It is not often that a recreational trip to procure fish begins well after dark. However, the appointed time for Allen Jernigan to meet his friend, Tony Rhodes, at the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission’s Snead’s Ferry boating access area was 9:30 p.m. The ramp provides boaters with access to New River.
“We have been having some good nights,” said Jernigan, a 37-year-old fishing guide from Holly Ridge who operates Breadman Ventures guide service. “Most nights, we can fill a recreational limit of six fish each for three fishermen. It might take an hour and a half or it might take all night.”
When speckled trout, flounder and red drum action is good during the day, Jernigan usually takes anglers out to catch them on rod and reel. However, during the heat of summer, he just as often takes his clients flounder gigging as a way to fill their freezers while beating the heat.
“Lately, it has been hot, even at night,” Jernigan said. “The humidity is so high you sweat even without the sun beating down on you. But it is still more comfortable than fishing during the day.”
Jernigan began fishing and gigging in the river when he was very young. He used an old boat that did not even have an engine. Now that he has been taking people fishing and gigging for flounder for more than seven years, he marvels at the old ways people used for catching flounder. They waded on the shallow sandbars towing floating washtubs behind them to put flounder inside and held gas lanterns to illuminate the fish lying against the bottom so they could spear them with pronged points at the tips of makeshift poles.
His modern gigging rig is a 17-foot Fisher aluminum jon boat with a 60 hp gasoline fueled outboard engine. He built an aluminum rack on the bow that holds four 65-watt lights and they receive electricity from a gasoline-fuel generator. The illumination arrangement allows him to see flounder resting on the bottom in water as deep as the water clarity allows. He uses 10-foot and 12-foot Sea Striker gigs with metal shafts and stainless steel points and some of the shafts had been bent from being shoved against the bottom to redirect the boat, which is propelled by a 55-pound thrust Minn Kota electric trolling motor while he is actively searching for fish.
“This is my first gigging trip in a long time,” said Rhodes, a 58-year-old boat dealer and outboard mechanic from Snead’s Ferry. I work in the heat all day, so it is a great relief to be able to go out in the coolness of the evening to stick a few fish.”
“I am glad the wind calmed down,” Jernigan said. “If there is one thing that hurts a gigging trip, it is wind. It stirs up the water and makes it too dark to see the fish.”
Jernigan headed to a bank that had protected the water from the 20 mph southwest winds of the afternoon, shut off the outboard and put down his trolling motor. The water was clear enough to see the bottom and was just deep enough that the trolling motor’s propeller did not dig into the sand. He pointed the gig point at the outline of a flounder.
“There’s a flounder print,” he said. “It shows where a fish was lying. When the tide is falling or it is low, flounder head to the deeper holes and river channel. When it is rising, they move up on the flats to feed.”
Rhodes also pointed out some flounder prints. Eventually, they rounded a point and the water was too cloudy to see the bottom any longer.
“It takes experience to know where to go based on the wind direction,” Jernigan said. “Certain banks are eroded by the wind and make the water dark. The sandier banks are the best on nights like this.”
The light of the full moon did not affect the flounder activity. Neither did a boat with a propeller humming overhead. They passed up collecting several undersized flounder before the boat slid right over one that looked like it was a keeper before they could stop. They backed up the boat, pushing against the bottom with their gigs until the fish was back beneath the lights.
“A fish has to be 15 inches long,” Jernigan said. “Unless you touch it by accident when you are trying to get close to it with the gig, it will stay right where it is so you can study it. It is easy to decide if it is a legal fish because you have lots of time.”
Rhodes thrust the gig, striking the fish right behind the eyes and sticking it to the bottom. He lifted it toward the back of the boat, using the pressure of the water to make sure it did not slide free of the prongs. Jernigan opened a cavernous fish box and Rhodes raked the fish free of the gig against an inside corner. It was the first of many flounder that be keeping their cool, on ice.