photo of mourning doves

THE SHALLOW WATERS of eastern North Carolina’s remote pocosin wetlands warm up as fast as the spring fishing action for panfish and largemouth bass. No boat is necessary–you can wade-fish much of 16,600-acre Lake Phelps and most of the massive 40,000-acre Lake Mattamuskeet. It’s all part of a huge complex of national wildlife refuges, so solitude is easy to come by.

The flyfishing is phenomenal. For bass, weedless popping bugs are the ticket, and small poppers with a black ant dropper are deadly on panfish. You’ll need a stouter rod than you’d use on a typical farm pond–spring breezes are a challenge in this open country. Pack a float tube, and miles of quiet canal water are yours. In three days you can explore each lake for a full day, then go back to your favorite stretch of shoreline for a final hit. Here’s the cost for a party of two for a three-day, two-night trip from Norfolk, Va.

TRANSPORT: Plan on fuel for 240 miles round-trip from Norfolk, plus lake hopping. $60

LODGING: Just off the south shore of Lake Mattamuskeet in the town of Swan Quarter, Carawan’s Motel has catered to anglers and hunters since 1949 (877-788-0764; $60 A NIGHT

FOOD: Stock up on groceries at the Food Lion on U.S. 64 in Columbia. But show up hungry one night at Harris Seafood and Steak House, just north of Lake Mattamuskeet on State Highway 94. $70

LICENSES: A three-day nonresident North Carolina freshwater fishing license is $15. Buy online at, or get one at Carawan’s tackle shop next to the motel. $15


Lake Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge (252-926-4021;; Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge (252-796-3004;