I think you're going to have to decide what you're looking for in a kayak, then maybe we can get some more specific guidance. Here are some basic guidelines:
If you're going to do a lot of river fishing, you might find that shorter is better - more maneuverable. And since the current can do a lot of the work, you won't be as concerned with long distance paddling efficiency. For predominantly longer, flatwater paddles, longer is better == straighter (better tracking) and more efficient moving through the water. Shorter is also going to be lighter, so if your launches are more "primitive" you might appreciate hauling a lighter boat in and out. 12' is what I consider the cutoff line between long/short.
Ruling out saltwater (surf, more precisely) reduces the need for a sit-on-top model but doesn't eliminate it. I still prefer SOTs for rigging & hauling options and especially for getting in & out to wade fish, if that's part of your plan. But you might like the seats better in a Sit-inside.
You can get something in the $3-400 range from a big-box retailer (ie Dick's, Sams Club) but no service, no support, no accessories, no community. New kayaks from a shop are going to be in the $700 range with a lot more variety and your support with selection, sale and after-the-sale is likely to be outstanding.
A good option would be to check the shops for used boats, especially shops that rent boats out during the season. They usually try to turn their rental inventory over in the off-season.
Might be worth a look at the boat Straps57 has in the classified section at NC Angler Fishing Classifieds - Perception Sierra. Shop brand (perception), sit-inside, good price. Long drive from Hickory, but if you're going through Wilmington could be a deal...
For what its worth, Native (Manta Ray, Ultimate and others) and Heritage (Redfish) are 2 brands that make fishing kayaks. They're part of Legacy Paddlesports which is an NC company - I believe the boats are molded in the Triad. Hard to argue with local dealers selling locally built products.
I paddle a Heritage Redfish and a Perception Search. Got one on sale, and the other on clearance sale - both great kayaks for my buck.