Unique in their feeding habits, hunting strategies, preferred structure and symmetry, flounder are recognized as prized catches that provide incredible table fare, with hundreds of species found worldwide. For Florida anglers southern and Gulf flounder are the most commonly encountered, with southern flounder growing much larger than Gulf flounder. But don’t let their names fool you, as Gulf flounder can be found around the entire state, with southern flounder seen in the more northern latitudes.
While you can distinguish between the two by size, Gulf flounder are adorned with three oscillated spots that form a triangular pattern on their topside. Derived from the translation of their Latin species name lethostigma, meaning forgotten spots, you will notice a lack of spots on southern flounder.
Inshore venues can also be productive on dropping tides, as the retreating water concentrates fish and makes their whereabouts more predictable.
Summer flounder are yet another species that can be found in Florida waters, but are only seldom caught in northern Florida, with the greatest landings of summer flounder, or fluke taken along the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. While few anglers rarely set out to specifically target flounder, during the coming months the odds are stacked in your favor and you should really give it a try. Here are a few ideas you need to know to enhance your odds of rounding up a treasured doormat.
Timing Is Everything
Although flounder can be captured anytime you wet a line, during the latter part of fall the bite really takes off as these odd fish prepare to head offshore for their annual spawning duties. Flounder can be found staged in the vicinity of inlets and passes on both coasts as they migrate from inshore bays, sounds, creeks, flats and marshes. Depending on your latitude in the state, the fall flounder run could take place anywhere from September through January, with northern regions seeing the first signs of cooler weather and thus, the first signs of the highly anticipated flounder migration.
In addition to seasonal timing, you’ll also want to direct your efforts around ideal tidal phases. In the vicinity of narrow inlets and passes, channels leading to the open ocean concentrate forage species and provide essential ledges and drop-offs where flounder can patiently wait for the ideal opportunity to ambush unsuspecting prey. But don’t think it takes a substantial change in bottom topography to earn the interest of camouflaging flounder. Incoming tides offer prime opportunities around inlets, as the cleaner water enables flounder a better opportunity to see your offering. During slack tides flounder take the opportunity afforded by the weak current to relocate and find an ideal staging point before the next tidal swing and influx of forage. Inshore venues can also be productive on dropping tides, as the retreating water concentrates fish and makes their whereabouts more predictable.
Fish Where There Are Fish
A quick glance at the unique physical attributes of a flounder and it’s easy to see why they relate closely to the bottom. In addition to having the perfect biological attributes to ambush prey while remaining motionless, flounder have the incredible ability of being able to morph their markings and coloration to perfectly match the surrounding habitat. Whether it’s sand, mud, patchy grass or broken shell bottom, their pigment containing light reflecting cells enable them to remain completely unnoticeable.
Previously mentioned inlets and passes provide staging points for fish to hunt before heading offshore, but old pilings, shadowy docks, oyster bars, irregular bottoms contours along channel edges of the ICW, and crusty bridge abutments in most of Florida’s inshore waterways also provide breaks in the current that enable flounder to camouflage with the bottom and wait to strike. It’s important you cover water and keep moving until you connect. Once you get hooked up thoroughly work the area before moving on. Where there’s one flounder there’s usually more and most venues that produce often yield fish trip after trip. If you’ve found a honey hole study the area and learn why it consistently holds fish. From here you can take what you learned and apply it to finding new spots.
For the old school crowd, dragging baits and lures along the bottom will give you an idea of the features that lie below, although Humminbird’s new 360 Imaging technology will open your eyes to much more as it gives you a complete view of what’s going on in every direction around the boat. Since even the slightest depressions and drop-offs can hold flounder, this innovative technology will prove to be invaluable to anglers looking to increase their score by uncovering new territory they would have otherwise overlooked.
Rig It Right
Even though flounder inhabit various bottoms throughout the state, the techniques for enticing these unique flat fish to strike are pretty standardized. Whether you choose to fish live or artificial offerings, you’ll want to keep your bait close to the bottom. For artificial aficionados a jighead soft plastic combo is the best enticement. And since flounder rest patiently and rely on sight to strike, choose jigheads and plastic trailers with contrasting colors in an attempt to garner more attention. There are also specially designed jigheads to better capitalize on their feeding attributes.
As their name implies, standup jigheads present in a more vertical manner so when bumping along the bottom your paddletail or jerkbait will mimic a lifelike presentation as you work it across the substrate. Flounder Fanatic (flounderfanatic.com) produces a jighead with a pancake style head and sideways hook that was designed to fit more easily in the mouth of a flounder, which opens and closes sideways.
For anglers who prefer to fish with the real thing, mud minnows and finger mullet will entice the strikes you are looking for. From here it’s up to you to capitalize on the opportunities. While you could impale your preferred live bait on a jighead or single hook, anglers often employ a sliding egg sinker to reach promising depths. You’ll want to rig with 12 to 18 inches of 20 lb. fluorocarbon leader with a ¼ to 3 oz. egg sinker depending on the depth of water and velocity of current. Some recommend a longer leader, but the shorter length makes certain your bait doesn’t swim out of the strike zone. Flounder will at times rise off the bottom to chase a bait or lure, but your chances will be greatly increased by staying relatively close to the bottom. Because of their mouth structure, wide gap or Kahle hooks will ensure a solid hook set, although circle-hooks also work well.
End Game Tactics
Flounder are notorious for mouthing live baits and slowly swimming off or lying perfectly still, so after the initial strike be sure to let the fish take its time eating the bait before swinging for home. You can generally expect one of two things to happen when a flounder strikes. A quick thump and slowly taking of line, or feeling like you are hung on the bottom. One thing that likely won’t happen is an instant run that you would expect from a trout or red. Try to keep slack out of the line as the fish tries to hold tight to the bottom. It is a unique fight, and once the fish is pulled from the bottom and fighting in the water column you’ll need to be extra cautious.
As you begin to work your prize to the surface make sure you have a landing net ready and within reach. Flounder are notorious for escaping right at the boat and it is heartbreaking when it happens. The last part of the fight is where most fish are lost and it will be in your best interest to keep your rod tip low. Place your net in the water and direct the flounder into the net head first without lifting the fish out of the water. From here it’s fried flounder sandwiches for dinner!