Head out to the ocean for flounder
Guion Lee III launched his 22-foot center console from a boat ramp in Wrightsville Beach, N.C., early enough to avoid the crowd and be assured of a parking spot. After idling through the seemingly interminable no-wake zone, he punched the throttle forward.
“Most fishermen are beating the jetties and the ICW for flounder,” Lee said. “But the best fishing is in the ocean when conditions are right.”
After riding the rolling swells of Masonboro Inlet, Lee headed to a popular artificial reef. While a few boats were in the area, mostly trolling for Spanish or king mackerel, he had several rods rigged with bottom-bouncing bucktail jigs.
“Most people who head to the nearshore structure to catch flounder try to catch them at main artificial reef structures,” he said. “The Tug and the Liberty Ship are sunken vessels that have a lot of metal to snag lures. Anglers usually catch a livewell full of live mullet before heading here, but the problems with mullet are that you may soon run out of bait because there are so many pinfish, pigfish, sea bass and sharks. The other problem is, you can go through a lot of rigs when they hang up, and you have to break them off.”
Lee began searching the bottom for a small patch of structure. Once he found it on his GPS unit, with confirmation from his sonar screen, he slowed the boat, grabbed a rod from the holder and dropped a bucktail with an artificial shrimp impaled on the hook.
“The direction and velocity of the wind and current dictate the direction of the drift,” he said. “If the boat is moving too fast, or in the wrong direction, it makes it too difficult to fish with a bucktail. On those days, it’s better to try something else. I have fished this area enough to know from which direction and how fast the boat should be moving to avoid too many hang-ups.
“The trick is fishing small individual pieces or patches of man-made structure or the natural ledges nearby. The spot we are fishing is probably a piece of concrete pipe. Pipes are some of the best structure, but you are going to snag one every so often.”
With the boat drifting and the engine idling, Lee watched the sonar screen intently. He lifted the rod tip a foot or two, then let it fall. It wasn’t long before he felt a thump. Setting the hook, he fought a flounder to the surface and landed it with a net.
“This one weighs about 3 pounds,” he said. “We catch a lot of fish of that size, but they can weigh up to 8 pounds. But, we also catch plenty of them that are too short to keep.”
Lee said every angler finds a few sweet spots and fishes them. Fishing the outlying structure spaces everyone away from the congregation of boats trolling or fishing the main structures with bottom rigs.
After he caught two keepers off the pipe pieces, he moved a short distance to a natural ledge. The fish bit constantly, with a flounder coming over the side every few minutes. There were also several missed strikes and some fish that shook loose before making it to the surface.
“A lot of those are short strikes, with the flounder just hanging onto the trailer,” he said. “The trailer might be ripped off at the hook or damaged. As long as most of it is still there, it will attract a fish. But, when they aren’t hitting the lure any more, it’s time to replace the trailer.”
When the jig snagged, Lee stopped the boat and backed up until he was pulling it from the opposite direction he had been drifting. While he lost a bucktail or two, he said it was easier than catching and rigging live baits. After a couple of hours, the activity tapered off, and Lee moved to another artificial reef offshore of Figure Eight Island, near Mason’s Inlet. He said the smaller reef did not get as much angler attention as larger reefs.
“It also has scattered structure that you have to find on your own,” he said. “The (NCDMF Artificial Reef Guide) has the coordinates of a lot of the structure, but either some of it was not marked or just the general area was noted.”
The current and wind had decreased to the point that the ocean was relatively calm. Lee began using the engine to maneuver the boat over the structure.
“When the current dies, the fishing might seem easier,” he said, “but it’s actually more difficult to keep the boat running the direction you want. A little bit of current also makes the fish bite better. Another factor is the tide. Fish seem to bite better on certain tides at certain spots. The only way to learn the connection between the tide and the strength of the bite is through experience.”
While the bucktails he was using were in the higher price range, Lee also uses inexpensive jigs. He said some clients are adept at jigging. However, some clients just can’t get the hang of it.
HOW TO GET THERE — The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has a public ramp in Wrightsville Beach that is convenient for most inshore and nearshore anglers. Wrightsville Beach can be reached from most areas of North Carolina via I-40, US 421 or US 74 through Wilmington. US 74 east from Wilmington carries you to Wrightsville Beach. The ramp is on the beach side of the bridge across the ICW, Two productive nearshore reefs for flounder are AR 370, aka the Meares Harris Reef, which is 2.3 miles from the Masonboro Inlet sea buoy, and AR 364, aka the Billy Murrell Reef, which is 6.1 miles from the Masonboro Inlet sea buoy.
WHEN TO GO — North Carolina’s recreational season for flounder opened on Aug. 16 and will close on Sept. 30. The creel limit is four fish per day, with a 15-inch size minimum.
BEST TECHNIQUES — Vertical jig Spro bucktails in white, yellow or red with white Gulp! shrimp as trailers. Spinning tackle will do the job: a 7-foot Shimano Teramar South East with a Penn Battle II reel spooled with 20- to 40-pound braid and an 18- to 24-inch monofilament leader. Try to find isolated pieces of bottom structure that are part of an artificial reef complex and drift across them.
FISHING INFO/GUIDES — Guion Lee III, Green Creek Outfitters and Guide Service, 252-617-0024. See also Guides & Charters in Classifieds.
MAPS — Maps Unique, 910-458-9923, or www.mapsunique.com. NCDMF Artificial Reef Guide, portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/artificial-reefs-program.
NC flounder regulations
North Carolina’s recreational flounder season opened Aug. 16 and will close Sept. 30.
Fishermen can keep four flounder a day, with a 15-inch size minimum.
North Carolina’s recreational flounder season closed on Sept. 4, 2019, in an attempt to stop a precipitous decline in the southern flounder population. The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries’ goal was to reduce the recreational flounder harvest by 62% in 2019 and 72% in 2020.
Guide Guion Lee III has some definite ways that he likes to jig vertically when targeting flounder around nearshore reefs and ledge.
“Lift the jig and let it down vertically or back it up against the current,” Lee said. “If you don’t lift it sharply enough or high enough and are letting it drag, it’s going to snag.
“The most-important thing is using a jig heavy enough so you can feel the bottom under the conditions you are fishing. A 1-ounce jig usually works, but it may take a 3-ounce jig to maintain a solid feel.
“Using braid also helps maintain bottom contact, and braid is strong enough to straighten the hook to free the lure. Keep checking the hook point to be sure it’s still sharp and straighten the hook with pliers if gets bent out of shape.”
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