Flounder are one of the most challenging fish to target in all of Northeast Florida, and as a result they’re often only caught as bycatch when fishing shallow estuarine habitats for trout and redfish. If you’re one of the few brave souls who is willing to specifically target hefty doormats from a kayak then you better be ready to put your angling prowess to the ultimate test. While luck trumps skill on many occasions, to be consistently successful you must utilize specific techniques in addition to understanding this odd fish’s unique feeding habits and close association with tidal movements.
While flounder can indeed be enticed from motorized vessels, fishing from a kayak offers two distinct advantages. The first is being able to explore promising shallows during the bottom of falling tide cycles. This is when baitfish will be heavily concentrated and flushed from their typical hideouts. If you find you’re always paddling against the tide you are probably doing things right—that is paddling into back bays and creeks during the outgoing tide to scout the shallows, then working against the incoming tide on your way out. Depending on your school of thought the second advantage may actually be a hindrance. Because you can’t motor from spot to spot you will be forced to fish smaller areas. However, out of a kayak you can fish small bays and coves more methodically.
If you prefer to fish with artificials, I’ve recently had great success with Tsunami Swim Shads, although a wide gap jighead rigged with a proven soft plastic shrimp or jerkbait can’t be beat.
Along your paddle-powered quest for success you’ll probably realize that flounder aren’t always found where you would expect them to be. With eyes on top of their heads, proportionally large mouths and teeth, and their chameleon-like ability to blend in to the surrounding bottom features, flounder are ideal ambush predators. Hence, to effectively ambush an ambusher, kayak anglers need to position down current of a promising hideout and cast up current. The idea is to work with the current while bumping the bottom so your offering emulates natural prey delivered with the tide. To catch flounder you must think like a flounder so look for structures that provide ideal ambush points. Creek mouths, oyster bars, and small gaps in the marsh that empty into main channels should be thoroughly investigated.
When it comes to tackle selection, typical 7-foot medium-action spinning outfits will do the trick, although manufacturers now offer kayak-specific fishing rods with shortened butts tailored to the needs of the constricted kayak angler. In my experiences, I’ve found that a rod with a forgiving tip will enable you to set the hook on your own terms. A fast tip often results in missed opportunities because it causes the line tension to load up before giving the fish a chance to firmly sink its teeth into your offering.
Popular rigging techniques include the tried and true fish-finder rig and a wide gap jighead. Hooks with a wide gap fit a flounder’s mouth with ease. If you’re fishing a mud minnow insert the hook through the bottom lip and exit out of the top lip. If you’re fishing a finger mullet place your hook through the nostril. With a live shrimp insert your hook just beneath the horn or through the tail. With either bait, work your offering slowly as these sneaky gamesters will be looking towards the surface in hopes an unsuspecting meal swims within reach. If you prefer to fish with artificials, I’ve recently had great success with Tsunami Swim Shads, although a wide gap jighead rigged with a proven soft plastic shrimp or jerkbait can’t be beat.
Even when everything comes together, don’t expect flounder to strike and rip drag like a trout or red. Rather, you will either detect a solid thump followed by slack, or you may feel like you’re snagged. A solid thump followed by slack is often an indication a flounder has grabbed your bait and is rising off the bottom. When you feel that quick bump, leave slack in the line allowing the unsuspecting flounder a few moments to eat the bait before reeling tight and setting the hook.
When you feel like your bait might be hung on a rock or oyster, once again it may be a flounder. In this situation the fish has grabbed your bait and is firmly holding its position. By now you probably unknowingly made a soft hookset when you detected the extra weight, so reel slow and steady. It’s not uncommon for flounder to swim across the bottom until situated directly beneath your kayak. When you try to persuade your catch off the bottom is when the fish realizes it’s hooked and the frisky fight begins.
Now it is time for the toughest part—landing your prize. One of the most important and often overlooked aspects that will aid in your success is a quality landing net with a wide opening. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard of anglers having their trophy doormat escape at the very last moment. Never attempt to land a flounder in a kayak by using a fish grip or simply pulling the fish out of the water. Always assume you do not have a solid connection. Being right handed, I hold the rod in my right hand as the fish surfaces and I net the flattie with my left hand on the port side of the kayak. This gives me the best reach. Whatever works for you, be ready to scoop up your catch before it breaks the surface.
If you think the game is over because the flounder is in your net then you haven’t been flounder fishing. Even when onboard these wild looking fish have an uncanny ability to escape. I highly recommend extracting the hook while the fish is still in the net. I’ve had way too many flounder launch themselves with a single thrust over the edge of the kayak and back to freedom at the most unsuspecting moment. While specifically targeting flounder from a kayak is certainly challenging, the rewards are well worth the effort.