Situated between the Cape Fear River and the South Carolina border is a 45-mile stretch of serene beaches and charming coastal communities known collectively as North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands. This eclectic, laid-back destination is ideal for vacationers seeking a coastal getaway without the big crowds and flashing neon attractions.
Brunswick County’s six barrier island towns each offer their own unique experience, including adrenaline-pumping water sports, unspoiled natural habitats, popular festivals, and some of the best fishing on the Eastern Seaboard. Best of all, island hopping is a breeze, so it’s easy to take advantage of all the great experiences that this coastal paradise has to offer.
With a wide variety of scenic locations and waters teeming with everything from giant trophy fish to delectable flounder and tuna, the Brunswick Islands area is truly an angler’s paradise. One of the easiest ways for beginners to start reeling them in is surf or pier fishing, where you can always find a friendly resident or fellow angler to offer some helpful advice.
Surf fishing is always available in and around Sunset Beach, Ocean Isle Beach, Holden Beach, Oak Island, and Caswell Beach. Nearly all the barrier islands have landmark fishing piers that also offer snacks, bait, tackle, gifts, and beach gear rentals.
Beaches and fishing piers
A couple of standout locations include Oak Island, which has two fishing piers and two marinas, along with 10 miles of beaches. The recently re-opened Oak Island Pier has weathered multiple hurricanes, but is once again open for business and remains one of the more popular spots for landing king mackerel, trout, and flounder. Next to the pier is The Flying Fish Café, which offers panoramic views of the ocean and delicious cuisine.
Another great option is the 1,000-foot Ocean Crest Pier, also on Oak Island. The longest fishing pier on the southern Cape Fear Coast, Ocean Crest boasts a tackle shop, adjoining restaurant, and an onsite weather station that measures wind speed, air temperature, and water temperature.
Sunset Beach’s 900-foot pier is situated on Brunswick’s southernmost island, and has a snack bar, game room, and air-conditioned pier house with bait and rentals. After your fishing excursion, explore Sunset Beach’s 1,200-acre Bird Island Reserve, where you can bike, stroll, or boat along pristine salt marshes and tidal creeks.
Deep blue fishing
If you’re ready to tackle deeper waters and bigger fish, there is a wide selection of charter boats available for 10- to 24-hour excursions. Experienced guides will take you to the warm, fast-moving waters of the Gulf Stream, located about 30 miles offshore. Here, you can land the big trophy fish that frequent these waters, such as blue marlin, sailfish, wahoo, snapper, king mackerel, and even sharks.
The more low-key guided kayak fishing charters are for those who want to try their luck along the area’s many shallow bays, creeks, and salt-water marshes. In addition to hooking trout, flounder, and redfish, these trips are a great way to experience the area’s abundant wildlife. While cruising along the waterways, it’s not uncommon to spot heron, otters, turtles, and deer.
Serious, competitive anglers may want to consider the Brunswick
Islands’ annual U.S. Open King Mackerel Tournament in Southport (Sept. 29–Oct. 1). Now in its 34th year, the tournament regularly attracts nearly 400 boats, with anglers competing for up to $25,000 as they fish for record-sized tuna, wahoo, and dolphin.
Another great way to sample the area’s delectable seafood and unique coastal culture is the Annual Oyster Festival, Oct. 15–16. Located next to the Museum of Coastal Carolina at Ocean Isle Beach, the festival is one of the area’s oldest and most popular events.
Visitors can enjoy mouth-watering local cuisine, arts and crafts, live music, children’s activities, an oyster-eating contest, a shag competition, an oyster-shucking contest, and the famous Oyster Stew Cook-off.
Weather and water temperatures are both ideal during the late summer and early fall, making now the perfect time to visit North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands. Just be sure to bring your sense of adventure and appetite.
Brunswick Islands Tourism: ncbrunswick.com