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Inshore fishing continues in a typical summertime pattern with the best action coming early and late or on the heaviest moving tides. We got a little break from the most intense heat this week but folks on the water still need to be mindful of the hot weather and the daily potential for afternoon thunderstorms.
Red drum and flounder make up the bulk of the inshore fishing action right now, with both hitting live mud minnows, finger mullet and scented soft baits well. Drifting or slow trolling for flounder remains effective in the inlets and cuts, although there are a lot of throwback fish under the size limit out there among the larger flounder.
Casting to flounder around structures on a strong running tide is a nice way to target larger fish. Remember, big flounder well over the size limits are all females, and they tend to orientate themselves to hard structures like bridges, docks and jetties. This provides them with a steady source of food because baitfish and shellfish also gravitate to such structures and allows them to do less work to get their meals.
As flounder get older they get lazier and really like to position themselves around things like pilings and rocks and then just lie there until the dinner bell is rung. Big flounder have also learned from experience that hanging around structures is the best way to hide from predators that target them, like large redfish, dolphins, chopper bluefish and even big birds.
These flounder are best targeted by casting live bait like mud minnows. The store-bought variety are fine but the tiger-sided variety of killifish you can catch in your cast net that are even better. Frisky finger mullet are great, too, and if blue crabs and pinfish are thick, then scented soft baits or plastics from companies like Gulp, Deep Creek, Bass Assassin or Fishbites are fine for flounder.
Just remember to give the flounder some time to after she hits to take a live bait, as they will smash it to kill it and then roll it around in their mouths scaling it for a while. When using soft lures, strike the flounder immediately, or almost immediately if it is a scented bait like Gulp, because they will spit it out if given time.
As is typical for summer there is an on-again-off-again speckled trout bite on some mornings around the bridges inshore or on the piers. You can’t really count on it, but when they are there, specks are nailing live shrimp under a popping cork or other float. Depending on the tide, this action usually doesn’t last long into the day at all.
The surf has some sea mullet, pompano, bluefish and lots of sharks and rays with all the best action occurring in the early morning or at night. Live finger mullet or chunks of cut mullet are a good bluefish and shark bait. The sea mullet are hitting really fresh shrimp or squid.
One of the best baits available now are sand fleas, and you can’t beat the price. For surf and pier fishing, they are a terrific choice. You can dig these critters up right on the beach and they are beloved by kids who like to gather them at the surf line. If you have some youngsters, get them out there with a bucket, because sand fleas make great baits for the delicious pompano.
If you don’t have kids to do your work for you, sand fleas can be gathered up with special rakes available in coastal tackle shops or on my website at www.surfandsalt.com. In addition to pompano, sand fleas are terrific bait for sea mullet and flounder, and even small sharks will bite them.
All of these fish will be in very shallow whitewater (trying to eat sand fleas), so don’t cast a mile out, just keep your bait close to the beach. Pompano actually turn sideways to get at these little creatures and folks are often surprised at how large a pompano they might catch in the shallow surf.
The piers are still best early and late. Fish the pilings for black drum and sheepshead (if you have some barnacle clumps). Trout are a possibility early in the morning. Also the shallow surf before and after a thunderstorm is a good time to fish for sea mullet, though flounder tend to turned off after a storm because they can no longer see as well in the churned-up water.
The near-shore reefs are still a great summertime choice if you are in a boat, with action on flounder and black sea bass. Some weakfish (grey trout) have even been reported out of Shallotte Inlet, but remember the limit is one fish at least 12 inches.
Make sure you check out the new tackle webpage for Backwater Rigs. These rigs are designed by local Shallotte fishing expert and tournament winner Kyle Warren and are all hand-tied. Over the last few months I have recommended the flounder rigs to of my readers and the reports so far are glowing.
Backwater rigs have been big sellers in Brunswick County tackle stores and now anyone who wants to go after big flounder and sheepshead can get them online at a great price. As a bonus, when you buy one of their Backwater Rigs, you get a “How a Local Gets ’Em” information sheet with tips on how to use them. See the new website at http://backwaterrigs.com.
Jeffrey Weeks, author of “Surf and Saltwater Fishing in the Carolinas,” is a fishing columnist for the Beacon. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow updated fishing reports at www.saltyweeks.com