Albemarle Sound is the catch basin of the Pasquotank, Perquimans, Chowan, and Roanoke Rivers as well as a half-dozen smaller rivers and countless creeks and swamps. Collectively this basin drains over 18,000 square miles of northeastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia.
The Albemarle Sound, 55 miles from east to west, is the largest freshwater sound in North America.
It's relatively shallow waters, only 6 feet deep in many places, are separated from the Atlantic Ocean by North Carolina's barrier islands, the Outer Banks along the eastern shore of the sound. Roanoke Island is situated at the southeastern corner of the sound, where it joins the Pamlico Sound. Much of the water in the Albemarle Sound is brackish or fresh, unlike the saltwater of the ocean, as a consequence of river water pouring into it.
The largest freshwater sound in North America has supported a commercial fishing industry for more than two centuries. Ferryboats and steamers were a usual way of transportation through the rivers and swamps surrounding the Albemarle sound throughout the history of the region. Nowadays, crossing is far easier and faster via 3-mile long bridges and it's a favorite recreational angling ground and a popular place for cruising, sailing and all water sports. It is also a essential section of the IntraCoastal Waterway (ICW).
It is deep in history, its shoreline saw the first permanent English settlement in what became the United States and North Carolina. Before English settlers came to the Albemarle Sound, the Algonquian Indians populated the region. In 1586 the first European adventurers navigated up the fifty-five mile length of the Albemarle Sound. One-half century later, the first settlers came south from Virginia, establishing agricultural and trading settlements by the banks of the Sound. The Albemarle Sound before long became a really crucial thoroughfare, with small, shallow-draft trading ships carrying freight to and from other colonies, and larger merchant schooners bringing spices, silks, and sugars from the West Indies in exchange for products such as tobacco, herring, and lumber.
Fishing was a primary industry in and around the Albemarle Sound. In late Spring, farmers would fish for shad, striped bass, and herring. Nets used by these fishermen, particularly those used at the mouth of the Chowan River, were sometimes enormous, with some more than a mile long, and were manned continuously. Herring was cut and salted for export to Europe, while shad was sold to the northern colonies. Today, striped bass tournaments attracted sport fishermen to the area, and it is considered by many to be the greatest striped bass, also known as rockfish, fishing grounds in the world.