Morehead City is a coastal community that revolves around fishing.
From its early ties to the commercial fishing industry to its modern day reputation as home to one of the biggest fishing tournaments along the Eastern Seaboard, anglers will find that when it comes to great and diverse fishing grounds, Morehead City is hard to beat.
Schedule an inshore or offshore fishing trip on your next vacation, or just spend a couple days checking out the many public parks and piers where casting a line is a breeze. From full day fishing adventures to an afternoon or hanging around the downtown area, fishing is truly found around every corner in Morehead City.
North Carolina Fishing License for Morehead City Fishing
The first thing an angler will need before they hit the local beach or pier is a North Carolina Coastal Recreational Fishing License (or CRFL). This fishing license is required for any angler over the age of 16 who is dropping a line in a salty body of water, and in Morehead City – where the local creeks and bays eventually connect with the Back and Bogue Sounds – this more or less encompasses all the local fishing grounds. Anglers should note, however, that a CRFL is not required for many charter fishing trips, as the captain’s license traditionally covers everyone on board. In addition, a CRFL may not be required for fishing at one of the local privately owned piers, (like the Oceanana Pier in Atlantic Beach), as again, the commercial license covers all customers who drop a line.
With that being said, however, obtaining a CRFL is a quick and economically painless process. Visitors in the area can pick up a license in person at virtually any bait and tackle or fishing supply store in the area. In addition, anglers can also obtain a fishing license before their vacation by going online to the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries website at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/recreational-fishing-licenses-and-permits.
An NC Fishing License is also reasonably inexpensive, and generally ranges from $5-15 for a 10-day license, depending on a visitor’s home state. (Fishing licenses are just $5 for 10 days for North Carolina residents.) In addition, annual licenses are available for visitor who take multiple trips to Morehead City, which range from $15-$30, and lifetime fishing licenses are available for $15 to $500, which is dependent on a number of factors, such as the age of applicant, the state of residency, veteran status, etc. For more information on rates and fees, anglers can view the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries’ website at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/recreational-fishing-license-types-and-fees.
Fishing Spots in Morehead City (Local parks, piers, and docks)
Anglers who don’t want to venture too far to drop a line will find a wide range of options in the Morehead City area. With a number of local fishing piers, public parks, and even soundside beaches, there are plenty of great fishing destinations that only require a short walk, or a short drive.
Located on the edge of Shepard Street in the heart of the downtown area, Jaycee Park is a nicely central fishing destination that features six benches and covered bench swings, picnic tables, ample parking, public restrooms, and two fishing piers which are located on the edge of 8th and 9th Streets.
Morehead City Recreation Center
This indoor and outdoor recreation complex on Fisher Street features an outdoor picnic shelter as well as a fishing pier that extends over Calico Creek – a moderately sized body of water that connects with the Newport River. Restrooms and ample parking are both available on-site.
This 22 acre island which is found across the harbor from Morehead City features a floating dock, restrooms, and several soundside beaches. The “park” is only accessible via a kayak or small vessel, but borders miles and miles of soundside waters which double as prime fishing grounds.
Newport River Boat Ramps & Pier (Radio Island)
This popular fishing destination, which is easy to reach and is located directly along US Highway 70, has a lot of amenities for all varieties of anglers. The site features ample parking and public restrooms, six boat launches, and a 575’ ft. long fishing pier that extends into the heart of the Newport River.
North 11th Street Water Access
This small water access point located on the edges of North 11th & Edgewater Place in the downtown area has an on-site dock and little competition from fellow anglers due to its quiet locale. Visitors should note, however, that parking is limited in the immediate area.
South 10th Street Water Access & Boat Ramp
This downtown public water access site and fishing destination features a boat launch for vessels 16’ ft. or less, as well as a pier that extends into the Harbor Channel / Bogue Sound waters. The site also features ample parking for visitors.
South 11th Street Water Access
This public access site that is located in the intersection of Shepard and South 11th Streets features parking as well as an area for kayak launching and / or casting a line.
South 12th Street Water Access
This small public water access area has a bench and picnic table, and a grassy site for casting a line. The site is rarely used and nicely isolated, although area parking may be limited.
South 13th Street Water Access
This site that’s located at the intersection of South 13th Street and Shackleford Street features a boardwalk to the water’s edge, as well as a modest sized dock. Parking is limited, but the site is nicely isolated with few anglers.
South 16th Street Water Access
This public water access site features a concrete walk that leads to the edge of the Bogue Sound. Parking is limited in the immediate area, but the site is nicely quiet with little pedestrian or vehicular traffic.
South 28th Street Water Access
This public water access point features a bench, a rocky shoreline and parking, and is situated on the edge of South 28th and Evans Street. From here, anglers can access the Bogue Sound waters while enjoying plenty of privacy.
Sunset Drive Water Access
This public water access site sits on the edge of the downtown area, on the borders of South 3nd and Sunset Drive, and features a boardwalk that leads to the edge of the Bogue Sound.
Radio Island Beach Access
This “beach” access site is found just off of US Highway 70, and comprises of a small beach close to the Old Towne Yacht Club that has a generally uncrowded stretch of shoreline, (expect on the weekends), as well as parking and on-site restrooms.
This large public beach in the heart of Atlantic Beach is a convenient spot for surf fishermen, and is located just a 5 minute drive away from downtown Morehead City. The site features seasonal lifeguards, a playground, restrooms, and a number of surrounding shops and restaurants, as well as ample shoreline for casting a line.
Fort Macon State Park
This public beach is located just 10 minutes away from Morehead City, and is an exceptional destination for anglers thanks to miles of beaches which border the Atlantic Ocean, the Beaufort Inlet, and the Bogue Sound. Several parking areas are found between the inlet’s borders and Atlantic Beach, and extra amenities like seasonal concessions, lifeguards, and restrooms may also be available.
The Oceanana Pier is found in the town of Atlantic Beach, (5 minutes away from Morehead City), and is a popular fishing pier that extends 1,000 ft. into the Atlantic Ocean. The pier can be accessed via a daily, weekly or annual pass, and also features an on-site restaurant, as well as a tackle shop and adjacent beach.
This small “park” on the edge of Taylor’s Creek in neighboring Beaufort features a boat launching site as well as a small sandy beach and picnic tables. The site is located along Front Street, and as such, has ample street side parking.
Grayden Paul Park
This small water access site is located along Front Street / Pollock Street in the neighboring town of Beaufort, and provides access to Taylor’s Creek. The “park” features a bulk headed waterfront border, a floating dingy dock, a shaded gazebo, and a walk-in boat launching region, as well as plenty of nearby parking along Front Street.
Harkers Island Beach
Harkers Island Beach is located roughly 15-20 minutes away for Morehead City visitors, and features a sandy beach on the edge of the North River, as well as boating access to the Back and Bogue Sounds. Several fishing destinations and ample parking are found throughout this stretch, which includes a mid-bridge parking and casting area along Harkers Island Road.
Inshore / Nearshore Fishing
Anglers who want to check out the incredible fishing conditions that are close to shore can easily reserve a trip onboard an inshore / nearshore fishing vessel that launches from Morehead City. With three inlets in the area – which includes Beaufort, Barders, and Drum – as well as miles of water that comprise the Bogue Sound, Back Sound, Core Sound, Newport River, and the Atlantic Ocean, there are truly endless possibilities when it comes to local fishing grounds.
An inshore / nearshore fishing trip generally heads to waters that are roughly 8-10 miles at most offshore, and is a fishing trip which can accommodate anywhere from 2-6 anglers (or more, depending on the vessel.) Considering that there are so many directions to go from a Morehead City departure, which can include everything from nearly freshwater creeks to open ocean waters, fishermen can often tailor a trip to suit their timeframe, interests, and pursuits – whether it’s nailing schools of red drum, or trying out fly fishing in some of the calmer inland creeks.
As a result of this diversity, there is a huge array of different species that can be landed during an inshore / nearshore charter fishing trip. Catches can include – but are certainly not limited to – drum, blues, albacore and false albacore, Spanish and king mackerel, stripers, sheapshead, flounder, mullet, cobia, and much more.
Prices for an inshore or nearshore charter trip are typically less expensive than an offshore trip – due to less gas and expenses required – which makes it an attractive option for anglers of all skill levels who want to drop a line, and also discover the phenomenal fishing grounds that are close to home.
A number of local Morehead City charter businesses have websites, which makes booking in advance of a vacation a breeze, and visitors can also take a stroll along the downtown waterfront to peruse the options, via an array of signs and marquis that are perched along the bulk headed town borders. In addition, the neighboring town of Beaufort – roughly a 5-10 minute drive away – also has a wide selection of inshore charter businesses that are located along the downtown region’s “main drag,” Front Street, and which also offer a wide range of trips.
From expeditions that follow the drum runs, to family friendly adventures that may include a beach trip along the Cape Lookout National Seashore, virtually any fishing adventure from Cedar Island to Swansboro can be accomplished when an angler launches from Morehead City.
Morehead City is the home base of one of the biggest offshore fishing tournaments on the East Coast, so naturally, the area is a hotbed for offshore charter fishing trips of all varieties.
An offshore fishing trip can traditionally accommodate about 6 passengers, and transports anglers 15-20 miles offshore to the warm and fruitful fishing grounds of the Gulf Stream. On these treks, anglers can target a wide range of big and coveted species, including “sport fish” like blue marlins, white marlins, and sailfish, as well as “game fish” including Mahi, grouper, yellowfin and blackfin tuna, snapper, tarpon, albacore, amberjack, and much more.
An offshore fishing trip is generally more expensive than an inshore / nearshore trip, but it allows anglers to target the biggest catches the ocean waters have to offer, while exploring the almost tropical landscape of the Gulf Stream.
Reservations can be made in advance, as many local Morehead City offshore charter companies have websites and online booking capabilities, or visitors can peruse their options by taking a stroll along the waterfront in the downtown area. Additional options are also available in the nearby towns of Atlantic Beach and Beaufort, making it easy to plot out an offshore charter fishing trip throughout the season.
Another option for anglers in the Morehead City and Beaufort regions is an afternoon or day of headboat fishing, which serves as an inexpensive means for venturing out into the slightly offshore waters. A headboat is a much larger vessel that can typically accommodate 20, 30, or even 40+ passengers, and as such, is cheaper per-head for anglers who want to step aboard.
Local headboats that depart from Beaufort and Morehead City target the close-to-shore sound and river waters, but even still, anglers can expect to reel in a wide array of catches including croaker, spot, sheapshead, flounder, black sea bass, trout, sharks, and much more. Several hour or half day trips are generally available, and anglers may have to bring essential tools along – like rods, reels, or bait. Each company is different, so call ahead to see what you need to bring, and what you can leave behind.
Like other fishing options, visitors can explore the headboat options online before a trip, or by patrolling the waterfront in Beaufort and Morehead City. Essentially, look for the biggest boats along the Harbor Channel in Morehead City or Taylor’s Creek in Beaufort, and you’ll know you’ve found your venue for a fun outing of headboat fishing.
Fishing Tournaments around Morehead City
Morehead City is famed as the focal point for one of the biggest fishing tournaments in North Carolina and miles beyond, the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament. This annual tournament which is held for roughly a week in early to mid-June attracts several hundred anglers from all along the Eastern Seaboard, and offers ridiculously huge purses that can easily break the $2 million dollar mark. The tournament targets the big sport catches – i.e., blue marlin, white marlin, and sailfish – and the influx of anglers who come to town for the event creates a fun atmosphere where fishing truly reigns supreme.
In addition, visitors will find a wide range of smaller but still fun fishing tournaments that are found throughout the town, as well as in neighboring Crystal Coast communities.
Spring visitors to Morehead City will find a wide range of options, including the Reelin for Research Bluewater Tournament, the CCA NC Cobia Challenge, and the North Carolina Offshore Challenge Dolphin Tournament. The Chasin’ Tails Outdoors Cobia Challenge is also held in nearby Atlantic Beach in the spring / summer season.
The summer months bring a new wave of Morehead City area tournaments, such as the Carolina Redfish Series Tournament in Atlantic Beach, the Chasin’ Tails Outdoors Flounder / Spanish Challenge, and the CCCF Spanish Mackerel / Dolphin Tournament in Beaufort, just to name a few. Other summer highlights include the Ducks Unlimited “Band the Billfish” Tournament in Morehead City, and the Carolina Redfish Series event in nearby Swansboro.
The fall is equally appealing for competitive fishermen, thanks to a long roster of tournaments like the Flounder Surf Fishing Tournament in Emerald Isle, the Neuse River Backwater Open in nearby New Bern, and the CCA NC Inside and Out Tournament in Morehead City.
Essentially, virtually any time of the year is a good time to scope out the local fishing tournaments, and anglers who love a little competition will not be disappointed. Check out local town or community events calendars for upcoming tournaments that coincide with a vacation, or stop by the local tackle stores or fishing piers for more information. In the spring, summer, and fall weeks, there is seemingly always a fishing tournament on the horizon, which is sure to lure anglers of all ages and skill levels.
Tips and Tricks for Fishing in Morehead City
- Atlantic Beach may be the closest destination for surf fishing, but many local anglers attest the best surf fishing destinations are found offshore, along the 56-mile long Cape Lookout National Seashore. Anglers can catch a passenger ferry ride from Beaufort or Harkers Island to reach Cape Lookout and / or the Shackleford Banks, and enjoy some of the best (and least crowded) fishing conditions along the East Coast.
- Not sure when to head to Morehead City for a fishing trip? Try fall. Fall is an exceptional time for fishing, thanks to a wide array of species, lower accommodation prices, and a dwindling tourist population. As such, it’s easy to enjoy exceptional fishing without the crowds, and on a budget.
- Don’t forget that “fishing” in the Morehead City region doesn’t always entail a rod and reel. A number of local charter businesses and companies offer crabbing or clamming trips, which are family friendly adventures, and which can result in buckets of tasty seafood to enjoy at home.
- Didn’t reel in the big catch? You can enjoy the local seafood regardless by popping into one of the town’s many local fish markets or restaurants. Because Morehead City is renowned as a commercial fishing center, the majority of area restaurants and markets have ridiculously fresh seafood specials that were swimming in the nearby waters hours before they landed on a plate.
Morehead City is truly a dream locale for anglers. Boasting a central location that’s close to a host of coastal towns and destinations, and offering a number of charter businesses that depart from the downtown docks, no shell has been unturned when it comes to exceptional fishing grounds in and around Morehead City.
Plan a trip to the local downtown docks and piers, or schedule a full day expedition to the Gulf Stream – Essentially, no matter how you like to fish, Morehead City is a coastal destination that is always conducive to any style of fishing adventure.