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Many thanks Gents. As far as doing other things Garbo, did a run to False Cape a few years ago. Sea was like a mirror. Bass boy had done the walk down from the ranger station by way of the beach and hauled a cast net so we had live mullet. 50+" incher liked the look of the live mullet. It carried the man a way down the beach, You never know...
 

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OP here -- very helpful replies, thank you everyone!

This has definitely enlightened me. So without a doubt sand fleas work, but I'll be making some changes next time I hit the beach. I am on the beach with wife and 2 young boys 95% of the time, so I have to "camp". I still tend to catch fish, but could do much better. I learned awhile back to focus on/inside the first break for the type of fish I'm after. Mostly I'm throwing 1 - 2 oz. sinkers on no-hardware dropper rigs, sometimes fluoro, with small Owner circles. Some takeaways/things to try from this post:
  • Crush the rear of the flea before casting
  • Use a smaller sinker where possible
  • If the sinker drifts a little and then stops after the cast, you are where you need to be. If it's washing up, go with a heavier sinker.
Instead of fishing 3-4 small rods next trip, I may fish one rod with a lighter sinker and walk with it down the beach a little ways.

In any fishing situation where you can get a bait to move naturally with the current, you tend to catch fish. Even more so if the bait can bounce along the bottom. This works throwing bucktails to stripers in tailraces, I've caught flounder in inlets and on the beach that way, and now that I think about it.......In 2016, my 10 year-old nephew was on the beach with me at Topsail. The wind picked up, and the 2 oz. weight on his rod wouldn't hold bottom. I set him up with a sand flea on one of my bottom rigs, and told him to walk down the beach so that the line stayed straight in front of him. He hooked up pretty quickly and I helped him land a decent black drum.

My dumb self didn't think to keep trying that approach.

Will be giving it a shot this weekend, we'll see!
 

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This past may at cape lookout fleas were the only thing working. Shrimp, cut bait, and squid did nothing.

Other times it does t seem to matter.

My personal opinion is that fleas work better in the spring since they are more plentiful than shrimp and other bait fish. It's what the fish are naturally targeting. In the fall shrimp works just as good if not better. Especially as the year goes on. It's what is around and the fish are targeting. It's why you see the big shrimp boats off the beach in the fall/winter. That's just my thoughts anyways.
 
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