Working through the braided cuts in the Shackleford Banks marsh would have been a daunting feat for many fishermen, but Capt. Noah Lynk of Harkers Island buzzed his Bay Rider skiff in and out of the channels with the skill and confidence of someone who travels them regularly. Finally, after a dozen or more turns and twists, he cut the throttle and slowed to idle speed. Turning one more corner, Lynk (who operates Noah’s Ark Fishing and Tour Charters) eased through a small cut barely wider than the boat that opened into an area where several creeks formed a fair-sized pocket. He silently glided to an area where water was being channeled through two funnels between oyster rocks and eased his anchor over.
"Let’s try this spot for a little while," Lynk said. "The tide is just high enough for us to get in, and the flounder should be feeding as it rises.
"A lot of bait is funneled through those two sloughs between the oysters, and the flounder will lay just below them to feed. You want to land your cast in the faster-moving water and let the current push it down to the fish. You’ll need to keep the line tight to feel the bite.
"We’ll be fishing with some soft plastics to cover a little more ground and find the fish. When you feel a bite, only pause a second or two to be sure he has it, and then set the hook. These baits are easier to grab than a live bait, so the flounder can get it in its mouth easier and quicker. Don’t wait too long, though, or he’ll realize it isn’t real and spit it out. Don’t wait but a second or two to set the hook."
Lynk (252-342-6911) said to let the current push the bait along the bottom naturally, just keeping the line tight enough to feel the flounder stop the bait. He said the flounder, which would be resting on the bottom, would pop up to grab the bait as it passed by, and then settle back to the bottom to eat it.
On his second drift through the slot, Lynk suddenly tensed, paused a second and then leaned back into a solid hookset. His rod tip pulsed, then dipped as the reel squealed and something took line.
A minute or so later, the flounder got close enough to see the boat and made a short dash away and back to the bottom, but constant pressure got it back to the top, and he deftly scooped it into his net.
Flashing a broad smile, Lynk looked over at his fishing partner.
"Well, this is the first one, and it’s a nice keeper," he said. "Let’s see if it has any friends around the dinner table.
"Cast your bait right over there by where that oyster rock is almost under water and let the current sweep it into the hole."
The cast landed pretty close to where Lynk had directed, and the "bump-bump" sensation of the light jighead bouncing across the rocks resonated up the braided line and sensitive rod.
Suddenly, there was a much-more significant thump, and the bait stopped moving.
"That’s him," Lynk said. "Give him a second and set the hook— now!"
As the rod bowed over, Lynk flashed another big smile, and after a minute or two of coaching, a quick scoop of the net had a second keeper flounder in the boat.
The trip was 10 minutes old.
The spot produced a few more flounder, a mix that was primarily keepers, but nothing particularly large. After about an hour, Lynk decided it was time to move, this time to another place where two small creeks fed into a larger creek.
As he eased the anchor over, Lynk said he wasn’t sure why the area was so productive.
"I can’t find anything significant that draws the flounder to this little spot, but they are usually here," he said. "We’ll just fan-cast all around the boat, and you may catch one anywhere. There is some scattered shell bottom, but I rarely lose any jigs here. We didn’t catch anything else back at that first place, but we will probably catch a few puppy drum here."
Lynk’s prediction was spot on, as a puppy drum grabbed the first cast as soon as it landed. The feisty drum tried to abscond with the Deep Creek shrimp, but it was hooked well.
After an hour of catching mostly legal, but not large, flounder, Lynk said it was time to try the ocean for some larger fish. He zipped through the creeks on the east end of Shackleford Banks and around the tip of the hook at Cape Lookout to the rock jetty.
"Cast to that odd rock that sticks up a little, and crawl your bait across the bottom back in," Lynk said. "The retrieve will be slow; you have to feel it bump the bottom every now and then or you’re getting too high in the water for flounder."
Suddenly, Bo Anderson’s rod bent over with a solid pull. He fought it for a minute or so before leading it to Lynk’s waiting net.
A school of skates moved in, causing Lynk to move to the area where Shark Island rises from Cape Lookout Shoals, a spot that produced several more keeper fish.
After an hour or so and a tide change, Lynk began working back toward Harkers Island, making a couple more stops in the hook and another in the marsh at the east end of Shackleford, producing similar action.
He made a couple of stops in the Hook at Cape Lookout and another in the marsh at the east end of Shackleford Banks, with similar results, except for having the Shackleford Banks ponies watch for a while.
HOW TO GET THERE — US 70 and NC 24 lead to Morehead City and then on to Harkers Island. Follow US 70 through Morehead City to Beaufort and turn right on Harkers Island Rd. (CR 1332) just east of Otway. The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has a free ramp just before the Harkers Island bridge. Cape Pointe Marina, just down the island several miles on the right, has a fee ramp.
WHEN TO GO — Flounder usually arrive around Harkers Island in May and will stay through November, or until the water cools and moves them into the ocean. Some flounder will stay in the area all winter, except in the coldest winters, but they will feed only on warm days. Flounder are more aggressive in late summer and fall, and the largest flounder are typically caught in late fall.
TACKLE/LURES —Most fishermen use 6 ½- to 7-foot, medium-action spinning outfits. Capt. Noah Lynk prefers Star’s Aerial Rods and 4000 class reels. He prefers artificials, especially Deep Creek’s shrimp, Fluke and shad-baits. He coats them liberally with Pro Cure scents. He likes to fish the lightest jighead that will take the bait to the bottom and allow the most-natural movement while avoiding snags. When he fishes live baits, Lynk uses mud minnows early, then mostly mullet minnows and small menhaden later in the fall. He fishes them on jigheads or a light Carolina rig.
FISHING INFO/GUIDES — Capt. Noah Lynk, Noah’s Ark Fishing Charters, 252-342-6911, www.noahsarkfishingcharters.com; Cape Point Marina, Harkers Island, 252-728-6181, http://capepointemarina.com/. See also Guides & Charters in Classifieds.
ACCOMMODATIONS — Crystal Coast Tourism Bureau, 800-786-6962, www.crystalcoastnc.org.
MAPS — Capt. Segull’s Nautical Charts, 888-473-4855, www.captainsegullcharts.com; Sealake Fishing Guides, 800-411-0185, www.thegoodspots.com; Grease Chart, 800-326-4567; GMCO’s Chartbook of North Carolina, 888-420-6277, www.gmcomaps.com.