d often fish for days without seeing another person, and the fishing was sometimes very good. There are numerous places, along the entire length of the OBX, where one can park and walk over to go fishing. There are also many hotels that are very close to the surf and one can simply walk out of their room and go fishing. Local tackle shops are probably the best place to get started if you are limited to foot travel, they’ll be able to recommend the easiest access spots that offer the best chance of success. But, a beach buggy will make life much easier and allow you to fish a much larger area. There are numerous beach access ramps, from ramp #2 just North of Oregon Inlet, down to ramp #72 at the South end of Ocracoke. A beach driving permit from the NPS is required to access the beach by these ramps. Other permits are required to drive on the beaches of the Northern OBX, these permits are issued by the towns they are located in, such as Nags Head, Corolla and Kill Devil Hills, to mention a few. Beach driving access changes regularly and some areas can be closed at certain times due to turtles, birds, storms or other reasons. Night time driving is sometimes limited or not allowed. Google is your friend, just make sure you know before you go. Braid versus Mono, let’s discuss this subject before we get into tackle, rigs and baits. Many people have heard that braid is frowned upon at the OBX, and that’s simply not true. It is however frowned upon at The Point, and as mentioned earlier what happens at The Point tends to carry over to other areas. DO NOT show up at The Point with Braid and squeeze in between the other fishermen, tempers will flare, words will be exchanged, it will get ugly. But other than The Point, there is nothing wrong with using braid if that’s what you feel comfortable with. Personally I prefer mono for most of my fishing, but that discussion is for another post. OK, let’s talk tackle, rods and reels specifically. I’m a firm believer that a guy with a $50 rod/reel combo who’s in the right spot will outfish the guy with a $1000 rod/reel combo who’s in the wrong spot. I’ll also say that I’m a fan of higher end tackle. In my opinion, there are three rod/reel combos that a surf fisherman should have when fishing the OBX, a heaver, a mid weight bait rod and a metal throwing rod. Of course there are many other combos that would/could be used and having extras is always a good idea. But these three will get you started and we’ll talk about them a bit. The Heaver is a rod that is generally in the 11 – 14’ range that can comfortably throw 8 ounces of lead plus a couple ounces of bait. These rods are usually paired with a conventional reel such as an Abu, Avet, Akios, etc. Most guys spool these with 17lb mono, though 15lb and 20lb are also popular choices. The main line is almost always, and should be, attached to a shock leader of 50 – 60lb and twice the length of the rod plus several feet. These heavy rods are used primarily when distance casting for big Drum or Sharks. Spinning rods/reels can be used, but throwing big sinkers/baits with spinning gear is a pain at best. My opinion is that the Heaver is the least important of the three rods, unless you are specifically targeting big Drum. This rod is generally fished with a fish-finder rig and a big hunk of mullet or bunker for bait. The mid weight bait rod, in my mind, is the most important rod. It’ll be somewhere in the 9 to 13’ range, designed to cast 3 – 6 ounces of weight plus bait. Again, I prefer conventional set ups, but spinning outfits will work just fine. I also use 17lb mono on this rod, just to keep things simple, along with a shock leader of 30-40lb. This is the rod that will see the most use, this is the one you might want several of. This is the rod you’ll use to target everything from summer time Pompano and Mullet to Puppy drum, Flounder, Blues, etc. Yes, it’s a bit heavy for serious Pompano / Mullet fishing, but it’ll do the job and still be able to handle a big Drum if you get lucky. This outfit is normally going to be rigged with a fish-finder rig or a two hook bottom rig. The Metal Throwing rod is the first rod that I rig up before heading out, it’s always rigged up and ready to go at a moments notice. This is one rod where I think quality is very important, because distance is very important. This is going to be a 10’ rod with a spinning reel. At least that’s what works best for me. I have the reel spooled with 15lb braid, and the sole purpose of this rod/reel is to be able to throw a one or two ounce spoon as far as I possibly can, primarily to fish that are breaking on bait. Most days, this outfit will not see much action, but when you need it, you really need it. I’m not going to spend much time talking about rigs because a quick search of this site will yield everything you need to know, but I’ll briefly cover the important ones. The Fish-Finder rig is a very popular rig that can be used for most species when bait fishing. It’s the go to rig for Drum fishing, often tied with a very short 1 – 2” bite leader to increase casting distance. For Drum, circle hooks in the 8/0 – 10/0 sizes are preferred with sinkers in the 6 – 10 ounce range, depending on condition. Smaller hooks/sinkers are used for smaller fish such as Puppy Drum. The Cannon Ball rig is similar to the fish-finder rig except that the bite leader is not a part of it. The sinker slide rests directly on the hook. This rig is used almost exclusively for Drum fishing when maximum casting distance is required. The Two Hook Bottom rig is perhaps the most widely used rig and can be used for just about anything that swims. Generally, these rigs are used with #4 - #3/0 hooks and sinkers in the 2-4 ounce range and are baited with shrimp, squid, cut bait or sandfleas. The Carolina Rig is mostly used by the few guys that pursue flounder, but it’s a great rig and one of my favorites. I generally use a 1.5 ounce egg sinker and a #1 hook with a couple red beads, baited with a finger mullet fillet or a whole finger mullet. Other than a big drum, I’ve caught just about every species there is on this rig. Just cast it out and slowly drag it back. Let’s cover Baits, what to use and when to use them. Since this post is directed at folks coming down from the North, I’ll start with Clams. It’s real easy, clams are never used for bait on the OBX. Or at least I’ve never seen anyone use them and have never seen them for sale in a tackle shop. Shrimp are by far the most popular bait on the OBX, and just about every species of fish, from 4” Pinfish to 50lb Drum will eat shrimp. When we talk shrimp, we are talking about fresh dead shrimp (FDS), generally with the heads removed. If they are in season and available, every tackle shop will have FDS. Many tackle shops will freeze some FDS in ziplocks to have available when they can’t get them fresh. Those FDS are greatly preferred but the frozen ones will work. Do not buy the tubs of frozen bait shrimp that many gas stations and convenience stores sell. Shrimp can be used whole for Drum, Puppy Drum, Blues, Flounder and other larger fish. Or they can be cut in half or thirds for Mullet, Pompano and other smaller sized fish. I generally fish my shrimp pieces on a two hook bottom rig, and whole shrimp on a fish-finder rig. Mullet, the kind we use as bait, comes in three sizes; finger, cigar and cob. Finger Mullet are generally 4-5” and are either cut into thirds or used whole. One thing many guys do is to fillet the finger mullet and hook them through the wide part of the fillet so they flutter in the current. Cigar Mullet run 6-10” and are usually cut into chunks. Cob Mullet are so named because they are the size of a cob of corn, normally between 12 – 24”. Cob Mullet are cut into chunks or filleted and the fillets are cut into chunks. Cob Mullet is the most widely used Drum bait and generally fished on a fish-finder rig. Fresh is always better than frozen, always. Cob Mullet are normally sold by the pound, during the fall months the females will be full of eggs which makes them considerably heavier. Pick out the skinny ones to save some money, unless you want the eggs which many locals consider a delicacy. Mullet Heads are going to add more confusion to the term mullet. Though we’re talking bait here, when you hear guys talking about using Mullet Heads for bait, they are talking about the heads from the mullet that we catch, the kind we eat. Yes, I know, it is confusing. Mullet Heads have long been considered the best bait for Drum. Tuna Belly Meat is a bait that has just started to become popular very recently. I’ve never used it and to be honest I don’t even know what it looks like. I don’t think it’s available in any tackle shops (could be wrong) but I do know it’s considered the latest n greatest by many of the local Drum Sharpies. Maybe someone can chime in and offer some insight. Bunker, or Menhaden is considered an acceptable option when Mullet is not readily available, though Mullet is seen as the better of the two. In my personal opinion, frozen Bunker is slightly less productive than hot dog pieces. If you have no choice other than to buy frozen bait, go with Mullet before Bunker. Sandfleas, which are also called Sand Moles or Sand Crabs are a great bait for Mullet, Pompano and Puppy Drum. One major plus for Sandfleas is that Bluefish do not seem to have much interest in them, so if a zillion little Blues are pecking away at your bait, Sandfleas are a good option. Many species of fish that you catch can be used for bait, spot are very popular as are croakers, mullet and other small fish. My personal best Drum came on a hunk of Bluefish that I had caught moments earlier. I tend to by by the philosophy that almost anything fresh is better than almost anything frozen. I want to talk a little bit about OBX etiquette and customs, for those that are accustomed to fishing up North. And I mean no disrespect to anyone when I say some of what I’m going to say. Things are just a little different down there. Maybe it’s because there is much more space for fewer people, that folks, especially fishermen, on the OBX seem so friendly and happy. After all, OBX alone has almost as much beach as the coast of NJ. But whatever the reason, fishermen tend to be friendly and more considerate of their fellow fishermen. The guy at the gas station might actually seem happy to see you, as will the guy at the bait shop. It’s just a bit more laid back and easy going, try to fit in. It’s accepted policy to give a little wave to other fishermen you drive by, it’s considered normal to stop and talk to a complete stranger about the days fishing. Nobody’s hiding lures or deep dark secrets, paranoia hasn’t hit the OBX yet. Not to say the local guy is going to share his best spot with you, but he’ll talk to you for the most part. Even in October, at the height of the fishing season, nobody is going to mug you. There is no reason to pull up and start fishing 30 yards away from someone, regardless of how nice the hole looks or how many fish you’ve seen them catch. There is plenty of beach. None of what I’ve just said applies to The Point, see below. The Point, meca of the OBX, the heart and soul of the OBX, a place where every serious surf fisherman should fish at least once. Many anglers come to the OBX and never fish elsewhere. Personally, I dislike crowds and avoid The Point, it’s a place that I save for when I really, really need to catch a fish. It’s a special place, a place with its own rules and customs. But, it can, at times, offer the best fishing to be found. It’s a safe assumption to say that there have been more trophy sized Drum caught from the point than any other spot in the World. My only advice for a first timer would be to go and observe for an hour before jumping in. And read this .. Before I take a much needed break from typing, I’ll give some practical advice. I’ve been told that Dare County, which includes all of OBX except Ocracoke, has the highest DUI arrest rate in NC, and I believe it. No, the cops will not care how inconvenient a DUI 600 miles from home might be. The number one reason vehicles get pulled over by the police on OBX is speeding, as expected. But the number two reason surprises many, and that is passing on the right. Passing on the right does not necessarily mean passing someone while you’re both driving down the road. It also includes when you’re on a one lane road, like RT12, and the person in front of you is turning left, and you veer over slightly on to the shoulder just a little to go around them, that’s passing on the right and there’s plenty of signs telling you not to do so. Beer is permitted on most of the OBX beaches, however it is illegal to have an open container in OR on your vehicle. Just some things to keep in mind….. So go, have fun, catch some fish and share what you learn…..