Fishing guide: Top 3 inshore saltwater fish of the Carolinas

Here is an angler's guide to the three most popular inshore saltwater fish of the Carolinas. Although some of these fish are around all year, spring and fall are the times when the fish, and the anglers, are most active.

Inshore saltwater fishing is popular from the back creeks, to the inlets and jetties, and in the ocean surf. These fish all have size and creel limits (or closed seasons) so make sure you know the regulations before you go. Also, you need saltwater fishing licenses to go fishing in both North and South Carolina.

A client of Captain Mark Dickson with a nice Carolina winter redfish.
Jeffrey Weeks

Red Drum

Known in much of the Carolinas as redfish and in parts as spottail bass or channel bass, the red drum is NC's state saltwater fish and a year-round resident in southern NC and SC. The red drum is a beautiful, aggressive gamefish which feeds mainly on the bottom but can at times be found throughout the water-column.

Redfish stay in huge schools in the winter staying in shallow water for protection against dolphins that love to eat them. In the warmer months they roam more freely and are caught inshore, in the surf, from ocean piers, and around jetties.

Red drum eat a wide variety of natural foods from shrimp to crabs to many small fish. They can be caught on bottom rigs and on float rigs using live and cut shrimp, most any kind of minnow (including mud minnows, pogies, and finger mullet), cut bait such a mullet, or cut crabs. Redfish under-30 inches love to hit artificial lures, including the many synthetic scented soft baits, spoons, and minnow-like plugs.

For more tips check out shallow water fishing for redfish in the Carolinas.

Speckled Trout

Speckled trout are a strikingly pretty, aggressive schooling fish that run the tides chasing their favorite foods: shrimp and small fish. Most trout spend their whole lives in the estuary system or near-shore in the surf zone. Because they remain inshore but are susceptible to cold water, very cold weather can cause trout kills in the winter, especially in NC.

For most speckled trout the main part of their diet is shrimp, and fishing with live shrimp (often under a sliding float since they roam the water column) is the number one way to catch them. However, larger trout (all females) prefer live fish to eat and are often caught on finger mullet, pogies, or small pinfish.

Trout anglers love to fish with lures, and the most effective are the scented soft baits on jig heads or the MirrOlure plugs. Surf fishermen like MirrOlures for the casting distance they give them and because they target larger trout.

Check out the top 5 Berkley Gulp baits for speckled trout.


Summer and southern flounder populate the waters of the Carolinas and are one of the most fished-for species due to their great taste on the table and the specialized ways anglers fish for them. Flounder move offshore in cold weather but are most present inshore in the Carolinas from April through November.

Flounder are flatfish that lie on the bottom on their white side, and are exclusively a bottom fish. Their colored side blends into the sandy or rocky bottoms allowing them to ambush their favorite food: small, live fish.

Many folks who fish for flounder drift or troll in boats dragging bottom rigs baited with live minnows. Those who target larger flounder prefer to anchor up and cast to them. Flounder eagerly hit mud minnows, finger mullet, pogies, pinfish, and small croakers and spot. They also are taken with live shrimp or cut bait that is in motion.

Flounder usually prefer a bait that is moving, but drum and panfish anglers sometimes catch them still-fishing. In the past decade more fishermen have started fishing for flounder with artificial lures and had great results. The scented soft baits are perfect for flounder when fished on jig heads slowly on the bottom.

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Updated Thursday, Feb 24, 2011