The U.S. Coast Guard recently announced plans to remove navigational buoys that for years have marked the channel from Harkers Island to the Atlantic Ocean via Barden Inlet. The uproar that resulted among sportsmen, especially anglers,

was immediate and loud.

The National Park Service followed the Coast Guard’s action with a statement that the popular route to Cape Lookout National Seashore and the fishing holes that lie in its vicinity is, in fact, still safe to use for moderate size vessels. They noted

that the Coast Guard has a policy of only providing navigation aids to areas with a depth greater than 6 feet and that, due to shoaling in recent years, Barden Inlet has fallen below that limit in some areas. The Park Service stated that, “Much of the park’s daily operations use Barden Inlet and will continue to do so unless the channel becomes unsafe and impassable.”

Turmoil that resulted from the Coast Guard’s actions is an indication of the importance that many outdoorsmen attach to our state’s ocean inlets. These openings between the barrier islands that fringe our coast not only provide movement of water between the sounds and the sea, but have served as a focus for the activities of men since they first approached these shores in the 16th century.

Indeed, the fact that the first attempt at settlement on the Atlantic coast was at Roanoke Island was not just coincidence. The island was the first sheltered area the prospective colonists encountered after they passed through Roanoke Inlet from

the open ocean. In a sense, they were directed there by the location of the inlet, long since closed.

Two hundred years later the infamous Edward Teache (aka Blackbeard the pirate) met his end in Ocracoke Inlet just a little farther south when he was trapped by a British war ship. The spot in the inlet where he died is still called Teache’s Hole.

North Carolina’s inlets might not provide access for Puritans or pirates today but they are still critical to the state’s economy and, equally important, for sport fishermen. Year around, anglers drifting, trolling or anchored in the state’s inlets

find speckled trout, flounder, bluefish, spot and a multitude of other gamefish.

Barrier island inlets could just as easily be called outlets since they allow an exchange of water, nutrients and small organisms between the estuaries and the sea. They are constantly changing due to wind, waves and tides. The dynamic nature of inlets is what attracts gamefish in such large numbers. On outgoing tides, shrimp and baitfish are funneled toward the ocean and present easy pickings. On a flooding tide, the bait is massed just inside the bars that extend across the mouths

of most inlets. How anglers go about fishing a particular inlet depends on what species they’re after and what inlet they’re in.

For example, Bogue Inlet is popular with flounder fishermen. Most drift with the tide, dragging minnows or strip baits behind egg sinkers on medium-weight tackle. The trick is picking a long drift that takes the boat and bait over productive

water. That’s usually an area where shoals drop off into channels. On days when Bogue Inlet is congested with boat traffic some good alternatives in the same general area are Bear and Brown’s inlets. Both are small and not considered

navigable by ocean-bound vessels but offer some hot flounder fishing for anglers in small boats.

While flounder are a drawing card at many inlets, they aren’t the only game in town. Oregon Inlet is famous for its red drum and striped bass. The world, all- tackle record for drum was set twice just a little way south of there. Anglers using

their own boats or fishing with guides can work the deep holes and finger channels that wind through the inlet everywhere, but particularly those toward the north end of the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge.

The same areas that are productive for red drum are also good bets for speckled trout. The most popular technique seems to be drifting along marsh banks, using light spinning gear tipped with small jigs, plugs, cut bait or live shrimp. Barden

Inlet is ideal for this type of fishing. (Just don’t rely on there being channel markers to guide you.) A lot of trout are caught as anglers work lead-head jigs or MirroLures right up against the grass, stopping to give a give good going-over to

water where small marsh creeks enter the inlet or where deep holes are known to exist.

Trolling for Spanish mackerel, bluefish or albacore is possible, often very productive, in some of the larger inlets. Small boats pulling Clark and Drone spoons in Beaufort Inlet sometimes “load up” as larger craft, who have been

offshore all day and burned a tank-full of fuel, chug past. A few years ago, a king mackerel tournament was won by a fellow slow-trolling live bait in that same area.

The Lookout Bight portion of Barden Inlet, an expanse of deep, sheltered water just behind Cape Lookout Spit, is a good place for trolling. So are Oregon, Hatteras and Ocracoke inlets, at least for boaters who watch the weather and the tide. 

Another tactic that often puts fish in the boat is to anchor in shallow water near an inlet bar and cast lures or bait where a channel cuts through the sand shoal. A nice thing about this kind of fishing is that an angler can let a couple of stout rods

fish themselves for drum or cobia while probing different angles of the channel for trout or other species. As the tide swells or falls, fish will move onto and over the bar. It’s a unique thrill for a lone fisherman to be working a nice bluefish to the

boat and look over to see one of his big rods bent double with line peeling off.

How he reacts will reveal whether he is a real fisherman or just a Sunday bait dunker. Not all inlet bars can be fished from an anchored boat all the time, however, and some should never be. Because of the configuration of the bar and orientation of the inlet to adjacent islands, the current pouring through will sometimes create dangerous conditions. At the very least, an anchor can become snagged and impossible to dislodge. In that case, the best course is to cut the rope and chalk the

anchor off to experience.

At the extreme inshore end of Ocracoke Inlet, extending behind the island, is a channel that has probably yielded more trout, blues, flounder and other gamefish than any spot on the East Coast. Fishermen working the area in the early morning

mist have been known to swear they saw a square-rigger flying a strange flag in the distance. Maybe they have – the place is Teache’s Hole. Chances are they didn’t dawdle for long because, to most anglers, inlets are for fishing not daydreaming.

Ed Wall can be contacted at 252-671-3207 or edwall@embarqmail.com. His website is edwalloutdoors.com