Common Types Of Fish
Once the line is in the water, there are a variety of tasty and trophy fish that might take a nibble. While what you can catch is dependent on the time of year, the currents, and simply what's biting, there are a few North Carolina standard species that are more common than other.
Bluefish are common off the beach almost all year long, except for extremely cold months. These shiny silver fish can get as large as 25 pounds, or 12 inches or more. It is more common to land the smaller varieties, but it is illegal to keep the small bluefish. Check the NC Marine Fisheries website for more information, or pick up a pamphlet at your local tackle store for regulations for all species of fish.
Flounder are flat bottom feeders, and are modeled brown with a few indistinctive spots, with both eyes on top of their heads. The keepers are 14 inches or more, and the larger varieties can resemble big glossy doormats. Flounder can be caught in the spring, summer and fall seasons. Flounder are an especially delicious fish with a delicate taste.
One of the smallest fish you might land and still consider a good catch is the kingfish, or sea mullet. A kingfish might only get as large as two pounds, and is a local favorite when it comes to seafood dinners. An indistinctive fish, kingfish are slender and silvery, with three species that each look just a little different. Kingfish make an appearance off the NorthCarolina Coast in the summer, although some anglers have also caught them in the spring and fall.
Speckled and grey trout can also be caught in the spring, summer and fall, though typically the larger ones are landed in the cooler spring and fall months. True to their names, the grey trout is grey, and the speckled trout is grey with black spots. A good trout can get as large as 7 or 8 pounds. These are true crowd pleasers, as everyone loves the taste of a good grey or speckled trout.
If you are casting near a pier or other structure like a jetty or rocks, you might land a Sheapshead. Sheapshead are somewhat slender fish that are grey with striking black stripes. These fish can get as large as 12 or 13 pounds and are quite tasty. Keep in mind that they feed off the barnacles and small clinging critters that hold onto water-based structures from spring to fall, so to land a Sheapshead you will need to frequent these areas.
Sometimes an angler can be fooled with a wild fight to the shore with a supposed big fish, only to find that they landed a skate, or ray. A skate is a large flat brownish-gray fish in the shark family with two long fins that look like wings and a long tail. Skates are not edible and should be thrown back. To unhook one, roll the skate over on its back and use a pair of needle nose pliers to remove the hook, as they have a barb on their tail that can cause a nasty sting.
If you are on the hunt for big fish, there are two species of excellent game fish (other than the larger schools of bluefish that can occasionally run parallel to the beach) that the coastal waters off North Carolina are known for: red drum and striped bass.
Red drum are adult puppy drum, and they make seasonal runs along the coast in the spring and fall. The drum runs can attract anglers from all over the country, as during this time period it is likely for multiple fishermen to land a big red drum from the beach. Red drum are big red fish with little black spots on their tails. They can weigh as much as 94 pounds, which is the state record catch for a red drum North Carolina. While it is illegal to keep the larger red drums, they still make for a wonderful photo opportunity during their short time out of the water. Many anglers consider mullet or menhaden, cut into bite size chunks, the best bait for red drum.
Striped bass are long and silver with lateral black stripes and make an appearance in the cooler winter months, from Thanksgiving through February. Striped bass can get as large as 40 pounds, and are a tasty way to feed the whole family and then some. Lures work well with striped bass, as do cut bait and live eels.
Regardless of what species of fish you land, if there is an inkling that your catch is particularly larger than the average species, stop by a local tackle store that has a scale to see if you are eligible for a North Carolina Citation. A Citation is basically an award certificate that the state distributes to recognize especially great catches, and the weight for a fish to be eligible varies by each species. You will need to fill out an application for the citation, and you will need a witness. It never hurts to take a few photos too, just to bolster your case (and to show to your friends and family.) If you fit the size requirements for a citation and have completed the application, then you will receive your certificate in the mail a few weeks later, ready to frame to acknowledge your perfect big catch.