skip to main content | skip to footer
North Carolina Department of Environment Quality

NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Marine Fisheries - Fishing NC Reefs

Marine Fisheries

Fishing North Carolina Reefs

8-point rule

 
 

During the spring, bluefish, cobia, amberjack, Spanish mackerel and king mackerel are among the more popular pelagic species targeted at nearshore reefs. Bottom fish caught during this same period include black sea bass, gray triggerfish, flounder, sheepshead, weakfish, red drum and black drum.

In the winter, nearshore artificial reefs serve as a popular haven for large black sea bass, sheepshead, weakfish and red drum. Farther offshore, artificial reefs attract warm water species year-round, such as snapper, grouper, dolphin fish, wahoo, tuna, sailfish and marlin.

Keep in mind that North Carolina reefs are popular. Watch out for scuba divers in the water, and give them plenty of room. As for other anglers, it’s always best to work together so everyone gets a chance at the big one.

Fishing the reefs

Any successful fishing trip begins with a good game plan. When planning, first consider your limitations. North Carolina’s artificial reefs are found in a wide range of locations and environments, so be safe and do not exceed your capabilities. Only experienced crew with larger vessels should attempt to fish on offshore reefs. In many cases, nearshore reefs are just as productive as offshore reefs. Nearshore reefs can also be extremely dangerous in hazardous weather, so plan accordingly.

Once you have considered safety and limitations, the fun part begins. First, learn about the reef site by visiting the online guide, found at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/artificial-reefs-program. It will also help to pay attention to fishing reports and stop by local tackle shops to see what’s biting. From there, select the fish you’d like to catch and how you’d like to catch it.

While there are many ways to catch fish on artificial reefs, here are some of the most effective:

Trolling

Trolling is the preferred method for targeting large pelagic fish such as tuna, billfish, dolphin fish, king mackerel, Spanish mackerel and bluefish. If done correctly, trolling can be very easy and effective. Typically, one or more fishing lines, baited with lures, bait fish or spoons are dragged through the water while the boat travels around and across the reef structure.

For this type of fishing, anglers use heavier rods and conventional-type reels designed to hold the resistance weight of lures in the water and battle the powerful fish that may take the bait. There are many ways to rig up for trolling, but in most cases, a snap swivel links to a trolling sinker or small planer, followed by some length of leader line and connected to the bait or lure. When trolling, be certain to set the drag on your reel so that the fish has an opportunity to run when it strikes. It may take some patience, but you’ll surely feel the thrill when the reel screams from that first bite.

Drift fishing

Drift fishing is another fishing method used on artificial reefs. With drift fishing, live baits or artificial lures are drifted through the water column. Depending on the weight of your lure and type of bait, drifting can be excellent for catching bottom dwelling species, such as flounder or pelagic fish, like Spanish or king mackerel. Another plus of drift fishing is that you can drift over many fish targets in one pass, increasing your chances of success. When your target species hits, it’s frequently explosive.

If planning to drift fish, look closely at your reef guide for details of the reef you want to drift over. At the reef site, set up a search pattern using your fish finder, and mark points where you see fish targets. Knowing the current and wind direction will also be important to help you determine how the boat will drift. Start 20 to 50 yards up wind or up current (whichever is prevailing) from your target location, drop your bait to whatever depth you picked, idle your motor and start drifting across the reef. The first drift will often be a bit of a guess, taking into consideration the direction of the wind and current. After a few tries, you should have a better idea of where and how your boat will drift across the reef, which will allow you to reposition your drifts each time.

Bottom fishing

Bottom fishing is the most common way to fish reefs. Bottom fishing can lure any of the local bottom fish species, including black sea bass, sheepshead, porgy, flounder, red drum, black drum, grouper, snapper and gray triggerfish. Anglers usually rely on a one- or two-hook bottom rig with cut bait (especially squid) or live bait.

While seemingly easy, bottom fishing can take a bit of practice to be successful. The key is positioning. When you arrive at the reef, explore the area with a fish finder, looking for fish hovering above structure in the water column. Reef fish do not stray far away from structure, so anchor your boat to hover just above the reef. Pay attention to the wind and current to help set your anchor course.

Tackle is another important consideration. When you have hooked a fish in deep waters and near a structure, the first thing the fish will try to do is escape into the reef. Too many fish stories end this way. Be certain to match your equipment to the type of fish you are targeting. Grouper, for example, are powerful fighters, so stout tackle is required. In any case, braided line can be a good way to resist breaking your line on the reef, but it is also less forgiving with snags.

Web Content Display Web Content Display
N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries • 3441 Arendell Street • Morehead City, NC 28557 • 252-726-7021 or 800-682-2632

NC logo

38337 FEEDBACK

Your input is valuable to us. Please send us your feedback.

What type of feedback would you like to send?*

Ask a Question Report a Problem Have a Concern Make a Comment

(If you would like us to respond please include your phone or e-mail.)

Your Question has been sent. Thank you!

An internal server error prevented Your Question from being sent.
Please try again later, or call Toll-Free (877) 623-6748 for immediate assistance.

Please complete all highlighted items

Your Problem has been sent. Thank you!

An internal server error prevented Your Question from being sent.
Please try again later, or call Toll-Free (877) 623-6748 for immediate assistance.

Please complete all highlighted items

Your Concern has been sent. Thank you!

An internal server error prevented Your Question from being sent.
Please try again later, or call Toll-Free (877) 623-6748 for immediate assistance.

Please complete all highlighted items

Your Comment has been sent. Thank you!

An internal server error prevented Your Question from being sent.
Please try again later, or call Toll-Free (877) 623-6748 for immediate assistance.

Please complete all highlighted items

*If you are a DENR employee with an I.T. issue, please submit a DOTS ticket.