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The hot summer is not known as a time of great inshore fishing, but there is one fish you can go after no matter how hot it gets. Flounder are still active in our waters and some can even be caught in the hottest part of the day. You just have to remember a few simple suggestions about how to target these tasty flatfish, and your fishing season won’t melt away with the sun.
Flounder bear little resemblance to our more glamorous species, like speckled trout or red drum, but they are our most popular inshore fish during the summer. Local inlets and creeks, as well as the beach surf, still hold a ton of them this time of the year. Catching them, however, can be just difficult enough that many folks never quite get the hang of it.
The key to consistently pulling in flounder is motion. Whether you are drifting in a boat or casting out from pier or shore, most flounder anglers agree your bait should be moving. Flounder are ambush feeders. They lie on the bottom and wait, brown side up and subtly camouflaged, with their two eyes—stuck on one side of their head!—looking around for the signs of movement that mean dinner is at hand. They are also a bit more dispersed than many other types of fish, since they don’t really travel in schools but sort of congregate over vast stretches of area at the same time, like a family reunion that actually takes places over several miles. (Wouldn’t that be nice?)
Most successful flounder anglers favor live minnows as bait, and this time of the year that is the best choice. Despite the heat, the inshore waters are teeming with mud minnows, finger mullet and other feisty critters that get a flounder’s juices pumping. In the right place, two or three throws of your cast net in a local creek can be all that is necessary to secure enough bait for a day’s fishing. Live shrimp is also on a flounder’s menu, but it is difficult to fish inshore due to pesky bait-stealers like pinfish.
Our local inlets and rivers are well-known as summertime flounder havens. You may find boat traffic a little reduced this year due to the cost of gas, which has finally surpassed the cost of live bloodworms. Boats drift or troll minnows along the bottom, letting the vehicle take care of the problem of motion. In this way, boaters cover a lot of ground and attract the attention of the flounder. Last year was not a good one for boats targeting flounder, but in our region and statewide things appear to be going better this season.
Although drifting and trolling produce good numbers of fish, those who cast for flounder also catch plenty including many of the larger ones. Big flounder are found near structure (it is hard to drift or troll through a bridge or pier), where they find perfect places to hide and gobble up unwary minnows. To fish around hard structure that has pilings or rocks, you have to cast. The important thing to remember is to keep the bait moving, even if it is rather slowly.
One good way to work a live minnow on a bottom rig for flounder is to use the same technique you probably learned as a kid bass fishing with Carolina-rigged plastic worms at a farm pond or small lake. Use the least amount of weight you can that will keep your rig at the bottom (this can vary from a few split shot in a creek to a couple of ounces in the ocean) and chose the rounded-shaped lead. Toss your minnow out and let it sit a few moments. Then pull it back to you, using only the rod tip, lifting it upward from even with your waist until it is above your head. Reel in the slack and let it rest some more.
Flounder often hit the bait as it is falling back, just like those ol’ bucketmouth bass did. Keeping your bait in motion accomplishes a lot of things. It adds flash and attraction, keeps the minnow away from crabs and nippy bait-stealers longer and allows you to cover a lot of ground.
Some people just crawl their flounder rigs back by reeling them in very slowly, and while this will work, I have always seen the pull-and-pause methods get better results. Whatever you do, don’t go very fast, especially now in the middle of summer. Flounder are not going to chase a minnow very far, especially since another one will probably be along shortly without a hook in its lips.
On the ocean piers, flounder anglers fish the shallow end (they are rarely caught very deep on piers) and plunk their minnows down by the pilings. It is sometimes easier to fish live shrimp on a pier than it is inshore, since crabs and pinfish are not necessarily as concentrated in the surf as in the creeks. (Remember, I said “not necessarily.”)
Whatever bait you are fishing from a pier, it is still good to keep it moving a bit. A lot of flounder vets lean their rods against the rails and then try to relax with a cold drink or find a place out of the sun. Those who hold onto their rods and give the bait a little motion, however, often catch more fish. There is no need to reel in and out constantly when flounder fishing from a pier. (In fact, if you are doing that, you are doing it wrong, newbie.) But rod movement is still an advantage over just letting your minnow do all the work.
Inshore you can cast to bridge pilings, docks and rocks for flounder. Unlike drifters or trollers, you can get really close to the structure, and this option is also available to shore fishermen as well as those in small boats. Almost every really big flounder I have ever seen myself, such as those in the more than 24-inch category, came when I or someone I was around was fishing close to hard structure. This type of fishing may even be a better way to do things these days since the size limits for flounder continue to go up each year.
Yes, it is true those who simply let their bait sit on the bottom will catch some flounder, but your odds are much more improved if you give your offering motion. Of course, if you are going to be a real angler and fish for flounder with artificial lures (this time of the year, I say go for it and good luck) you have to keep the lure moving. Just remember, stay on the bottom and stay slow even with lures.
Don’t forget to bring your landing net when going after flounder, as they will often play possum until they reach the boat or get to the top of the water at a pier, and then start twisting in ways a rattlesnake would envy. Every flounder knows how to practice catch-and-release fishing without any help. If you keep your bait moving and are lucky enough to land a keeper, you don’t want your own dinner going back into the water, not after paying all that gas money to get in a position to catch it.
Jeffrey Weeks is a fishing columnist for the Beacon. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.