Maybe it’s the difficulties in safely navigating inshore waters that push some flounder fanatics to the ocean when summer arrives in the Atlantic Beach, N.C., area.
Because of sand migration, channels through the marsh behind Morehead City and Beaufort change faster than a nervous person with a TV remote. Wanna lose a prop or lower unit before you can say “oyster reef”? Just throttle up in a creek close to low tide. Back there, anglers putter along at 3 to 4 mph — unless they own a jet-drive or flats boat.
Besides being hard to reach, inshore flounder have been hammered for years by fishermen and netters alike. Guide Joe Shute said anglers who enjoy catching a legal inside flounder can still do so, but it takes effort. Anglers have to learn where and when to go and best techniques.
“Only a handful of people fish for flounders at inside waters anymore around here,” said Shute, who owns Cape Lookout Fly Shop in Atlantic Beach (252-240-1427). “Ninety percent drift live baits for trout and red drum and might pick up a flounder here and there.”
One of the better flounder-fishing spots once existed 5 minutes behind Morehead City in a large flats area called “The Haystacks”.
“There’s been a lot of sand migration and fill-ins in the Haystacks, and some channels have gotten real shallow, too skinny for most V-hulls, especially at low tides,” Shute said. “People go in there and get stuck.”
However, the Newport River, a few hundred yards north of the Haystacks, is different. It’s a large bay, deep enough to handle bigger boats that ply the channel to access Adams Creek and points north. The cut flows from the town of Newport to the northwest and joins the ICW at Adams Creek.
“Best baits are live finger mullets or mud minnows,” Shute said. “Flounder prefer mullets, I think, because they’re a little bigger meal.”
Shute accidentally discovered a Newport River flounder hot spot where a shoreline flat dropped from 1 to 2 feet deep.
“Flounder were on the 45-degree angle in 2 feet of water and waiting for minnows to come over the edge,” Shute said. “We were fishing for redfish and saw something jumping out of the water, went over there and flounder were launching themselves into the air, blasting minnows at that ledge. Never seen it anywhere else. We caught 18- to 20-inch flounder there.”
North Carolina anglers are allowed to keep four flounder per day, with a 15-inch minimum size.
Shute’s preferred tackle includes a 7-foot medium-action spinning rod and 2500 series reel spooled with 12- to 15-pound-test monofilament tied to a 2½-foot leader of 30-pound mono below a ½-ounce flat no-roll sliding sinker with a 1/0 or 2/0 Kahle or octopus hook at the end.
“The biggest flounders are at the (state) port wall or Radio Island terminal port,” Shute said. “You should fish (the port wall) around the eastern corner when the tide’s not fast so you won’t get hung up so much. Still, you’ll need a 2- to 3-ounce (barrel) sinker to get to the bottom. You want to keep your bait on the bottom as long as possible.”
Shute caught his largest flounder, 101/2 pounds, at the port wall using a bucktail tipped with a live shrimp. Each summer, anglers pull 10-plus pounders from the waters around the wall.