Flounder are among North Carolina’s most popular saltwater fish for anglers, and if the past two weeks are any indication, the marshes and creeks north of Bald Head Island ought to be marked on every fisherman’s GPS.
Much of the water is contained in the Bald Head Island State Natural Area Marsh, where commercial gill-netting or pound-netting is illegal, but recreational fishing is allowed. And with thousands of acres of bays and creeks filled with oyster rocks, it’s some of North Carolina’s best habitat for flounder.
With the arrival of hot weather, big summer flounder move back in from the ocean through the mouth of the Cape Fear River, make a right turn into the marsh and set up shop for the summer with resident fish that don’t leave.
Toby Fulford, a Holden Beach guide, has been taking fishermen to Bald Head’s marshes a lot lately to target flounder.
“As long as flounder come here, it’s where I’m fishing; the best baits are small (menhaden) or finger mullet,” said Fulford (910-264-8860), who uses 7-foot baitcasting outfits spooled with 15-pound Power Pro braid tied to a Carolina rig with an 18-inch leader of 20-pound mono and a No. 2 Kahle-style hook.
Fulford, who has spent 35 years fishing the area from Cape Fear to the South Carolina line, said Bald Head’s marshes hold some of the best flounder fishing in the entire expanse. More important, he knows routes through the marshes and creeks and where the flounder like to hang out.
“The most important thing I learned was when to stop fishing,” he said. “You don’t want to get stranded on a sand bar in there.”
Flounder lie concealed on the bottom near marsh edges to grab minnows coming out of the spartina grass as the tide falls. Sometimes Fulford uses artificial lures, and he said a white Gulp shrimp is his top choice.
“Best times to fish are a high, falling tide,” Fulford said. “June is the best time to fish for bigger fish, but flounder – with some big ones in the mix -- will be here through October.”
Although most flatfish will measure between 13 to 19 inches in length, some will weigh 5 to 6 pounds, with 8-pounders not uncommon.
Fulford tries to find oyster beds near sandy bottoms.
“You’ll get hang-ups (on the oysters), but flounder like to be on the bottom near them.”