“Cured In Salt” …..Carolina Beach, NC
In early 1992, after suffering a significant business setback, my family and I packed our car and minivan, as well as a rented U-Haul, and headed to the coast of North Carolina. No jobs, and the only money we had was borrowed from my Mother-In-Law. Just me, my wife, and 3 kids heading into the great unknown, or “Our Great Adventure” that we call it to this day.
The road since then has been filled with lots of great experiences and most of all, thanks to the relationships having been built with so many wonderful people, has made for an ongoing adventure. Fishing has brought me many memories that I love to share with my family and friends. “Cured In Salt” is my perspective of fishing on the North Carolina Coast. While I’ve fished all over America, my best memories are about fishing here…..near my home, and the people that mean so much to me. North Carolina has always been my home and its coast will forever be the place with the cure for what ails me.
In many respects, Carolina Beach is the fisherman’s Mecca. For countless years, tourists had made their way to Pleasure Island to board the Winner Queen and her sister boats to go out and fish the ledges near Frying Pan Shoals. In the afternoon these boats would return to the charter basin with grouper, snapper, and other species hanging from the upper decks. Those decks are nearly always filled with sunburned anglers ready for a warm shower and a cold beer. For years the Winner family maintained the fleet of up to 3 head boats operating out of the Carolina Beach basin. Today the fishing fleet has been reduced to only one boat.
The Carolina Beach charter basin was also the home of a great number of sport fishing charter boats. Boats like, Captain Freddie Holland’s Music Man and Captain Carl Snow’s Fish Witch. At that time it was common to hear Captain Freddie on the VHF radio, laughing and joking with the other charter captains on the way to the inlet. Every afternoon the long line of sportfishing boats would come in the inlet, turning left onto the ICW and then into the basin for docking, cleaning the fish and a good scrub down for the next day’s trip.
While there are still a significant number of sportfishing boats in the Carolina Beach fleet which are still located in the downtown basin, the numbers are fewer. This in not due to a decrease in fishing or the interest in visitors. Instead it’s a significant shift toward inshore fishing and the use of smaller boats. These are mostly found in the area of light tackle guides like Captain Dennis Barbour. Dennis has been a familiar name in both fishing and Carolina Beach for a number of years. He is the former mayor of Carolina Beach and owns the largest tackle shop on the island (Island Tackle and Hardware).
The waterway and the nearby Cape Fear River make for a swift current for Flounder fishing fantastic. You can drift the inlet or anchor at the junction of the waterway, but take plenty of rigs. The bottom is littered with debris like old cars from the old days. A back up anchor is also recommended. The same is true with Snow’s Cut which is just a mile from the inlet. The fast moving water with lots of structure makes for a great habitat for large Flounder. The south end of Snow’s Cut empties into the Cape Fear River and in recent years the river has seen more fishing activity, thanks to the increased interest in fishing for Redfish, Speckled Trout and again Flounder. The Cape Fear also has become popular thanks to lighter pressure on the fishing resources than the nearby oceanfront and waterway.
Another added benefit is the light boating traffic found on the Cape Fear. With light ship traffic and an occasional recreational boat moving by, the river is free of wakes and fishing distractions. Just south of Carolina Beach is a shallow bay known a “Buzzards Bay”. This estuary is filled with Redfish and Flounder as well. A shallow water boat is needed to navigate the area and watch out for the tide. Low tide can leave you sitting for a while. For the offshore fisherman, Carolina Beach is in close proximity to the Frying Pan Light, the home of great bottom fishing. The nearshore fisherman can also find lots of Spanish and King Mackerel in the warmer months as well as large Bluefish. The nearshore fishing also has several locations with significant underwater structure that results in large populations of baitfish that attracts larger fish. This is commonly found just off Fort Fisher with the large Spring Spanish Mackerel.
Still today, Carolina Beach serves as one of North Carolina’s busiest charter fishing locations with thousands coming every spring, summer and fall seeking a fishing adventure. It’s a great fishing destination that’s supported by lots of fun things to do. The downtown area features the historic boardwalk with the old arcade and authentic ski-ball machines and shooting galleries. And of course, it’s the home of Britt’s Donuts serving their world renowned hot donuts during the summer season. Carolina Beach also has a wide array of restaurants that can handle almost any appetite.
The best part about fishing around Carolina Beach is….it’s FUN. No pretense here. It’s a great place to fish where the Flounder are big and the good times are even bigger. It’s a place to bring the family and fish during the day and then hit the boardwalk at night and grab a Britt’s donut. Ride around in a rented golf cart and end up at the miniature golf course and play a few rounds. You can have a cold craft beer at the Fat Pelican with friends and lying about the day of fishing while you sit outside enjoying the beach breeze and listening to the music play. When the day is over, all you have to do is do it again. It’s here every day.