Big Flounder WTKF radio show 8/16/21 with Capt. Lee Winkleman, Mike McHugh Host and Dr. Bogus
Dr. Bogus: We’re going to transition to today’s topic. We were going to have Tim with Lee today but he’s actually working today.
Capt. Lee Winkleman: He’s out there being famous. He can’t get a day off, that man fishes so much.
Dr. Bogus: We’ll find an off season time, we’ll get him in here.
Capt. Lee Winkleman: He’s made a name for himself, he’s always fishing.
Dr. Bogus: He’s a nice guy and a darn good fisherman.
Capt. Lee Winkleman: Best there is!
Dr. Bogus: Let’s start off with the current regs and let folks know when we actually have a season this year unlike last year when it was 6-weeks, we’ve whittled it down to almost nothing.
Capt. Lee Winkleman: I guess we were gifted with a season this year, and the anticipation of it is probably one of the biggest fisheries out there. It’s shocking on how many people are into flounder fishing as I am. But this year the season starts September 1st and it ends September 14th, a short season so we’ve got to keep that in mind…14-days and the good news is that the creel is the same and we have a 15-inch limit on size with a four person limit per day. Citations are given out at 5-pounds, any fish 5-pounds or over. Generally people want the big monster flounder it’s almost as good as getting a grander blue marlin in a sense, and the 5-pound fish are rare to find.
Dr. Bogus: I’ve caught a lot of citation fish but the only ones I actually submitted were the flounder ones. I could have had drum or bluefish or trout on my wall but I only have the flounder ones, the ones I’m most proud of.
Capt. Lee Winkleman: I feel the same way here Doc, I’m the same way, love them BIG flounder.
Dr. Bogus: You’re fishing mostly in the Morehead Port area and maybe on some of the near reefs, the regulations have to do with the status of the flounder, so what kind of flounder are you actually catching in that area…the southern flounder are the ones they are trying to boost the stocks of. What are you seeing?
Capt. Lee Winkleman: There are three types of flounder we have in this area, the southern, the summer and there’s the Gulf flounder. And we have in our area the summer is most dominant and it’s very hard to tell the difference between the three, you almost have to be a scientist to know but there are specific items you look for. The Gulf and the summer flounder have specific markings that have dark brown spots that actually look like a triangle or five patterns whereas the southern generally don’t they have kind of like light spots. Anyway we catch a lot of southern flounders, that’s what I’ve seen locally. The Gulf flounder is a flounder that’s usually a reef fish out on the reefs or in the deep ocean deep waters over 50-feet.
Dr. Bogus: What’s your biggest flounder?
Capt. Lee Winkleman: Well my personal best…
Dr. Bogus: No hedging the bet here Lee!
Capt. Lee Winkleman: My personal best is documented at 8.9-pounds, that’s a citation that I got last year. The funny story there is about this is that last year when the season ended, really the day after the season ended I pulled up a 9.5.
Capt. Lee Winkleman: But about 8 ½ pounds is about my personal best.
Mike McHugh: Can you tell us where you caught that one?
Capt. Lee Winkleman: Absolutely, anyone who has lived in this area for over the last 12, 15 years historically the port wall of Morehead City renowned for BIG flounder. And there are there are specific certain spots, but I won’t give you spot away Tim. But mine was caught actually on the back side of the port wall, looking at the Haystacks and drifting through there one day, and my last minnow, it was the smallest little minnow, and make sure you have a good net man, make sure your net man is on your side.
Dr. Bogus: That’s one of the questions I had…one thing with flounder it’s tricky netting them.
Mike McHugh: It’s a team, a team effort right.
Capt. Lee Winkleman: Make sure he’s your best friend and make sure that the net is big, because these flounder when they lay out flat they get very violent and they try to come out of the water and sometimes when they come out of the water they are really calm and soon as they see you they are done! They want to get out of there.
Dr. Bogus: What are some of your favorite locations if you are targeting BIG flounder? They are really a structure oriented fish because they are ambush feeders. What are some of the spots you can recommend for people?
Capt. Lee Winkleman: I was just telling Mike on the break, big flounder are ambush feeders they lay flat, they are not a fish that migrates around or swim a lot, they lay flat and dormant and wait for an easy kill. So as a mullet swims by or a shrimp or anything live they just jump out and attack it. So structure, they like to hide in the shade, I’ve caught some of my biggest flounder in shade so they like sitting around docks pilings. I’ve caught some of my biggest flounders off docks, right off the Morehead City waterfront in like one foot of water. Last year in the fall I caught a four-pounder in 1 ½ foot of water, I cast 4-feet out from the wall. They like all kind of reef structures. When you are out in the ocean, they like jetties of course, you can’t just catch them put in the open like most species, so you definitely have to search for structure.
Dr. Bogus: If you fish some of the nearshore reefs, which ones do you like to fish and are there locations where the flounder stack up a little bit better?
Capt. Lee Winkleman: That would have been a great Tim Rudder question. He has the marks on his, I’d like to buy that someday. Anyway AR 315 and AR 320 are generally easy reefs to attack, It’s only maybe 20 minutes away from the Beaufort Inlet. But you have the Liberty Ship out there…the AR 315 has probably 25 designated structural pieces anywhere from concrete pilings to ships and airplanes. The flounder just hover around those structures because one thing that those structures attract is bait and bait-fish so out there on the reef you can generally fish flounder two different ways, live bait like Tim and I do or you can use bucktails and Gulp! shrimp an jig for them.
Dr. Bogus: If you are looking for the big fish, people often say, “big fish, big bait, is that the right approach?
Capt. Lee Winkleman: That’s a great question Doc, you know in the last four years when I’ve caught flounder over 6-pounds, I open them up and you would be shocked what I find inside them. Last year I opened up a 6-pounder and he had a whole spot, and the spot was 10-inches! We’ve not talking a small fish. These predators, you know flounders are such predatory fish when they open their mouths you can stick a beer can in one over 5-pounds. They swallow fish whole, whole pinfish…
Dr. Bogus: People normally see their mouths closed but when you open them up they got a BIG opening (https://www.ncoif.com/fishy-teeth-up-close-and-personal/).
Capt. Lee Winkleman: Flounder fishing is like a game of chess, that’s why I love it. I explain it a lot to my friends a lot of species of fish when you are out there fishing and if you catch a school, they just hit and run. Where flounder you have to finesse, if you are using live bait you have to give it time to eat, have to give time to think it out. A flounder will actually have to hold its bait, let’s say you have a 4-inch finger mullet and you’re fishing structure, 90-percent of the times you have a flounder you think it’s snagged. You really think it’s snagged but it’s really a big one. And you think it’s snagged and as you pull up on that weight, and give it enough time to eat, then you start feeling him move around.
Dr. Bogus: How long do you like to wait?
Capt. Lee Winkleman: You know that’s why I love fishing because throughout the years it’s so transitional, it changes, sometimes you think you have your game on…and I’ve pulled some of the biggest bait out of the biggest fish mouth…I’ve seen them come up to the top of the boat with the live bait right in their mouth and let go right there and they were never hooked. I’ve brought them from 40-feet deep, a four or five flounder, but generally I wait about 30 to 45-seconds to let them eat. And what I have learned is that if you give them a chance to eat and you set the hook hard you’ll get ‘em! You’ll get ‘em.
Dr. Bogus: What kind of hooks you like to use, what size and did you ever try circle hooks?
Capt. Lee Winkleman: Never on flounder, we use the Kahle hook (a.k.a. the flounder hook). I strictly like live baiting, I like using live bait, for personal reasons I don’t get into jigging, I want the feel I want to get in the battle, I want to play the chess game when it comes to flounder. So I use a Kahle hook which is good for live bait and it saves the fish from getting injured as well. Ninety-nine percent of the time basically you are hooking the fish right in the jaw, the upper jaw. And you know right now it’s catch and release up until the season starts and you want to be able to put this fish back as safely as possible so it will swim away.
Dr. Bogus: You mentioned the turning basin, we know if you’ve ever tried to fish there most of the time it’s like a river going through there, deep river. What is your best timing to try to fish that effectively?
Capt. Lee Winkleman: With today’s technology you know, you have these trolling motors called “Spot Lock” and they keep the boat hovering right in the self-position GPS coordinates so that helps a lot. But even so the port has a tremendous amount of current, so we time…when you’re fishing for big flounder and you’re fishing the port wall, time your fishing right at the peak of high tide, which I call a lull, or the bottom of low, you have about an hour of doorway between the two changes of the transitional tide and that’s the best bet, because when you fish for flounder you want to be vertical, you want to be right above them, straight down, you don’t want to be casting out to come forward, so when the tide is slow and low that’s when you want to be.
Dr. Bogus: We were talking a little bit earlier, one of the problems is if you have ever tried to net a flounder either on the pier, the pier is a nightmare sometimes or from a boat that is tricky. What are some suggestions of successfully netting…’cause they get frantic when they get near the surface.
Capt. Lee Winkleman: First rule of thumb is make sure who you are fishing with is your friend. Make sure they want that fish in the boat as much as you do. I’ve gotten to the point that when I fish for big flounder I just buy an excessively bigger net. It’s the safest bet in the long run. Because trying to get down, you lean over the boat and the flounder is making that first dive and you want to give him only one shot because the tail hooks, if you have a weak hook-set he can get off just like opening his mouth, a flounder can spit a hook, spit a bait right out of his mouth, I’ve seen it happen. So bigger nets, fish with a friend!
Dr. Bogus: What size Kahle hook do you use?
Capt. Lee Winkleman: I use a 2/0, going into the fall season the finger mullet are really nice and big and this is true the bigger the bait the bigger the fish, when you use a finger mullet that’s 4 or 5-inches long you actually set aside some of the small flounder and strictly go for the big ones so I go to a 3/0 Kahle hook.
Dr. Bogus: I usually use the 2/0 Kahle hooks, I found the No. 2s were too small.
Mike McHugh: How can people hook up with you Lee? What’s your contact information?
Dr. Bogus: I can be reached if someone wants to go flounder fishing, on my own Facebook Fishing Page, which is called Pier Precision Fishing, or another great way is from the NC Fishing Hole, which is a Facebook fishing site, we have over 29,000 members all over North Carolina 757.761.2167 to contact me directly.
Dr. Bogus: What are the flounder seasonally…spring, summer, fall seasons, how do you fish seasonally?
Capt. Lee Winkleman: A couple years back I started to fish year round just to try to get the frequency, because I love the flounder so much, but I found out that in the spring March, April and May, up till May, we have a really good spring season inshore. Guys at Marine fisheries have it down pat the scientists, because when they close off a season the last two years literally about 2-days after the season close last year we were catching flounders in tremendous amounts. I was at the Cape Lookout Rock Jetty, 2-days after the season closed last year (which was end of September 2020), and I’m 40 fish on my boat alone, 40 flounders in about 2-hours and the boats around me were pulling them in nonstop. Of course, when the water gets cool you’ve got the prime time, October and November…
Dr. Bogus: They are going offshore to spawn that time of year.
Capt. Lee Winkleman: That was at the Rock Jetty, bur soon as the water temperature drops and the fall kicks in the flounder is at it’s prime. Summer it’s a great fishery because it’s actually you fish year around but you have these primes which is early spring and late fall.
Dr. Bogus: I usually like when the mullet come out along the beach, the “mullet blow” then you get them right along the beach in the surf.
Capt. Lee Winkleman: It’s a sign of the season, when the mullet show up it’s fishing time.
Dr. Bogus: How about hurricanes, what do you do then?
Capt. Lee Winkleman: Hunker down, we all do it, watch TV and drink some beer. Unfortunately our area has when it comes to rain, any time the fresh water hits the ocean puts a damper down…I always thought the big flounder would be one species that could withstand having some decent fishing even after a big storm, but I noticed that they are gone! They must have gone to better salinity waters.
Dr. Bogus: What’s your best by-catch when you are flounder fishing?
Capt. Lee Winkleman: That’s a great question, usually if you use a bait that’s big enough, that’s why I always try to get 3 or 4-inch range of finger mullet, you stay away from things like the trash fish, small black bass, the pinfish, lizard fish but by-catch would be those. Lizard fish will attack it all, and this season the ribbon fish.