Inland Fishing Regulations

Hunting Regulations Icon North Carolina Hunting & Fishing

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 ncwildlife.org (see Fishing-Learn/Resources-Publications-Fishing Regulations-Coastal, Joint and Inland Fishing Waters Designations in North Carolina), or by calling 919-707-0220. Maps are also available at ncwildlife.org/FishingMap.

Inland Game Fish

The following fishes are designated as inland game fish:

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


There are no closed seasons on inland game fishes with the following exceptions:

  • In Hatchery Supported Trout Waters, where the season for all fishes is closed and fishing is prohibited from March 1 until 7 a.m. on the first Saturday in April. This closed season for fishing does not apply to power reservoirs or municipal water supply reservoirs.
  • On U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Wildlife Refuges, where federal regulations apply.
  • On the Roanoke River, where the striped bass season is closed from May 1 to the end of February from the Roanoke Rapids Dam downstream to the mouth of the river at Albemarle Sound, unless changed by proclamation of the Executive Director of the Wildlife Resources Commission.
  • In the Central-Southern Striped Bass Management Area where possession of striped bass and Bodie bass (striped bass hybrid) is prohibited.
  • Fishing is prohibited from Feb. 15 to April 15 in the Linville River from the mouth, as marked at Lake James, upstream to the N.C. 126 bridge.
  • Seasons and size and creel limits for spotted sea trout, flounder, and red drum are the same as those recreational limits estab­lished by the Division of Marine Fisheries in adjacent joint and coastal fish­ing waters. For current limits, see portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/recreational-fishing-size-and-bag-limits or call 252-726-7021 or 800-682-2632.

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.


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 Sept. 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 joint and coastal waters, see portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/recreational-fishing-size-and-bag-limits.

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.