Huge river sheepshead, flounder mark southeastern inshore action

Jeff Wolfe of Wilmington, a local guide, has discovered huge sheepshead at certain Cape Fear River channel pilings.

Anglers discovered several years ago that Cape Fear River flounder grew to the most prodigious sizes of any flatfish at the southeastern coast, topping doormats caught from the ocean or local marsh creeks.

These riverine flatties were protected from gill nets and trawlers, which couldn’t work the snaggy bottom of the Cape Fear because of the high probability of snags and destroying their nylon meshes.

Jeff Wolfe, a Wilmington guide (Seahawk Inshore Charters, 910-619-9580,, also recently found certain places in the river between Snow’s Cut and Southport are attracting and holding huge sheepshead.

“We’ve been catching 10-pounders regularly,” he said. “We got one to the boat the other day that would have weighed at least 13 pounds but he dove, wrapped the piling and got off.”

The bulkheads beneath Snows Cut Bridge are the usual destinations for Wilmington and Carolina Beach sheepshead hunters (unless one is trying for them at local ocean piers). But Snows Cut convict fish rarely exceed 5 pounds.

Wolfe, 43, a former commercial fisherman, said he learned down through the years that exploring new potential fishing haunts could pay off.

“I haven’t been able to fish these spots much until now because of the wind and tides,” he said.
“You get the wind coming from one way and the current from another and a lot of river boat traffic (creating more waves), and it’ll beat up your boat too much. But we had good conditions this week.”

Wolfe has to tie his boat to these Cape Fear river-channel structures in order to drop his lures, fiddler crabs, straight down beside the pilings. He can’t do that with rough, bouncing waves.

“We’re catching some big sheepshead,” he said. “The day we lost the 13-pounder, one of my clients landed a 10-pound, 8-ouncer, and that’s a big sheepshead.”

He uses 40-pound-test fluorocarbon leaders and 1-0 Owner gamefish hooks with 1- to 2-ounce barrel sinkers (depending on current strength) rigged Carolina style.

“We’ve also been catching lots of flounder, but not in the river,” Wolfe said. “They’re in the creeks north of Bald Head (Island).”

A normal day of flounder fishing is producing “from six to eight keepers but you catch a lot of small ones, too,” he said.

Keeper size for flounder currently is 15 inches.

Wolfe doesn’t use live bait for flounder, but instead chooses Gulp! shrimp and DOA paddletail soft plastics with jigs.

About Craig Holt 1382 Articles
Craig Holt of Snow Camp has been an outdoor writer for almost 40 years, working for several newspapers, then serving as managing editor for North Carolina Sportsman and South Carolina Sportsman before becoming a full-time free-lancer in 2009.