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What Bait to Use for NC Outer Banks Pier Fishing

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Let's get this straight from the beginning - I'm suggesting the best bait to use for pier fishing with a bottom rig. I'll probably mention "gotcha plugs" before this article is over, but the truth is, all I know about, all I've ever really done, is fished with a bottom rig. And I only fish from the end of the pier when the "serious fisherman" are not around. Most of my fishing is between the surf and the middle of the pier.

So, what do I use to catch the spot, croaker, mullet, flounder, trout, puppy drum, black drum, occasional sheep's head, and unfortunate skate from the Outer Banks fishing piers?

Rodanthe Fishing Pier on Hatteras Island

Rodanthe Fishing Pier on Hatteras Island


My first choice is always shrimp. Some folks think it's quite a waste - throwing away perfectly good shrimp all day without a nary a bite. And it's true - I like a good shrimp dinner as much as the next person, but I also like fishin'. And shrimp is relatively clean to handle (if you don't believe me, wait until I tell you about blood worms!). It's easy to cut into bait-size pieces, and easy to twist onto your hook. But most importantly, fish like it. I've caught more fish using shrimp at the NC Outer Banks than with any other bait.


One of our childhood staples was squid. I never heard a soul complain that we were wasting a good dinner for fish bait when we used squid to fish. But I didn't try my first calamari until I was all grown up. I have to admit that so far, my recommendations for bait sound like a mighty fine seafood dinner.

My grandmother always thought squid were good for flounder. I've caught a few croaker and mullet with squid, but the shrimp usually do better for me.

Blood Worms

Next on our list is blood worms. Bet you won't mind leaving those off of your dinner plate.

I was pretty squeamish about using worms for bait until I was an adult. Sometimes, especially when the spot are in, there's just nothing else that works. When everyone else on the pier is catching one after another, and you're not, you learn how to put a worm on your hook.

They don't call 'em blood worms for nothing. They are messy, and they ooze "blood." My hands are always nasty, especially under my nails, after a day of fishing with blood worms. If the spot are not biting, I usually stick with the shrimp. And by the way, blood worms are often even more expensive than shrimp, if you can believe that!

A pretty good substitute for blood worms is the artificial brand, Fish Bites. Fish Bites come in lots of "flavors", including shrimp, but we have only had luck with the blood worm variety. The bait looks like little strips of bubble gum. I haven't tasted it, but the spot do seem to like it okay, just maybe not as good as that messy "live bait". Fish Bites are a lot more economical than blood worms, however. You can reuse the same piece of bait over and over. I've caught plenty of spot using Fish Bites and kept my hands relatively clean.


We've had a few fishing companions that swear by using sections of crab for bait. We've tried it a few times - it's supposed to be excellent for drum - but I've never had much success with it. I also started to worry a bit about using crab that we caught ourselves, because I don't fully understand the fishing regulations regarding crab. And it's kind of tricky getting those crabs off your hook and sliced into pieces without getting pinched.

Sand Fleas

Another related option is sand fleas. You can dig your own sand fleas right at the surf - I've watched my daughter and stepkids fill up a sand bucket in no time. But I've also recently seen sand fleas for sale at one of myfavorite fishing piers, fresh, frozen and steamed. I'm told that in the winter when the fresh sand fleas are not available, the fish seem to like 'em steamed. Sand fleas are supposed to be great for drum and sheep's head, but I have to admit, I haven't had much luck with them myself...maybe because the kids would cry anytime we tried to use them for bait.


If you are fishing for striper (that's one "p", not two, for you dirty minded guys...some Tarheels also call 'em Rock Fish), then eels are supposed to be a good choice for bait. I've only tried it once. I happened to catch a small eel, and rather than trying to get the dang thing off my hook (they invariably swallow it!), I decided to just throw it back out there and see what happened. Bad idea. That slimey eel twisted my bottom rig into the biggest rat's nest you've ever seen. Other than what the seasoned professionals tell me, I can't give much of a recommendation on eels for bait.

Gotcha Plugs

Okay, I told you I would get around to the gotcha plugs.

First, my grandparents taught us to use "live bait." Let me explain, in case you are as confused as I used to be...."live bait" does not mean the poor little sea urchins are actually still alive. It just means they once were. "Live bait" is the opposite of "artificial bait."

My grandfather had a tackle box full of really cool looking artificial lures, but I seldom saw him use them, and I never saw him catch a single fish with one. So I grew up using live bait and didn't bother with artificial lures, ever. Fish Bites just came out a few years ago and represents my first attempt to use artificial bait....unless you count bologna, with all those perservatives and all. We used bologna now and then for pond fishing. But I digress....back to the gotcha plugs.

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You will see lots of folks using gotcha plugs to fish for blues on the North Carolina Outer Banks piers. They seem to work, too. But I grew up hearing stories about the blues running - they say you didn't need bait at all, just a shiney hook. Now personally, I don't like the flavor of blue fish, but I understand how it is when nothing else is biting and a fisherman (yes, I said fisherMAN) gets a bit bored. They'll resort to using gotcha plugs to catch a blue or two.

I've never tried it, but I've noticed there's a little flicking motion to the reeling in that I am probably not quite coordinated enough to master. I'll leave that for the guys, and the gals who actually like blue fish. But gotchas are pretty inexpensive if you want to tuck one in your tackle box, just in case.

Cut Bait

I almost forgot - the other primary bait that I've actually used and caught fish! "Cut Bait" can be just about any little fish that's really too small to put in the cooler (but of course not restricted by fishing regulations) that happens to be unlucky enough to end up on your hook. I personally do not clean fish, so I only use cut bait when someone else is willing to do the cutting. They just basically fillet the little guy and cut the meat into hook-size pieces. Cut bait is excellent for flounder, drum, and sometimes the usual croaker-mullet-spot fare...if they are tired of the shrimp, that is. Cut bait is a great alternative when the skates are bad - skates love shrimp, and there is really nothing more frustrating to me than the fight to the water's surface to discover a dang'd skate!

No doubt, there are other plentiful baits you can use to fish the North Carolina Outer Banks. Maybe some of those end-of-the-pier spanish mackeral, cobia and shark conquerers will chime in under the Comments section. But if you just want to catch some decent (and delicious) pan-sized (or a little better) fish, this article has you covered!

Comments on July 21, 2018:

Good information, fishing for the enjoyment

BJ Ahoskie NC on October 03, 2015:

Know this stotms brought up something fun to catch!!! On the way down now gonna try an hit Avln first!!! What's biting this weekend!?!!???

Alan on August 19, 2014:

I usually start out with blood worms then when I catch something that is legal ill usually cut that up and use that for bait which I believe to works the best when bottom fishing. Caught 22 inch flounder off of nags head that i cooked up.

matt on July 03, 2013:

for using eels you need a circle hook I believe a number 4 circle hook and you take the hook and put it through the bottom of its jaw through the top of its head and put a 2-3 ounce sinker on it they catch good rock fish(stripers) another good bate for rock fish is bunker cut into small pieces on a circle hook

craig on April 16, 2012:

nice nice post. was helpful. thanks!!!

Matt on January 31, 2012:

How much pound test would you use for just regular fishing with shrimp the outer banks?

DrewT on October 03, 2011:

We take a throw net and catch tons of mullet. We have caught everything from flounder to blues..everything seems to like live bait.

dineane (author) from North Carolina on August 10, 2010:

Dan, we don't fish quite that far north, but in Nags Head we've been catching spot, mullet and croaker from the pier.

Dan on August 09, 2010:

My family and I will be going to Carola on Saturday. Im looking forward to surf fishing and pier fishing. can you let me know what will be "running" at this time? I am used to fishing at Beaufort, SC and have never been to OBX. We are so excited and have already bought our license on line. Thanks for the great column! D

dineane (author) from North Carolina on July 13, 2010:

Steve, OIB is a bit south of my usual destination, so I can't help with where to get the shrimp.

Joe, no, leeches are not the same.

Joe Edwards on July 12, 2010:

Are blood worms the same as leeches?

SteveP on July 08, 2010:

WOW a lot of great info here. I really like your columns dineane and all the great comments that are left. I do have a couple open questions for anyone reading. I'll be traveling to OIB in a couple weeks with family and plan on fishing with my 7 year old daughter from the canal, the surf and from the OIB pier. I figure we'll use minnows & pogies netted from the canal. But I would love to know what peoples first choice would be as far as tackle set-up, bait and time of day for fishing these areas in the middle of summer. Also, If we decide to fish with live shrimp is there a place in OIB to get it? The only thing we've ever found there is previously frozen shrimp at Sheffield's.

dineane (author) from North Carolina on July 08, 2010:

LOL, newman - good luck!

newman b on July 07, 2010:

thanks for all of the great advice guys and gals...I plan on visiting sunset beach pier with my 5 yr old son...gonna try a variety of dead and live baits...mainly shrimp. I hope that we have some luck...we've only tried cut shrimp on bottom so far...gotta learn how to use live shrimp, lol.

Patrick on July 02, 2010:

Just did quite a bit of fishing at the Avalon pier. Caught a lot of sea mullet with squid while fishing at night. Used shrimp and sand fleas also, but they didn't really produce anything.

Trophy Water Guide Service on June 28, 2010:

I've never used blood worms by virtue of their gross name and slimy reputation... so I had no idea that they're sometimes more expensive than shrimp. I always prefer shrimp (probably because I didn't know how delicious they are when I was a kid fishing the bottoms).

Edward Kirk from Maryland on June 11, 2010:

Orange colored shrimp Fishbites are my choice for bottom fishing. Very tidy, keep in the tackle bag for a long time, do not catch skates but are very effective for Spot and Kingfish.

Brian on June 11, 2010:

Shrimp is the one bait for most everything. Catch a good variety, clearnose skate loves shrimp also. Caught 20 skates from 3-5lbs in 2 mornings. The same goes for if using squid. Went to bigger bait and got bigger fish. Then went to Bluefish and caught about60-80lb stingray in surf and had couple others in that range break off in the surf. The pier is great since a lot of species are around it. I caught a 20lb stingray and 5 lb skate off the pier and even with a dipnet, was a major effort to up.

Good fishing

dineane (author) from North Carolina on May 15, 2010:

Zach, I haven't caught shark on purpose, but yes, occassionally get a little shark using our regular bait.

John - if you buy fresh shrimp at the Outer Banks, it will basically be the same thing at the grocery or the bait store. But we usually stop on the way in at Whalebone Tackle Shop on the causeway.

John on May 14, 2010:

I will be vacationing in Nags Head in 2 weeks and will be surf fishing. I am new to it. Do you use shrimp you would buy at the grocery or live shrimp from a bait store?

zach on May 11, 2010:

you guys ever catch shark in the surf in outer banks... if so what bait have you used??

Freshwater Lures on September 13, 2009:

One of the best fishing hubpages I have come across, some great info here, thanks.

dineane (author) from North Carolina on August 23, 2009:

wow, bill, guess I need to write another hub - one that would take me some research! LOL. I have a Penn rod & reel, and an Ugly Stick, and a Shakespear rig. I think I like the Penn the best. I honestly am not "up" on the specs - I've received most of my gear as Christmas gifts from my husband and sister. But seriously, I'll try to get a hub response together soon.

bill on August 23, 2009:

for a first timer at pier and surf fishing ,what rod and reel is used for either? and where is a good place to purchse them? i enjoyed reading the stuff on what bait to use.

ricardonolasco57 on August 09, 2009:

iagree with u that shrimp is a good bait i use it many time and cach many type of fish

samchelsea19 on August 04, 2009:

I love this site, and all of the fun comments.

dineane (author) from North Carolina on June 06, 2009:

you're welcome anytime!

ralwus on June 06, 2009:

Ooo you got me tichin ta go fishin agin girl! Catfish, big ones and good ol pan fish. thanks all I need to know if I come yer way with a pole or two and Wee One, she loves fishin too.

dineane (author) from North Carolina on June 06, 2009:

Mama, haven't you read my fishing cleaning Hub? How I get out of cleaning fish is a long story :0-)

Hotdogs - bologna - about the same, right? but I don't remember every trying them at the beach. I've only caught shark with - can you guess? - Shirmp!

Donna Campbell Smith from Central North Carolina on June 05, 2009:

How is it you get out of cleaning what you catch? I thought that was a RULE!

I remember Dr. Pharr telling stories about catching sharks with hotdogs.

dineane (author) from North Carolina on June 05, 2009:

LOL, Joel! My husband thinks I use pieces of shrimp that are too big, too - but I catch bigger fish than he does :-) Thanks for stopping by!

nutuba from North Carolina on June 05, 2009:

Great advice! We usually use shrimp or squid when we're pier fishing, but really I've only been pier fishing maybe a half dozen times. We usually stick to the surf (and we use shrimp and squid there, too).

I guess the other key (for me) is to watch what the other folks are catching stuff with. I remember the first time I ever went pier fishing. I had my big surf rod, I used a big hook, and I put a whole shrimp on there. The guy fishing next to me started laughing, and he asked, "Are you trying to catch Jaws or something?" He convinced me to use a smaller hook and smaller pieces of bait.

Tight lines!



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