Surf fishing is a method that is near to my heart. As a boy, it was my favorite way to fish. I still get more pleasure from standing on the sand with a rod in my hands than I do from the deck of a million dollar boat, trolling. The simplicity of being at the intersection of ocean, land, and sky and landing a fish appeals to me.
As a native of North Carolina, it’s only logical the Outer Banks would be one of my favorite places. Of these the most unspoiled is South Core Banks, a twenty-mile long, narrow strip of beach with sound on one side and surf on the other, often less than two long casts wide. It is beautiful, desolate, and offers some of the best surf fishing in the world.
What makes South Core Banks so wonderful is the difficulty of getting there and how little there is once you arrive. There is no bridge to the island. The only way to get there is by boat. Once you arrive, there is no electricity and there are no stores. There are cabins that can be rented but there is no electricity and the cabins’ amenities are Spartan to say the least. Most cabins are equipped to accommodate your generator and they have gas hot water heaters.
Most visitors camp, both out of vehicles and in tents. Slide-in campers on pickups are the norm. Once on the island, other than what seems to be an inordinate number of bird closures, you can camp anywhere on the beach. Other than marked roads, no driving is allowed on the dunes. In the summer months, there are more closures but once the nesting season ends most of the island is drivable.
Other than fishing, there’s little to do on South Core Banks. Honestly, that’s a good thing – because the boredom factor is what keeps everyone else off. I have driven ten miles of beach without seeing another soul. After a storm, shells cover the beaches and you can pick up a truckload of whelks from tiny to the size of a large grapefruit. But the great thing about South Core Banks is not birds, beach driving, or shells. It’s about fishing. And the fishing is like nowhere else I know of.
Surf fishing in some areas requires a little more than big freshwater equipment. If weather conditions allow, this can work fine on South Core Banks. If weather shows up, you need real surf fishing tackle. A nine foot rod that will handle three or four ounces with a spinning or casting reel spooled with 12-pound clear line will work great as your fair weather rod. Less will get you by, but the longer rod may come in handy if the bluefish or Spanish mackerel show up and you wind up throwing metal. Many areas of the beach have an outer bar at about 50 yards out and sometimes you need to get past it.
If the weather turns rough, your chances of catching a citation red fish, or red drum as they’re called on the Carolina coast, increase dramatically. These fish like rough water and strong currents, currents that require an eight ounce sinker to stay put. I like casting gear for the added distance but spinning tackle will work. You need 250 yards of 20-pound test on a reel and an 11- to 13-foot rod that will handle it. You’ll also need a 25’ 40-pound test shock leader to prevent snapping the sinker off when you cast. This is a serious safety issue. Sometimes the snapped off sinker goes straight up and people have been seriously hurt. Having a backup rod is a great idea if the drum decide to blitz, they are known tackle destroyers.
Landing a 50-pound fish in heavy surf is different than working him to the boat and netting him. Most of the fish that are lost (and a lot of people lose fish in these conditions) are lost in the surf within a rod length of having the fish on dry sand. That 40-pound shock leader comes in handy in this process. Get a couple of winds on the shock knot before you horse the fish and let the incoming waves help.
Since there is no store on the island, it’s crucial to have everything you need when you get on the ferry. You can buy gas and ice, and the ferry company will often bring bait or other items over but don’t count on this. It’s a good idea to have quality bait before you get to the ferry dock. The ferry companies sell bait but it’s not the best and they may not have what you need. Once you’re there, you may be able to catch more with line or cast net provided the weather conditions cooperate.
South Core Banks is a quality fishing destination but one that requires commitment. If you want to try it, plan ahead, make lots of lists and check them twice, and head for Davis, North Carolina, the jumping off point. You might just have the surf fishing trip of your life.
If you want to head out to the Outer Banks, check out Cape Lookout Cabins and Camps at 252-729-9751.
Image copyright Dick Jones