North Carolina Fishing
The state of North Carolina offers plenty of opportunities for excellent fishing. North Carolina has more than 500 publicly accessible areas to fish.
Laws & Regulations
Educate yourself on North Carolina’s fishing laws and regulations to ensure you stay legal and avoid costly fines.
Where to Fish in North Carolina
Best Fishing Lakes in North Carolina
- Lake James – Lake James holds multiple state record fish including: Northern Pike, Tiger Muskellunge, and White Catfish.
- High Rock Lake – High Rock Lake is 15,180 acres and is a well known lake that for producing quality bass.
- Fontana Reservoir – Known for it’s thriving Smallmouth and Largemouth bass population as well as many other game fish. The Channel Catfish state record was caught on Fontana.
Best River Fishing in North Carolina
- Tuckasegee River – “The Tuck” is a beautiful river that is great for fly fishing. It has a great population of trout as well as Smallmouth bass.
- Nantahala River – A top 100 trout fishing river in the United States. Both Brown and Rainbow trout are common in the Nantahala.
Fish Species in North Carolina
North Carolina has over 40 species of fish, most of which are not seen by anglers. Below you will find the common game fish that anglers typically see when fishing in North Carolina.
North Carolina has 5 types of bass including: Largemouth, Smallmouth, Striped, Hybrid Striped, and White Bass.
Largemouth bass are the most targeted species for freshwater anglers. They can be found in every state other than Alaska. They are the largest species of bass.
Learn more about largemouth bass
Smallmouth bass are the most aggressive bass which makes fishing for them a ton fun. They have a ton of fight which makes up for their smaller sizes. Even though they are smaller than largemouth they still can get pretty big.
Learn more about smallmouth bass
Striped bass started out as saltwater fish but were added to freshwater where they survived and adapted. They are a schooling fish, so if you catch one it is very likely there are more around.
Hybrid Striped Bass
- Hybrid mix of striped and white bass
- Broken horizontal strips on body
- Two separate tooth patches on back of tongue
Learn more about hybrid striped bass
- Silver-white to pale green color
- Dark back, with white sides and belly
- narrow dark stripes through the length of their sides
- White bass look like shorter versions of striped bass.
Learn more about white bass
North Carolina has 4 types of catfish including: Blue, Channel, Flathead, and Brown Bullhead Catfish.
Blue catfish have a flat dorsal fin and forked tail. They have smooth scaleless skin with a light blue body and white belly. They have four pairs of whisker-like barbels.
Blue catfish can grow up to 5ft long and more than 100 lbs. The average size you see is 1-2ft long.
Learn more about blue catfish
Channel catfish have a slender scaleless body with a forked tail. They have an olive green to light grey color body with small black spots along their body.
Channel catfish can grow up to 52 inches long and 60lbs. The average size you will see is 1-3ft long and 1-15lbs.
Learn more about channel catfish
Flathead catfish have a flathead and a smooth scaleless body. They have a pale yellow to light brown colored body with a cream belly.
Flathead catfish can grow up to 3-ft long and weight 123lb. The average size you will see is 10-15lbs.
Learn more about flathead catfish
Brown Bullhead Catfish
- Olive to yellowish brown body
- Dark brown spots throughout body
- Four pairs of dark barbels
- Squared tail
- Sharp spines on dorsal and pectoral fins
North Carolina has both black and white crappie.
Black crappie have white bodies with a dark green and black back. Throughout their bodies they have black and brown spots.
World Record: 5 lb 7 oz – 19.25 inches long
White crappie have a white to silver body with a dark green back. They have blotches that make vertical bars across their sides.
World Record: 5 lb 3 oz – 21 inches long
North Carolina has 6 types of panfish including: Bluegill, Green sunfish, Redear Sunfish, Longear Sunfish, Warmouth, Rock bass, and Pumpkinseed.
- Large, deep bodied sunfish with a small mouth
- Sides are dark bluish-green in color with vertical bars throughout their body
- They have a large dark spot at the rear of the soft dorsal fin
- Their belly is deep orange to rust color
- Adults can grow to 16 in. but usually reach 6-11 in.
Learn more about bluegill
- Large, robust sunfish with a large mouth
- Blue irregular stripes of color on the sides of their head
- Large black spot at the rear of their soft dorsal fin
- Adults can grow to 12 in. but usually reach 8-10 in.
Learn more about green sunfish
- Large, deep bodied sunfish with a small mouth with long, pointed snout and small mouth
- Adult males have a red margin on the gill cover flap while females have a light orange flap
- Adults can grow to 15 in. but usually reach 8-11 in.
Learn more about redear sunfish
- Medium-sized, robust sunfish with a large head and mouth
- Dark olive to grey colors with brownish sides and yellow markings
- Dark red-brown lines flowing from the back of their eye
- Adults can grow to 12 in. but most are less than 10 in.
Learn more about warmouth
- Dark green or brown color with brassy yellow flecks
- 4-5 wide dark saddles over the back and down the sides
- Often called “redeye” or “goggleye” due to its large, deep red eyes
- Has 5 or 6 spines in their anal fin
- Adults can grow to 17 inches but fish exceeding 12 inches are rare
Learn more about rock bass
- Molted blue, orange, yellow, and olive green coloring
- Wavy blue lines on cheeks
- Orange belly
- Black earflaps with red or orange boarder
- 10 spines on the front of dorsal fin with a rounded back
Learn more about pumpkinseed
North Carolina has 3 types of perch including: Walleye, Yellow, and White Perch.
Walleye (Sander canadensis)
- Olive back that gradients down to gold side
- 5 dark bars along sides
- White tip on tail
Learn more about walleye
- Yellow to gold coloring
- White belly
- Green to yellow eyes
- 6-8 dark bands along their sides
- Dorsal fin with 12-14 spines and a second dorsal fin with 12-13 soft rays plus 2-3 spines
- Silver to greenish body
- White Belly
- Faint lines down their sides
- Lower jaw protrudes beyond upper
- 3 spines on anal fin
- 7 – 10 inches long
North Carolina has 3 types of trout including: Brook, Brown, and Rainbow Trout.
Brook Trout (Salmo trutta)
- Worm like markings along back & head
- White edges along fins
- Found in eastern North America, Europe, Argentina, New Zealand, and Australia
Learn more about brook trout
Brown Trout (Salmo trutta)
- Silver & golden brown
- Orange to red spots with silver rings around them
- Found throughout the United States, Europe, Africa, and Western Asia
Learn more about brown trout
Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss)
- Distinct red pink stripe down their side
- Black spots throughout body
- Square, broad tail
Learn more about rainbow trout
North Carolina has 4 other types of game fish including: Muskellunge, Common Carp, Chain Pickerel, and Bowfin.
- Greenish to golden brown coloring on their backs and upper sides
- Long thin body with a flat head and mouth filled with sharp teeth
- 6 to 9 pores on the lower jaw
Learn more about muskie
- Babels in each corner of their mouth
- Olive-brown to reddish-brown with a yellow belly
- Large and thick scales
Learn more about common carp
- Dark green to yellowish green coloring
- Dark chain-like markings over body
- Large dorsal and anal fins positioned close to the tail
- Common to have dark bar under eye that extends straight down
- Hard bony scaled flap covering gills
- Green and brown coloring on side and back
- Silver to white colored belly
- Black spot surrendered by orange ring on tail
- Paired fins and anal fin are bright green
- Jaw has strong conical teeth
North Carolina Fishing Records
Find North Carolina’s fishing records for over 50 species and how to qualify & submit your catch for the record fish program.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the most common fish in North Carolina?
The most common fish in North Carolina are bass, catfish, crappie, and various panfish.
Are there wild trout in North Carolina?
Brook and Brown trout are both native to North Carolina. Rainbow trout have also been introduced to various creeks and streams throughout North Carolina.
Is there snakehead in North Carolina?
Snakehead are not known to be found in North Carolina. They are illegal to possess, sell, or release within the state.
What is the biggest fish caught in North Carolina?
The largest fish ever caught in North Carolina was a Smallmouth Buffalo weighing 88 lbs on Lake Wylie in 1993.