December 4, 2017 The Big Flounder
By CAPTAIN DAVID WILSON
August of 2011, Hurricane Irene battered the coast of North Carolina
and created a breech in highway 12, in the Pea Island area. As
time was wasted, the breech grew larger and the only solution seemed to
be building a bridge. Access to Hatteras Island via Highway 12
was cut off for two months. Week after week I canceled my
offshore charters and refunded deposits. Moral was low, and I
really needed something to do.
I was talking to my good friend Tilman one day, and he told me that he
had five hundred yards of flounder net that he wasn’t using. He
told me to go ahead and take it and use it. I had never gill
netted flounder, so I consulted a few of my friends about the depth and
type of bottom that was optimal.
I ran my skiff up to Frisco where I tied it up in a creek near my
house. It didn’t take me long to identify what looked to be a
good area, and where I decided to set my nets.
I pulled out of the creek the next morning excited and filled with
anticipation. Finally, I was up early and fishing again.
Seven years and a few thousand pounds of flounder later, I still look
forward to the fall and going after the flatties. I have grown my
own stand of net from five hundred yards to sixteen hundred.
Sometimes I fish on the shore side but have grown particularly fond of
fishing on the reef which is a few miles out into the sound and runs
parallel to the shore.
The reef is home to lots of vegetation that inhabits all sorts of bait
for predators to feed on. The depth of water on the reef varies
from three feet to less than a foot. I usually set my nets in two
feet of water or so.
Flounder nets are 100 yards long and anchored on the upwind end.
We set our nets in the evening and pick them back up first thing in the
After a flounder goes in a gill net, he typically lays still on the
bottom until the net is disturbed. Many of the fish I catch
aren’t necessarily gilled in the net, but tangled. Sometimes they
get their teeth hung in the webbing and twist themselves up.
Sometimes they aren’t even twisted up, just hung by their teeth.
Some of these fish escape because when I begin pulling on the net, they
start fighting again and free themselves. I save quite a few of
these by slipping a landing net underneath of them before lifting them
out of the water.
This year has been an outstanding flounder season. Most days
forty percent of my catch was culled jumbo (four pounds or over) and
the bulk of the rest was large (2-4 pounds.)
When I set my nets on October 31, the wind was light out of the
west. The next morning, what little wind there was, was out of
the northeast. The wind shift is an important detail because as I
fished, my skiff drifted toward the anchor, allowing me to retrieve the
net without creating any tension and upsetting the fish. The
water was crystal clear and as I drifted down my net, I could easily
see the captured fish lying captured, on the bottom. There was a
flounder every fifteen or twenty feet, and I was enjoying the good
As I was untangling one of my fish, I glanced once again down my net,
and was shocked to see the biggest flounder I had ever seen. He
wasn’t gilled or even tangled, but simply nosed into the bag of the
net. If I had tightened up on the top or bottom line, he would
have surely kicked his way free, but as I drifted toward him, he
remained peaceful and still. I grabbed my landing net and as I
drifted next to him, I slipped it under his chin. His reaction
was to swim forward, and straight into my net!
The giant flounder thrashed violently in an effort to free himself, or
to break my landing net in half. Neither happened and I was able
to heave the monster flounder into my skiff. Until this day, I
hadn’t caught one over eight pounds, so the seventeen pounder was a
shock to me and the state observer that was with me. It was hard
to fish the rest of my gear without glancing back at him in
As fishermen, catching fish is what we live for, but every so often we
get a chance to catch a GREAT fish. I was thankful and blessed to
have had this opportunity, and don’t expect to see another one that big!