Fort Fisher Plundering

photo: Doug McNay

Three members of my family hit the grass flats at Fort Fisher, NC this past weekend.

My brother, mother and myself launched our kayaks from the beach side as the tide was starting to come in. We made our way across a waterway and soon found ourselves surrounded by big, blue sky and light-green grass-lined banks that stretched in all directions.

We tried throwing skitterwalks on top for a little while, but no one hooked up. However, we could see that bait and fish were present. My brother started throwing spinnerbaits and mirrorlures, while I resorted to fresh shrimp rigged on a carolina-rig with a 1oz weight.


Joey and Mom started into a few channels, still using artificials, and I posted up on a set of small islands of grass. I cut the shrimp into tiny offerings and lobbed a cast at the middle of the triple-chain to my right. It wasn’t a few seconds and fish were biting. I almost never fish with live or dead bait in freshwater, but when hitting these remote salty areas, I like to up my chances on blue-bird days. I’ve learned over the years these types of days can be difficult, as far as angling, and the effort to reach the destinations is extreme, so I will gladly take the ego-punch and defer to more reliable means to fill a cooler, and have a blast in the process.

The first area provided a few small croakers, but seemed void of any larger predator fish, so I broke my grass knot and moved further into the marsh. I never take an anchor in there anymore, the grass is easily tied into a knot around a kayak handle, which makes for a silent-makeshift-anchor, and less gear in the boat. It can be a little itchy sometimes, but its easily dealt with when you find yourself out of the wind, motionless, and catching fish.

I moved as quietly as I could through the many channels and found another spot that looked really active. Bait was present, some mullet were breaching the surface, and I could see swirls that looked to be drum. It was another area with many features, rather than an even-lined channel. I tied to the left side of an island, with another island to my back, and a channel cutting through straight ahead.


One cast to the point just before the channel, and within a moment, my rod was bouncing wildly. Drag peeled off the 7′ outfit, and I knew I had a drum on. The fish fought for several minutes, darting across the water in spurts, before I saw it was not a red drum, but a large-shouldered black drum. It’s dark vertical lines gave it’s identity away. These fish fight and taste almost exactly like their cousins the redfish, except they have bigger shoulders and a taller profile.

After boat-flipping the fish, I unhooked it quickly and put it on ice. And after another cast to the same spot, another drum quickly inhaled the bait. The same process was repeated and I had a second fish-taco-supplier aboard my craft. I casted again a few times, but both fish had put up quite a ruckus, so the area filled with pinfish, the dreaded bait-stealers. I figured the area could use a rest, so I went to find my family.

They were at the end of the channel section we had entered and posted up on two opposing points. Joey had caught a nice keeper redfish, and a few rats, and Mom had also resorted to shrimp, but had found the pinfish that came in on me. We tried that area a while, and Joey caught a keeper flounder, but the wind picked up and I talked them into going back to the area I had left to rest.


I got Mom to get into a spot across from the point where I’d caught the black drum, and I positioned myself across from her, on the other side of the point. She threw her bait in and was immediately hooked up. Something was really giving her a tustle, and Joey paddled to her to assist. I was sure it was a big red drum, but after a little while they determined it was a big stingray.

She was a little disappointed, but we told her to throw back in there. From then on, she kinda kicked our butts. I mean, Joey and I still caught more fish, but she repeatedly hooked up and landed red rum, black drum, pinfish, and croakers. It was really fun to watch her fight all those underwater denizens, especially since we were celebrating our birthdays. And she loves fresh fish as much as we do.


Soon, the water started to rush out on us though, and we had to retreat quickly to avoid being stranded in the marsh. But we had a great day and two coolers full of fish! So we opted to head home and join other family members in celebration. It was a great weekend.

Love the family and grass-flats!


from The Tidal Labyrinth – at Fort Fisher, NC

Check out this snippet from The Tidal Labyrinth, a short story which will be published on in the next week or so. This is one of several essays which will be released in a collection, along with many “how to” articles, which will reveal secrets and tactics for becoming an efficient self-guide, set to be complete in the next few months. I hope you enjoy!

We were continuing up the channel; probably thirty or forty yards apart when I saw it. I hadn’t had any thoughts of sharks before entering these waters. I knew they would be present; I just hadn’t contemplated interacting with them. But there I was, paddling just ten yards from the grass line, and a dorsal fin broke the surface just feet away.
I won’t write the exact wording but…
I yelled something to my brother Joey that we laughed about later. The fin was perhaps a foot out of the water, and heading towards the grass mat’s edge. I thought, that’s a ten or twelve foot shark. If that wasn’t enough, in seconds, with Joey paddling closer, pulling a camera from his bag, we saw that huge fish break the surface of the water almost entirely! Shocked at first, with the current turning me, I worked my paddle to keep pointed towards the commotion.
“Its eating Drum!” Joey yelled.
And I could see he was right. As it crashed the edge of the grass, thrashing water violently, you could see red drum scattering wildly away – exactly the species we were targeting. At that moment, I realized I wasn’t sure if it was a shark at all. But it was huge and threatening to say the least. It settled into the water and headed directly for my boat. As God and my brother would witness, that thing’s dorsal fin was fifteen feet or so from my bow when it finally sunk out of sight. Joey was snapping a few photographs, and I was unaware. I had other concerns. Then, in seconds, just a bit farther down the grass line, we saw multiple breaches again; simultaneous explosions of fish, swimming for their lives – the large predators eating what they could in the disturbance. From this new distance, and security, we could finally tell they were porpoises. I never realized how brutal their feeding could be. It was fascinating. I’d seen breaking fish crash bait, both in fresh water lakes and salt water, but never something so large, or a species I associated with Flipper. For a short period, we watched the action follow back the way we had come; short outbursts against the grass line, visible in decreasing detail at each sighting. Then they were gone.

Joey Sullivan