Flounder on the Docks

Around Wrightsville Beach and Figure Eight Island, they always said you couldn't catch fish off the docks on artificial bait.  Those fish just see so much thrown at them, they said.  It was live or cut bait only, preferably live.  

I've found that not to be the case.  Especially for big flounder and the occasional drum or trout.  And if you enjoy the active experience of trying to manipulate a bait with a rod and reel to try and trick a fish, fishing artificial bait is the way to go.  If there's a flounder season this year in North Carolina, give it a shot.  

At least for the fish by the docks around the Wrightsville/Figure Eight areas, here's my playbook.  White soft-plastic baits, preferably scented, on a jig head that's going to sink quickly enough and stay at the bottom, depending on where you're fishing.  Cast close to the dock, bump the bait off the bottom, retrieve slowly.  

The flat fish seem to like white baits, perhaps because the color white reflects the most sunlight and shows up best down at the bottom, where it's dark and sometimes muddy and murky.    I also will use grey and other more "natural" colors, and sometimes even purple or chartreuse.  I tend to fish "paddle tail" baits the best, I think based on how I typically retrieve the bait, but "jerk-shad" style baits also seem to do well . . .  maybe even better.  I almost exclusively use Z-Man baits.  They just seem to be the most durable.  They won't get the tail bitten off by a pesky pinfish on the first cast.  They're also a bit buoyant.  I like a bigger bait, especially for bigger fish, normally a 4 inch or even a 5 inch bait.  Jig heads like the  "Texas Eye" give the bait more action, can be rigged in a "weedless" style to avoid getting hung up on oysters or old pieces of dock lumber or someone's long lost beach chair, and allow the tail of the soft-plastic Z-Man bait to float up slightly.  

I eye the oldest, crustiest, barnacle-covered docks, near deep water and channels.  A trolling motor is best to position the boat quietly, but the beauty of dock fishing is, in my experience, flounder don't seem to mind a boat motor, even an old 2-stroke loudly spewing out smoke---they're dock fish, they're used to it.  So if you don't have a trolling motor, idle into position, gingerly ease your anchor down into the water, and cut the engine.   You want to cast right beside the dock, as close as you can without hitting the dock, and of course avoid hitting the shiny, high-dollar boat up there on the boat lift. Let the bait sink to the bottom.  Pause.  I prefer to hold the rod tip high most of time, pointing towards the sky.  With a flick of the wrist, bump the bait slightly off the mud. Real in the slack.  Repeat, bumping the bait up a few inches off the bottom, as best you can picture it in your head, and allowing it to fall back down, brining the bait back as close to the boat as your can.  The fish sometimes will follow the bait even up to the surface when you're just about to recast.  Work the area methodically, covering every inch you can, and even cover the same ground a few times.  

It's all about feel---you really need a good and light inshore rod where you'll be able to feel that "tick" or "thump" of a fish hitting the bait, or sometimes what I'll call more of an aggressive  "slam" of a drum. I personally like a rod that is a more "medium" action, that is, it bends more in the center of the rod not just at the tip, like this one, one of my favorite rods I've ever used.  You've got to be able to feel that quick bite and set the hook and create that resistance and get the line quickly taut against the fish.  The reel matters less, just make sure she's running smoothly . . . again, feel is everything.  My reels are spooled with 10-15 pound braid up to a fluorocarbon leader, though some folks swear by all monofilament line for flounder, for some extra "stretch" that braid doesn't provide.   

Time and tide waits for no man.  As with almost all in-shore fishing, tide is a significant variable---there are fish to catch at any tide, but you need change your tactics or location depending on high or low water or which way the current's moving.  For dock fishing for flounder, I like a mid to low tide, rising or falling.  During higher tides, in my experience, the fish move into the grass to ambush bait.  If there's some current, try the down-current side of the dock and retrieve your bait with the tide.  Again, the flat fish are ambush predators, lying in wait for an unsuspecting baitfish to swim past.  

Once you find the flounder, they seem to like to stay together, so don't move on too quickly after you land a fish.  I've heard, too, from spear fishermen, how territorial flounder are---once a fish is removed from his spot, a new fish will apparently move into the first fish's territory in almost no time.   

Finally, don't forget the net!




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