Flounder Fishing with Capt. Jimmy Price
By Dan Kibler
There may never have been a fisherman on North Carolina’s coastline whose name is more associated with a single species of fish as Capt. Jimmy Price is with the flounder.
The veteran guide from Southport catches more big flounder in a year than many fishermen do in a decade – or a lifetime, for that matter. He understands what makes them tick: where they live on different stages of the tide, where they’re likely to feed, and how they move seasonally.
“I’ve kept records for years for every trip I’ve ever taken – wind direction, tide, temperature – all that stuff, so I almost know where the fish will be any time I go fishing,” said Price, who guides in the mornings and hangs out at Wildlife Bait & Tackle in Southport in the afternoons. “When the water heats up, in July, your mullet minnows will arrive, and they’ll be big enough to catch in cast nets, so we’ll go out and fish the inshore reefs and wrecks in July, August and September.
“When it gets hot, the flounder will go to deeper water for cooler places, and in the fall, when it cools off in the ocean, they’ll be back in the bays and the creeks.”
On summertime flounder trips, Price normally starts by throwing a cast net for finger mullet, one of his favorite baits. “They will start to show up around the first of July, and they’re easy to catch in a cast net,” he said. “A 4- or 5-inch mullet minnow is just perfect.”
Once he’s got his bait, he heads out the mouth of the Cape Fear River, headed to the buoys that mark the McGlammery and Yaupon artificial reefs, both of which are within sight of the beach. He tries to anchor up around the edge of the reefs, which include barges, concrete rubble, discarded steel and neat little hollow concrete cylinders known as “reef balls.”
“The look like hornets’ nests, only they’re made of concrete, maybe three feet across and four feet tall, and they’ve got holes in ‘em so small baitfish can go in and out,” Price said. “I call ‘em ‘flounder hotels’ because flounder will lay on the bottom around those reef balls and wait for the little baitfish to swim out, then they’ll swim up and get ‘em.”
Price fishes what freshwater anglers would recognize as a Carolina rig – a hook tied to a length of leader (different fishermen have different length preferences), tied to a barrel swivel. Above the swivel, an egg sinker from 1 to 1-1/2 ounces is threaded on the running line, which is tied to the other eye of the swivel.
The sinker stays on the bottom, but the baitfish is free to swim freely, several inches off the bottom, within the confines of the leader. That usually puts him right in a flounder’s strike zone: several inches off the bottom.
After Labor Day, when the water starts to cool, flounder will move back into the Cape Fear River, the ICW and the creeks that feed both.
Price works areas where flounder can move from deep to shallow water and back as the tide moves. “At high tide, you fish right up next to the marsh,” he said. “We’ll use live bait – peanut pogies or mullet minnows or mud minnows. When the tide falls, you have to back out and fish closer to the channels.”
Flounder will always lie on the bottom, facing the direction of the current. Not being able to swim swiftly for any distance, relying on baitfish to swim within easy reach, a flounder is at the mercy of the current. He’ll position himself in spots where the current of a falling tide will wash baitfish within range. The mouth of little feeder creeks are perfect areas, as are little ridges on mud flats or sandbars where the water drops off several feet back into deeper water.
“There are some little creeks, when you go to them on a (high) tide, all the live bait will go up in those creeks, and when the tide turns and gets to a certain point coming out, it will be like flushing a commode. All the bait knows that it’s got to get out, and the flounder know it, too,” Price said. “They’ll line up around the mouth of a creek like a picket line. You can anchor up and catch ‘em, fish after fish.”
Price locates places where a lot of flounder congregate in much the same way that a deer hunter figures out a big buck’s pattern – by the sign he leaves.
On low tide, Price will often beach his boat and walk a mud flat, looking for the dish-shaped indentation in the bottom sediment that shows where a flounder set up to feed when the water was up. He said he’s often found flats and mud banks in certain areas that held dozens of “flounder beds.” He was back on the next high tide, anchored up, casting live bait to those spots.