Hatteras Fish Species & Seasons

There are hundreds of different fish species that appear around Cape Hatteras every season! Our charters are mostly all done inshore, near shore and back country. There are plenty of different species in those inshore waters to keep us entertained all season. Capt. Rick has reported that it isn't unusual for his charter group to catch as many as ten different species on their charter trip. Obviously we only fish for the species that our customers want to catch. Here is a little information about the main species we target.

Another Speckled Trout in the net on Pamlico Sound.

Speckled Trout (June - December)

Specks (Spotted Sea Trout, Speckled Trout) are a favorite among Hatteras inshore anglers for several reasons. They are beautifully marked and strike hard. They are a lot of fun to catch on light tackle with lures and often can be caught casting in shallow water around objects and weeds. They grow rather quickly and tend to travel in groups which means once located several keepers can be caught on a trip. Specks can tolerate a wide range of salinity but prefer medium to low salinity in the warm months. In the late fall and winter they leave the estuaries and feed along the near shore waters in the surf.

The Speckled Trout has an extensive spawning season from spring all the way through early fall. Specks can live as long as ten years and can reach up to ten pounds and 30 inches long. Their diet includes mullet, menhaden, croaker, spot and crabs with shrimp being a Speckled Trout favorite.

Light spinning tackle with light line is a preferred way to fish for Specks. Best baits include live or dead shrimp, live minnows, bucktails, plastic grubs and sometimes float rigs. Specks can be caught anchored, drifting and trolling.

The angler's favorite thing about Speckled Trout has to be their excellent taste and white flesh. Specks may be fried, baked or broiled with excellent results. Specks have a decent shelf life and can last 4 or 5 days in the fridge and frozen the meat can be thawed up to six month later and still taste fine.

Anoher Speckled Trout in the net on Pamlico Sound.

Red Drum (April - December)

Reds (Red Drum, Channel Bass, Redfish, Puppy Drum, Spottail Bass) are also a favorite among Hatteras inshore anglers. They are iridescent gray underneath with a golden copper sides and back with a single black spot on the tail or multiple spots. Scientists believe the spots are to confuse predators when they are still small. Red Drum can grow to incredible size reaching five feet long and nearly 100 pounds. The NC State Record and World Record is 94 lb. 2 oz. and was caught right here at Hatteras Island on an Avon beach. Red Drum strike hard and make a powerful run and the larger brutes can be real tackle busters. Around Hatteras huge mature Red Drum are often located feeding on the Inlet Shoals or along an irregular beach in the evenings and early mornings when conditions are just right for feeding (a rolling surf). Keeper three to six year old Red Drum are often located inside the inlet moving up to feed on shoals and weed lines on a falling tide.

Red Drum spawn at dusk in coastal water around passes, inlets, and bays from early fall to late winter. Red Drum are estimated to live up to 30 years. They have an extensive spawning season from spring all the way through early fall. They feed by sight and feel along the bottom for crabs, shrimp, menhaden, mullet, pinfish, pigfish, spot, croaker and pretty much anything they can find in their head down search along the bottom.

In Pamlico Sound spinning tackle with light line is a preferred way to fish for Reds. Hopkins spoons, lead head jigs, lipless crank baits. mirro lures and even floating plugs as well as cut and live bait all work well on Reds when they are active. Red Drum can be caught anchored, drifting and trolling and one favorite way is sight casting which combines fishing and hunting.

Red Drum are excellent on the table. They have white course meat similar to a Striped Bass which is good fried, baked or broiled. They can be frozen but are tastier when consumed fresh.

Gray Trout are Speckled Trout's big brother.

Gray Trout (June - October)

Gray Trout (Weakfish, Gray Seatrout) appear in coastal waters and estuaries from Cape Cod all the way to Alabama. They are more abundant from South Carolina northward. They are considered to be a "drum or croaker" because of their ability to audibly vibrate their air bladder with specialized muscles. Since Gray Trout prefer deeper water they can be hard to locate in the shallow waters around Hatteras Inlet but when you locate and catch one there will be many more Gray Trout feeding in the same spot and you can have a banner day. The larger Gray Trout will leave the Inlet come winter and migrate further offshore white the smaller ones will follow the coaat migrating south as far as Florida.

Weakfish spawn in near shore waters and estuaries from May to October but the peak spawn is in May and June. Grays mature and spawn at the end of their first year and they grow rapidly living as long as nine years. A 20 inch Gray Trout is between 6 and 7 years old. The NC record Gray Trout is a whopping 14 lbs. 14 oz.

They will feed throughout the water column which means they ca be taken on a multitude of offerings. Grays eat shrimp, crabs, clams and most any fish smaller than they are.

Light spinning tackle with light line is a preferred way to fish for Gray Trout with best live baits including shredder crabs, shrimp and small fish bumping on the bottom in deep channels and holes. Grays also hit well drifting with lead head jigs with brightly colored twister tails and jerking it off the bottom constantly.

The flesh on Grays tend to be very soft and is easily torn. Gray Trout spoil quickly so they should be iced immediately and consumed right after filleting. They do not freeze well and develop a fishy taste rather quickly.

Bluefish are veracious eaters.

Bluefish (Year Round)

Bluefish (Blues, Snappers, Choppers, Taylors) are enjoyed by anglers in much of the world living in temperate and warm waters. They are bluish green sides and top with a silvery underside. There body shape is similar to a jack and they travel in large schools of similar size. They migrate north in the spring and south in winter with larger fish spending most of their life in the northern range and offshore in their southern range. Bluefish schools are ravenous in all sizes.

Bluefish live about 14 years growing from 9 inches in only one year up to 34 inches and 20 ponds at their veracious maturity. They spawn in spring and summer and then the spawn immediately enter the estuaries, bays and sounds. It is easier to say they will eat just about anything that moves than to mention everything in their diet. They are even known to bite swimmers and floating objects like corks when feeding. They can be caught from boats, surf, piers, bridges and jetties with just about any method people use.

Anglers need to match their gear to the size Blue they intend to catch and the method they will be fishing. Inshore Bluefish can turn a really slow day into a lot of fun for anglers. A favorite lure is anything silver that can be cast and retrieved a good distance and then cracked quickly back in. It's been said that you can't retrieve a lure too fast for a Bluefish.

Bluefish flesh is gray and soft. It spoils quickly once filleted so it is recommended that they be eaten the same day if possible. When filleting a Bluefish it is highly recommended that you remove all sections of dark red from the meat.

Beautifully colored Spanish Mackerel laying on dock.

Spanish Mackerel (May-October)

Spanish Mackerel (Spaniards) are a colorful sleek slender shaped missile prized by anglers for both table and sporting qualities. It is a smaller cousin of the King Mackerel averaging two to three pounds and travels in extremely large schools. They have an olive greenish back with silver sides and belly. They have yellow gold oval spots all along the side and also have very small scales.

Spaniards are very fast growing reaching 12 to 15 inches in only one year and although they have been aged to 8 years they rarely live longer than 5 years. They spawn between April and September off the NC and VA coasts and travel in huge constantly moving schools up and down those coasts. Threadfin Herring, mullet, menhaden, anchovies, shrimp and squid are some of their favorite foods which they tend to corral into tight bundles pushing them nearly out of the water. Spanish Mackerel can be caught on small silver lures and jigs or similar fast darting baits tossed or trolled on light tackle.

Spanish Mackerel are excellent on the table and easy to clean. They can be fried, broiled or baked.

Cobia in water looks like a shark.

Cobia (May & June)

Cobia (Cabio, Ling, Lemonfish) are an inshore anglers best chance to tangle with a real tackle buster! They are often mistaken for sharks because of their dark brown color and single dorsal. They also tend to swim deliberately around turtles and rays to take advantage of whatever creatures are stirred up. They are seasonal favorites for anglers from VA south and throughout the Gulf of Mexico. In early summer Cobia can be seen in pods migrating in coastal waters, bays and sounds and are attracted to any structure including wrecks and channel markers. This is an excellent article about Cobia fishing charters on the Outer Banks.

They live between 10 and 15 years reaching lengths up to 6 feet and 100 lbs. Cobia reach 35 lbs. by only their fifth year. Although Cobia will eat fish like mackerel, spot, croaker and eels, they actually prefer crustaceans like shrimp and crab which has garnered them the nickname "Crab Eater". Cobia are exceptional fighters when hooked and never give up. Even when landed they are still dangerous to everyone onboard.

Cobia are excellent tasting with a white flaky meat. The meat is excellent fried, broiled, baked, and basted over charcoal. Baked with poured over malted butter and lemon is really hard to beat.

Here Are a Few More Species We Catch

Angler holding nice Flounder.


Angler holding nice Blasck Sea Bass in Pamlico Sound.

Black Sea Bass

Angler holding nice hard fighting Sheepshead caught in Pamlico Sound.