Southport has an extended waterfront on the Cape Fear. As recently as the 1950s, the riverfront was a working waterfront, with fish houses, shrimp houses, railways and docks for several menhaden fleets. That is pretty much gone now, with the shrimp fleet relocated elsewhere and only one fish house operating.
Across from Southport on the east side of the Cape Fear, is Bald Head Island, where the coastline makes a 90-degree turn to the west. On the west side is Oak Island, which includes the towns of Caswell Beach and Oak Island. Bald Head has southern and easterly facing ocean beaches and an extensive marsh estuary system on the inland side.
On the inland side, the Cape Fear runs upriver to Wilmington, and the Elizabeth River runs to mid-island behind Oak Island, which wasn't an island until the Intracoastal Waterway was dredged in the 1930s. The ICW runs with the Cape Fear from Snows Cut on the north end to where it leaves the river at Southport and heads south, behind Oak Island. Several creeks and an extensive marsh system drain into the Cape Fear River, Elizabeth River and ICW.
Not all roads lead to Southport, but several end there. NC 87 and 211 end in Southport and NC 133 bends around Southport and ends at Oak Island. I-40, US 17 and US 421 all provide access from various parts of North Carolina.
The most-popular boat ramp is an N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission ramp on Fish Factory Road; it's busy and filled to overflowing on weekends. The Commission also operates a ramp at the end of Sunset Harbor Rd. west of Southport, and the town of Oak Island has a pair of free ramps on the inland ends of NE 55th St. and 57th Place West.
Having been born in Southport and having fished the area for more than 50 years, this has always been one of my favorite places to fish. There are plenty of places that hold a lot of fish. Here are a few that are easy to reach:
Browns Landing 33.55.28 N/078.14.25 W
This spot is on the mainland side of the ICW where it intersects the channel to Lockwood Folly Inlet. Rip-rap and rock stabilize the bank, which helps concentrate bait and fish. From late spring through early fall, the ocean water is usually a little cooler than the inside water. On the rising tide, the cooler water runs in through Lockwood Folly Inlet and hits the bank at Brown's Landing before spreading up and down the ICW.
Predator fish when and why this area holds bait. They hide in the larger rocks waiting for bait to be swept by in the current. Any moving tide can be a good time, with falling tide usually being a little better early in the spring and late in the fall, and rising tide usually being better during the hot months.
The main fish caught here are flounder, red drum and black drum. There are also occasional good runs of sheepshead and speckled trout. The rip-rap can grab lures and rigs and can be difficult to fish. Consider fishing this spot as vertically as possible, or use live bait and let it sit and draw strikes. My favorite approach is to fish weedless spoons or rig soft plastics weedless. This allows you to cover much more ground, and as the fish move up and down the bank, sometimes you have to move a few times to find them.
Editor's note: This article is part of the Saltwater Series: Southport feature in the September issue of North Carolina Sportsman. To find out the rest of the Southport hot spots, you can download a digital edition of this issue right to your computer or smartphone.
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