TFO’s redesigned Professional rod series is designed for the versatile angler of any skill level and is perfectly suited for a wide variety of species and environments.
Highly durable, standard modulus, and moderate fast action blanks with powerful butt sections, come together to create one of the best values of any rod on the market.
New to the Professional series are down-locking reel seats with hidden threads for increased comfort, Fuji Concept O-ring guides, and cork grips all combine to give you a fabulous rod, safe for use in both fresh and saltwater. The Professional series continues to use the popular TFO color coded power system so you can quickly identify which action you are grabbing when the bite is hot.
Full length grips on 7’ & 7’6” spinning rods, split grips on all remaining models.
The newly redesigned Tactical Inshore series, are specialized inshore saltwater rods, built and designed for the accomplished inshore angler looking to find a series that will fit every need they have regardless of geography.
Compared to previous models, the new Tactical Inshore features a slight reduction in the blank weight, improved balance resulting in increased sensitivity, and new down-locking reel seats with hidden threads for enhanced comfort.
The series features TFO’s sky blue finish, Fuji K Guides with corrosion control and Fazlite inserts, premium cork grips with EVA accents and butts – along with shorter split grips on rods less than 7’. Full length grips on all other models.
New to the Trout-Panfish series are two new light power models: the TPS 662-1 (6’6″ Light Power) and the TPS 702-1 (7′ Light Power). Anglers familiar with this series will appreciate these new additions for throwing larger baits, and having more hook set power. Both new models feature the same components and look as the others in the Trout-Panfish family.
When not chasing after striped bass and redfish in the Pamlico Sound and estuaries of coastal North Carolina, TFO National Advisor Capt. Gary Dubiel (Spec Fever Guide Service) loves to put his clients on large speckled sea trout. Even during the cold winter months, Gary knows how to find speckled trout and has some excellent tips for both fly and conventional anglers.
The Pamlico Sound & The Migration of Coastal North Carolina Speckled Trout
TFO: Tell us about your fishery briefly and why it’s suitable for speckled trout.
GD: The Pamlico Sound estuary system is fairly giant – 2.1 million surface acres of water. You’re basically looking at a shallow inland sea. It’s very conducive to speckled trout just from an environmental point of view – lots of shallow water, nursery area, and an abundance of food. It will also hold enough ideal water temperatures where the fish are going to be in the area year round.
Speckled trout here in North Carolina are very different then ones you’ll find in Florida, Louisiana, or Texas in that they have a significant migration distance. Many of the fish we have here will migrate out into the ocean and go north into the Chesapeake Bay.
I’ve been involved in a lot of tagging studies and my furthest tag return was 285 miles away from its starting point in Oriental, NC. Another interesting tag return that I was involved in was a fish I recaptured that was tagged in Virginia. The fish was only 13 inches long and was tracked from Northern Virginia to Oriental, NC and was recaptured within 14 days. These fish can move great distances in very short periods of time, which can make it challenging when trying to locate them.
As a rule of thumb in our river systems (Pamlico River and the Neuse River into the Pamlico Sound), typically what you’re going to find is that the cooler the weather, the more the fish move upriver and into the creeks. In other words, the further back into the creeks you go, the warmer the temps get. You’re typically going to see this pattern in late October/November right up into March/early April.
Once the water temperatures warm up into the low 70s and stay there for a short period of time, those fish will move out of the creek systems and back out into the main river systems. At that point, there can be fish that move to North Carolina from Virginia – move back out into the ocean and up into the Chesapeake Bay.
Spawning & Average Size
TFO: What are typical spawning or migrating behaviors across the seasons for speckled trout?
GD: Our fish here will adjust and typically move out into the lower parts of the river in the Sounds – where their first spawning will be around the first full moon at the end of May/early June. The first spawn is also going to be related to water temperature – somewhere in the low-mid 70s.
The fish will stay in those areas through the summer into early fall. There will be some shifting, but they are in those general area. Speckled trout can spawn 3-4 times throughout the course of the year. Smaller fish typically spawn twice, larger fish might spawn up to 3 times in a year.
TFO: How big do they get typically and what’s an average size for you?
GD: You can find a mix of fish (size-wise) throughout the course of a year. Typically in the cooler months, bigger fish are more concentrated and more on the aggressive side. They tend to be more willing to eat much smaller baits as the water temperatures drop. Typically, you can catch more large speckled trout (24”-30”) in the cooler months, however, you can still catch big fish all summer long depending on your tactics.
You’ll see a lot of small fish in my area because of the volume of breeding that occurs here – anywhere from 10”-12” fish, right into 20”-24” fish. You’re looking at a pretty significant distribution of fish from one right up about six years old.
Locating Specked Trout
TFO: How are you typically locating speckled trout in the winter? Where is the best place to target them (river/water location or depth)?
GD: In the cooler months, you’re going to be looking to fish primarily in the creek systems, and the upper parts of the rivers. You basically have two different areas that you’ll find fish during the winter – both are particularly related to water temperatures.
In water less than five feet deep, I can catch speckled sea trout down to about 47.5 degrees (water surface temperature). Typically, in the backs of the creeks (water less than five five deep), the bottoms are dark mud and soft – so they’ll warm up faster in the sunshine. You can get a one to four temperature increase over the course of a sunny day.
In areas that are deeper – around six to twelve feet of water – you can catch speckled trout right down to about 45 degrees (water surface temperature) with your bottom temperature being a few degrees warmer.
The further upriver you go – cities like New Bern or Washington – you’re going to find some of the creeks are much deeper, so you’ll target the fish a bit deeper. Good news for that is that you can fish those with much lower water temperatures in colder conditions – bad news is they don’t warm up. What you have when you start out, over the course of the day is typically what you’re going to have. Those deeper creeks won’t warm up much on sunny days.
Tactics & Set-Ups For Light Tackle
GD: In the winter, you want to fish as light as you possibly can. Allow your baits to sink very slowly and take advantage of a fish that’s pretty lethargic. You’re fishing for them at the lower ends of their tolerance to eat.
Scaling down in weights is helpful. Typically, I will fish down to a 1/16 oz. jig head with soft plastic bodies. I’ll scale down on soft plastic bodies – 2.5-3 inches.
Another bait that works really well for me in the winter is the Storm Shrimp – which is a composite, keel-weighted shrimp pattern. This mean that the weight is in the center of the hook shank, so the baits will fall flat – rather than head first. This results in a decreased fall rate, which can increase the amount of the bites you get.
In order to fish those baits, I want to have the lightest, most sensitive rod I can have. The 6’9” Light Inshore is ideal for that. Typically I’m going to be fishing a 1000-1500 series spinning reel with 8-10 lb. test braid. Everything is really light and scaled down. Even if you catch a striper or a redfish, the water is cold, so those fish aren’t going to peel line off like when its 75 degrees. In the winter, everything is lethargic.
Tactics & Set-Ups For Fly
GD: You pretty much want to copy the same tactics used for light tackle, and apply it to fly. Typically, I’m fishing Type 2 to Type 3 lines depending on the water depth. You’ll want a slow sinking line, or a clear intermediate line, with a lightly weighted fly.
Rods that fish this type of setup well are the Axiom ll-X, the Axiom ll, and the Mangrove. 6wt and 7wt are what I prefer, but you can also fish up to an 8wt.
Smaller weighted flies such as Clousers, Half & Halfs work great. I also use a few of my own craft fur patterns. The Lil’ Hayden is one I tie that produces well for speckled trout. The Pop-N-Shrimp is another good one. Flymen has reproduced one of my mine called the Crafty Deceiver.
Ultimately, you’re looking for something that has some weight in it, but that falls about the same rate as those slow sinking lines do. Click here for a video where Gary breaks down some of his go-to patterns for speckled trout.
For a reel, the BVK-SD is the perfect tool for the job. It’s lightweight and has plenty of drag if you need it, too.
I usually use a 3’-4’ straight leader to the fly. Usually, I scale down to 15lb fluorocarbon in the winter to help maintain that straight contact with the line and fly.
TFO: What retrieval patterns typically work best for you?
GD: Strip and Pause. Strip, Strip, Pause – All your bites are going to be on the pause. Pay attention to your counts on your pauses. If you are getting bites on a certain number (seconds you are counting), take note as it gives you an indication of where the fish are and how they’re reacting.
Anything that feels different – strip strike. Even though it is cold, those fish can spit out that fly pretty quickly.
Make sure that the rod tip is almost in the water and pointed at the fly to maintain as direct contact as possible to help detect any strikes.
TFO: Not many anglers are aware that speckled trout have some pretty sharp teeth. Do you have any advice on handling them?
GD: You’ll want to grab them in the belly right under the gills. Don’t put your fingers in their mouth like you would a bass or other species (laughs). You’ll want to have some plies or hemostats to get the fly out of their mouth once you have them at the both.
While it’s easy to get sad about summer’s end, the transition into fall brings a special type of excitement to anglers on the East cost. The tail end of summer brings bull redfish inland to spawn and forage on baitfish, but by late September, a cool north wind blows offshore forcing baitfish back towards the ocean, while also bringing false albacore inland. This results in a head on collision of predator and prey, and the perfect scenario for the angler that gets at the right place at the right time.
TFO is fortunate enough to have several advisors and ambassadors with lots of knowledge and experience fishing for false albacore on both fly and conventional gear. This week, we decided to switch it up and get feedback from several of TFO’s finest – Jake Jordan, Gary Gubiel and Andy Bates – to give some tips, tactics, and insights for all things albie fishing.
Overview, History & Migration
Give us a brief overview of false albacore. Have they always been a sport fish, and what is it about fall that makes that the time to fish for them?
Jake Jordan – False albacore (also known as Little Tunny, Albies, Fat Albert) are located in the Atlantic Ocean all the way from Maine to Chile, as well as the Gulf of Mexico, Pacific Ocean, and the Indian Ocean. Although they are in the tuna family, their rough flesh makes for not so good eating, but a fantastic sporting fish.
North Carolina was one of the first places that people started fishing them as a sport fishing fly fishing in the late 1990s. Historically, albies were referred to as a baitfish. We used to catch them, cut out their bellies, and troll them for marlin. As a sport fish, they are like any other tuna or jack – they are very, very powerful. Anglers often refer to bonefish as being one of the strongest fighting fish. An equal size false albacore is much faster and much more powerful than the same weight bonefish.
In the summer months, the baitfish (anchovies, silver sides, spearing, etc.) in the estuaries will eat and get bigger in the warmer, shallower water of the Sounds. As soon as the first cold front of the year comes through, a Northern wind cools down the surface water in the Sounds, causing the baitfish to run out of the inland water towards the warmer water of the ocean. Likewise, as soon as the albacore out in the Gulf Stream feel that cool, north breeze, they immediately swim into the wind and head inshore. They’ll come towards the beach, coming right up into these giant schools of baitfish. At this point, you can find albies anywhere from 2ft to 100ft deep.
Baitball, Birds, and Shrimp Trawlers
TFO: Aside from being able to see them near the surface, how do you locate albies?
Jake Jordan: Two of the most important factors in locating albies are bait balls and birds. Typically when I’m starting out for the day, even before first light, I’m just looking for bird action. Really good anglers will have “Bird Radar” where you can see out as far as 20-25 miles, but even at 10 miles, you’ll see the birds diving down on the fish and you can run right up to them. This will be a sign of either redfish or Spinner sharks, or it’s going to be albacore. Earlier in September it could even be big Spanish mackerel and King mackerel.
You’ll see these giant baitballs where the water is boiling with fish going crazy and baitfish jumping out of the water. These bait balls can be the size of a big swimming pool. All you have to do is drop your bait or fly into that boil, and before you get a chance to strip or anything, your line just takes off with a fish on the end.
TFO: Let’s say you’ve located some fish busting on a bait ball. How are you positioning yourself to cast?
Jake Jordan: Albies are unique in that they swim and feed into the wind. When you’re chasing these fish, if you can get upwind in front of the schools, you can sit there and wait for them to come right to you. I try to sit the boat right to the side but in front of the path of the schools. You’ll be casting straight into where they’re going to be, your fly is coming across the school, so basically you are casting ahead and perpendicular to them.
TFO: Do you ever spook the schools when casting to them as they are migrating?
Jake Jordan: No. These fish aren’t afraid of anything. There are times when they are boat-shy. When you get 100 f.t from them, they go down and disappear, and then they’ll pop up 300 ft from you.
TFO: I’ve heard that fishing behind shrimp boats trawling bottom can be another great way to catch albies. Can you talk about that?
Jake Jordan: If there aren’t a lot of bait balls happening, and we aren’t seeing any birds, another way to catch albacore is fishing behind shrimp boats. Here in North Carolina, shrimp boats are operating almost 24hrs a day. Here we have flat sandy bottoms, and these shrimp boats are trolling the bottoms with these big chains holding the bottom of these large nets, just scooping up shrimp and all kinds of baitfish. About 50-60% of what they bring up to the boat is baitfish also called bycatch, the other 40-50% is shrimp. When they make their pull up to the boat, they’ll throw everything back overboard that isn’t shrimp. This will draw sharks, albacore, and millions of birds.
You can get about a hundred feet from the back of the boat and wait for the boats to throw the bycatch overboard. You can use a 10wt in this scenario (sharks), but I like to use a Bluewater SG Mediumwith a Power Reel using about 500-700 grain head with 1.5-2 ft of 20lb leader with about a 5 inch white Clouser minnow. I’ll set the drag on my reel to about 6 pounds. As soon as you get a hook up, I usually put the boat in reverse to get away from the boat so the fish don’t get wrapped up in the trolling nets/cables.
Fly Rods & Reels
Jake Jordan: – At the start of the season in September, and in the summer when I’m also targeting Spanish mackerel, I’ll start off with a 9’ 7wt Axiom ll-X. I’ll pair this up with a BVK SD-lll reel. Typically, you’ll want a reel with a heavy drag system, but with early season albies (4-6 pounds), you’ll be fine with the BVK-SD, and it’s a lot of fun on a 7wt. Once we start catching albies more consistently, I’ll switch over to a 9wt Axiom ll-X. I’ll fish this until late October/early November, and then I’ll step up to a 10wt Axiom ll-X. The purpose of stepping up to the 9 and 10 is relative to how the fish are growing over the season and also the size of the flies as well. I’ll pair both the 9wt and 10wt with the TFO Power III Reel.
Gary Dubiel: Im targeting albies in mid- October after the bull reds are done doing their thing inland. 9wt &10wt Axiom ll-Xs are my preferred rods. A lot of the albacore we get in coastal North Carolina are pretty big – around 16-18 pounds. The 9wt Axiom ll-X is a fabulous rod to use for albacore, but for folks that have trouble making longer casts in stronger winds, the 10wt is an excellent choice. More than anything else, you’ll want a quality reel with a great drag system, so the Power Reel III.
Fly Lines & Leaders
Gary Dubiel: I like intermediate or intermediate tip lines – particularly a clear tip line. The reason I like that is, you’re going to do much better with direct contact to the fly. Even if the fish aren’t on the surface, if you can get the fly down to the fish a little quicker so that it get 3-6 inches down quickly. Even if you’re using a weighted fly – you’re going to do well with that intermediate line. You can also decrease your leader length to get it down quicker. For leaders, I do a 4ft piece of 20lb fluorocarbon straight to the fly.
Flies & Retrieval Patterns
Gary Dubiel:For flies, a #1 or #2 size hook that is no more than 2.5”-3” long that are fairly translucent all work well. Clouser Minnows, Surf Candies are great patterns. I like flies to have some motion, so I actually tie most of my flies with craft fur so when that flies is sinking it has a little bit of undulation to it.
Retrieves – I like to fish albacore a little bit different. When I’m striping the rod in, I don’t want to strip in really fast. Once you get in a bait ball, you want to maximize the time that the fly is in front of the fish. Just strip it enough to keep the fly line tight, and the fish are more than happy to eat it. The intermediate line lets you have more direct contact so you don’t have to do as much on the strip strike to get good hook penetration on the fish. So that intermediate line serves multiple purposes for me.
Andy Bates:I throw a lot of Clousers. I stick with mostly white, but white with tan, and white with chartreuse works too. Just depends on the clarity of the water on that day. You can catch pretty much anything in North Carolina on a white and chartreuse Clouser.
Conventional Gear & Retrieval Techniques
Gary Dubiel:I use the Inshore 7’ Medium and Medium Heavy depending on what we’re throwing. Certainly for long distance casting with small, long 3” spoons whether that be mostly metal spoons, but big profile spoons about an ounce and about 3 inches long are ideal for getting really long casts to breaking fish. You can throw those and crank them fast. They can be very effective if you’re having a hard time getting on the bait balls and you’re seeing breaking fish.
If you’re on bait balls, I prefer to go to the 7’ Medium Inshore and fish soft plastics – particularly fluke style baits. Whether that be on a jig head or just a hook. Jig heads in a 1/4 -3/8 ounce aren’t going to get as far, but I find them really effective. Fishing them is very different. I use a lot of rod tip and not as fast of a reel so the bait has a tendency to dart side-to-side. You’re keeping the soft plastic in the bait longer, but giving it a very erratic speed while doing that, which seems to be very deadly effective on the fish.
Certainly 20lb braid, then 20-30lb fluorocarbon if there’s Spanish mackerel around. Definitely using 30lb when those mackerel are around.
Andy Bates:A lot of people think that albies be a nuisance, and an easy fish to catch, but that’s not always the case. Its not as easy as dropping your fly or a bait in a bait ball and they’ll just crush it. Sometimes you have to get creative. When they’re feeding on really small fry, or what we call snot bait, it’s hard to match the hatch. Even if you can match the hatch, the albies almost turn into a predatory fish into a filter feeder type fish. If you’re spin rod fishing for them and you’re having trouble getting a bite, you can go to a big 5” fluke or an albie snack on a swim bait hook (weighted or unweighted) where you can make a long cast on a Medium or Medium Light rod with 10-12lb braid. After you make a long cast from a ways back, hold your tip up and rip it back as fast as you can and work the bait. You’re basically skipping the bait across the water and getting a reaction bite. I’ve found this technique very effective for when they get picky on the subsurface bite.
Fighting Albies and the Release/Launch
Gary Dubiel: When you’ve got an albie on, making sure you’re utilizing the bottom third of the rod and using the drag on your reel correctly is definitely important when playing these fish. I use a little bit stiffer drag to help slow the fish down. They’re going to go and there’s not much to do to stop them, so you let them go when they go.
Big albacore sometimes will do what’s called the death spiral, where they go straight down and spin in a circle. That can be a challenge, but a really short pump of the rod to try and pull the fish and get his head up can help prevent them from spiraling back down. You’re basically shortening the line, and shortening the line until you get him high enough in the water column to grab and boat him.
Jake Jordan: Once you catch your first fish, their tail is like a handle. Like a tuna fish, you grab them by the tail, hold them up over the boat. They’re probably going to spit out about 50 bait fish on the deck, then you get the fly and let them go. Unlike trout or other fish where you typically hold them long, albies are the opposite. When you release them, shoot them in the water like a bullet. You do this because they are so powerful and fast, they need that water going over their gills. That splash gives them a really good start. Their tail is moving when you let go of them, and they just propel themselves to get that first burst of oxygen.
If you’d like to learn and see more about albie fishing in coastal North Carolina, you might enjoy this film featuring TFO Advisor Rob “The Seahunter” Fordyce and TFO Ambassador Chris Thompson. This film was shot after the annual Cape Lookout Albacore Festival last year. Sadly, this year’s festival has been cancelled due to the pandemic, but the festival plans to resume in 2021. You can find out more about Albie Fest here.
Jake Jordan is a TFO National Advisor that has spent more than half a century guiding tarpon anglers in the Keys. During his lifetime, Jake has caught more than 2,400 billfish on the fly – thus was the perfect person to help us design our offshore rod – the Bluewater SG. Nowadays, Jake splits his time chasing tarpon in the Keys and albacores and redfish in coastal North Carolina. You can find out more about Jake here.
Gary Dubiel has been a TFO National Advisor since 2002. He currently lives in guides in the coastal North Carolina Outer Banks area through his guiding business Spec Fever Guide Service. You can find out more about Gary here.
Andy Bates has been an ambassador for TFO since 2017. He currently lives in guides in the coastal North Carolina Outer Banks area through his guiding business, Captain Bates Guiding Service. You can find out more about Andy here.
In Southeastern North Carolina, the Cape Fear River, a rich and beautiful blackwater river recognized for its very large flounder population, flows 191 miles all the way to the Atlantic Ocean where it empties near Cape Fear. In 2018, Hurricane Florence hit coastal North Carolina causing catastrophic damage to the homes and fisheries in the area, but particularly – the Cape Fear River.
In addition to the substantial amount of flooding, other factors contributed that led to the almost complete disintegration of the aquatic life – resulting in some serious efforts from local fisheries and organizations to place a ban on harvesting flounder in the river for a year. After a year of prohibiting the harvest of flounder and letting nature takes its course, the Cape Fear River is now thriving with some very large and healthy flounder, and guides like TFO Ambassador Stuart Caulder couldn’t be happier.
This Sunday marks the end of the moratorium and the start of flounder season. We decided to catch up with Stu to talk about this exciting time for him and the anglers in this area to find out more about how to find and catch these hard fighting flatfish.
This Sunday, August 16th is the opening day for flounder season, but for the last year, harvesting flounder was not permitted. Can you talk about what factors went into implementing those regulations?
What we’ve had here is a moratorium on keeping flounder since last year. It opens back up this Sunday, August 16 and runs through September 30. Two factors prompted the suspension of harvesting flounder for the past year.
1) Shrimp Boat Trawlers – We still have a lot of inshore shrimp trawlers in this area. As the shrimp boats drag and trawl bottom to collect shrimp, they are also picking up a lot of other species – especially flounder. When the nets come up to the boat for the boat hands to unload, the fish are already worn out, and since collecting and icing the shrimp are the main priorities for these shrimp boaters, the bycatch flounder often get neglected or put off for several minutes while out of water, and most end up dying before they get tossed back over board.
2) Hurricane Florence – With the massive amount of rain and floods we got from Florence in 2018, the waste ponds on the pig farms upriver flooded, resulting in a large bacteria bloom. This took out all of the oxygen in the river, and basically killed millions of fish.
With these two factors, and because the flounder population had been decimated so bad, the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries put a moratorium on the species for a year.
Were there any other species that were largely affected by both Hurricane Florence and the hog farm flood aftermath?
Oh yeah – trout, redfish and stripers. Right after the storm, it pretty much decimated our striper fishery for the winter. They’re coming back now, but there’s only the small ones left where they’ve restocked the river. A lot of the fish either left to the ocean or died. You could see thousands of them floating down the river after Florence.
How did the year long moratorium effect the flounder population on the Cape Fear River?
It’s actually rebounded remarkably! A lot of the fish that were close to the mouth of the river could get a sense for what was going on when Florence hit, and they ran offshore. After the storm, they came back up the river, and with the moratorium in effect, these fish have basically sat here for a year and have gotten big.
It’s nothing to get your limit and get a few 3-4 pounders now. An 8 pounder is definitely not out of the question, and there have already been some 10 pounders caught as well. It’s really early for some of those big ones, but it’s a great sign that they’re already in here. It’s go time!
That’s great news! Let’s talk fishing set-ups. Are you using conventional or fly when going after flounder?
The majority of the flounder fishing I’m doing is conventional, and I typically use artificial bait because I can usually cover more ground than I can with live bait. With live bait, you have to slow way down, and you can’t fish it as fast. I’d rather pitch fast and work the grass banks on high tide and just pitch, pitch, pitch.
I like to use bucktail baits with some type of scented trailer behind it. It can be a DOA bait, or a gulp bait – something that has some smell to it. The ones you’re after are going to eat that bucktail. The bigger flounder are very aggressive and they don’t have any problem popping those bucktails, as long as there’s a scented trailer. They really like a scented trailer.
The rod that helps me get this done is the TFO Inshore 7’ Medium. The bucktails I’m throwing are usually between 3/8 – 1/2 oz. in weight. I like using the Inshore Medium as it has a little bit more backbone compared to the Medium Light. Every now and then, you’ll pick up a drum with that same flounder bait, and sometimes the drums you’ll get into are pretty big and can put a work out on those smaller rods. The Medium is a great tool for handling those larger fish.
The 7ft works great because it’s long enough to make a nice long cast, when needed, but short enough to pitch baits tight to the bank, as well. For a reel, I’m using a Penn Conflict in a size 30 with 15lb. Berkley Ultra Cast braided line, and then I use a 20-30lb fluorocarbon leader because they have got some teeth; especially those bigger ones!
Inshore Tarpon – I also like to have a Seahunter rigged up when fishing inshore, because every now and then, you’ll have tarpon roll up on you, and you just can’t pass up the opportunity to cast to a tarpon.
I like to have a Seahunter SHS 7030 rigged up with a Diawa BG 5000 size reel loaded with 50lb Berkley Ultra Cast braided line. For bait, DOA makes a Big Fish Lure, it’s a 5.5” soft plastic swim bait that suspends about 2 feet under the water. You can snap the rod tip a few times and that bait will just sit there and suspend. That’s a great setup for inshore tarpon fishing.
What type of forage food do the flounder key in on this fishery?
Typically, what I find them eating are small baitfish patterns such as small spots, croakers, or popeye/finger mullet. They’ll also eat a lot of shrimp. I don’t get a lot of crabs out of them. So mainly that’s what I’m mimicking, and that’s what the bucktail bait is used for.
Sometimes, a 7-8lb flounder can eat a 6-7 inch baitfish. You can throw a big bait in an area where you know there’s fish and usually bypass the smaller ones to go for a 3-4 pounder or bigger.
Do you typically just stick to white patterns to imitate baitfish?
Mainly white bucktails, and sometimes I’ll switch it up on my trailers. I may run a trailer that’s white on one, then maybe run a chartreuse trailer on another. A lot of that will depend on the water clarity. Sometimes I run a root beer color trailer, something dark. If the water is real dark and dingy, I’ll run dark baits. If the water’s real clear, I’ll run lighter baits.
How are you targeting flounder? In other words, where are you looking for them in the inshore areas within the Cape Fear River?
Flounder aren’t too spooky, it’s not like you’re sitting a really long distance off the bank and casting to them, I’m fairly close to the bank and all I’m doing is just making little underhand pitches. I’m working that first five feet of grass line on high tide. Once you’re out about 5-8 feet, bring it in, then pitch it back over to your next spot, work it out, etc.
It’s almost like bass fishing. They’re going to go right up to that cover and stay there, cause that’s where all the food is. So once you’re back out past that 5-8 feet zone, bring it in and pitch it back in there. The more time you spend in that “hot zone”, the better off you’ll be and the more fish you’ll catch.
Do those larger flounder tend to stick to deeper areas/drop-offs?
It’s mainly tide oriented here. We have about six feet of tide. So on high tide, all the fish push right up to the grass banks/edges. The water on all the grass banks will be at about 3 feet, but they’ll be right up on the grass edge. Now when the tide falls out, and we get to lower tide, that’s when they go to the drops and go from 2 feet to 6-8 feet in the creeks. If you go to the main river, you’re dealing with more of a 12-15 foot drop off.
For the most part, I stick to targeting flounder around high tide. I like to fish the grass edges cause I like to move. When I do go to the deeper spots, a lot of the time I’ll position my boat, throw to the shallows, and just bounce that bucktail right down the shelf. Usually they’re on the slope, or they’re right at the bottom, or they’re right at the top. They’re usually around that release somewhere, so once you get way out off of the release, then you might as well just bring it back in and get back on top of the shelf.
Do you use any type of bobber or indictor to detect a strike?
I don’t. The strike is fairly firm. They’re pretty aggressive, especially with the amount of current we get here. Even if I were fishing somewhere where there isn’t much current I still wouldn’t use a bobber or indicator, because you have to make sure you’re freely getting to the right depth.
With the 7′ Medium Inshore rod accompanied with a braided line combo, it’s very sensitive. You feel everything. You’re definitely going to feel the bite.
How about offshore fishing for flounder? Are you doing much of that, and what setups do you typically use in that scenario?
I like to fish the wrecks offshore, and when I do, I like to make sure I have a few of the Seahunter rods with a couple of different baits rigged up in case a cobia, or a jack, or season king mackerel swims up on me. A lot of times when you bring these flounders up off the wrecks, the cobia will follow them straight to the boat. And when they do, just leave the flounder in the water, take your other bait on that Seahunter rod, then pitch it to them. Usually the cobia will hit it. As soon as he hits that bait, bring the flounder in, then you’ve got the cobia as well. That way you can get a double bang for your buck in that type of fishing.
I think what’s happening is this scenario is that when the flounder are on that way up to the boat, they’re spitting stuff up, and the cobia is just picking that stuff off. Except in the scenario where the cobia is bigger than the flounder, and the flounder just gets eaten.
Pro Tip For Offshore Flounder Fishing – Always have a Seahunter rod ready and rigged up for when you do hook into a flounder for this very reason.
For my Seahunter set up, I’m using the SHS 7030 – so the 20-30lb line size model, and I like the 7 foot version. I run a Daiwa BG 5000 reel with 50lb Berkley Ultra Cast braided line. For my baits, I typically use a big bucktail, or sometimes even a big swim bait. That way if I have another fish follow the first flounder, I can usually just drop it in the second fish’s face and they’ll pop it.
Another way to locate and target flounder off shore, which usually involves using scopes and electronics, is targeting what we call Flounder Hotels. What they are is a big cement dome with holes in it, and the flounder love them. Once you locate one and mark it on the screen, you can usually use a 1oz. buck tail. Fire that sucker down there in about 30-40 feet of water to where it’s near the parameter of those domes/hotels, and the flounder will come out of those holes and pop that bait.
Would you rather fish for flounder in the rivers or offshore?
I prefer to fish the river because that’s where the big ones are. Not that you won’t catch some nice ones offshore. There’s probably more numbers offshore in the 3-5 lb. range, but the bigger fish are in the Cape Fear River.
Any words of wisdom/tips you want to leave with our readers related to flounder fishing that we haven’t gone over?
The main tip is to be patient, and as you make long drifts down the banks, remember where your bites were. What you’ll find is that you may cover a quarter to half mile bank and get all your bites in a little 200 yard area. Once you fish that long stretch and are able to access where those bites were, go back over that area again, because most likely all those fish have oriented themselves to that particular area for that particular day. Just go back and go through those hot spots two or three times, move on to your next stretch and search it out the same way. Rinse and repeat.
Stuart Caulder is a TFO Ambassador based out of Wilmington, North Carolina. He runs Gold Leader Guide Servicewhere he primarily fishes the Cape Fear River in search of flounder, drums, and stripers, but also offers offshore charters as well. To contact Stuart for a trip, find him on Facebook and Instagram, or shoot him an email.
That’s a wrap for our first ever TFO Photo Contest! Over the past few weeks we received around 500 entries, and we loved seeing so many anglers enjoying TFO gear on their favorite waters.
This Monday, our team selected our Top Six photos for a public vote to help select the winner of the $1000 in TFO gear.
After almost 1,000 votes, we had a stand out winner – John McCarthy and his shot of the Inshore spinning rod! Second place was Brandon Genova’s shot of the Tactical Elite Bass, but not far behind was Adam Koontz’s shot of the Finesse Trout.
Congrats to all the photographers who made the finals! Check out the poll standing below, as well as stories from each of the finalist photographers about each of their finalist submissions!
This shot was taken at Barr Lake State Park here in Colorado. The clouds and sky that day were amazing. My buddy and I were bass fishing that day. Our first time at this location actually. The rod I had just purchased was this TFO Tactical Elite Bass 7-5 H I believe. I’ve been fishing TFO rods going on for 6 years now.
Being a tournament angler, I’m hard on my gear. I’ve found that TFO rods are by far the most durable, and the sensitivity is unbelievable.
When I started using them, I actually had to take time adjust to them versus my previous rods. They were so sensitive I was actually setting the hook too early!
During this shot, I was in Northern New Jersey casting small dries for brookies on one of the many native brook trout streams.
I like the TFO Trout Finesse for its ability to handle delicate presentations and for its sensitivity. There are days that you’re not out searching for a fish of a lifetime, and this rod handles small streams and brooks perfectly!
4th Place – Robert Ledezma – Axiom ll 8wt w/ Streamers
This shot was taken on the banks of the Henry’s Fork near Ashton, Idaho. I was after big brown trout looking for a big meal. This is actually the river where I first started fly fishing many years ago so it’s a special place for me. Some of my biggest fish and favorite memories have been here.
A lot has changed since I started fly fishing and I’ve gone through a lot of different rods and gear. I’m not entirely sure when or how this happened but the Axiom II has easily become my go-to rod. There’s just something about rigging this rod up with a big streamer that feels right. We’ve gone through a lot of battles together and it has never let me down. I can trust the rod to do its part as I can only try to do mine.
No matter what adventure I go on the Axiom II always comes with me!
6th Place – Mark Kolanowski – Axiom ll Meets Striped Bass
My image of the Axiom II rod and Striped Bass was made in Texas on the Brazos River below the Morris Sheppard Dam which forms Possum Kingdom Lake above it. When the flows are right, the fishing for Striped and White Bass can be very good! This particular fish was caught by my good friend and fishing buddy Craig Rucker on a pink, purple, and white Lunch Money streamer.
I actually do not own this Axiom II rod – Although I do own 7 TFO fly rods in my quiver from a 3wt Finesse to an 8wt BVK. Craig did let me make a few casts with his new 10wt Axiom II. He had gotten it for an upcoming trip we were taking to Alaska and wanted to give it a try on our local river. It proved to be a great choice. The Brazos River Striped Bass we were targeting like big weighted streamers. Long casts are needed to get the flies up towards the dam and bigger flows where the Stripers roam in search of shad.
The Axiom II had the backbone and power to deliver the big flies into the wind that is ever present in Texas. The swing weight was comfortable even on a big 10wt rod . The power in the butt section was there to keep a hooked fish out of the underwater boulder field, stiff current, and into the net!
Nice rod ! It’s the next one I’ll be adding to my TFO collection.
THANK YOU to ALL those who submitted their photos to the first ever TFO Photo Contest. As difficult as it was to narrow down to our Top Six, it was such a joy to see how everyone enjoys using their TFO gear and we look forward to seeing more photos down the road.
Keep taking those TFO photos and stay tuned for more giveaways and contests down the rod!
In case you missed one of our recent shares on social media, Florida based TFO Pro Staff angler Capt. Jonathan Moss has a new video series that just launched — The Captain’s Log with Waypoint TV. Check out the trailers for Episode 1 & 2 below.
The series follows host Capt. Jonathan Moss on an educational expedition through Florida and all its vast and beautiful estuaries. Throughout the series, we’ll follow Moss and his crew as they target both inshore and offshore species and learn a few tricks and tactics along the way.
Between guiding with clients and shooting for this series, the TFO Inshore is Jonathan’s Go-To for pretty much all the fishing he does, but when heading out for offshore and targeting big game, Moss switches over to the Seahunter series.
We decided to check in with Jonathan to get some more feedback on the Inshore – along with and what his crew and clients have been saying about these TFO rods.
TFO: Looks like you guys are using the Inshore a lot through The Captain’s Log! What do you like about the Inshore?
JM: The TFO Inshore series rods are the perfect combination of light weight, all day fishability with enough backbone to go toe to toe with fish and win! In addition to the Inshore series’ performance is Its eye appeal! The TFO Inshore rods are aesthetically pleasing with high quality rod components and that catchy blue color!
TFO: Do you have a Go-To size/model?
JM: The TFO Inshore series rods have a wide variety of rod lengths, powers and actions from which to choose! For shallow water sight fishing, my go to inshore rod is the 7ft medium power fast action rod, paired with a 3000 series reel and 10lb braided line. That setup will allow anglers to cast a soft plastic or live bait both a long distance and accurately. That combination is the key to sight casting leery fish on the flats. When the conversation turns to big tarpon, my go to TFO inshore rod is the 8ft Mag Heavy Fast Action rod paired with a 6000 series reel with 50lb braided line. A longer rod means further casting and the backbone of the mag heavy rod gives me confidence in battling the Silver King.
Lastly, I always have an extra 8ft mag heavy combo ready and rigged with a large bucktail jig for the unexpected visit from a Cobia!
TFO: You’ve mentioned that The Captain’s Log will feature a few offshore episodes where you guys switch over to the Seahunter series. What do you like about The Seahunter compared to other offshore rods?
JM: The TFO Seahunter rods are very impressive. When fishing offshore wrecks and reefs, anglers need a rod and reel combo to keep fish from turning their heads back towards the bottom structure. Big fish such as varieties of Groupers, snappers and amberjacks are notorious for breaking lines on structure. The Seahunter series time and time again proves it’s worth as a part of my offshore arsenal by giving the angler the edge over these powerful reef dwellers! When fishing competitively or commercially as a full time guide, I need rods that will hold up to the test of big fish every day and the Seahunter Series rods from TFO gets the job done!
TFO: Do you have a Go-To size/model for this series as well?
JM: Rod selection is dependent on style of fishing. For vertical jigging, my go to is the 7ft 30 power rod paired with a 6000 series reel and 50lb braided line. For dropping live grunts over rock piles for groupers and snappers, my go to is the 6ft 6inch 40 power rod paired with an 8000 series reel and 60lb braided line.
You just can’t beat these rods for offshore fishing!
TFO: What has been the response from your clients and other people that have fished with you about TFO products (Inshore, Seahunter, others)?
JM: I am blessed to be able to make a living on the water! Part of my success has been quality gear. My rods and reels get abused every day and still look and feel like new. It’s a testament to the quality put in to each TFO rod on my boat. From fly rods to inshore to offshore, my clients only get the best that TFO offers. I hear it all the time, “where can I get a fishing rod just like this one?” My clients are quickly making the change to TFO because they recognize the performance, durability and quality of TFO rods.
Keep up with Capt. Jonathan Moss and his crew on the latest episodes of The Captain’s Log here
To find out more information on Jonathan or to book a trip with his guiding service (GoCastaway), you can visit his website here.