The Pamlico Sound

The Outer Banks is famous for its family friendly beaches, uncluttered with steady Atlantic surf lapping at the miles and miles of welcoming sand. Whether it is the patient consistency of the surf fisherman or the manic rush of the skim boarder, the laconic drifting of the tanning sun worshipper or the long walks that serve to shield the real intent of the people watchers, the ocean provides endless possibilities for entertainment.

A trawler works Pamlico Sound near Oregon Inlet

But the Outer Banks is a string of barrier islands, and as such it has another side, one that also holds riches of its own. Welcome to the Sound Side!

The largest lagoon on the east coast of the U.S. is the Pamlico Sound, which starts at Oregon Inlet to the north and ends on the southern end with Drum Inlet stretching 80 miles long and 30 miles wide at its widest. The brackish waters are fed by the Neuse and the Pamlico rivers mixing with the salty ocean brine, creating a playground of water sports of deserved international fame.


While the deep draft boats are making their way out to the ocean in the narrow channel leading out of Oregon Inlet, churning their way out to the Gulf Stream and the big game fish, a whole different fleet spreads out across the shallow waters of the sound. Flat bottom skiffs are about all that can navigate a good portion of the Pamlico, with depths often no more than three feet for miles and rarely getting deeper than 15 feet. But there are many more of these versatile workhorses parked on trailers in driveways across America than there are million dollar charter boats parked in $100,000 boat slips in sexy marinas, and there is no better place to slip these fishing machines into the water than the Pamlico.

What waits for the avid angler, swimming just below the surface? There is an amazing variety of fish that call the Pamlico Sound home. Puppy Drum, Red Drum, Speckled Trout, Flounder and Rock Fish are found in abundance, with an occasional visit from Tarpon and Spanish Mackerel, and there are lots of resources available, both in print and online, to direct the Pamlico angler to the hot spots and guide her toward the seasonal variances that are inevitable. If you want some local direction, guides are available with insights earned through years of experience navigating these beautiful and varied waters. For those that prefer to go it alone, there is no shortage of public access for the trailered craft, many with support stations including bathrooms, picnic tables and even charcoal grills.


No longer a quirky oddity, wind sports are some of the fastest growing sporting passions in the world, and few places on earth attract as many enthusiasts as the hallowed waters of the Pamlico Sound. It is not a curious accident that the Wright Brothers National Memorial selected the general area as the perfect place to invent human flight. Wind here is a constant feature of the landscape, with 10-30 mph gusts as common as the sand on the beaches. The sound is isolated from the offshore whitecaps that can get in the way of smooth sailing on a small board, and the lack of large boats due to the shallow nature of the water provides a perfect environment for the wind sport aficionado. As a result, people come to the Pamlico Sound from all over the world to enjoy the perfect place to indulge their obsession.

Getting to the water is easy. Simply drive along Route 12 through the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and it won't be long before you see the sails and kites of kindred spirits plying the Pamlico waters. Some people simply pull off the road and lug their gear down to the water. Others find the planned public put-ins more advantageous, providing the same creature comforts enjoyed by boaters. No matter what time of year, you will find people as or more consumed as you are with the thrill and freedom of harnessing the wind for propulsion.

Want to see the experts at work? There is no better place in the country than Canadian Hole just north of Buxton. Huge kites pull the boarders across the smooth water at breathtaking speed, creating a thrill ride that tiptoes along the fine line of controlled flight and chaos. Bring your camera, landlubbers. Some of the kites are breathtaking.


Anything that skims across the surface of the water will find the waters of Pamlico Sound beckoning to them. Jet skiers will find exploring the area perfectly suited to their tiny craft as they can travel prodigious distances quickly, are maneuverable and have almost no draft at all. If a leisurely approach is more your style, the intricate byways and inlets that abound along the shores of the Pamlico simply beg the kayaker to explore, and the wind and open water lures sail boaters to this endlessly fascinating waterway. Just watch your keel!


The ocean will always be a romantic lure, drawing families and spawning movie genres, but for those with an eye for something just a bit different, just a bit more unspoiled, and just as fun and exciting, drive less than a mile across the tiny barrier islands of the Outer Banks and discover Pamlico Sound.

Recess never gets old. Hit the playground!

Article by Bruce Eaton

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