Live bait is the best lure in hot weather

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By Jeffrey Weeks, Fishing Correspondent

The weather has cooled slightly but we are still firmly in a summertime pattern ruled by the heat and afternoon and evening thunderstorms. The bite has been slow inshore, while there are more fish moving on the tides at the jetties, in the surf and just offshore.
Some flounder are being caught inside but many are undersized throwbacks. Anglers and guides are having much better luck at the local near-shore artificial reefs, where quite a few nice flounder have been landed. Depending on the wind, it can be rough offshore, so be prepared and watch the weather, as storms are also a daily possibility.
Redfish have been a better bet in the backwaters, with speckled trout a possibility early in the morning. Both species are feeding when the current is really moving, with the redfish easier to find around the low tides.
As has been the case ever since the weather got hot, most anglers are fishing live bait, such as shrimp, mud minnows, pogies and finger mullet. With the wind still around 10 mph each day keeping visibility down, live bait is the best way to go right now.
Although you can fish lures in low visibility, hot-water live bait is hard to beat for any game fish. That is because live bait combines all the elements you will need to attract fish in stained waters: sight, scent and sound.
Live bait, such as minnows, flashes around in the water to create a glimmer that attracts fish. Frisky live bait will continuously be in motion and that will help game fish to see your bait even when the water conditions are less than ideal. Saltwater predators that prefer moving targets, like red rum, flounder and speckled trout, are much more likely to take live bait than lures in muddy and sandy water.
The two best live bait rigs are a Carolina (or fishfinder) rig for the bottom and a float rig for the midlevel water column. The Carolina rig focuses on redfish and flounder and will also catch speckled trout. The float rig is the best setup for trout and will also catch redfish.
The Carolina rig is simple to make: just thread on an egg sinker and tie on a swivel. Then attach a leader of strong monofilament or fluorocarbon line to the swivel and tie on your hook at the end. You can use any bait on a Carolina rig, but the most common are live minnows for flounder and redfish and cut bait or barnacles for black drum and sheepshead.
Another simple way to get live bait to the bottom is to use a jig head and attach the live minnows by the lips instead of using a scented synthetic or plastic grub. You should jig this rig but not too fast, as many fish will hit as the rig is falling slowly to the bottom.
Float rigs are used on top, usually with live shrimp, and most are adjustable, so you can target speckled trout or red drum up and down the water column. The trout bite is mostly early in the mornings, around the bridges and at the jetties. There are also a few trout in the surf where the bite is not consistent but some large female specks are roaming chasing pogy and mullet schools.
The surf is still holding a few pompano, some bluefish and some sea mullet, but more common catches right now are small sharks, rays and skates. Fresh cut shrimp and live sand fleas are good surf baits. Black drum and sheepshead are still a possibility around structures like pier and bridge pilings and under docks. As usual for the summer, pinfish are everywhere if you just want to entertain the kids.
Fishing remains much better in the morning and the visibility really drops after the storms roll through, so start early. The bite will be better when the tide is moving fast, so get some live bait, check out the tide chart and go after them.
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.