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Inland Fishing Regulations

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General Information

Both the Wildlife Resources Commission and the Div­ision of Marine Fisheries have licensing, management and regula­tory authority in certain waters along the coast of North Caro­lina. These waters are designated as inland, joint and coastal waters. The Wildlife Resources Commission has juris­dic­tion in inland waters, and the Division of Marine Fisheries has jurisdic­tion (except that pertaining to inland game fishes) in coastal waters. Both agencies have licensing and regulatory authority in joint waters.

The boundaries between inland, joint and coastal fishing waters are prominently marked with metal signs posted adjacent to the affected waters. A list of these waters, with their boundaries indicated, is available at

Inland Game Fish

The following fishes are designated as inland game fish:

  • Mountain trout (including but not limited to brook, brown, and rainbow trout)
  • Black bass (largemouth, smallmouth, Alabama, spotted, and Bartram’s)
  • Crappie (black and white)
  • Sunfish (bluegill, flier, green sunfish, pumpkinseed, redbreast sunfish (robin), redear sunfish (shellcracker), Roanoke bass, rock bass, warmouth, and all other species of the family Centrarchidae)
  • Striped bass, in inland waters
  • Bodie bass (striped bass hybrid), in inland waters
  • White bass, in inland waters
  • White perch, in inland waters
  • Shad (American and hickory), in inland waters
  • Walleye
  • Muskellunge
  • Sauger
  • Kokanee Salmon
  • Bullheads (black, brown, flat, yellow, and white catfish), in inland waters
  • Flounder, in inland waters
  • Red drum (channel bass, red fish, and puppy drum), in inland waters
  • Spotted sea trout, in inland waters
  • Pickerel (chain or “jack”, and redfin)
  • Yellow perch, in inland waters

General Regulations for Inland Game Fish

Purchase and Sale

  • The purchase and sale of inland game fish are unlawful, except from and by licensed commercial trout ponds and fish propagators.

Manner of Taking

  • Inland game fish may be taken only with a hook and line.
  • Landing nets may be used to land fishes caught on a hook and line.
  • It is unlawful to snag fish by pulling or jerking a device equipped with one or more hooks through the water for the purpose of impaling fish.
  • For special rules governing trotlines, see “Trotlines, Set-hooks and Jug-hooks” (Nongame Fish Regulations).
  • American and hickory shad may be taken with bow nets from March 1 through April 30 in those counties and waters with open seasons for the use of bow nets (see Nongame Fish Regulations) and are subject to daily creel limits (see Warmwater Game Fish Regulations).
  • In the inland waters of the Roanoke River upstream of the U.S. 258 bridge, only a single barbless circle hook when fishing with live or natural bait or other tackle with a single barbless hook may be used from April 1 to June 30. “Barbless” means that the hook either does not have a barb or that the barb is bent down. Tandem rigs are prohibited.
  • White perch may be taken when captured in a cast net being used to collect nongame fishes in all impounded waters west of I-95 and in the Tar River Reservoir (Nash Co.) except in waters in and west of Haywood, Buncombe and Rutherford counties where it is unlawful to possess, transport or release live white perch.

Possession and Use of Game Fish

  • It is unlawful to take more than the daily creel limit of any inland game fish having a specified creel limit in any one day.
  • It is unlawful to possess more than the daily creel limit while fishing, boating or afield; or to possess at any place more than three days’ creel limit.
  • It is unlawful to possess fish whose size, creel or season restrictions are not in compliance with the regulations on the waters being fished.
  • It is unlawful, while fishing, to change the appearance of fish subject to size limits or daily creel limits or remove the head and/or tail from fish that are regulated by a size limit so that they may not be measured and/or identified.
  • It is unlawful to unnecessarily destroy any inland game fish taken from public fishing waters.
  • Inland game fish may be used as bait if they are legally taken and meet the size and creel limits of the waters being fished and other regulations.

How to Measure a Game Fish

The harvest of many game fish species is regulated by length limits. Fish length is deter­mined by measuring along a straight line (not along the curvature of the body) the distance from the tip of the closed mouth to the tip of the compressed caudal (tail) fin.

Illustration showing how to correctly measure a game fish.

Special Regulations for Joint Fishing Waters

  • It is unlawful to possess striped bass or Bodie bass (striped bass hybrid) regardless of size in the joint waters of the Central-Southern Striped Bass Management Area.
  • It is unlawful to possess striped bass or Bodie bass (striped bass hybrid) from May 1 through September 30 in the joint waters of the Albemarle Sound Striped Bass Management Area.
  • It is unlawful to possess striped bass or Bodie bass (striped bass hybrid) less than 18 inches in length.
  • It is unlawful to possess more than one daily creel limit of striped bass or Bodie bass (striped bass hybrid), in combination, per person per day, regardless of the number of management areas fished.
  • It is unlawful to possess striped bass or Bodie bass (striped bass hybrid) that are not in agreement with size and creel limits of the waters being fished, regardless of other management areas that may have been fished that day.
  • It is unlawful to net fish for striped bass or Bodie bass (striped bass hybrid) in joint waters except as authorized by rules of the Marine Fisheries Commission.
  • It is unlawful to use seines, gill nets or trawl nets in the Lake Mattamuskeet canals.
  • It is unlawful to use any net, net stakes, or electrical fishing device within 800 feet downstream of the dam at Lock No. 1 on the Cape Fear River.
  • It is unlawful to possess more than 10 American or hickory shad in aggregate, per person per day, taken by hook-and-line. See Warmwater Game Fish Regulations for the daily creel limits for American and hickory shad in inland waters. For the current daily creel limits for American shad in coastal waters, see

Otherwise, in joint fishing waters, commercial fishing including commercial trotlines is subject to the coastal fishing laws and regulations; inland game fish and hook-and-line fishing exclusive of commercial trotlines—are subject to the inland fishing laws and regulations.