How to Catch Flounder
Just like catching lobsters, fishing for salmon, and ice fishing for pike, catching flounder is an exciting activity that adventurous anglers should try out. It’s not quite as complicated as trolling for fish, which makes it a must-try for both beginner and seasoned fishers. Flounders’ flaky white meat is not only delicious, but catching them in their natural habitat can be fun and challenging.
In this article, we’ll discuss the different types of flounders and the best methods for catching them. This should equip you with the right information for a fruitful catch.
Facts About Flounders
Before going through the different methods of catching flounder, it helps to know more about them. This way, there’s no guessing what they are, what they look like, as well as where and when to find them.
What is a flounder?
Not to be confused with what most of us have seen on the Little Mermaid, flounders are a type of flatfish that hang out on the seabed. Like most species of flatfish, they lie flat on one side and have eyes located on the side that faces up.
But don’t be fooled by their seemingly harmless disposition—it is considered unwise to go up against a flounder unprepared. Flounder typically blend in with their surroundings by changing their color and pattern or hide under the sand or mud with just their heads exposed in order to hide from predators and ambush their prey as soon as they come close.
Don’t worry, they mostly feast on fish spawn and small fish like crustaceans and marine worms. They also prefer to wait for their prey to come by, which can be an advantage to anglers. This behavior is mostly the same for all four types of flounders that are mostly found along the Eastern Seaboard:
Also called the “black back,” the winter flounder frequents shallow waters along the coast. It can grow up to 27 inches long, weigh up to 8 pounds, and is considered a delicacy (known as the lemon sole).
Also called a “fluke,” the summer flounder has a dark side to its body, which can change pattern and color to seamlessly blend with its surroundings. While other species of flounder lie and wait for their prey, summer flounders are known to chase down their prey when they’re really hungry.
Despite being feistier than their cousins, summer flounders are among the most commercially and recreationally fished species of flounder. This is because they have a long life span (up to 20 years), can weigh up to 26 pounds, and can grow up to 20 inches long.
The southern flounder live in the area between North Carolina and the Gulf coast. They have blotchy, brown bodies and are often confused for summer flounder, although they’re not as spotted. This variety of flounder is the most commercially valuable among the four species, with their growth sometimes peaking at 25 inches (mostly females).
The Gulf flounder is the easiest to identify, with three large spots forming a triangle and white specks on its camouflaging skin. It’s also the smallest and lightest, weighing not more than 5 pounds in most cases.
Where do they live?
Flounder are saltwater fish that typically hang out close to the shore, along the Eastern Seaboard, as well as in estuaries, creeks, and rivers. Over the winter, they migrate to the ocean and don’t normally go back to shallow waters until springtime.
When flounder migrate to shallow waters, they stay on sandy or muddy sea bottoms so they can hide better from both predators and prey. They also tend to flock and hide where there could be breaks in the current, like rocks, reefs, sandbars, drop-offs, docks, bridges, and even mouths of creeks.
When is the best time to catch flounder?
You can fish for flounder at any time of the year, but their location changes. Anglers usually fish for them during their migration period, which takes place between September and November. You can also fish in the ocean during the rest of winter and in the shallows during springtime.
When fishing at a creek’s mouth, wait for the falling tide, as it is during this time that you may be able to see sandy or muddy flounder tracks. You can then look closely for further signs and follow the tracks for actual flounder.
Here’s a short table listing down the places where you will be able to find them during specific months and seasons:
|Spring / Summer||September to November||Winter|
|Sandy, muddy beds||✓||✓||✓|
|Eddies or whirlpools||✓||✓||✓|
|Dock or bridge piles||✓||✓||✓|
|Estuaries and creeks||✓|
Essential Equipment for Catching Flounder
Now that we know more about flounder, as well as where and when we can catch them, it’s time to check out the main pieces of equipment that you’ll need, which will be determined by your preferred flounder fishing method.
Fishing Rod and Reel
Most flounder won’t try to battle it out. Instead, they will be a little shy and will take smaller bites. Therefore, you’ll need a sensitive rod and reel setup that will allow you to feel slight movements that will indicate bites.
You’ll do very well with a telescopic fishing rod or a sensitive light to medium rod that you already have with you. Make sure it’s around 7-feet long and that you use a light to medium 10 to 12-pound reel with it so your line doesn’t snap when larger flounder try to put up a fight.
Line and Tackle
The type of fishing line you use will always have to depend on the size of fish that you intend to catch. Check with local anglers and identify the usual size of flounder that live in the area where you plan to go fishing. A 14 to 20-pound line should be sturdy enough for larger species, while 10 to 12-pound lines will work well for smaller species.
As for your tackle, it’s always ideal to use circle hooks when fishing for flounder. You can pair it with a sinker to help your line reach the bottom of the water where they normally lurk. But for even better results, use a flashy and reflective spinner rig (preferably gold) to really attract your bait.
Baits or Lures
Both baits and lures can be used to catch flounder. If possible, you’ll want to first go for live baits like finger mullet and minnows, which local flounder already feast on. Mummichogs or mud minnows (found in estuaries), live shrimps, and marine worms will work as well.
If you prefer fake baits or artificial lures, look for those that mimic the movement of small fish or shrimp, preferably shiny, two-toned ones. Instead of going for green and blue ones, choose those with the color combinations of pink, red, and white. But for best results, use the grub tailed jig with a large feather-like tail that flounder simply can’t resist.
You can fish on the beach during the warmer seasons, but if you’re fishing after September, you’ll need a boat that could bring you to deeper waters. At the same time, it provides convenience when you need to haul in more fish and cover more ground.
Your own rowing boat or kayak would do perfectly well, or you can rent one out from your local fishing shop. Most prefer motor-powered skiffs or other shallow, flat-bottomed open boats that have low sides so it’s easy to reel flounder in.
If you’re thinking of gigging, you’ll need a spear, a trident, or any pole with one or more spiked ends. It should be made of stainless steel so it won’t corrode in saltwater. Look for those with half inch spikes and avoid frog gigs as they’re not sturdy enough for flounder.
As soon as you get your fish out of the water, use a fish ruler to check if it is within the legal size limits of the area where you are fishing for flounder. Remember to squeeze the tail fin together to get the flounder’s maximum overall length.
Measured flounder will have to be stored properly until you head back home. A collapsible cool bag with a two liter bottle of frozen water will work well in keeping your catch fresh.
How to Catch Flounder
There are two common methods of catching flounder: with a gig and with a rod. These methods have three variations. We’ll discuss the basics of these methods below.
Drift and Bounce
When catching flounder, the rod and the reel is still the most commonly used method. And for the drift and bounce, you get on a boat and head out onto the water during the migration period. Wait until slack tide, find a slow moving current, and switch off the engine to let the boat drift slowly.
Cast your line and add weights just until you’re sure that your bait touches the sea bottom. The slow drifting and sinking of your bait will be just perfect for any flounder that may be close by. While you drift out to the sea, keep the bait moving up and down until it attracts hungry flounder.
As soon as you feel a subtle bite, wait a few seconds to give the flounder time to get up and take a good bite. Once you’re sure that you’ve set the hook, you can start reeling in your line slowly. It might take a while for larger species but, with patience, you’ll pull it in, measure it, and store it soon enough.
Fishing from a Boat
This method works well even when you’re fishing outside of the migration period. It involves anchoring your boat at the mouth of a creek, river, or inlet, where flounder hang out to get their steady supply of food.
The key here is to choose the right bait and reenact its behavior. Cast your line far up into the creek, bounce and bump your bait back, and slowly move back and forth with the tide. If your boat is in the right place, you can try bringing the line all the way back to target any flounder that may be directly below you.
When you get a bite, slowly reel it in, measure, and store as usual.
Fishing from Shore
This method is not too different, except you head for shallow, muddy waters. Cast your line out, move it with the tide, and keep your bait moving. You can also cast out to see from the beach during spring and summer, as this is when flounder can be found very close to the shore. And because the water is so shallow, you may even be able to see sand or mud tracks to guide your casting direction when the tide goes out.
The gigging method is the simplest of all. It requires less equipment and tends to be more exciting than fishing with a rod. You can do it on a boat or kayak, as well as on the beach. Before heading out onto the water, check if the area legally allows spearing and gigging. Also try to estimate whether or not your equipment meets size restrictions before striking.
Nighttime is preferable (but not during full moons when the flounder can see you), and you can use a lamp to see the reflection of the light in the eyes of buried flounder. This is why it’s also recommendable that you gig with a friend, so you can take turns with the spear and the light.
Proper aiming helps ensure that the flounder will not thrash around too much, although it would still try to put up a fight underneath the sand. Lower your gig into the water; carefully aim just behind the eyes; and spike the flounder with a hard, swift thrust. Aim deeper than you would think, since the water distorts light and will look shallower than it really is.
When doing this from a boat, just make sure you don’t fall over. Bring your gig up and store the flounder away as usual.