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Inshore fishing is in a firm summertime pattern

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By Jeffrey Weeks, Fishing Correspondent

June begins tomorrow, but Brunswick County inshore fishing is already in a firm summertime pattern, with anglers looking for hardy fish like flounder and black drum during the day and restricting most trout, bluefish and red drum efforts to the morning or late afternoon.
One angler who had a great May was Kyle Warren, the Shallotte angler who makes Backwater Rigs. Among his catches, Warren landed flounder of 5, 7 and 10 pounds using live mud minnows and pogies (small menhaden) on his rigs. You can find Backwater Rigs at local tackle shops, and Bass Pro Shops and Walmart have also begun carrying them.
Other anglers working inshore have also been catching flounder. Action on the flatfish has been a little better inshore than on the beach since the ocean was stirred up by the offshore storm last week.
Flounder fishing is mostly done with live bait although scented lures on jig heads will catch them as well. Anglers like to drift and troll the creeks and inlets, although the largest flounder are found around structures such as bridge pilings, docks and anything else solid in the water.
Quite a few of the flounder landed in May were large fish. A whole doormat flounder will feed several people when it is baked up and is deliciously juicy if not overcooked.
Even big flounder can be tricky to hook and you have to give them some time after the initial hit to take the bait. If you try to set the hook on a flounder and miss, don’t reel in right away, as they are the rare fish that will sometimes hit a second time.
Some anglers are unaware that flounder also bite well at night, especially around bridges and docks with lights. As a potential bonus, redfish are more active at night and may crash your flounder bait. If that happens, you won’t have to worry about knowing when to set the hook.
Another hardy fish that bites even during hot weather is the black drum. Black drum are also more active at night but can be caught at all times of the day, especially when the tide is moving at a brisk pace. Unlike flounder, black drum rarely hit live minnows or lures but prefer shellfish, and the best baits are fresh cut shrimp, cut blue crabs or fiddler crabs.
The biggest problem during the day is not finding black drum, as they will be around any kind of hard structure eating crabs, barnacles, clams and oysters. The problem is getting your bait to them, as small pesky pinfish inhabit the same areas as black drum and will pick your bait clean very quickly.
It is difficult to fish cut shrimp, which is the easiest and best black drum bait, in any area where pinfish lurk. That is one reason black drum fishing is so much better after dark, as pinfish action subsides a bit and you usually have a little more time for drum to find your bait.
Black drum sometimes hit very softly, as they take the bait into their throats where they keep their shell-crushing teeth. Often you will feel only a vibration on the line, so don’t wait the way you would with a flounder but hit the fish immediately.
As with flounder fishing, you will sometimes have a hungry red drum crash your black drum bait, and just as with flounder fishing, you’d best be holding onto your rod tightly if that happens and you won’t need to worry much about setting the hook. That’s also a good reason to keep a light drag when after flounder or black drum.
There has been some speckled trout action in the morning both on the piers and inshore, but it has been particularly unreliable. Snapper bluefish and Spanish mackerel have also run occasionally on the piers but have also been hard to predict. If they are going to hit, it will likely be just before and after high and low tide, when the current is moving the fastest.
May saw some king mackerel landed off the piers, although the best action on the king rigs was with chopper bluefish. A few cobia were also decked. Small live bluefish are the most common bait on the king rigs, although a big pogy caught in a cast net or snagged is a great live bait until it dies (which is not long, unfortunately).
Surf fishing was decent before the water got stirred up last week and should continue to be decent in June, especially during the early morning. There are still some nice-sized sea mullet (whiting) in the surf and there are also some tasty pompano.
Pompano should increase in the surf as other fish decrease because they are a warm-water fish that feeds on sand fleas even during the hottest weather. The best pompano baits are live sand fleas or fresh cut shrimp on bottom rigs with gold hooks.

Jeffrey Weeks, author of “Surf and Saltwater Fishing in the Carolinas,” is a fishing columnist for the Beacon. You may reach him at saltyweeks@gmail.com or follow updated fishing reports at www.saltyweeks.com.