Jim Barkowski and Bob Paloncy have been enjoying good fishing around Southport, N.C. this summer, and Barkowski added an exclamation point when he boated a 9.6 pound flatfish on Sept. 13 in deeper water than they’d been fishing all summer.

"I'd like to say the day started out like many others, but that isn't quite true," Barkowski said. "I don't know that we actually slept in, but we got a later start that morning and didn't leave the marina until about 9. Luckily, bait was everywhere along the Intracoastal Waterway and we caught plenty in short order. There were some pogies, but we filled the bait well with nice 4-5 inch finger mullet and headed into the Cape Fear River.

"There had been a lot of rain and the water in the river was discolored, but it wasn't stirred up, so we had decided to make our first stop along the Southport waterfront," Barkowski said. "The tide had just changed and was coming back in and we thought it might be pushing a little bit of cleaner water and bait along the edge of the river there."

A few minutes into the trip, Barkowski felt a light tic on his line. After a few seconds, he lightly raised the tip of his rod until he felt weight. He released the pressure and waited, being sure to give the flounder time to turn the large mullet minnow and swallow it. Then he lifted the rod tip, felt the weight, and leaned back to drive the hook home.

"I'd like to tell you it took off when it felt the hook, but that wasn't how it went," Barkowski said. "All I could feel was weight and it was coming to the boat pretty easy. However, about halfway in it must have realized it was hooked and took off. It headed back to the bottom, then out a bit and was shaking its head.  

"It had felt like a flounder on the strike, but now I was wondering," Barkowski said. "It was pulling really hard and kept surging away. Finally Bob saw it down in the water and commented on it being a huge flounder. That added some tension to the fight, but it was beginning to tire and let me get it higher in the water."

When Paloncy reached for the fish, the landing net was barely larger than the width of the flounder. It took him two tries to corral it.

"Looking at it laying in the net on the deck, it was obvious this was a large flounder, the largest I had ever caught, but I didn't realize how heavy it was until I lifted it out of the net," Barkowski said. “After removing the hook and putting it on ice, I smiled the rest of the day. We caught several other flounder, plus a few reds, but I couldn't tell you if Bob caught them or I did. I just knew I had my personal best flounder on ice." 

Barkowski weighed the 27-inch long fish at St. James Marina.