The area around downtown Wilmington, N.C., is home to three rivers — the Cape Fear, Northeast Cape Fear and Brunswick — plus, the Black River flows into the Cape Fear River about 10 miles upriver. 

The Cape Fear is the primary river, with its headwaters at Jordan Dam near Moncure. The Cape Fear is also dammed near Tar Heel, Elizabethtown and Riegelwood. Each dam has locks, although navigation on the river has almost ceased. Several year ago, a rock-arch fish ladder was installed at Lock and Dam No. 1,near Riegelwood. There are calls for similar fish ladders at the other dams, but projects have not been scheduled.  

The Cape Fear River collects several smaller rivers and numerous creeks as it runs about 200 miles through central North Carolina to the ocean at Southport. The largest of these is the Northeast Cape Fear, which works its way downstream for about 130 miles from Goldsboro, drumping into the Cape Fear near the battleship North Carolina. 

The Brunswick River is basically an auxiliary channel for the Cape Fear that splits off near the railroad bridge at Navassa and rejoins the Cape Fear across from the Wilmington State Ports.

The Wilmington rivers are all tidal, which moves bait up and down the river, plus in and out of the feeder creeks. The tide range is approximately 4 feet at Wilmington and gradually tapers off heading upstream.