Normally, when two waves approaching each other from opposite directions hit, there’s a crash and turbulence that can destroy anything caught in the middle. So why would fishermen want to get between two big waves this month in the Emerald Isle area?
If they’re waves of flounder, well, that’s another story all together, but that’s exactly what’s happening and why guides Dale Collins of Wild Side Fishing Charters and Rob Koraly of Sandbar Safari Fishing & Eco Tours start to target flatfish this month in the areas inshore of Bogue Inlet: the Bogue Sound, the Intracoastal Waterway, the White Oak River and countless coastal creeks.
"It’s a pattern that starts in April," Koraly said. "You’ve got southern flounder up in the creeks and rivers, and they’re starting to move out to the mouths of the creeks on the mainland side of the sound. They’re coming out of their winter haunts. We catch them there in April and May, then they start showing up around docks in the waterway and they spread out into the sound.
"At the same time, flounder in the ocean — summer flounder — they’re pushing in. They’re eight to 15 miles off in April, then three to six miles in May. In June, they can be on any reefs or structure from one to five miles off the beach, plus, they come into the inlet and they get in the waterway.
"The southern flounder and the ocean flounder all jam up in the same places."
And that’s the kind of wave that any fisherman wants to ride.
"Memorial Day is really when I start fishing for flounder," said Collins, who concentrates on puppy drum and trout in the spring. "I’ve caught flounder here into November (while) trout fishing."
Collins will spend the summer targeting flounder, and he and Koraly have a basic plan for filling their coolers. They head to the ICW and creeks that drain the mainland, and they pay close attention to small creeks or even ditches that pour into the ICW. They’ll fish the Emerald Isle and Swansboro sides of the inlet and all points in between.
But it seems all of their efforts are concentrated on four things: docks, seawalls, feeder creeks or ditches, and (the biggest factor) bait.
Koraly said finger mullet will be showing up in good numbers in June, and flounder will move around to follow the bait movements.
"The southern flounder will move out of the creeks and into the deeper water when the water gets hot and the finger mullet start moving," he said. "Then, you just fish the docks and structure along the waterway."
If that sounds like a freshwater bass fisherman’s dream pattern, it probably is. Collins makes no bones about the fact that catching flounder means finding docks that are holding fish and seining the waters around them with a variety of baits.
Both captains will target flounder around docks and seawalls with live or artificial baits, pitching them around the edges and back up under the structures, anywhere a flounder might set up shop to ambush passing bait.
"I try to fish live bait on my charters, but there are some guys who really like to fish artificials," Collins said. "If we fish artificials, I’m fishing a 5-inch white Gulp! jerkshad on a white, 1/2-ounce Spro bucktail. I’ll go to a 3/4-ounce bucktail if the current is really ripping. I always start with white; the bucktail is always white. If the water gets stained, I might go to a pink or chartreuse Gulp!
"If I’m fishing live bait, I’ll fish a Carolina rig. I’ll fish a 2-foot leader, and I’ll have a plastic bead that keeps the sinker from sliding too much. I tie on a 1/0 or 2/0 gold Kahle hook, depending on the bait size. If you’re fishing a menhaden, you need to hook him sideways through his nose because they have to open their mouths to breathe. A finger mullet or mud minnow, you can push the hook in under their jaw and bring it out between their eyes. Then, you just drag it slowly across the bottom."
Collins fishes the bucktail the same way, crawling it or hopping it along the bottom, hoping to run it past the nose of a hungry flounder. And when one bites, how you approach that is next part of the equation: the hookset.
"A flounder will hit a bucktail just like he’ll hit a mullet, but you’ve got to set the hook right away," he said. "With a mullet, you have to wait because he’s turning it around so he can get it down head first, but a mullet doesn’t have the hook in its tail like the bucktail.
"If a fish picks it up, you throw (the reel) in free spool and let it sit for a minute, and if you feel any pressure, then you set the hook."
Koraly fishes bucktails, but he’s going more to a Betts Flounder Fanatic bottom hook and jighead when targeting flounder because of the orientation of the hook: It’s turned sideways from the weight and the eye of the hook, so it fits more naturally into the mouth of a flounder that is laying parallel to the bottom instead of perpendicular. That, Koraly said, produces much better hooksets.
"He can’t bite it without getting some steel," he said. "When the flounder closes his mouth on the jighead, he gets the point of the hook in his mouth better. You can fish a Gulp! (jerkshad) on both, but it works better on the jighead. The weighted (bottom) hook works better with live bait."
Collins and Koraly target docks with certain features.
"I look for older docks, docks over deep water, docks out on a point or near a sharp drop-off where the current pushes the bait along," Koraly said. "Also, you want to fish docks where there’s a big boat tied up.
"But the docks along the waterway that are better to fish are the ones that have a nice channel coming in from the inlet or a creek coming into the waterway from the mainland. Any small creek that comes out with a dock close by, that dock will hold fish. I try to avoid stretches of the waterway that don’t have any creek mouths or anything else coming in. They won’t hold as many fish.
"When you find a creek coming off the mainland or from the barrier islands into the waterway, it makes a current eddy and will change the way the water moves for a quarter mile. Baitfish will come in and out of the creeks on the tides, and the flounder will hold more on the docks near those kinds of places."
Collins will rarely pull up and fish a single dock, opting to look for groups of docks in a good area. Even then, he said, the fish are often only in certain places.
"Most of the time, you want to fish a series of docks," he said. "I start on one end and will work through them all. You might catch them all on one dock, or they might be on the docks on the ends and not on any of the middle docks. They’ll be congregated; you might catch five off one spot. And if I catch a fish, I’ll fish that area pretty hard, because a lot of times there will be more laying right there. Shoot, there might be five on a spot as small as the tops of two picnic tables, and every time you pull one off a spot, another one pulls in to take his place.
"Every set of docks you can get around can hold flounder. A flounder doesn’t have to have much water on them; they’ll sit in 1 or 2 inches of water and catch bait going past. I think they’re always facing the current. I’ve watched them just pick up and turn and jump as the bait comes past.
"Most of the time, I like to hit the last two hours of the incoming tide and the first two hours of the outgoing – and definitely the slack tide. When you’re drifting in the current, you’ll drift over them, but on a slack tied, you won’t drift past as many."
If a dock has any kind of oyster rocks growing close by, Collins will pay it special attention. That’s also the way he attacks a seawall – a great flounder-holding piece of structure, he said.
"A seawall can be good, even without docks, but you do need rocks," whether it’s riprap or oyster mounds, he said. "They’ll hang around any kind of structure that will hold bait, anything that’s different."
Collins said for sheer numbers, staying close to the waterway is the best idea. Part of that is because, as you move inland, flounder-holding structure gets harder to find. The same thing goes for fishing south down the ICW away from Swansboro.
"The farther south of the inlet you go, there aren’t any docks until you get into the little towns, little communities where you’ll find a lot of docks together," he said. "You’ll see a lot of docks in the backs of creeks."
WHERE TO GO/HOW TO GET THERE: A popular vacation spot, Emerald Isle is on the southern end of the Bogue Banks, across Bogue Sound from Cape Carteret and across Bogue Inlet from Swansboro. It is accessible from US 17 via NC 58, which turns southeast at Maysville, and from NC 24, which northeast from I-40 through Swansboro. Public boat ramps are located in Emerald Isle and on the south side of NC 24 just east of the bridge to Swansboro.
WHEN TO GO: Flounder season really kicks off around Memorial Day as southern flounder move out of coastal rivers and creeks and summer (ocean) flounder migrate in through Bogue Inlet. June, July and August are all excellent months, and flounder will stay through the fall until the water cools and sends them to their winter haunts.
TACKLE/TECHNIQUES: Medium-action baitcasting or spinning tackle is perfect for flounder, spooled with 12- to 15-pound braid. Artificial or live baits are equally productive. Live mud minnows or finger mullet are fished on a Carolina rig; the top artificial is a white bucktail with a white, soft-plastic minnow-imitation like a Gulp! jerkshad, Fluke or like-styled bait. White is the color.
FISHING INFO/GUIDES: Capt. Dale Collins, Wild Side Fishing Charters, 252-422-4326 or www.wildside.com; Capt. Rod Koraly, Sandbar Safari and Eco Tours, 252-725-4614 or www.sandbarsafari.com; The Reel Outdoors, Emerald Isle, 252-354-6692 or www.thereeloutdoors.com. See also GUIDES & CHARTERS in Classifieds.
MAPS: GMCO’s Chartbook of North Carolina, 888-420-6277 or www.gmcomaps.com, Capt. Segull’s Nautical Charts, 888-473-4855, www.captainsegullcharts.com; Sealake Fishing; Guides, 800-411-0185, Maps Unique, 910-458-9923, www.mapsunique.com.