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With daytime temperatures in the 80s and water temperatures in the high 70s, inshore fishing is still firmly in a hot-water pattern with a lot of fish hitting on the edge of the day and nothing much happening in between.
This type of cycle can fool some visitors into thinking there is not a fish in the ocean because they aren’t going to see much caught while people are most active between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. That doesn’t mean the fish aren’t there, though, and early morning and evening anglers are still enjoying some nice action.
Folks drifting or trolling for flounder in areas like Tubbs Inlet and the waterway behind Oak Island and Holden Beach are doing best in the early morning. With the 15-inch flounder limit, there are a lot of throwback fish in the mix around 13 and 14 inches, so it takes some persistent fishing to get your keepers. Those fish are out there, however, and the sizes should go up toward the fall.
Top slow-trolling baits are mud minnows, pogies and small pinfish. The bigger baits will catch bigger flounder and a nice-sized little pinfish is an excellent doormat flounder bait that also might tempt a big female speckled trout. Many anglers have gone to the local-made Backwater Rigs for flounder that I mentioned last week and they are a terrific choice if you are using live bait.
Veteran anglers and fishing guides moving from spot to spot around the creeks, docks and bridges are having good and bad days for flounder. Fishing this way you can use live bait or scented grubs like Gulp jerkbaits and swimming minnows. DOA, Billy Bay, Deep Creek and Bass Assassin grubs are all good choices for this type of fishing.
One key is to use a light leader like a 20-pound mono or fluorocarbon with the scented lures; you don’t really need anything heavier inshore. Another key is to keep live bait moving so you are getting flounder hits and not blue crabs mauling your bait.
There are also some flounder in the ocean hitting mud minnows around the pier pilings. Again, you don’t use heavy or wire leaders for these fish even if the occasional bluefish or shark bites you off. Flounder have small teeth and won’t cut you off with a 20-pound fluorocarbon leader.
The solid sheepshead and black drum fishing I talked about last week is still going on at the piers and inshore around the docks, but remember it is easy to miss these fish if you aren’t looking for them. They hit best early or late (or best of all at night) and if you are fishing shrimp for them in the heat of the day, you are likely only to rouse the pinfish.
The sheepshead are mostly being caught by anglers using barnacles scrapped off the pier and dock pilings to tempt them. Black drum will hit the barnacles but also cut blue crabs and live and cut shrimp. These are both soft-hitting fish and you need to be holding your rod to have a shot at them. Cast directly beside the pilings and under the pier.
Some speckled trout are running in the morning off the piers and around the inshore points and bridges. The best method of catching them is using live shrimp on a float rig.
If you are after them during the day, switch to scented lures like Gulps and fishing times when the current is really running. Redfish have really cooled off, but trout and flounder will still gather around the creek mouths and bridges when the tide is moving fast, and the redfish will be active again soon.
Surf and pier anglers are also having their best luck in the morning or at sunset, catching some nice pompano and sea mullet as well as the occasional roaming bluefish. If you want to catch a big fish in the surf right now, the best bet is a bluefish or a shark on really fresh, bloody cut bait from a fish you just caught.
There are even a few spot in the water now after a really disappointing spring, where we didn’t see any. These are the silver spot; the yellow-bellies won’t show up until the fall. Good general surf baits are fresh cut shrimp, Fishbites bloodworms, squid and fresh cut bait.
If you get frustrated during the day, don’t forget night fishing. It can be very productive and the best fishing areas (around any hard structure) will have less pinfish activity at night.
Pinfish don’t totally disappear at night but you generally get a little more time to fish bait in the water than during the day. Fishing pier or dock pilings at night where there are lights is a great way to tempt black drum, flounder, sheepshead and redfish and avoid a sunburn at the same time.
Jeffrey Weeks, author of “Surf and Saltwater Fishing in the Carolinas,” is a fishing columnist for the Beacon. You may reach him at email@example.com or follow updated fishing reports at www.saltyweeks.com.