Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge
Southeast Region

Frequently Asked Questions


Does the Refuge manage lake levels?

The Refuge does not actively manage water levels in the lake. The primary purpose of the Refuge is to protect and conserve migratory birds and other wildlife through the protection of wetlands. The best way to achieve that end is to allow the lake level to rise and lower naturally. Specifically, flapgates facilitate the flow of water from the lake to Pamlico Sound when lake levels are higher than sound levels. When the lake falls below the levels of the sound, the gates close to prevent saltwater from entering the lake. Lake levels tend to be higher during the rainy season (winter) and lower during the dry season (summer). The lower lake levels in the summer spur the growth of emergent and submergent wetland plants that are used by migrating and wintering waterfowl.

The Refuge also periodically dredges portions of the four canals connecting the lake to the sound. Maintaining the original depth of the canals improves their flushing capacity, which keeps the lake healthy by removing excess nutrients and sediments and allows the canals to move more water during storm events to prevent flooding. In addition, fish utilize the deeper water in the canals when the lake temperature rises.

Is the salinity in the lake increasing?

No, not year to year. However, due to evaporation, salinity increases slightly during the summer months mainly around the mouths of the major outlet canals.

Are there fewer largemouth bass in the lake today than previous years?

Most likely. Based on survey results, it appears there has been a gradual decline in largemouth bass populations in recent years. Possible causes include a lack of fish stocking, degraded water quality, decreased spawning success and high predation rates. No fish have been stocked in the lake since 2007. The Service is working with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission’s fisheries staff to study the health and well-being of the largemouth bass population and other popular game species.

Why can anglers catch both freshwater and saltwater species in the lake?

A series of manmade canals connect the lake to the sound. Species such as white perch, flounder, spot, croaker and blue crab have a wide salinity tolerance and can live in the fresh to low salinity waters of the lake. Anglers have been catching both freshwater and saltwater species dating back to at least the 1940s.

Why is Phragmites growing in the lake?

Phragmites (Phragmites australis) , is a non-native, invasive plant that is found in coastal areas throughout the eastern U.S. A common reed, it has been found on the Refuge since the 1960s. The Refuge actively controls the reed to promote native wetland plants in the wetland impoundments using chemical and mechanical methods. Plans to expand management efforts to include the lakeshore will proceed when more funding becomes available.

Is the lake’s aquatic community healthy?

Our research and monitoring results have found the aquatic vegetation on the east side of Highway 94 to be healthy and vibrant, able to support large concentrations of waterfowl, other birds, fish and blue crab. The water on the west side of Highway 94 has much less submerged aquatic vegetation and has experienced algal blooms. The Refuge is investigating the cause of the diminished water quality.


Where is the best place to see wildlife (birds)?

Mattamuskeet's East Main Drive is a 5-mile-long gravel road bordering the southern shore of Lake Mattamuskeet. A variety of mammals and birds can be seen along this drive, as well as along the 3-mile-long entrance road to the refuge headquarters. In addition, there is short nature trail near headquarters and miles of grassed dikes crisscrossing the entire refuge. In winter, thousands of waterfowl can be seen up close.

Another popular place for viewing is from an overlook on Highway 94. An interpretive panel and viewing scope are located on the overlook.

Is a fishing license required to catch crabs?

Yes. Effective July 1, 2008, a freshwater fishing license is required to catch crabs. A youth under 16, accompanied by a properly licensed adult, can fish/crab under the privileges of the adult's license. Contact the NC Wildlife Resources Commission at for more information.

Where is the best place to fish?

Lake Mattamuskeet is a very shallow lake allowing only small boats access to approximately 40,000 acres of prime warmwater fishing. In addition to the lake, there are miles of canals available for bank fishing. Favorite species to catch are largemouth bass, white perch, crappie, sunfish, catfish and blue crabs. The lake is open to fishing year round.  Fishing from boats in canals and the lake is permitted from March 1 through November 1.

View our fishing page for more information.

How can I hunt on the refuge?

Mattamuskeet hosts both a waterfowl and white-tailed deer hunt program. Only a limited number of permits are issued each year by lottery. The lottery is open to any properly licensed U.S. citizen. View our hunting page for more information, and contact the refuge in August to apply for these hunts.

What can I do here?

Mattamuskeet provides numerous opportunities for wildlife observation and fishing. Other activities available are hunting, photography, hiking, boating, canoeing and environmental education. View our visitor opportunities page for more information.




Five ducks on the water

Green-winged teal and four coots. Photo: Jeff Lewis.


Six white ibis in a tree

White ibis in a pine tree. Photo: Allie Stewart, USFWS. View/download on Flickr.

Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge
85 Mattamuskeet Road
Swan Quarter, NC 27885
(252) 926-4021 FAX: (252) 926-1743

Last Updated: 10/27/14