Among the most popular and readily available saltwater species found along the East and Gulf coasts are those funny-looking flatfish called flounder. Don’t let the name and strange appearance fool you into thinking these fish are lethargic bottom dwellers because nothing could be further from the truth. Flounder just use a slightly different modus operandi than more prized gamefish such as striped bass, red drum, bluefish and sea trout. When you pursue them using light tackle, you’d be surprised at their ability to bend the rod, especially when you tie into a nice one.
A nice brace of summer flounder caught on a an artificial reef off the New Jersey coast.
The Yamaha team tagged along with Captains Mike Vickers, Sr. and Mike Vickers, Jr. in the backwaters around St. Augustine, Fla. fishing for redfish and sea trout, casting jigs with soft plastic bodies using light spinning gear. The crew saw a lively school of finger mullet, and tossed the jigs into what couldn’t have been more than six inches of water. Suddenly, a violent strike, followed by a quick hookset, led to a screaming run that the anglers thought was a nice-sized redfish. As it turned out, the red was a seven-pound flounder that inhaled the jig and decided it was going to make a getaway to deeper water. Talk about aggressive.
From southern New England to Cape Hatteras the common predatory flatfish is the summer flounder or fluke, as it is called in many areas. From Cape Hatteras south and down into the Gulf of Mexico, its counterpart is called a southern flounder or just flounder. They look remarkably similar in size, shape and coloration, and they share the same habitat needs and feeding strategy. Both species can be caught in the open ocean, usually hunting around some type of bottom structure in shallow to moderate depths. Both also spend a good deal of time feeding around inlets and in estuary environments. They are both bushwackers that lie on the bottom waiting for critters to swim or crawl by, and then they burst out of hiding and grab the unsuspecting fish, squid, shrimp or crab with a mouth full of needle sharp teeth and swallow it whole. They take advantage of their flat shape and ability to change the color of the top half of their bodies, almost like wearing an invisibility cloak. When an opportunity presents itself, they dart off the bottom accelerating like dragsters off the starting line, and grab their prey before it realizes what has happened. If they miss on the initial attempt, they are fast enough to chase down their prey for short distances.
A bucktail jig tipped with a strip of squid or fish fillet with the skin on is a deadly lure for both summer and southern flounder.
Jigs are the ideal lure to use when fishing for an ambush predator that lies on the bottom. They can vary from old-fashioned bucktails to the latest scented soft-bodied variety. You can effectively fish jigs deep or shallow, and what could be more enticing to a stealthy flounder than a lure that appears to be an unsuspecting baitfish bouncing along close to the bottom? The key to fishing them successfully is to use tackle that best matches the weight of the jigs. You should also try to use jigs that are the lightest you can get away with while remaining in contact with the bottom as you work them.
For ocean fishing, a bucktail with a strip of fresh bait that gives it a long, snake-like appearance is ideal. The natural scent and feel help, too.
Squid or strips of filet off fish like mackerel, menhaden, bluefish, even other flounder, will get strikes and keep them holding on. In shallower estuary confines, even lighter tackle and jigs work best and scented soft-bodies like the growing family of saltwater Gulp!® products offered by Berkley® are irresistible. They also help enhance larger bucktails fished in deeper water.
Casting and drifting are the two presentations that work best for flounder. Drifting requires the boat to be moving at a moderate pace so wind, tide and current play a part in your success. Drift speeds between 0.5-to-1.5 mph are ideal. Invest in a drift sock to help you control the speed when current or wind is pushing the boat too hard. Fish a jig capable of being worked close to the bottom without getting pushed up by the speed of the drift. Using thin braided line will reduce the problem and allow you to use lighter jigs. Just drop the jig straight to the bottom and lift and drop it as the boat drifts over the area you want to cover. This gives the jig an up-and-down swimming appearance. When you find a spot that’s productive, be it structure, a channel edge or a flat, start the boat, drive back to the beginning and repeat the drift—simple and easy.
Yes, those are teeth and they are pointy and sharp. Flounder use them to grab prey and hold on to it until they can swallow it whole.
Casting comes into play when fishing areas with little or no drift, inside the tight confines of shallow salt creeks, channels and bays. Use light jigs that you can easily cast and retrieve back to the boat so they bump along the bottom making them look alive. Remember, it’s angler input that gives a jig its action and it requires a little practice, but not much.
After a successful day of flounder fishing, the final reward is at the dinner table. Flounder are easy to clean—some anglers call them zipper fish—and delicious to eat. Summertime is flounder time in most coastal areas.