Why flounder fishing is about to get a little tricky at the Carolinas’ state line

Flounder fishing at the North Carolina-South Carolina border will become tricky beginning Wednesday.

The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission has set Sept. 4 as the day commercial and recreational fishing for flounder in North Carolina waters will be closed to harvest.

The commission made the decision at its meeting last week in Raleigh, adopting the Southern Flounder Fishery Management Plan Amendment 2 as proposed by the Division of Marine Fisheries.

A 2019 South Atlantic Southern Flounder Stock Assessment found that southern flounder is overfished and overfishing is occurring throughout the South Atlantic region, from North Carolina through the east coast of Florida, causing the action taken by the commission.

North Carolina law mandates that fishery management plans include measures to end overfishing within two years of adoption and rebuild the stock to achieve sustainable harvest within 10 years of adoption of a fishery management plan.

There is no date set for the recreational flounder season to reopen, but the commercial fishery will not be closed for long in the Tar Heel State.

The commercial flounder season will reopen on Sept. 15 in waters north of Pamlico Sound and on Oct. 1 in Pamlico Sound and all other waters. North Carolina allows the use of commercial gill and pound nets in estuarine waters.

While North Carolina anglers will be unable to harvest flounder in the immediate future, across the state line the current laws of 10 flounder per person per day, a boat limit of 20 per day, with a 15-inch minimum size limit remain in place in South Carolina waters.

That’s where it gets dicey for fishermen like Capt. Patrick Kelly of Captain Smiley Fishing Charters in Little River, who regularly fishes the sounds and inlets in both states adjacent to the state line.

Anglers can harvest keeper flounder in South Carolina waters, but had better not cross the state line with a flounder in the boat in the days to come.

“I’ll figure it out, somehow,” Kelly said Friday afternoon.

Kelly was fresh off a charter trip in which he had success, ironically, in Tubbs Inlet catching flounder earlier in the day. Tubbs Inlet is the border between Sunset Beach, N.C., and Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., in Brunswick County.

“We probably caught 14 flounder with a couple keepers, just a normal good day,” said Kelly. “They’re closing it and we’re having some of the better (flounder) fishing I’ve seen all year.”

Kelly has mixed emotions about the closure.

“I guess I get it,” said Kelly, “but I don’t see the difference in this area, it being any worse or better that it has been in my 19 years in business. Some years are better than others. Right now the numbers are pretty good in Tubbs Inlet and right on the border.”

The Carolina coast attracts good numbers of fishermen who specifically target flounder, and now North Carolina is not an option for flounder fanatics hailing from both states. But, moving forward, South Carolina is.

“The diehard flounder guys, they come to catch flounder a few times of the year (when the bite is good),” said Kelly. “They’re probably going to hammer down on them in Cherry Grove and maybe even Murrells Inlet.”

Spanish Mackerel Derby

After plenty of near misses in a variety of fishing tournaments, Capt. Alex Hrycak finally put the big one in the box.

Hrycak, based out of Marlin Quay Marina, and a pair of fellow captains teamed up to win the Spanish Mackerel Derby staged out of in Murrells Inlet last Saturday.

Hrycak was fishing aboard Capt. Jay Zigler’s Key West 234 Bluewater along with Capt. Luke Austin, and the crew landed the winning 5.64-pound Spanish mackerel to win the grand prize in the event out of the Mullet Hut.

Sarah Mitchell and 11-year-old youth angler Jesse Rigby of Conway, who was the angler on the winning fish, rounded out the crew.

“It was really exciting to win a local tournament like that,” said Hrycak, who has competed in numerous king mackerel, wahoo and meatfish tournaments in recent years. “It was my first first-place finish ever.”

The crew targeted an area near Myrtle Beach Rocks, located about 14 miles northeast of Murrells Inlet and five offshore of Myrtle Beach.

“We started trolling cigar minnows, but we weren’t getting any hits and decided to switch to live bait,” said Hrycak.

After the switch, the bites began from a mixture of Spanish, king mackerel, sharks and even a juvenile cobia.

“We caught two Spanish the whole day — the first was around 4 pounds and that got us all excited,” said Hrycak. “Then five minutes later we caught a 6-pounder, which wound up being the 5.64.”

Rigby added the Junior Angler award to the team’s wins on the day as the angler on the event’s largest Spanish.

Hrycak and crew topped a field of 60 boats — from 16-footers to 36-footers — in the tournament that is growing in popularity. The event paid out over $17,000 in cash awards, along with numerous other prizes, said tournament director Robert Thompson.

Shaun Bess won the Big King award followed by Earl Atkinson and Chad Haselden in second place. Both kings weighed over 40 pounds.

Proceeds of the tournament are earmarked to support the Big Dave Altman Memorial Reef Foundation.