Summer Flounder Strategy
Copyright © 2005 / 2008 by Ronald Tracy
All Rights Reserved.
One of the easiest and most-fun fish to catch is the summer flounder or fluke. It is a strong fighting fish and one of the finest tasting fish in the sea; and a day of flounder fishing can be a fun outing for the entire family to enjoy. But, what if you want to go out and try your luck at catching the flounder of a lifetime? Is it possible to specifically target catching very large flounder? Surprisingly the answer is “yes” but it is going to take some work on your part.
Patience and perseverance are the hallmarks of the dedicated anglers who target large flounder on a consistent basis. These anglers consistently put large flounder in the boat often passing on the more abundant “keeper” flounder. And while they may not catch a doormat flounder on every outing, they are trying to do just that... specifically catch large flounder. The reason is simple: “Large flounder are more fun to catch than their smaller counterparts and there is substantially more meat for the table.”
In the Northeast, the large female flounder are some of the first fish to move inshore into the bays and backwater areas in the early spring. The warmer waters of the shallows and the abundance of bait fish draw these fish in following the food source. The fish are hungry and easily accessible to anglers fishing the inlets and bays all along our coastline. For anglers in search of big fluke this is “prime time”for fishing.
And for those who want to take the family and friends out, catch a few flounder and have a relaxing, enjoyable day on the water the following methods will help you find and put more fish in the boat.
Searching Out Prime Fluke Areas
It is important to note that prime flounder areas change with the seasons and also as water temperatures change within the seasons. The fish relocate to more suitable and comfortable locations during these occurrences. The flounder angler must be adaptable and change accordingly in order to catch these fish with any consistency.
In early spring, concentrate your fishing efforts in and around the inlets leading in from the ocean. Flounder and other species follow the channels and currents into the bays; from there they spread out onto the shallow water flats where the water warms quickly. The main channels are “prime locations” to fish at this time of the year due to the influx of fish migrating into the bay areas. The secondary channels and sloughs are also “excellent locations” to try.
Here is where a navigation chart of the area you intend to fish comes in handy. If you don’t have one, consider getting one. They are inexpensive and can help in locating prime fishing locations before you leave home or the office. The good charts will show the main channels, secondary channels and surrounding flats, shoal areas (which tend to change), wrecks, reef sites, the location of navigational buoys, water depth and much more. Believe me... a good chart is well worth the investment.
Now, once you decide on an area a “Global Positioning System” (GPS) will help you locate the grid coordinates on the water. This is another item you will be glad to have on board even if it is just a handheld unit. It will help determine your location.
Another invaluable item is the depth-finder/fish-finder. Once you have arrived at your destination it will help you locate the channels, mark the fish and you can seek out other promising underwater features by watching the screen. However, since flounder spend a good portion of their time on the bottom, they may not show up on the fish-finder. You still have to locate them the old fashioned way... with your baits. Coming up - baits for flounder.
Large Flounder Baits
“Large flounder have large appetites.” That is not to say that they will not eat small bait, like a minnow or a small strip of squid; but they do have a preference for large baits. Large minnows, spearing, shrimp, mullet, or cut bait -- such as mackerel, sea robin or bunker, are all excellent bait for large flounder. When using bait fish or grass shrimp, use the largest size you can get. When using cut-bait do not be bashful about the size of the fillet, “make it large.” Cut the strips 1 1/4 inch wide and 4 - 6 inches in length. This size bait is very appealing to large flounder as they often pass on the small bait waiting for something substantial to come along; and the smaller fish usually find the large baits intimidating and pass them up.
Inlets And Bays
For inlet and back-bay fishing, jigs in the 1 - 2 ounce range are hard to beat, especially when tipped with a trailer. The addition of bait adds scent and appeal to the offering. Also a large piece of cut bait will slow the decent rate of the jig as it falls through the water column giving the flounder ample time to grab and eat the bait.
As the season progresses and the water temperature begins to increase look for the flounder to spread out across the bays and estuaries. Mid summer will find the flounder heading into the backwater creeks and channels where the deeper water is cooler and more suited to their liking. At this time of the year, when the flounder bite turns off in the bay look for it to pick up in the backwater areas.
Here in the backwater creeks the bait fish and the flounder are concentrated into pocket areas. Backwater creeks contain shallow flats, humps, drop offs, long sloping points and channels. All of the structural elements that bait fish and flounder utilize in the oceans and bays are concentrated in these backwater areas, making it easy for anglers to find and fish.
When fishing for flounder the most common and productive method is drift fishing from a boat. Basically this consists of pulling up to an area, shutting off the motor and letting the wind and wave currents move the boat quietly over an area while your baited rods are lowered into the water and preferably touching the bottom. Drift fishing allows the angler to cover a lot of water over the various bottom structure that bait fish and flounder like to utilize. Drifts can be as long or as short as you like and it is an extremely productive way to locate a school of hungry fish.
Once you catch a flounder, take note of the location on your GPS or by use of a marker buoy or landmarks if possible. If one flounder is using the area to feed chances are there are others feeding nearby. By repeating your drift pattern you increase the odds of catching more fish.
What Baits To Use And Why
Even though flounder are predators they are very opportunistic and will eat a wide variety of baits... including other flounder! Therefore, to increase your success rate, a variety of offerings should be used when trying to locate these fish. Use a different set up on each rod until you establish what the flounder are willing to eat. Then it is simply a matter of duplicating the set ups on the other rods to increase your hookup ratio and put more fish in the boat.
Minnows are great bait for flounder and at times they exhibit a preference for minnows almost exclusively; sometimes right down to the size of the minnow. This can only be determined by paying attention to the size and type of bait that most of the flounder are being caught with; and in part, has to do with the size of the forage base in the area and the water depth that you are fishing. I find this preference to be more pronounced in shallow water when fishing around the flats, sloughs and long tapering points in 3 - 6 feet of water. Here even the largest flounder will chow down on the small baits.
Now by contrast, when fishing deep channels and backwater creeks, big baits really shine. The bigger baits command more attention, have a greater appeal and attract the bigger fish which use these areas, a good point to keep in mind!
Medium to medium/heavy action tackle in 6 - 7 foot rod lengths is more than enough to handle even the largest flounder you may encounter.
Water depth, current, line visibility and diameter, have an influence on what line to use. Braided line in 30 lb. test has the same line diameter as 10 lb. test monofilament and is a good all around choice for bottom fishing. Depending on the manufacturer it may be slightly more or less in diameter, however, the important factors are the strength of the line and its thin diameter. Large flounder tend to suck in bait and bury into the bottom quickly and it can take some muscle to break them free.
If I am fishing shallow water flats and drop offs, I like 10 lb. test flourocarbon line and here is why. It is nearly invisible in the water and has good tensile strength enabling me to fish with the lightest of jigs and baits while still being able to bring the fish up to the boat.
An assortment of sinkers from 1/2 up to 4 ounces in weight will cover most bay and backwater fishing situations adequately.
These come prepackaged and ready to fish, all you need to do is add bait and water. Get a variety of colors and sizes as the spinner blades and colors are visual attractants for the fish.
An assortment of lead-head jigs in 1/4 to 3 ounces in various colors and patterns will help you maintain bottom contact and high visibility in the water. For the shallow waters of most bays the 1/4 ounce jig is a good all around choice and is a fish-catching machine. Its size and bulk are not large enough to deter small flounder from chasing it down and jigs are known for catching some big fish.
Maintaining Bottom Contact
Maintaining bottom contact is important when fishing for flounder, as they spend a good deal of time on the bottom. Wind, water depth and current will dictate the amount of weight needed to stay in contact with the bottom where the flounder does most of its feeding. This is why it is important to have an assortment of jigs and weights on hand to adjust for the changing conditions in weather, tidal movement, currents and water depth. Without enough weight your bait will plane along behind the boat often out of the flounder’s strike zone and that will diminish your chances of catching fish considerably.
When fishing jigs you still want to maintain bottom contact to remain in the strike zone of the flounder. Raising and lowering the fishing rod will add action to the jig and make it appear more lifelike. You can also add appeal by tipping the jig with bait, either a minnow, strip of squid or a piece of cut bait. This bulks up your offering and is more likely to get eaten than the plain jig.
Remember: It is important to fish on or near the bottom in order to catch flounder.
As the summer winds down and autumn arrives look for the flounder to change location once again as they begin the migration back to their wintering grounds offshore. As the backwater creeks and bay action starts to dwindle look for the flounder back in the channels, the inlets, and out in front of the beach on the ocean side. The fish are still around, still accessible and still willing to bite for anglers willing to put in the effort. However, the vast majority of large flounder will have already headed back out into the deeper water of the ocean and will be scattered around the wreck and reef sites.
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