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For anglers who crave variety, there’s no place like Wilmington.

Home to massive manmade lakes, seldom-visited creeks, wide Cape Fear River waters, and even easy proximity to ocean shorelines, the sheer options when it comes to casting a line is enough to make any fisherman excited about a visit.

And because of this landscape, there’s lots to entice anglers to pay the Port City a visit. The city is brimming with local bait and tackle stores, charter businesses, boat launches and area piers, and everything an angler needs to reel in a great catch or two.

So take advantage of Wilmington’s diverse landscape - and inherent love of the water – and plan a fishing adventure that can be as simple or as extensive as you’d like. From scoping out the area parks to planning a deep sea fishing expedition, Wilmington has an angler covered.

What You’ll Need (licenses), and What You’ll Catch

The first thing a coastal angler will need – especially if they’re heading to the local beaches – is a Coastal Recreational Fishing License, or a CRFL. This license is available on a 10-day, annual, or lifetime basis, and is available at a nominal cost for anglers both online at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/recreational-fishing-licenses-and-permits and at a number of local bait and tackle stores, or even “big” Wilmington stores like Kmart or Dick’s Sporting Goods. The cost for a 10-day license is just $5 for state residents and $10 for out-of-state residents, and covers all saltwater bodies in the region – including the Atlantic Ocean, local sounds, and area inlets.

Anglers should note that a license is only required for anglers age 16 and older, and may not be needed on charter fishing trips as the captain’s license generally covers everyone onboard.

What you’ll catch in Wilmington is completely dependent on where you go. For example, anglers who head to the manmade Sutton lake, which is located roughly 3 miles northwest of Wilmington, will likely reel in bass, beam, catfish, and crappie from the on-site pier, while anglers who head closer to the coast / Cape Fear river waters will find a nice variety of fresh and / or saltwater species such as catfish, red drum, striped bass, speckled trout, flounder, and even blue crabs.

The range of catches is dependent on the waters, the season, and the luck of the angler, but fishermen can nevertheless expect plenty of diversity no matter where (or what) they land.

Local Piers and Fishing Spots in Wilmington

From public parks to nearby oceanfront fishing piers, there’s ample places to cast a line in the Wilmington region. Start a fishing adventure with a trip to these destinations where enjoying a day of fishing is as easy as parking and casting a line.

River Road Park pier

River Road Park
6500 River Road, Wilmington, NC 28412
This expansive public park on the edge of the Cape Fear River features a handicapped accessible fishing pier on-site, as well as picnic areas and public restrooms.

Smith Creek Park
633 Shenandoah Street, Wilmington, NC 28411
This park with an on-site freshwater lake features a fishing pier as well as a floating dock for non-motorized boats and kayaks. Picnic facilities and restrooms are also located on-site.

Trails End park pier

Trails End Park
621 Trails End Road, Wilmington, NC 28409
This boat launching site that’s directly across from Mansonboro Island features access to the Masonboro Sound for mariners, as well as an on-site fishing pier.

Sutton Lake

Sutton Lake

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This massive freshwater lake features access for vessels of all sizes to the manmade Sutton Lake, as well as on-site fishing spots including a small pier / dock.

Snows Cut Park

Snows Cut Park

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Located along the Intracoastal Waterway, this public park features ample elbow room for saltwater fishing, as well as on-site picnic shelters and nearby restrooms.

Atlantic Ocean Fishing Piers close to Wilmington:

Johnny Mercer's Pier

Johnnie Mercer's Pier

23 E Salisbury St, Wrightsville Beach, NC 28480
Extends 945’ ft. into the Atlantic Ocean and features a restaurant and arcade with outdoor and indoor seating.

Carolina Beach Fishing Pier

Carolina Beach Fishing Pier

1810 Canal Drive, Carolina Beach, NC 28428
Extends 700’ ft. into the Atlantic Ocean and boasts a grill, snack bar, game room, and a lounge / bar area with full ABC permits.

Kure Beach Fishing Pier

Kure Beach Fishing Pier

Avenue K, Kure Beach, NC 28449
Extends 712’ ft. into the Atlantic Ocean, and features a grill, tackle shop, and an arcade with pool tables. Alcohol is not permitted.

Local Boat Ramps

Mariners who want to explore the fishing grounds in-depth will also find ample locales to launch their boat in and around the Wilmington area. With ample terrain to explore, bringing the boat along on a Wilmington vacation is often an angler’s best bet for reeling in catch after catch.

Start your fishing trip by heading to these public boat launch sites, which are free and wide open to the fishing public.

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
This launch site is located on the edge of the Downtown Area on the Cape Fear River, and features two launching lanes, a kayak launch area, 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
This launch site on the edge of the Cape Fear is in between the towns of Wilmington and Carolina Beach, and features a single lane ramp, an on-site fishing pier and restrooms, and even a playground and picnic pavilions.

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
This launch site directly across from Mansonboro Island Reserve connects with the Masonboro Sound and features a single launching lane, a courtesy dock, and parking for 40 vehicles with boat trailers. A fishing pier is also located on-site.

Sutton Lake Boat Ramp

Sutton Lake
301 Sutton Lake Rd. Wilmington, NC
N34° 18' 04'' N     77° 59' 37'' W
This launch site accesses the expansive manmade Sutton Lake, and features launching lane(s) as well as parking for 49 vehicles with boat 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
This launch site in the heart of the Carolina Beach State Park features two launching lanes, on-site courtesy docks, and nearly 40 parking spaces for vehicles with trailers. From here, visitors can explore the Cape Fear River, and head south to explore Zeke’s Island Reserve and Bald Head Island State Natural Area.

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
This expansive launch site on the edge of Snow’s Cut and the Intracoastal Waterway has five launching lanes, a hand launching site for kayaks and canoes, a courtesy dock, and roughly 100 parking spaces which includes 81 spaces for 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
This launching point directly in the Intracoastal Waterway features five launching lanes, and 68 parking spaces for vehicles with boat trailers. Masonboro Inlet is located approximately 3 miles south of the launch site.

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
This launch site connects with a southern portion of the Cape Fear River, (and the outlying Atlantic Ocean), and features launching lanes(s) and parking for 36 vehicles with boat trailers

Wilmington Fishing Charters

Visitors who want to enjoy the best fishing in the area but who are unfamiliar with the local terrain will want to book a Wilmington fishing charter to make the most out of their fishing expeditions.

There are quite literally dozens of fishing charters available in the greater Wilmington area, which can provide a wide variety of fishing trips that target the river waters close to home, the nearshore ocean and sound waters, or even the outlying Gulf Stream waters where the big catches can be targeted.

Inshore Charters

Local inshore fishing charters head to the shallow water flats, backwaters, and creeks of the Cape Fear River, and target a wide range of seasonal species that frequent these predominantly salty areas. These catches can include, but are certainly not limited to, red drum and black drum, flounder, speckled trout, Spanish and king mackerels, cobia, sharks, black sea bass, and sheapshead, as well as other seasonal species.

Inshore fishing trips are traditionally less expensive than offshore trips, and can accommodate small parties of 6 passenger or less, depending on the individual charter. Because of the close-to-home nature of an inshore trip, there’s also a wide variety of charters available, which can range from ½ day or hourly expeditions to full-day fishing adventures. Most Wilmington inshore trips are located inland and / or on the banks of the Cape Fear, and can be reserved in advance via the individual company’s website.

Offshore Charters

Offshore charter fishing trips take anglers miles out to sea to the warm Gulf Stream waters where a wealth of heavy duty catches can be targeted. On these 3/4 or full-day trips, fishermen can expect to target sport catches like marlin and sailfish, or tasty game catches including red snapper, blackfin and yellowfin tuna, Mahi / dolphin, and amberjack. Offshore trips are more expensive than their inshore counterparts, due to the length and expenses involved (such as gas and supplies), and offshore charters can generally accommodate parties of 6-8 passengers or less. Many local offshore fishing businesses are stationed close to the Wrightsville Beach Causeway, and can also be booked in advance and / or by contacting the local Wrightsville Beach marinas.

Either adventure will result in great fishing, but anglers are advised to book well in advance, as the summer, spring, and especially fall fishing is popular for local and visiting anglers alike. Research options ahead of time, and feel free to plan multiple inshore and / or offshore trips to enjoy everything the local fishing scene has to offer.

Tips and Tricks for Wilmington Fishing

  • Try something new and spend an afternoon crabbing or clamming. The tidal creeks and flats are prime grounds for clams and especially blue crabs, which can result in a stellar seafood feast.
  • For the best fishing conditions, aim for a summer or fall trip. Summertime is when those distinctive and / or warm weather catches can be landed off the local piers, like cobia, while the fall months bring semi-annual drum runs and a wide variety of big, tasty catches.
  • The Cape Fear region is home to a variety of annual fishing tournaments for the competitive angler! Check out iconic tournaments like the late June Cape Fear Blue Marlin Tournament, the Wrightsville Beach Wild King Classic in August, the North Carolina Flatfish Championship at Carolina Beach in September, or the Pleasure Island Surf Fishing Challenge in October to put your fishing skills to the test.
  • Didn’t catch the big one? Wilmington has plenty of local seafood markets and restaurants where it’s easy to grab the catch of the day with little effort involved.
  • Need bait? Head to the local tidal creeks and toss a cast net for baiting mullets, or head to the shoreline to dig up sand fleas in the ocean wash. Fresh bait is easy to come by – and wonderfully free – throughout the Cape Fear area.

From fishing trips to a public park, to full-day treks to the Gulf Stream, veritably any kind of fishing adventure can be planned and enjoyed in Wilmington. Check out the hundreds of miles of water that surround the Port City, and see why fishing is arguably the most popular pastime in this community where the water-loving roots run deep.

Top 10 Attractions in Wilmington, NC

Top 10 Attractions in Wilmington, NC

With centuries of history, a coveted arts scene, and a brilliant setting against the Cape Fear River, Wilmington’s inherent legacy and culture produces a stellar collection of attractions that will entice any visitor. Discover a port community where the past meets an artful present, and be sure that these must-see attractions are on your list to fully experience this amazing city from the inside out.

Shell Island

Shell Island

Shell Island may not be a familiar term for new visitors to Wrightsville Beach, but it’s certainly well-known among locals and historians who like to explore the original roots of the area. Referring to the northern tip of Wrightsville Beach which was once the site of a popular resort, “Shell Island” is still an attractive destination for shell-seekers, fishermen, beachcombers, and anyone who likes a little peace and quiet in this otherwise bustling beach town.

Wrightsville Beach Guide

Wrightsville Beach Guide

One of the largest attractions in Wrightsville Beach – both literally and figuratively – is the town’s miles of ocean-facing shoreline. And over the decades, the local beaches are the prime reason why millions of visitors have discovered, (and return to), this cool coastal community. With parking available throughout the town, seasonal lifeguarded beaches, and wide shorelines where splashing around is a breeze, it’s easy to see why people keep coming back to enjoy the local shorelines that have made this vacation destination famous throughout the generations.

Cape Fear Museum

Cape Fear Museum

The Cape Fear Museum, (shorthand for the Cape Fear Museum of History and Science), has been educating and entertaining visitors for well over 100 years. Founded in 1898, the museum is the oldest operating museum in North Carolina, and welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. Distinguished for its modern structure and Market Street location in the middle of Downtown Wilmington, the museum has a wealth of information on the history, wildlife and culture of the 50-square mile Cape Fear region. More than 50 thousand exhibits can be found within its brick and concrete walls, and patrons of all ages will surely find an exhibit or two that is engrossing, educational, and sheds new light on this essential coastal Carolina region.

Downtown Wilmington, NC

Downtown Wilmington, NC

For many visitors, the waterfront downtown region is where the action is in Wilmington, and an extended visit to this area is the highlight, if not the majority, of a great Wilmington vacation. Downtown Wilmington is steeped in history, filled with attractions, and offers all the enticing restaurants and shops of a major city, while retaining its small-town coastal charm.

Burgwin-Wright House Museum and Gardens

Burgwin-Wright House Museum and Gardens

The Burgwin-Wright Museum House may be one of many former Wilmington residences that claim historical significance and a long and storied history, but this home is remarkably beautiful and distinctive in its own right. Built in 1770-1771, the home is one of the top twenty oldest homes in North Carolina, and the oldest museum house in the state. Carefully preserved throughout the centuries, despite natural deterioration, military occupancy, and the Civil War, the Burgwin-Wright house is an enchanting step back in time for Wilmington visitors and residents alike.

Expo 216

Expo 216

Explore one of the newest art spaces in the culturally rich city of Wilmington with a visit to Expo 216. Located in the heart of the downtown area, this gallery is a fine destination to discover a wealth of talents through a series of exhibits and gallery events that will make any newcomer fall in love with the Wilmington arts scene.