As summer kicks into high gear, a small estuary on the southern end of South Carolina’s Grand Strand fires off; Murrells Inlet becomes ground zero in the flounder-fishing world, attracting anglers from two blocks away and from different time zones, all looking to soak a minnow and fill up.
Flounder, aka fluke, is on the menu at most restaurants around the country is among the most-recognized fish on the planet, and is the most-targeted inshore species on the eastern seaboard. A daily creel limit of 15 fish in South Carolina waters can add up to a whole lot of fun on the water in a short about of time during the June angling season.
Jason Burton of Fly Girl Fishing Charters said that June water temperatures will trigger a migration of bigger fish into the area and many more of them to catch in more places.
“We have flounder that stay here all winter long, lying dormant in the mud, and when the waters warm up, they come out of hiding, and a slew of doormats arrive inside from the ocean, too,” Burton said. “Additionally, they are moving around a lot more and easier to catch in a wide range of places.”
From the inlet’s jetties and nearshore reefs to the backs of the creeks, flounder find plenty of places to set up and fill their bellies. Not only do flounder wake up, June bookmarks the largest baitfish arrivals, and flounder will take every opportunity — on just about every phase of the tide cycle — to get the abundant groceries in their big mouths.
“In June, you don’t have the shock of water temperatures like you do earlier in spring. An incoming tide in March and April will shut down the bite when the cold, ocean water chills down the estuary,” said Burton, who still plans his trips to different areas depending on the stage of the tide.
“I like to fish the creeks on the lower end of the tide, and I will move out to the jetties or to a nearshore reef on high water.”
If their appearance doesn’t give it away, flounder are ambush feeders that rely on their natural paint jobs and flat bodies to hide from prey. Any change in conditions from current, bottom contour, structure and bottom consistency can be a place to for Burton to find flounder waiting to ambush a passing meal.
“I like to fish on the calm side of a rip, next to oyster beds, mouth of small creeks, or any change in the bottom contour,” Burton said.
Flounder can sometimes stack up on these changes in habitat, but Burton recommends anglers to stay on the move until a productive feature is found.
“Fish anything different, even something small. Flounder will hang up on anything that sticks out, like a small ledge, oyster bar or sand bar, to hide behind,” he said.
Flounder are a mainstay for Kevin “Stump” Grant of Pawley’s Island Guide Service, and June’s fishing is about as good as it gets. He looks for prime ambush spots but will concentrate on changes in bottom composition.
“I like transition areas the best,” Grant said. “The places where sand meets shells or oysters meet sand are my preferred areas, because when the bait hits shells, the baitfish have to come up in the water column and are vulnerable.”
Grant will often catch several flounder in one transition area.
“The fish aren’t necessarily in a school, but they are in a spot where food is coming to them, and where there is one, there is usually more,” he said.
Even though Grant doesn’t always get to choose his exact tidal sequence when he’s guiding a client, the tides will have a dramatic impact on his plan.
“I like a falling tide the best because the fish and bait is flushing out of the grass and into the creek. The low water concentrates everything,” Grant said.
But a rising tide is no reason to stay at home, either. Grant will target the collection holes on low water and will follow the rising water as it moves toward and into the grass. As it rises, the bait shifts towards the water’s edge — with just enough water to swim — in hopes of flood waters pushing them back into the marsh grass.
“Everything is trying to get back into the grass, and I like to work that edge constantly creeping up on the bank,” Grant said.
Flounder primarily eat small fish, but they will scarf down a live shrimp as soon as the year’s first shrimp arrive. Mud minnows have traditionally been a staple of fishermen targeting anglers, but June brings a better food source to the market.
“In June, the menhaden and mullet have arrived — what we call ‘white bait.’ The menhaden and mullet have more shine, show up better and work better than mud minnows,” Grant said.
The days of targeting flounder with Carolina rigs are history for Grant, Burton and other fishermen. The preferred method for casting minnows is on a jighead, and one where the hook stands up away from the structure is the best configuration. Grant and Burton will use anywhere from ¼-ounce to 3/4-ounce jighead depending on water depth, current and wind.
“I like to use a lightly weighted jighead when I can, because you want the current to gently carry the jighead just enough for you to be able to feel the bottom,” Burton said.
In addition to live minnows, jigs can be tipped with soft plastics. For the best results, bright colors — whites, chartreuses and pinks — are best to catch a fish’s attention quickly.
While flounder begin biting much earlier in the spring, a lot of those early fish don’t make the 14-inch size minimum, making for fun but frustrating trip. It’s not until June when quality and quantity converge into an explosive time on the water just in time for summer vacation.
HOW TO GET THERE — Murrells Inlet is at the southern tip of South Carolina’s Grand Strand, easily accessible from the public boat ramp on US 17 Business. Flounder can be found just about anywhere in the surrounding waters, but look for areas where currents collide, small ledges, holes and transition areas between different types of bottom. Fish the small creek mouths along Alston, Oaks, Parsonage, Whale and Garden City creeks. Don’t forget to hit jetties; they can often produce steady action.
WHEN TO GO — May and June are the best months to catch flounder in Murrells Inlet, with June the peak month when water temperatures are stable between the rising and falling tides.
BEST TECHNIQUES — Live mud minnows, menhaden and small finger mullet are the best live baits for flounder, but live/cut shrimp and strips of squid will also produce. Medium-action baitcasting or spinning tackle is preferred, with no more than 1 ounce of weight and hooks no larger than No. 1. Spool up with 20-pound braid. Trolling and drifting are productive ways to find flounder. Brightly colored jigheads with soft jerkbaits and curlytails or shrimp bodies will draw flounder bites. Avoid fishing slack tides when possible. Flounder are primarily ambush feeders and will wait for the current to bring their meals within range.
FISHING INFO/GUIDES — Jason Burton, Fly Girl Charters, 843-798-9100; www.flygirlfishingcharters.com; Kevin “Stump” Grant, Pawley’s Island Guide Service, 843-833-4477; Murrells Inlet Outpost, 843-651-6602 Perry’s Bait & Tackle, 843-651-2895; Big Dave’s Bait and Tackle, 843-641-1915. See also Guides and Charters in Classifieds.
ACCOMMODATIONS — Hampton Inn, Murrells Inlet, 843-651-6687; Myrtle Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, www.visitmyrtlebeach.com; South Carolina Association of Visitors Bureaus, www.discoversouthcarolina.com.