Fishing Guide Sections:

Whether a visitor lands in the inland regions of Wilmington and mainland New Hanover County, or the coastal vacation hotspots of Carolina Beach and Wrightsville Beach, fishing is always readily available – and celebrated – in the Cape Fear area.

A favorite activity for locals and visitors alike, the sheer variety of waters and terrain ensures that anglers of all tastes will never be too far away from a local fishing hole or a full-fledged fishing adventure.

Discover why this pastime is so popular, and bring along a rod, reel, and a little luck for a vacation that’s filled with great catches and great seafood feasts.

What You’ll Need, and What You’ll Catch

The first step for dropping a line in any body of saltwater in the Cape Fear area is obtaining a Coastal Recreational Fishing License, (commonly referred to as just a saltwater fishing license), or a CRFL.

A saltwater fishing license is required in the state of North Carolina, and can be easily acquired online at the NC Division of Marine Fisheries website at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/recreational-fishing-licenses-and-permits, at local bait and tackle stores, and at larger chain sporting goods stores like Dick’s Sporting Goods in Wilmington.

The cost for a fishing license is relatively nominal, and fluctuates for in-state and out-of-state residents. For example, a North Carolina resident can pick up a saltwater fishing license for 10 days for $5, while a visitor from out of state will be charged $10.

10-day, annual, and even lifetime passes are available, and visitors under the age of 16 will not need a license to go fishing. In addition, most anglers who launch on charter fishing trips will not need a license beforehand either, as the captain’s license tends to cover everyone on board.

What an angler catches is heavily dependent on the season, and where they go. There are ocean waters, sounds, saltwater rivers, estuaries, freshwater lakes, and virtually everything in between in the Cape Fear area, which means that the fishing possibilities are seemingly endless.

Freshwater anglers will be treated to bass, beam, catfish, and crappie, while saltwater anglers near the Cape Fear River will want to look for catfish, red drum, striped bass, speckled trout, sheapshead, flounder, and even blue crabs.

Meanwhile, saltwater anglers on the beach or local oceanfront piers will want to keep an eye out for bluefish, pompano, cobia, king mackerel, Spanish mackerel, mullet, sharks, and more. Suffice it to say, there is a huge variety of catches available – in virtually every major body of water – so anglers, regardless of their destination, will have plenty to cast for.

Local Piers and Fishing Spots in the Cape Fear area

From public parks in and around the heart of Wilmington, to cool destinations within coastal state parks, there’s plenty of optimal places to drop a line. Check out these destinations where exceptional fishing conditions are always waiting.

River Road Park pier

River Road Park
6500 River Road, Wilmington, NC 28412
This public park that borders the Cape Fear River features a handicapped accessible fishing pier, as well as picnic areas and public restrooms.

Smith Creek Park
633 Shenandoah Street, Wilmington, NC 28411
For freshwater fishing, head to this park that borders a small lake and which features a fishing pier as well as a floating dock for kayaks and canoes.

Trails End park pier

Trails End Park
621 Trails End Road, Wilmington, NC 28409
Close to Mansonboro Island and the local Masonboro Inlet, this boat launching site also features an on-site fishing pier, as well as ample parking.

Sutton Lake

Sutton Lake
301 Sutton Lake Rd. Wilmington, NC
The impressively large and freshwater Sutton Lake features a central access area with an on-site fishing pier / dock, as well as launching areas for mariners.

Snows Cut Park

Snows Cut Park
220 Annie Drive, Carolina Beach, NC 28428
Situated along the Intracoastal Waterway in the town of Carolina Beach, this public park features ample room along the waterfront for casting, as well as nearby restrooms and parking.

Carolina Beach State Park

Carolina Beach State Park Boat Ramp
B Road, Carolina Beach, NC 28428
The impressively large Carolina Beach State Park has several fishing destinations to choose from, which includes a sandy beach on the edge of the Cape Fear River.

Atlantic Ocean Fishing Piers

In addition to the small piers that are barely inland, the Cape Fear area also boasts three oceanfront fishing piers on its barrier island shoreline.

Johnny Mercer's Pier

Johnnie Mercer's Pier

23 E Salisbury St, Wrightsville Beach, NC 28480
This pier in Wrightsville Beach is the longest of the three piers at 1,200’ ft. long, and it features an on-site bait and tackle store / gift shop, an arcade, a game room, and a restaurant with outdoor and indoor seating.

Carolina Beach Fishing Pier

Carolina Beach Fishing Pier

1810 Canal Drive, Carolina Beach, NC 28428
Situated in the heart of Carolina Beach, this pier extends 700’ ft. into the Atlantic Ocean and features an on-site bait and tackle shop, a grill, a snack bar, and a game room.

Kure Beach Fishing Pier

Kure Beach Fishing Pier

Avenue K, Kure Beach, NC 28449
This pier on the southern end of Pleasure Island extends 712’ ft. into the Atlantic Ocean, and also has an on-site tackle shop, a grill, and an arcade with pool tables. Alcohol is not sold or permitted on the pier.

Cape Fear Boat Ramps

Visitors who have their own vessel along for the ride and who want to commandeer a self-guided fishing expedition of the area will want to check out these popular public boat ramps and launching areas where reaching the open waters is a breeze.

Castle Hayne Boat Ramp

Castle Hayne, Northeast Cape Fear River
6418 Orange St., Castle Hayne, NC
34° 21' 49'' N   77° 53' 47'' W
Accesses the northern Cape Fear River, and features lanes(s) and 76 parking spaces for boats with trailers.

Carolina Beach State Park boat ramp

Carolina Beach State Park Boat Ramp
B Road, Carolina Beach, NC 28428
34° 02'59.05" N    77° 55'08.71" W
Accesses the Cape Fear River via Carolina Beach and features two launching lanes, and 40 parking spaces for vehicles with trailers.

Castle Street Boat Ramp

Castle Street Boat Ramp
Dram Tree Park (Castle Street and Surrey Street), Wilmington, NC 28401
34° 13'38.95" N    77° 57'01.12" W
Accesses the Cape Fear River close to the heart of downtown Wilmington and features two launching lanes, and parking for 36 vehicles with trailers.

River Road Park Boat Ramp

River Road Park boat ramp
River Road Park, Wilmington, NC 28412
34° 06'49.57" N    77° 55'32.22" W
Accesses the Cape Fear River, and features a launch lane, and public parking for park visitors.

Snows Cut boat ramp

Snows Cut Boat Ramp
220 Annie Drive, Carolina Beach, NC 28428
34° 03'25.09" N    77° 53'30.06" W
Accesses the Cape Fear River, the Intracoastal Waterway, and the local inlets, and features 5 launching lanes and roughly 100 parking spaces - (including 81 spaces for vehicles with trailer.)

Trails End Boat Ramp

Trails End Boat Ramp
621 Trails End Road, Wilmington, NC 28409
34° 09'21.50" N    77° 51'24.97" W
Located next to the Intracoastal Waterway and across from Masonboro Island, and features a launch lane, and parking for 40 vehicles with boat trailers.

Wrightsville Beach boat ramp

Wrightsville Beach Boat Ramp
Channel Walk Drive, Wrightsville Beach, NC 28480
34° 13'06.41" N    77° 48'40.80" W
Located on the edge of the Intracoastal Waterway and close to Masonboro Inlet. Features 5 Launch lanes, as well as 68 parking spaces for vehicles with boat trailers.

Federal Point / Buzzard Bay boat ramp

Federal Point / Buzzard Bay
2515 South Fort Fisher Blvd., Kure Beach, NC
33° 57' 34'' N    77° 56' 30'' W
Accesses the Cape Fear River, Atlantic Ocean, and Zeke’s Island reserve. Features launch lanes(s), and parking for 36 vehicles with boat trailers.

Sutton Lake Boat Ramp

Sutton Lake
301 Sutton Lake Rd. Wilmington, NC
N34° 18' 04'' N     77° 59' 37'' W
Adjacent to the massive and manmade Sutton Lake, and features launch lane(s), as well as parking for 49 vehicles with boat trailers.

Cape Fear Fishing Charters

Visitors who want to enjoy the best fishing that the region has to offer will want to examine the variety of fishing charters that the Cape Fear area has to offer.

While there are a myriad of waterways and fishing grounds to explore, the fishing charters within the Cape Fear area generally boil down to two types – inshore and offshore charters – which, depending on the individual trip, generally is defined as the following:

Inshore Charters head to the “inshore” or close to shore waters that can include the Cape Fear River, the Intracoastal Waterway, the myriad of creeks and channels in the area, and / or all of the above. These trips can typically accommodate a total of 6 passengers at most, (although head boat trips may be available in populated areas like Wilmington), and utilize smaller vessels to veer through the shallow sounds, estuaries, and river waters. Inshore charter trips are available throughout the Cape Fear area, and especially in larger towns including Wilmington, Carolina Beach and Wrightsville Beach. These fishing trips can last anywhere from a couple hours to a full day, and anglers on these trips will target a wealth of popular and tasty catches including drum, flounder, cobia, king mackerel, Spanish mackerel, sheapshead, and more.

Offshore Charters head off the coast of the local beach towns to the open waters in the Atlantic Ocean. Here, anglers can expect to reel in a wide array of big fish, including sailfish, Mahi, red snapper, tuna, and other stunning catches. These trips tend to launch from the coastal towns – like Carolina Beach and Wrightsville Beach – and traditionally last a full day to provide ample time to travel miles out to the open ocean shipwrecks, light stations, and even the Gulf Stream on an extensive adventure. Offshore charters can generally accommodate 6 passengers or less, and are more expensive than their inshore counterparts due to the amount of work, gas, and effort required to reel in the big ones.

Either trip can be booked from an individual charter fishing business, (there are literally dozens if not hundreds to choose from), or from a central marina that can serve as the long-term home of a variety of charter boat businesses. When the fishing is hot, (think summer and fall), visitors will want to reserve as far in advance as possible to ensure a spot, as the charter trips can fill up quickly when it’s on.

Tips and Tricks for Cape Fear Fishing

  • An inshore fishing tour or cruise can easily be combined with family-friendly adventures, like dolphin watching, clamming, and crabbing, which makes them accessible and fun for everyone in the party.
  • Don’t forget the kayak! The Cape Fear area has plenty of kayak launches and paddling clubs throughout the region, and kayak fishing in the local rivers and creeks can be a great way to enjoy Cape Fear fishing at its best.
  • Want to enjoy great fishing all vacation long? Then book a vacation rental. The towns of Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach, and Kure Beach all have vacation rentals that are waterfront (i.e., oceanfront or “soundfront”), which can offer direct beach access or riverfront / soundfront docks and piers.
  • For the best surf fishing, head to where the crowds aren’t. Area parks like Freeman Park in Carolina Beach or the Fort Fisher State Recreation Area south of Kure Beach are both fine places to cast a line.
  • Check out the local inlets as well for exceptional fishing. Reachable on foot or by boat, (depending on where you go), the inlets attract a variety of larger catches with every tide.
  • Want to save money while enjoying the best fishing conditions the region has to offer? Plan a spring or fall visit. A number of seasonal species, like red drum, make appearances during the “shoulder season” months, which is also when local accommodation rates are noticeably lower.
  • Need bait? Stop by a local tackle shop, or if you’re feeling industrious, catch your own. Sand fleas, or “sang diggers” can be scooped up from clumps of wet sand near the breaking waves on the beach, while baiting mullet and minnows can be collected via a well-thrown cast net on the soundside / riverfront.
  • Don’t forget that it’s easy to get fresh catches with little to no effort! The local communities within the Cape Fear area are home to dozens of fish markets, shops, and eateries where the day’s catch is readily available.

Fishing is a popular spot in the Cape Fear area, and is arguably a way of life for countless residents and visitors alike. Spend a relaxed vacation casting a line and enjoying picturesque views of the open water for a true taste of what the coastal Cape Fear landscape is all about. From day-long expeditions into the open ocean waters, to casual visits at a local park, there’s always an opportunity to drop a line in the Cape Fear area.

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