Reel Fishing: Targeting Flounder

11/28/2010

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Secrets of catching flounder on artificial bait.

Reposted from Snook Foundation

The bodies of flounder are flat, with both eyes on the left side of the head. None of the fins have spines. The family varies considerably in size, but individuals are rarely more than 24 inches in length. The eggs of the flounder hatch into usual fish form, but its right eye migrates over to left side early in life; a lifetime bottom dweller it feeds on crustaceans and small fish.

Flounder migrate from the bays to the ocean to spawn in congregations in the fall and winter, then return gradually in the spring

Size limit for recreational harvest is 12 inches with a 10 per day catch limit.  Flounder are a supurb eating fish. (excerpt from FWRI Fish ID).   Here's how to catch them.

Jerry  McBride, Fishing Director for Made-in-America D.O.A. Lures, was interviewed by Snook Foundation's Reel Fishing reporter.

SF- When is the best time of the year to target Flounder here in Florida?

JM- Depending on where you live in Florida, mid September through perhaps early January is prime time to find concentrations of flounder as they stage near inlets for their annual offshore winter spawning migrations. The farther north you fish, the earlier the run, which commences with the first cold fronts of fall. Grouper and snapper fishermen sometimes encounter these same flounder all winter in sandy or mixed bottom near artificial reefs. Unfortunately, these spawning aggregations are easy targets for both recreational and commercial divers, who in recent years have been removing big numbers at a very vulnerable stage in their life cycles.

SF - Where do you find flounder congregations?

JM - If you look at the body of a flounder, it is quickly obvious they aren't designed to chase down prey in open water. They'd burn more calories chasing food than they could possibly catch, and they’d soon starve to death.

What they do excel at is ambushing a meal. Their ability to camouflage allows them to lie unseen in a bait-rich environment; both eyes focused upward, waiting for the silhouette of baitfish, crabs or shrimp to pass overhead. They rely on an amazing short burst of speed to blast off the bottom; a surprisingly spacious mouth rimmed with sharp canines clamps down on the food, and they return to the bottom to swallow and digest dinner. Not very glamorous, but incredibly efficient ambush feeders.

This feeding behavior provides the best clue in where to look for flounder--structure that concentrates tidal current and its associated flow of food and camouflage. Points, dock and bridge pilings, edges of oyster bars, downed trees, mouths of creeks, inlet jetty rocks--any of these might hold flounder at some point in the tide cycle. Flounder will hold the bottom in the eddy of all types of structure during tide flow.

SF - What's the best tide and bottom to fish?

JM - Again, the body design of flounder provides the best clues about their favored environment. Their spot pattern and coloration adjust spontaneously to the type of bottom they inhabit, but it is best adapted for mixed bottom--a combination of sand, coarse gravel, grass or rocks is generally preferred; but don't overlook mixed grass and sand bottom or the edge of potholes--the same structure where you'd look for big spotted seatrout. They'll feed anytime the tide is moving, but outgoing tides concentrate flounder and make their locations more predictable. As minnows, pinfish, finger mullet, crabs and shrimp are flushed from emptying tidal flats and creeks, flounder will line up in creek mouths or along dock pilings and points that provide camouflage and eddies that allow them access to the flow of food.

SF - What size fishing tackle do you recommend and what is your choice of artificial lures?

JM - Heavy tackle is not required, and is probably a hindrance in detecting the sometimes delicate bite of flounder. I stick to my standard flats-fishing tackle, which consists of a light spinning reel and a fast-action, very light graphite 7-foot spinning rod. While they possess incredibly nasty little fangs, flounder rarely shear a leader unless they make their way into oyster-laden structure. Twenty-pound leader is quite sufficient. Braided line, due to its lack of stretch and vastly superior sensitivity, can be a huge asset in both feeling the flounder bite and pulling fish away from potential line-cutting snags. I generally spool up with 15-pound braid if I'm intentionally targeting flounder structure. It's strong enough to hold a good flounder even in structure, yet light enough to cast even small lures easily.

Flounder will eat anything they can fit in their mouths. I catch far more on silver holographic or gold glitter DOA 3-inch shrimp than anything else, although this may be because I fish DOA 3-inch shrimp far more than anything else. Flounder aren't picky. Although I've caught a number of them on the surface--once in 12 feet of water--dedicated flounder fishermen keep their lures near the bottom, for the obvious reason--that's where the fish are. Most flounder won't chase a lure very far, although again I watched one at Matlacha Pass in SW Florida storm after my jig for 40 feet before I let him catch up and eat it. I catch a surprising number while trolling jigs or plugs behind my kayak for other species, but the standard artificial rig is a jighead and plastic tail heavy enough to quickly reach bottom.

Match a jig head to the depth and current--the deeper the water and the faster the current, the more weight you'll want. I like to mix and match contrasting colors--a light head and dark body, or vice versa.  With 50 colors and five styles of plastic tails, DOA offers plenty of options. One new tail I've found particularly effective is the DOA CAL paddletail in 371 Avocado Red Glitter, matched with a glow 1/8- or 1/4-ounce CAL short-shank jighead.

Live baiters generally employ a sliding sinker rig with a short leader of no more than a foot to ensure their bait doesn't swim above the strike zone. Simply toss lures or bait upstream of structure you suspect holds flounder, let it hit bottom, and slowly hop it back--not much different than the retrieve you'd use for trout, snook or reds, any of which you'll likely encounter in the same venues. One difference, however, is that when a flounder takes your lure, you'd be well advised not to strike too quickly. Give the fish time to take it back to the bottom and get the entire lure in its mouth before setting the hook. Flounder are renowned for simply grabbing a soft-plastic tail and hanging on until the fisherman attempts to lift them into the boat, at which point they simply let go, leaving a frustrated angler wondering why he didn't bring a landing net. For that reason, many live bait fishermen give a flounder a full 60-second count before slamming the hook home.

About Jerry McBride:

Jerry McBride of Made-in-America, DOA Lures, is an influential coastal waters angler. His expertise and his job give him the opportunity to field test all of Mark Nichols' great creations. Jerry is a Contributing Editor to Florida Sportsman magazine, and specializes in kayak fishing. Jerry teaches kayak fishing at all Florida Sportsman Boating and Fishing Shows and can be found conducting fishing seminars throughout the State. Direct your fishing questions to Jerry at: Jerry@DOALures.com or kayakjerrymac@gmail.com.