South Core Banks, springtime fishing paradise

May. 11, 2013 @ 10:04 PM

The Outer Banks of North Carolina provide some of the best surf fishing in the world. I suspect more citation red drum are taken from our beaches than all other surf fishing venues in the United States combined. I’ve never heard of red drum blitzes anywhere else in surf fishing. Of those surf fishing opportunities, there are two spots that are arguably the best surf fishing spots in the world. The most obvious is Cape Hatteras and I’ve written volumes about fishing Cape Hatteras and the Point that projects out into the Atlantic, creating a natural path for migrating game and bait fish.
The other point gets a lot less attention but it’s just as effective in providing the perfect location for surf angling. The point of Cape Lookout and the beaches around it provide the same combination of currents and structure as Cape Hatteras, though they don’t attract as much attention or anglers and fishing pressure. Both capes constantly change with wind and tidal changes and both provide a funnel that fish have to pass through to move past them. While you can spend days at both locations without catching a fish, both locations can provide incredible fishing when conditions are right.
The big plus for Cape Lookout is that it’s harder to access and less subject to the bird and turtle closures that shut down the beaches to the detriment of the islands economy and everyone, including those who’d like to just walk on the beach. The point of Cape Hatteras was closed for bird nesting April 9th and will probably remain closed through most of the tourist season. There are turtle and bird closures at Cape Lookout, but they normally don’t shut down as much of the island as severely as Cape Hatteras. If you like solitude for your fishing, you can always find an uncrowded fishing spot because zero shopping, taking a ferry, and needing four wheel drive eliminates less serious beach goers. You can almost always find a deserted stretch of beach where there’s not another soul in sight.
There are things you need to know for a successful surf fishing trip to South Core Banks and Cape Lookout because there are no tackle shops or stores on the island. You have to take everything you need on the ferry across. The only things you can buy on the island are gasoline and ice. You can order bait and necessities to be brought over on the ferry but you must meet the ferry to pick them up and the drive from the point takes about 40 minutes.
This means planning is paramount if you intend to have a good trip. Make a list of all your gear and check it twice. Leaving something behind isn’t an issue when a store is a mile away but this is a luxury you’ll have to forgo at Core Banks. You’ll also have to forgo electricity or bring it with you because the rental cabins aren’t electrified. Most regulars bring a generator with them and the cabins have a generator station to house and hook up your generator. If you want electricity and don’t have a generator, Davis Shore Ferry Service does rent 2,000 watt Honda generators for $30 per night.
Bait can also be an issue since availability depends on what’s in the water at the time of your trip. This time of year, shrimp is normally available but mullet can be hard to find. We usually buy bait from a local seafood retailer or visit B&J Seafood on the right side of US 70 just after crossing the big bridge coming into New Bern. They normally have mullet, but if they don’t, fresh spots make great drum bait and this spring, I bought some American Shad that made wonderful cut bait. If you do a substantial bait order, they will almost always fill your cooler to the top with free ice. Don’t forget sand fleas; they’re great bait for surf zone fish like puppy drum, black drum and pompano. No surf angler worth his salt goes to the beach without some Stingslivers and Hopkins spoons and Berkley Gulp grubs can be trip savers. Another non-perishable bait that works well for surf fishing is Fish Bites. It looks like chewing gum but fish like spots and croakers eat it up.
If you choose to fish the Point, fish it just like the Point of Hatteras. Look for the channel that crosses the tip and cast into the channel. You’ll need a big sinker if the current is strong, but a strong current means good big drum fishing. Other great spots are the southeastern facing beaches and the rock jetty that’s on the shore side of the island and faces Morehead City. On the beaches, look for breaks in the outer bar and holes and sloughs. Remember that big drum like big water and strong currents, so days that might not be productive for smaller fish might be prime time for the big bruisers.
Right now is the right time for great springtime surf fishing whether you plan to pursue bruiser citation drum or just want to put some nice filets in your cooler. The weather is changeable this time of year, so there’s always a chance of a front coming in to make fishing difficult. The good news is that, unless the wind gets really bad, you can almost always find a comfortable spot to fish South Core Banks. Storms also push up more shells on the beach on the island than I have ever seen anywhere else, so a storm can provide a shelling paradise at low tide. Surf fishing anywhere can be hit or miss, but the serenity and desolation of the Core Beaches can provide a memorable trip either way.
Dick Jones is an award winning freelance writer living in High Point. He’s a member of the board of directors of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association. He writes about hunting, fishing, dogs, and shooting for several NC newspapers as well as national magazines and websites.  If you’d like to have him speak to your group, he can be reached at or