As the seawater temperatures reach 70 degrees around Memorial Day, the fishing heats up, too. Coastal boat ramps get crowded, with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission’s Wrightsville Beach Boating Access Area among those that receive the highest traffic.
“We want to start early to beat the crowd,” said Capt. Guion Lee, a 40-year old charter captain who operates Green Creek Outfitters and Guide Service. “The reefs and ledges can get just as crowded.”
Lee lives in Wilmington, but also has a house on Green Creek in Oriental, where he catches giant red drum and tarpon in the heat of summer. In winter, he guides duck hunters on Pamlico Sound. In spring and early summer, he stakes his reputation on catching inshore and near shore fish, especially flounder.
“I enjoy fishing near shore ledges and artificial reefs from Masonboro Inlet to Topsail Island,” he said. “They have lots of structure and hard structure attracts flounder.”
He nosed his 22-foot C-Hawk boat through the rolling waves of Masonboro Inlet. A short ride later, he was just offshore of Figure Eight Island, staring at his GPS unit. Soon, he was hovering above the sweet spot he was looking for. Motoring slowly up wind, he dropped anchor and tied the line to a cleat.
“When I fish for flounder, I find little places no one else knows that don’t get as much fishing pressure,” he said. “This little bit of structure drops from 37 to 41 feet.”
As the anchor line came taut, he continued staring at the screen. Dashed lines from previous navigation courses centering the same spot proved he anchored perfectly.
“The flounder are mostly on the deep side of the structure,” he said. “If you hit the structure, which might be a rock, train car, ship or concrete rubble, your jig will hang up and the leader may cut. Jigs are expensive. You are going to lose a few, but you don’t want to lose too many.”
Threading a Berkley Gulp Shrimp, which is an enzyme-impregnated soft plastic lure, onto the hook of a 2-ounce bucktail jig, Lee dropped it into the water by flipping the bail of a spinning reel. When the jig hit the bottom, he felt the line go slack. Then he reeled it up one turn of the handle.
“Some people hop a jig high,” he said. “But I just bump it up and down, only lifting it a couple of inches. It’s like bouncing a basketball. The flounder just laying there, waiting. You almost have to hit him between the eyes it to get his attention, then he swims over to eat it.”
Within a couple of casts, a flounder struck. However, it was too short to keep. The recreational size limit for flounder is 15 inches and the creel limit is four. After catching a couple of other undersized fish, Lee set the hook into something big.
“It’s a big flounder,” he said. “When a big one hits, it feels like dropped your jig into a black hole that won’t let go.”
Lee used a landing net to bring the fish onboard. Although he was hoping the fish would be citation sized, it weighed about three pounds. Anyone who catches a flounder that weighs at least five pounds is eligible to receive a citation from the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries Saltwater Tournament. The angler must weigh the fish on certified scales, complete a form and send it to the Division. The award certificate has a color rendition of the fish and is worthy of framing.
He went back to fishing and caught another undersized fish. The bite became nonexistent, so he moved to another spot.
“I have three small pieces of structure marked about 100 yards apart,” he said. “After I fish one spot for an hour to make sure I have caught the fish that are biting at one of them, I move to another spot.”
Lee found another piece of structure with his GPS unit. This time, he motored upwind and dropped down his jig before he anchored the boat. Drifting along, he caught an undersized fish and released it. He also caught another three-pounder. Then his jig snagged the structure. Reversing the engine, he backed the boat directly over the lure and pulled it free.
He resumed drifting and the jig snagged again. This time, he brought up a piece of coral about a foot in diameter.
“That tells you this is a natural ledge,” he said. “Natural ledges are more difficult to find than man-made structures, which have higher relief. But, they can hold more flounder because they are not as easy for anglers to find.”