Flounder invade Little River estuary

Big flounder are a regular May catch in the estuaries around Little River Inlet, especially when baitfish are pouring in from the ocean.
Big flounder are a regular May catch in the estuaries around Little River Inlet, especially when baitfish are pouring in from the ocean.

Warm water brings baitfish, flounder through state-line inlet

The weather calls anglers back to the water in May, a perfect time to enjoy the outdoors. Luckily, the good weather also brings excellent flounder fishing to Little River on the North Carolina-South Carolina border.

Many flounder overwinter inside Carolina estuaries. But the majority of the flounder population re-enters inshore waters in spring as the waters warm and forage floods the estuaries. The first arrivals show up in March. They will continue to slide into the area as water temperatures climb. By May, the majority of the flounder population has returned and is feasting on anything it can find.

Tom Cushman of Capt. Cush’s Calmwater Charters calls May one of his favorite months to catch flounder locally.

“May is prime time for flounder here,” said Cushman (843-997-5850). ”May and June are two of the best months to catch flounder in Little River because the fish are here and hungry.”

In addition to flounder showing up, schools of small menhaden and mullet arrive every week to give the flounder, redfish and speckled trout plenty to eat. As the bait enters the estuaries, it immediately looks for any type of structure — grass and oyster bars, for example — as places to hide to avoid becoming dinner for some hungry predator. But flounder know where to set up and ambush these baits, and unfortunately for the flounder, so does Cushman.

Flounder hide in inches of water

“I catch them along the grass and oysters in 1 to 3 feet of water,” he said, “or in sandy areas beside oyster bars with deep holes nearby that flounder can escape to if danger approaches.”

Flounder will spread out and move often throughout the day to feed, and on different phases of the tide. As the tide falls and approaches the low ebb, minnows and other forage species become vulnerable to predation. Due to a flounder’s thin profile, they can set up in just inches of water. That makes few places safe for small minnows.

Cushman will typically use either mud minnows or small mullet as live bait, rigging them on a ¼-ounce jighead or a two-hook, fish-finder rig. While he anchors up and fishes places where he frequently catches flounder, he will often drift to find concentrations of fish.

“I like to drift slowly with the current in creeks with double-rigged minnows, on both sandy and muddy bottoms,” he said. “And when you hook up in a spot, I keep fishing that same spot, because there are probably more fish in that same area.”

Flounder move in during the spring in large schools and will often remain in them through spring. Anglers can look for fish to be ganged up and holding in similar-type habitats throughout the estuaries.

In addition to live bait, Cushman uses artificial lures with good success. Both shrimp and minnow imitations can be productive.

“I will work paddletail grubs, Vudu Shrimp, D.O.A. Shrimp, and also Gulp baits,” he said. “The artificial lures work real well and will often pick up a redfish or trout too.”

About Jeff Burleson 1311 Articles
Jeff Burleson is a native of Lumberton, N.C., who lives in Myrtle Beach, S.C. He graduated from N.C. State University with a degree in fisheries and wildlife sciences and is a certified biologist and professional forester for Southern Palmetto Environmental Consulting.