Little pink clousers for you and me

Saltwater adventure off the North Carolina coast
fly fishing north carolina saltwater
Photo: Trevor Lawson.

Saltwater fishing is adventure. Why? Because there’s always a chance—just a chance—that you’ll tie into a sea monster. And with a fly rod in hand, any chance is just too much to pass. Today we’re steaming out of Wrightsville Beach with Captain Guion Lee, III (aka Captain G) and a three-man crew: Jon Newar of Captain Experiences, Trevor Lawson, and me. And the only thing we want to do is see what happens.

The day’s first light paints the marsh anew while I tie on a little pink Clouser and study the glass for the wake of a dorsal, hoping for the inverted rump of rooting pig. But, these are the waning moments of this particular opportunity. The bottom is falling out of the marsh, so the reds are already free of the high grasses. They are patrolling the drop off. So, no tailing, but wake. Lots of it. The school is coming within range, so I strip line and start to cast.

In my mind, it's a done deal. The 8-wt and I are a perfect team. My weight shifts. The rod loads. My weight shifts again. Together we send the line in a perfect lead. The little pink fly alights perfectly ahead of that upturned pig. A breath. Maybe two. Wake bulges. I twitch the fly. A swirl and a swoosh. “He took it,” I imagine someone saying. Deep hook set. Doubled rod. Fish fight on.

In reality, what actually happened was this: The line sails as scripted. For a moment. An invisible saboteur snags my stripped line. The fly snaps to a halt. I exhale and pretend not to mind. I pretend harder when the pigs pass just a foot or 30 on the other side of my fly. The captain puts us back on them. Wind knot. Still pretending. No pasa nada. Nothing to see here. They pass again. Back on them. A solo fish bullies toward us and I proceed to beat him on top of the head with that Clouser. Wrong kind of wake. For feck sake.

“Oh, cool, he’s fly fishing for reds,” says a voice from a passing boat. Kind of, I think as we swing around again.To no one’s surprise, the reds are all done with this Bay of Pigs Invasion, and they slip off to safety.

“I’m good at other stuff,” I tell the guys, who are all kind enough not to point and laugh. I recall a time when I was pretty good with a fly rod and how I’ve always found fly casting to be like golfing at least in one regard. When I just have fun with it and do it regularly enough, I can hold my own. But, let a little time lapse without swinging the stick, or God forbid let me get a little cocky and take it seriously enough to try—then it’s best if everyone takes cover from the flying objects and obscenities.

As I understand, the best archers in the world let the arrow hit the bullseye. They don’t make, will it, or force it. They let it. Sounds great for golf and fly casting, too, but it doesn’t alway work that way. Luckily, it doesn’t always have to. A few times in a lifetime, it can be easier than you ever dreamed. Sometimes when you know a guy who knows a thing and that guy is all about sharing what he knows and having adventures with his buddies while he does it, when that happens, it can be absolutely unbelievable. Captain G is the guy who knew a thing. And, he teed it up.

“You want to catch some flounder?”

The response is immediate, unanimous, and maybe a little aggressive. So, we make the run to a spot. We hop out of the boat and run like recess kids to the water fountain.

“Right there,” says Captain G, pointing. Stand there and cast there.

I haven’t fished for flounder in years and I’ve never caught one on a fly rod, but if there’s one thing I know: It can’t be that easy. It can’t be just there and there. No way. So, I proceed to proceed too far, I let the fly go where it wants in a song of a cast that runs way too long.

“That’s too far,” says Captain G and points. Stand there, cast there. I ignore him a while longer, this man whose family has known this place and these fish for generations. I lay out beautiful casts and retrieve empty minnows. Over and over. Until, finally, I stand there and cast there.

Mark Twain said, “Use the right word, not its second cousin.” So, I shouldn’t say, cast. It is a flick, flop, flip, or a snap. In my best moment, it's maybe a stroke. Whatever it is, it allows the fly to go where it wants—there. The fly settles. I twitch it a half-beat. Wait. Weight. Deep hook set. Rod doubles. Fish fight. In time, I walk the flounder back to the beach, sure to slide my feet to nudge off any curious rays. It's my first flounder on the fly, so I slide it up on the wave-lapped sand for investigation.

Captain G gives us the skinny on the flounder of the North Carolina coast. Southern (Paralichthys lethostigma), Summer (Paralichthys dentatus), and Gulf (Paralichthys albiguttata) all swim here. We talk about how much fun it is to catch them, how to do it, and how things used to be. We talk low populations, high-stakes, and hot tempers. We talk management by the state and feds. We talk commercial and recreational, what does or doesn’t seem right, and our hope for the fishery. But we talk it just long enough to know where we stand.

Then the flounder slides off and skitters out. Again, I stand there and flip there. Wait. Twitch. Weight. Deep hook set. Fish fight. Walk to the beach. And so comes the second. Rinse and repeat. Captain G stands smiling, watching a scene he’s written while Trevor, Jon, and I catch, admire, and release more Southern and Summer flounder than we think to count.