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Ask a Ranger: Here Fishy, Fishy

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Map of North Carolina

Contact the park



Visitor center

1572 Hammock Beach Road
Swansboro, NC 28584

GPS: 34.6710, -77.1429



  • September to May:
    8:00am to 6:00pm
  • June to August:
    8:00am to 7:00pm
  • Closed Christmas Day


  • September to May:

Open daily:
​8:00am to 5:00pm

  • June to August:

Open daily:
8:00am to 6:00pm

  • Closed Christmas Day







Ask a Ranger: Here Fishy, Fishy

Click the player above to listen to the episode. Read the article below to learn more about fish and fishing.

Here Fishy, Fishy



Gyotaku fish print


Fish are very special animals! They live in water and have gills used for breathing the dissolved oxygen in the water. Their dorsal and anal fins help keep them in a steady, upright position as they move; the pectoral and pelvic fins help them maneuver; and the caudal or tail fin is used to push them forward in the water. Their skin is covered in scales, which is the armor that helps to protect them from injury and disease. The scales are covered in a slime that helps the fish glide easily through the water. Fish also have a highly sensitive area called the “lateral line” running down the side of their bodies, allowing them to sense temperature and vibrations in the water. Fish come in many different shapes and sizes, depending upon how they feed. There are over 20,000 different species of fish in the world.

The picture above is a Gyotaku fish print. Gyotaku was invented by the Japanese in the mid 1800s as a way of documenting the fish that were being caught far out at sea. You can create a Gyotaku print to create a permanent record of a recent catch or to create a unique piece of artwork. To make a gyotaku, first you clean and dry the fish, then you paint the fish with block printing ink or acrylic paint and press a piece of rice paper on top of the fish and gently rub the paper. Slowly remove the paper to reveal the impression. You can also use fabric paint to create a one-of-a-kind t-shirt.

How can we determine how old a fish is? A fish scale can be magnified to view the growth bands to determine the age of the fish, similar to aging a tree using the growth rings.

Fish scale

Fish scale, magnified


We can also examine the otolith (inner ear bone) to determine its age by counting the layers of calcium carbonate. Scientists use this information to determine how fast the fish is growing, which is a good indicator of how healthy it is.




Fish play a large part in the ocean’s food web, which starts with phytoplankton, sea grass and seaweed. These plants create organic carbon from sunlight and produce more than half of the oxygen that we breathe on Earth. Zooplankton, which are microscopic animals, feed on the phytoplankton. Small carnivores like sardines and herring feed on the zooplankton. The top predators of the marine food chain including the sharks and dolphins then feed on the small carnivores. The top predators live a long life and reproduce slowly. When top predator species are depleted, their numbers are slow to rebound, sending shock waves through the entire ocean food web. Each piece of the web depends on each other to maintain the balance.

Fishing is a challenging sport enjoyed by people of all ages. Fish taste good and are a great and healthy source of protein for people around the world. When fishing, please obey all size and bag limits. N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and Division of Marine Fisheries have these limits in place to help fish populations remain sustainable for future generations. Using circle hooks is one way that you can return juvenile fish to the water unharmed.

Now get out there and have some fun fishing at your state parks!


About the Ask a Ranger Podcast

Ranger Crystal and Ranger Jess host the North Carolina State Parks Ask a Ranger Podcast series. Their guest this episode is Ranger Brian Swanson from Hammocks Beach State Park. He also wrote the accompanying article.

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For a full list of episodes, visit our BuzzSprout page.

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Upcoming Events:

Monday, June 27, 2022 - 2:00pm
Wednesday, June 29, 2022 - 8:30am
Saturday, July 2, 2022 - 10:00am