Flounder fishing at its peak now

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By Jeffrey Weeks, Fishing Correspondent

The heat has inshore water temperatures rising but it hasn’t stopped the local flounder bite, which has remained strong. Flounder are being caught by anglers drifting or trolling the inlets and cuts as well as by folks anchoring up and fishing hard structures.

With size limits getting higher and higher for flounder (15 inches in North Carolina now with a six fish creel) more anglers who target the flatfish are concentrating on catching the big doormat variety. Flounder that range up and more than the 20-inch mark have different habits from smaller flatfish.

Small flounder are often found spread out in inlets and sandy waterways, whereas larger flounder are more “lazy” and tend to orientate themselves to structures, where they can ambush bigger prey. Anglers can target larger flounder by fishing these structures. Docks, pier pilings, bridges, jetties and sea walls are prime territory for large flatfish.

Big flounder like to lie close to structures, which help obscure them and draw in plenty of prey for them to eat. Fishing such habitat can be done with standard flounder rigs and live bait, but it is here that soft-scented lures really shine. You can work soft baits right against structures and give them the slow, subtle movements needed to entice a flounder bite.

Around docks, bridges, jetties and marsh grass, artificials are easier to fish than live bait and big flounder love to hit them. Plus, you don’t have to wait to set the hook on the flounder but can hit the fish right away, which makes fishing with soft baits for flounder much more fun. Soft baits like Gulp or Bass Assassin lures can be fished on jig heads or rigged up just like minnows and worked on flounder and Carolina rigs.

For those sticking with live bait, flounder eat all of the small minnows available. Standard mud minnows can be purchased at the tackle store and you can catch the tiger-sided variety in your cast net. Mud minnows are popular flounder baits and last on the hook a long time.

Flounder also love to hit finger mullet, peanut pogies (small menhaden) and small spot or pinfish as well as live shrimp. The best rig is just a standard Carolina rig, which will work better than any of the store-bought rigs marketed for flounder. Use the lightest sinker that will still get you to the bottom, 1 ounce or less, unless you are in rough current.

When drifting or trolling for flounder by boat look for drop-offs where flounder stack up in numbers. All drifting area is not the same, so hit productive spots more than once. If you miss a flounder hit, instead of reeling up, let your bait settle back into the strike zone, as flounder are one fish that will strike a second or even third time on a live or moving bait.

Besides flounder, there are still plenty of redfish roaming both the open waters of the beaches and inlets and schooling in the backwaters of the creeks. Redfish hit the same live baits and soft artificials as flounder, and you can also catch them on a chunk of cut mullet or cut blue crab. Black drum and sheepshead are hanging around the inshore pilings of piers and docks and can be caught on shellfish baits.

Surf anglers have seen some very good fishing for nice-sized pompano using sand fleas. Pompano hit right in and behind the whitewater of the surf and are feasting on sand fleas. Some nice sea mullet (whiting) and small spot are mixed in the surf action as well, and you can catch them on the piers in the early morning or after sunset.

Some bluefish and Spanish mackerel are being caught off the piers. Some big chopper blues are hitting the king mackerel rigs at the end. Both pier and surf anglers will find action on sharks and rays with cut bait. Boaters are also still catching Spanish, trolling spoons off the beaches.

Flounder fishing is good but also crowded right now, so remember flounder also bite at night and that some of the best action for any kind of fish right now happens in the time right before and after dawn. If you haven’t tried fishing inshore structures with soft baits, give it a go and you might find it just as or even more rewarding than soaking live bait.