How to Catch Flounder
Lets start with formal information of the two types
of flounder we have in Northwest Florida.
This information when combined with a catch record, should increase your catch year after year..
Gulf Flounder Description:
Body color brown, its shade depending on color of bottom, with numerous spots and blotches; 3 prominent eye-like spots forming a triangle; one spot on lateral line, one above, one below; numerous white spots scattered over body and fins (albigutta, white-spotted); strong canine-like teeth; caudal fin in shape of wedge, its tip in the middle.
Similar Fish: Southern Flounder, P. lethostigma (no eye-like spots; color pattern is key to distinguishing the two species).
Southern Flounder Description:
All flatfishes, including the southern flounder, are compressed laterally and spend most of their life lying and swimming along the bottom on their side. In the case of southern flounder, the left side is always the "up" side; in other species, the opposite is true. Small flounder grow rapidly and may reach 12 inches in length by the end of their first year. Males seldom exceed 12 inches, but females grow larger than males and often reach a length of 25 inches.
Where found: INSHORE on sandy or mud bottoms, often ranging into tidal creeks; occasionally caught on NEARSHORE rocky reefs.
Size: common to 2 pounds, generally smaller than southern
Southern flounder are found in rivers and estuaries along the Atlantic Coast from North Carolina to northern Florida, and from Tampa Bay, Florida along the Gulf coast into southern Texas. Their distribution is discontinuous around the southern tip of Florida, leading some biologists to wonder if there are two genetically separate natural stocks. Southern flounder are found in a wide range of salinities; adults have been captured in a range of 0 to 36 ppt (parts per thousand) salinity, and it is not uncommon to catch them by hook and line far inland on coastal rivers.
Adult southern flounder migrate offshore during the fall to spawn in marine waters. The spawning season begins in December in the northern extreme of their natural range, and in late January to February in the southern extreme. Adults return to estuaries and rivers immediately after spawning. Larval flounder feed on zooplankton in offshore waters for 30 to 60 days; then metamorphosis begins and the larvae are washed through inlets into estuaries. After metamorphosis, juvenile southern flounder begin migrating up the rivers. Some researchers hypothesize that juvenile and young adult flounder remain in low salinity water over winter for the first 2 years of life, migrating out to the ocean when they reach sexual maturity at 2 years of age.
The southern flounder generally prefers sandy / muddy bottoms throughout most of the estuary, but it can occur in channel and bay mouths and also frequents areas around piers, pilings, and rock jetties. Migrations to offshore spawning grounds begin in late fall at the onset of cold weather, and spawning is completed during winter months. They will lay in the sand around any natural structure, or around any of the numerous artificial reefs and wrecks. Spear-fishermen take some huge flounder around these wrecks in the winter months. This species is the prefect predator, lying in total camouflage on the bottom until unsuspecting prey wander within reach and are capture with lightning quick movements. Foods of this species include shrimp and fishes
During the summer months and also into fall, flounder make a big showing in the Inter-Coastal Waterway. Most of these catches are incidental, with the flatfish coming off the bottom in shallow waters to take a live shrimp intended for trout or reds. There are, however, a fair number of fishermen who specifically target this species by fishing right on the bottom with a weighted, natural bait rig. You too can catch flounder by using their proven techniques.
The traditional way of catching flounders is, of course, by using a straight-point gig and a lantern at night. Most any evening when the water is calm, you can cruise the waterways near Pensacola Pass and see the lights of flounder fishermen wading the shallows in search of flounder. The expansive shallow flats just north of the pass belong to the Pensacola Naval Station before the restrictions placed on access after 9-11 it was a well known flounder hotspot. This well known perennial hotspot for flounder was strongest around the migration but equally productive waters can be found all along the National Sea Shore Parks to include Fort Pickens and Fort McRae. Still, the fish are most abundant in the shallows when the tide has brought them shoreward. The Pensacola pass entrance makes a T into the Pensacola Naval Station the current is relatively swift during peak tidal flow. The water depth comes up from about 60 feet deep to around 20 feet and then the flats develop slowly toward the shoreline depending on the area. The Inter-Coastal Waterway is a relatively shallow waterway with a channel cut for barge traffic. These are great flats for Reds and Specks, but when the water is moving it provides a great way to drift fish for flounder.
Catching flounder on hook and line is just as easy as any other method. Only here, you are depending on the fish to be feeding, and as with any other saltwater fish, the flounder will feed most actively whenever the tide is moving. A rising tide is best, but you can also catch fish during the first hour or so of a falling tide. When fishing with rod and reel, light tackle offers both the greatest sport and best chance for catching flounder. Both artificial lures and natural bait can be used. Over barren bottoms, leaded plastic worms (worm jigs (rootbeer colored stingray tail grubs)) are often very effective. In heavily vegetated areas, shallow-running spoons are best. Although flounder can be taken by rod and reel in almost any portion of the bay, it is more often productive to fish around jetties or oyster reefs that extend from shore into the bay. Flounder do not swim continuously so they tend to accumulate in such places in their search for food. The mouths of small bayous and sloughs often yield flounder.
My standard tackle is a medium stiff semi-fast taper 7 foot casting rod with a small bait-casting reel. I use 12-pound test mono or 15 pound test power-pro line, small enough to be somewhat invisible, and yet large enough to handle other larger species that may take the bait. The terminal tackle is what I call a standard flounder rig: a 2/0 - 4/0-circle hook on a 15 inch 30 lb. test monofilament leader. The leader is tied to a trolling sinker, and the sinker is tied to the line. These sinkers are the type that look like they have a small beaded chain on each end. They are long and slender, and are ideal for dragging across the bottom.
Using a Jig Head:
If I am using a jig head with a mud minnow or shrimp, or even with a grub tail, I will do the same thing. I slowly move the bait on or just off the bottom.
Feeling the Strike:
Flounders strike will never take the rod out of your hand. It is subtle, and sometimes it just feels like some extra pressure like maybe your sinker is hung on something. The trick to catching more flounder is to NOT set the hook right away. When you feel that pressure the flounder usually has the bait in his mouth, holding it in his sharp teeth. He may swim 10 feet or more to his safety zone before trying to swallow the bait. If you set the hook when you first feel the fish, youll come back with half a mullet!
The Right Hook:
The great thing about circle hooks is that you can let the flounder go ahead and attempt to swallow the bait. The design of the circle hook is such that it will pull right out to the corner of the flounders mouth and then set itself! You never really set the hook and that is a very hard thing to learn about circle hooks. Simply start reeling slowly and increase speed. As you increase reeling speed, the hook does all the work. We catch flounder using this method and these baits all the way up to very cold weather.
The bait I use will vary, but by far I prefer a finger mullet between three and four inches long. Smaller mullet are too small for the hook, and larger ones are too large for some of the flounder to get a hold of easily. As the migration moves from September, these finger mullet get hard to find. If I cant find any finger mullet, I will opt for mud minnows (bull minnows). With mud minnows, I switch from the terminal tackle I described. I remove the sinker and tie a 2/0-jig head to the end of the leader. If mullet and mud minnows are both scarce, I will opt for live shrimp and use them with the jig head. And if there simply is no live bait, I will go with a pink or red plastic grub tail on the jig head. There have been days that the fish would hit the grub tail better than live bait! Go figure!
Using a Mullet Bait:
With the mullet bait, I will work an area where the water is moving on an outgoing tide. I look for the areas around structure that provide a break to the water movement areas that create an eddy. This is where the flounder will lay and wait for an ambush. They often will strike out at moving baitfish into the current and move back to their relative safety. I work the mullet along the bottom slowly, casting beyond the eddy and dragging the bait across. I will do this from several angles, looking to draw a strike.
Hopefully this information will increase your catch, but remember to keep only what you plan to eat and follow the rules and regulations of your state. Take your kids fishing and pass on the great American tradition (Fishing)! Another useful bit of information is; Feeding activity is heaviest at water temperatures of 61 to 77 F and during the 3-day period following a first quarter moon and the 3-day period before a new moon when the fish are not on the spawning run to the gulf. Oh one more thing the X on Escambia river has been known for producing flounder, this is an example of how far they will travel in brackish/fresh water.
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