The coastal end of North Carolina’s Cape Fear River has a knack for producing both big flounder and good numbers of fish, and several 10-pounders caught already this summer haven’t done anything to hurt that reputation. Many knowledgeable flounder fishermen believe that if Harold Auten’s 20-pound, 8-ounce state record from 1980 is ever broken, it will be another fish from these same waters of the lower Cape Fear.
The Cape Fear is North Carolina’s largest river that flows directly to the ocean. It is approximately a mile wide at its mouth and carries a 4-foot tide change all the way to upstream of Wilmington. This tide change requires moving a lot of water, and that moving water carries a lot of bait. Flounder know this and come to the channels, flats and bays to feed.
Good flounder fishing begins this month in the mouth of the river along Jaybird Shoal, plus along the river’s edge, especially near Fort Caswell’s pier and the jetty at the entrance to Bald Head Island Marina. Next, there is a broad bay with flats and several creeks leading off of it between Bald Head and Battery islands. Southport has plenty of great flounder habitat in the underwater remains of old fish houses and railways that lined the waterfront during the 1900s.
Just upriver and across the channel from Southport is a concrete platform that is all that remains above water of the Cape Fear Quarantine Station, the site of an 8-building hospital on the water that was destroyed by fire and hurricanes; the debris scattered around the platform is a flounder haven. A little farther upriver is the Archer Daniels Midland dock that disrupts river currents enough to drop baitfish to waiting fish.
Upriver, numerous spoil islands and creek mouths hold flounder. Snow’s Cut peels off the river to carry the Intracoastal Waterway north to Carolina Beach, and lots of flounder are caught there.
Jimmy Price, a retired Southport guide with a history of catching lots of large flounder, recommends the Southport waterfront, especially for beginners, because it has so much structure the odds are good of anchoring over flounder along a big area.
Most fishermen fish live baits on Carolina rigs, the favorites being mullet minnows and small menhaden. Price said flounder have to turn minnows to a head-first position in their throats to swallow them, so you have to be patient have and wait a little before setting the hook.