California surfers who come to the southern coast of North Carolina agree: The surf may be less spectacular than on the West Coast, but the water is warmer and the season is longer. Conditions were considered good enough for the U.S. Amateur Surfing Championships Mid-AtlanticRegionals that were held at Wrightsville Beach in 1997. The East Coast Wahine Championships were held in Kure Beach in 2001 and 2002. In 2003 the Championships moved to Wrightsville Beach and have been held there every year since.
In recent years, many surfers from this area have been achieving awards and recognition worldwide. With surfing now part of the pantheon of Olympic events, local surfing has naturally gained further status. Surf shops throughout the region can provide information on surfing competitions.
Local guides report that the popularity of kayaking along North Carolina's southern coast has doubled in the last several years. That's not surprising when you consider the bounty of regional waterways and seemingly endless things to see and areas to explore. Tropical sea life, exotic vegetation, a variety of waterfowl, historic landmarks accessible by water, barrier islands and pristine wildlife sanctuaries are just a few of the treasures you'll find. Unique opportunities for guided tours or solo exploration are plentiful due to the abundance of waterways. Explore the coastline, the Intracoastal Waterway, sounds, channels and salt marshes as well as the inland rivers and their tributaries.
Carolina Coastal Adventures
The headquarters for Carolina Coastal Adventures is conveniently located in Carolina Beach, NC adjacent to Kure Beach and Fort Fisher. Our tours are conducted in locations throughout the Cape Fear Coast . We are now located in our new shop, cross Snow's Cut Bridge and take a right at the first light, go through the Food Lion parking lot and we are right across the street on 1337 Bridge Barrier Rd. In the blue building with red roof.
The protected waters of the lower Cape Fear River, from Carolina Beach south, are the most popular in the greater Wilmington area for water-skiing. These waters are convenient to public boat ramps in Carolina Beach, including those at the marina at Carolina Beach State Park and at Federal Point. Throughout most of the region, the wider channels of the Intracoastal Waterway and adjoining sounds offer water-skiing opportunities, but be alert to other boat traffic.
One of the best and most popular windsurfing areas is the Basin, the partially protected body of water off Federal Point at the southern end of Pleasure Island (Carolina and Kure beaches). Accessible from a public boat ramp down the road from the ferry terminal, the Basin is enclosed by the Rocks, a 3.3-mile breakwater that extends to Zeke's Island and beyond. Motts Channel and Banks Channel on the sound side of Wrightsville Beach are popular spots, but you'll have to contend with the boat traffic. Advanced windsurfers prefer the oceanside of the jetty at the south end of Wrightsville Beach, where action is fairly guaranteed.
Kiteboarding is one of the hottest, up-and-coming watersports. Kiteboarding is similar to wakeboarding, using a large kite to pull you instead of a boat. It requires less wind than windsurfing, the gear packs up much smaller than windsurfing gear, and you don't need a boat to do it. Riders can jump 10 to 40 feet in the air while performing amazing tricks. Since they need less wind to have fun, kiteboarders get more good days in the Cape Fear area than windsurfers do.
The sport uses the principles of sailing in that you tack against the wind and can travel upwind or downwind. The boards are specially designed for the sport, and the kites can re-launch you if you crash in the water. Different sized kites are available for different wind conditions and different weight riders. You can kiteboard in flat water and waves. The most popular spots to kiteboard around here are the south end of Wrightsville Beach, the Fort Fisher Basin and the north end of Carolina Beach. Riders go where the wind conditions suit them. Kiteboarding is a thrilling sport, but like any extreme sport, it can be dangerous. You are strongly urged to seek expert advice or take lessons.
Because the river is a commercial shipping channel, touring the lower Cape Fear River in a canoe isn't recommended for beginners. However, for the experienced canoeist, the lower Cape Fear holds some wonderful surprises. Paddlers who frequent these waters have been known to gather wild rice bequeathed by the vanished rice plantations of the past. The Black River, a protected tributary of the Cape Fear River noted for its old-growth stands of bald cypress, is an excellent scenic canoeing choice, as are several of both rivers' tributaries. A canoe also provides excellent transportation for exploring the tidal marshes and barrier islands all along our coast.
At times, boating in the lower Cape Fear River involves competition with oceangoing vessels, shallow water or the treacherous shoals that earned the Carolina coast the moniker "Graveyard of the Atlantic." In contrast, the upper Cape Fear, its northeast branch and the winding creeks of the coastal plain, offer a genuine taste of the old Southeast to those with small boats, kayaks or canoes. Tannins leached from the cypress trees keep these waters the color of coffee. Many creeks are overhung by trees, moss and, in summer, the occasional snake. Early spring and late autumn are particularly good times to go, since there are fewer bugs.
North Carolina requires that motorized craft of any size (including water-jet craft) and sailboats 14 feet and longer at the waterline be registered. The cost is $25 for three years. Renewal forms are mailed about two months prior to expiration. Titles are optional ($20). More information on boating regulations may be obtained from the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission Boat Registration Section, 1751 Varsity Drive, NCSU Centennial Campus, Raleigh, NC 27606-2576; (800) 628-3773. An extensive list of vessel agents authorized to process North Carolina registration is online at www.ncwildlife.org.
Scuba Diving and Snorkeling
Diving the southern coastal waters offers rewarding experiences to collectors, nature-watchers and wreck divers, despite there being no true coral reefs in these latitudes. A surprising variety of tropical fish species inhabit these waters, including blue angel fish, damsel fish and moray eels as well as several varieties of sea fans, some as large as 3 feet in height. Spiny oysters, deer cowries, helmet shells, trumpet tritons and queen conchs can be found here. Among the easiest places to find tropical aquatic life is 23 Mile Rock, part of a 12-mile-long ledge running roughly perpendicular to the coast. Another 15 miles out, the Lobster Ledge, a low-lying formation 120 feet deep, is a collectors' target. There are several smaller ledges close to shore in shallower water better suited for less-experienced divers.
Visibility at offshore sites averages 60 feet and often approaches 100 feet, but inshore visibility is seldom better than 20 feet. The coastal waters can be dived all year long, since their temperatures range from the upper 50s in winter and low 80s in summer. However, many local charters typically end their diving season in early fall. Some charters organize destination trips after that.
Good snorkeling in the region is a matter of knowing when and where to go. Near-shore bottoms are mostly packed sand devoid of the rugged features that make for good viewing and collecting, but a good guide can lead you to rewarding areas. When the wind is right and the tide is rising, places such as the Wrightsville Beach jetty offer good viewing and visibility. The many creeks and estuaries support an abundance of life, and the shorter visibility, averaging 15 to 20 feet, is no obstacle in water so shallow.
The waters around piers in Banks Channel at Wrightsville Beach are fair but often murky, and currents are strong. Only experienced snorkelers should attempt these waters or those in local inlets, which are treacherous, and then only at stopped tides. It is neither safe nor legal to swim beneath oceanside fishing piers. When in doubt, contact a local dive shop for information.
This region of the Graveyard of the Atlantic offers unparalleled opportunities for wreck divers. From Tubbs Inlet (near Sunset Beach) to New River Inlet (North Topsail Beach), 20 of the dozens of known shipwrecks resting here are accessible and safe. Most are Confederate blockade runners, one is a tanker torpedoed by the Nazi sub U-158, and several were sunk as part of North Carolina's artificial reef program. These and higher-risk wrecks can be located with the assistance of dive shops.
Wreck diving is an advanced skill best undertaken by professionals. Research prior to a dive is essential in terms of the target, techniques and potential dangers, which in this region include live ammunition and explosives that may be found on World War II wrecks. If you observe anything suspicious while you're diving, leave it alone! Under state law, all wrecks and underwater artifacts within three miles of shore that remain unclaimed for more than 10 years are declared state property.
Charter boats can be arranged for dive trips through all the dive shops listed here, but there are others. Many charter boats are primarily fishing boats, so if you need custom diving craft, be sure to inquire. Most dive shops can lead you to a certification class if they don't offer one themselves. Also, proof of diver's certification is required by shops or dive masters when renting equipment, booking charters or purchasing air fills.
Aquatic Safaris & Divers Emporium
Galleria, 6800 Wrightsville Ave., 1A, Wilmington
This PADI training facility is Wilmington's largest full-service SCUBA charter service and dive shop, offering instruction, air fills, including Nitrox, and a full range of equipment for sale and rental. Dive trips on their USCG-certified 48' and 30' custom dive boats are available and range from $40 to $110 per person, depending on the trip's distance. The shop is certified by major manufacturers to perform repairs on most life-support equipment and most other equipment as well. It's open seven days a week all year.
The southern coast of North Carolina is an angler's paradise where, except for a few uncooperative winter days, fishing can be enjoyed 12 months of the year. The estuaries, brackish swamps and mud flats of these shallow, coastal waters are excellent nurseries for shrimp, crabs, oysters and finfish, making it a veritable seafood gumbo. With ocean temperatures ranging from the 70s in the Gulf Stream to the 50s near shore in the winter months, king mackerel, sea bass and tuna can be caught in the ocean, while striped bass can be caught in the rivers. During the spring, summer and fall months, tarpon, red drum, Spanish mackerel, flounder, sea bass, blue marlin, sailfish, shark, Wahoo, dolphin and many others are plentiful.
The North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries (NCDMF) has a wealth of information regarding fishing in North Carolina coastal waters. They offer a free, two-page brochure entitled The North Carolina Recreational Coastal Waters Guide for Sports Fishermen. They also have information on fishing licenses (including the new North Carolina Saltwater Fishing License, which goes into effect in 2007), bag and size limits for various species, fishing reports, and recreational and commercial fishing regulations, as well as a handy Fish Finder for identifying and describing all North Carolina fish by common name, with data and color illustrations of the species. These and many other sources of information on fishing can be found on their web site at www.ncdmf.net or you can call them at (252) 726-7021 or (800) 682-2632 (NC only).
Since the early 1970s, the NCDMF has helped create artificial reefs that provide habitats for sea life. These reefs consist of old ships, railroad cars, bridge rubble, concrete and FADs (fish-attracting devices). Using the motto "We sink 'em ? you fish 'em," reef architects have built dozens of reefs over the years. Judging by the number of sheepshead and mackerel landed on an average day, the program seems to be paying off. Charts and GPS coordinates to lead you to these sites are available by clicking "Artificial Reef Guide" on the NCDMF website.
The Cape Fear River offers excellent freshwater fishing, with available species including largemouth bass, sunfish, catfish, herring and American and hickory shad. Spring is the peak season for largemouths, which usually range between 1.5 to 3 pounds. Bass can be located near the mouths of the larger tributary creeks, such as Turnbull, Hammonds, Sturgeon, Livingston and the upper reaches of Town Creek. Bluegill are also plentiful and are available during the spring spawning season near locks and dams. Bluegills average one-half to three-quarters of a pound. American and hickory shad can be found in the lower Cape Fear River below Wilmington and can be taken below each of the three locks and dams above Wilmington.
The three largest members of the freshwater catfish family -- the channel, blue and flathead -- can be found in the Cape Fear River from Lillington to the Black River. Catfish are considered non-game fish and therefore have no size or creel restrictions. They can be taken by a variety of fishing methods. April, May, September and October are the best catfish months.
Information on inland water limits and licenses is available from the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, 1721 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1721. They offer the North Carolina Regulations Digest, which contains information on inland fishing, hunting and trapping. Call (919) 707-0391 or (888) 248-6834 for license information or 919 707-0220 for general fishing information. The entire digest is also online at www.ncwildlife.org.
Note that fishing from most bridges in the area is prohibited because bridges often traverse boating channels. Be sure to check the signs on bridges before casting.
Small-boat owners have many fishing opportunities around the mouths of creeks and inlets, especially during incoming tides when the boat and the bait can drift in with the bait fish. Small boats should use caution at ocean inlets during outgoing tides because the currents can be strong.
If you're traveling without tackle, rental gear is sometimes available. In addition to the fishing piers listed below, you can check one of the many tackle shops that abound along the coast.
Head Boats and Charters
If you're looking to fish with a group of people, you've come to the right place. From Topsail's Treasure Coast to Calabash, there are fishing vessels aplenty. Choose the large head boats (a.k.a. party boats) accommodating dozens of people or the "six-pack" charters accommodating up to six passengers. Head boats average $40 to $100 per person for full-day excursions, and walk-ons are always welcome. The boats are equipped with full galleys and air-conditioned lounges. Handicapped accessibility to most large head boats tends to be good, but varies from boat to boat and with weather conditions.
Charters offer a variety of trips, half-day or full-day, inshore or offshore, and sometimes overnight. Most are available for tournaments and diving trips, but it's a good idea to reserve early. If you can't find enough friends to chip in to cover the cost, ask about split charters. Many captains book them. Most charter captains prefer reservations but will accept walk-ons when possible. Charters range anywhere from around $300 for half-day excursions and $650 to $1,200 for an entire day of fishing in the Gulf Stream, which from here can be 40 to 70 miles offshore, depending on currents and the marina from which you embark.
Southern Coast Saltwater Fishing Tournaments
Tournament fishing has been luring ever-larger schools of anglers, and no wonder. Top prizes can be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and proceeds often benefit worthwhile charities. Many contests recognize tag-and-release as part of the Governor's Cup Billfishing Conservation series. The area has literally hundreds of competitive fishing events. Some of the popular tournaments are listed below, however you should watch the newspapers, as well as check current listings at tackle shops, marinas, piers and visitors centers.
Annual Cape Fear Disabled Sportsmen Fishing Tournament, Kure Beach Fishing Pier, Kure Beach, (910) 458-5524, or Dawson Freuler, Tournament Director at (910) 458-1202
The Spring Flounder and Trout Classic Fishing Tournament, Ocean Isle Fishing Center, Ocean Isle Beach, (910) 575-3474
The Far Out Shoot Out Fishing Tournament, Ocean Isle Fishing Center, Ocean Isle Beach, (910) 575-3474
Annual Carolina Beach Parks & Recreation Youth Pier Fishing Tournament, Kure Beach Fishing Pier, Kure Beach, (910) 458-5524 or (910) 458-2977.
Annual Flounder Tournament, Shallotte Point, Shallotte, (910) 579-3757.
Bald Head Island Fishing Rodeo, Bald Head Island Marina, (910) 457-3779, (800) 234-1666
Jolly Mon King Classic, Ocean Isle Fishing Center, Ocean Isle Beach, (910) 575-3474
Oak Island Open Pier Fishing Tournament, Ocean Crest Pier and Yaupon Pier, Oak Island, (910) 278-4747 or (910) 278-5518
Greater Wilmington Hydra Sports King Mackerel Tournament, Wilmington, (910) 452-9940
Cape Fear Blue Marlin Tournament, Wrightsville Beach Marina, Wrightsville Beach, (910) 256-6666
East Coast Got-Em-On Classic King Mackerel Tournament, Carolina Beach Yacht Basin, Carolina Beach, call Ty Cobb at (910) 512-0542
Captain Eddie Haneman Sailfish Tournament, Bridge Tender Marina, Wrightsville Beach, call Tripp at (910) 256-6550
King of the Cape Classic King Mackerel Tournament, The Shrimp House 2 Restaurant, Southport, (910) 278-4575
Annual Sneads Ferry Rotary Club King Mackerel Tournament, (held in conjunction with the Sneads Ferry Shrimp Festival), Sneads Ferry, (910) 329-4446
Long Bay Lady Anglers King Mackerel Tournament, Marina at South Harbour Village, Southport, (910) 278-4137
Southport Sport Fishing Club Flounder Tournament, Southport Marina, (910) 279-0971
Topsail Offshore Fishing Club King Mackerel Tournament, Topsail Beach, (910) 329-4446
The South Brunswick Islands King Classic King Mackerel Tournament, Holden Beach Marina, Holden Beach, (800) 546-4622
Long Bay Artificial Reef Association Club Challenge, Oak Island, (910) 278-4137
Wildlife Bait & Tackle Flounder Tournament, Southport, (910) 457-9903
Wrightsville Beach King Mackerel Tournament, Wrightsville Beach Marina, Wrightsville Beach, (910) 256-6666
Fall Brawl King Classic, Ocean Isle Fishing Center, Ocean Isle Beach, (910) 575-3474
Seagull Fall Tournament, Seagull Bait & Tackle, Carolina Beach, (910) 458-7135
U.S. Open King Mackerel Tournament, Southport Marina, Southport, (910) 457-6964, (800) 457-6964
Thanksgiving Flounder & Trout Classic, Ocean Isle Fishing Center, Ocean Isle Beach, (910) 575-3474