Tidelines – April 26, 2018
“When you’re going flounder fishing, if you don’t have a landing net on your boat, then you might as well not even leave the dock,” were the basic words I had heard Capt. Justin Ragsdale, of Breakday Charters, use at least a couple of times to open up his flounder seminars as an instructor at the Fisherman’s Post Saltwater Fishing Schools. However, Justin was now cranking on what he was calling a bigger fish, and a quick look around his boat suggested that we shouldn’t have left the dock.
Justin and I were at the Hutton Wreck, a spot about 15 miles off of Atlantic Beach, on a mid-April exploratory run for early season flounder. The water temperature on the way out had consistently been in the high 50s, but out as far as the Hutton, we had finally found the 60 degree water that Justin wanted.
Flounder were our target species, but we didn’t have any live bait on the boat. Today was about bouncing bucktails and only bouncing bucktails, and Justin rigged both of us with his own custom Breakday bucktails. Mine was the “Peppermint Patty” color—pearl eyes against a chartreuse green—and his was “Glow” color—all bright white with the glow-in-the-dark feature added.
These Breakdays were 2 oz. bucktails that were chip-resistant, vinyl-finished, hand-tied, and made locally. Though you can use something like a Z-Man soft plastic with Pro-Cure, his bucktail, like mine, was tipped with his favorite: a 4” white Gulp shrimp. And it was Justin’s “Glow” that had just found what we hoped was our first flounder of the morning
The fish came up through the water column, more heavy than short/jerky pulls, and in one motion Justin lifted the flounder out of the water and swung it net-less over the gunnel. His fish measured out at just over 15” and went in the cooler. The wind and tide were both light, so we were able to slow drift over some promising marks Justin had noted while circling some fish marks from the previous year, and this first flounder had come pretty soon into our initial drift.
Justin’s keeper flounder was followed by a mix of undersized and keeper sea bass for both of us, and then I set the hook on something more heavy than short/jerky pulls, and the bite reminded me of just how aggressive flounder feed out in the ocean, as well as how heavy they feel as you bring them up from the depths.
My flounder, too, was a keeper that had to be swung net-less over the gunnel, and my flounder, too, was a Gulf flounder. The Gulf flounder, Justin informed me, are resident fish and stick around through the winter. It just takes a water temperature of about 60 degrees for them to actively bite a bucktail. The Summer flounder are the ones that move further out during the coldest months, he continued, and don’t start to return until that 60 degree mark.
“By next week,” Justin explained, “you won’t need to go all the way out to 70’ of water. You’ll be able to find the flounder and the 60+ degree water in closer at spots like AR315. We’re just basically meeting migrating fish coming in, pushing out as far as we need to to intercept them.”
At some time during the Gulf and Summer explanation, Justin’s rod took another big bend, but this time his fish started to swim out and away from the boat instead of fighting to stay down in the water column. His line was headed towards mine, so I reeled up as quickly as I could. I got a little more than half way up before my line hooked something just as solid.
The water was clear enough to see a good 30’, and when I looked down I was just able to see that I had hooked a bluefish that had 3-4 more bluefish circling to see what the commotion was about.
Justin and I had each found an 8-10 lb. bluefish, and these blues were a welcome sight. Last spring the hot bluefish bite had generated excitement up and down the North Carolina coast, and many anglers (and tackle shops) this year are hoping for the same run to happen again. Though these choppers were 15 miles off, Justin hoped they would find enough bait to follow to the beachfront and into inshore waters.
We dropped back down but didn’t find any more blues, and even trolling around with a couple of deep divers didn’t produce, so we headed in to see if any flounder would be willing to bite a little closer. Justin had a stop he wanted to make between the Hutton and AR330, and after some bucktail bouncing there that produced a couple more keeper flounder and sea bass, we finished our day at AR330—a location that if we stayed would have given us all the action we wanted with 2-4 lb. bluefish.
The exploratory trip had been a success. In addition to dinner in the box, we had also spotted a couple of 6’ sunfish, a few turtles, and one school of false albacore feeding on the surface but apparently not interested in our casting jigs. The signs were there, Justin thought, for spring fishing to kick off within the next week or two, if not within the next day or two. The season, in his opinion, was about to bust wide open.
Capt. Justin Ragsdale, of Breakday Charters out of Atlantic Beach, will be bucktailing for flounder from now through the summer and well into fall. His primary boat, a 23’ Dusky with a tower, is also perfect for the strong cobia run that happens annually off the Crystal Coast, but he’s added other boats to the Breakday arsenal to offer just about any trip that any angler would wish to go on.
He’s running a 38’ Sportfisherman (with a bathroom and AC) for those that want a big offshore adventure, such as the mahi run in May and the start of the grouper season, and he also can trailer his 22’ bayboat for skinny water inshore fishing.
For more information, please visit him online at www.breakdaycharters.com, or you can call him direct at (252) 732-0990.
Before you leave the dock, though, go ahead and look for the landing net, and as a conversation starter, ask him what a “Gary rope” is and if he has one of those on board, too.