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November is a great month to target flounder. It is often when we see the biggest and the most flounder in Brunswick County waters. The flounder bite this year has been surprisingly strong, considering there is still concern about the stock’s status due to their amazing popularity with both recreational and commercial fishermen and all the pressure that brings. Still, the flounder season has been good and November will likely be the best month yet.
Flounder are flatfish with both eyes on the darker side of their head. They lie quietly on the ocean floor with their white side down, camouflaged in anticipation of ambushing any baitfish, shrimp, crab or other small creature that scurries above or below them.
Brunswick County has both summer flounder (which frequent the ocean side) and southern flounder (which can be found in the ocean, too, but even more frequently inshore). We also have a few other smaller flounders in our waters. Few people can tell the difference and all flounder are caught by the same methods.
A lot of Brunswick anglers fish for flounder by drifting or trolling their boats through the inlets and waterways. It’s true that in most cases this is probably the best way to pick up big numbers of flounder. However, with size limits increasing year after year, more inshore anglers are turning to anchoring up and casting to structures to catch larger flounder.
Big flounder well over the size limits are all females, and they orientate themselves to hard structures like bridges, docks and jetties. This provides them with a steady source of food because baitfish and shellfish also gravitate to such structures and that allow them to do less work to get their meals.
As flounder get older they get lazier and really like to position themselves around things like pilings and rocks and then just lie there until the dinner bell is rung. Big flounder have also learned from experience that hanging around structures is the best way to hide from predators that target them, like dolphins, red drum, chopper bluefish and even big birds and large crabs.
Even if you anchor up, knowing the stage of the tide is still of crucial importance. Big flounder will be the most active on a strong tide, whether running high or low, as that is the time bait is pulled off the pilings and small schools of finger mullet and other baitfish are likely to have “strays” that get disorientated and come into range for a big flounder.
A heavily running tide about two hours after the turn means baitfish are the most active, as they either rush to get into cover or get flushed out by a strong current. That is when the schools are moving and that’s when you want to fish for big flounder.
If the tide is running away from structure, put your bait as close to the structure as you can and let it flow outward. If the tide is running into structure, then cast 10 or 15 feet away and let your bait get swept into it. You are going to lose some rigs this way, but that is always the case if you are fishing for big flounder.
Flounder like a moving target and live bait is favored by most flounder fishermen. Top baitfish in November are finger mullet, pogies (small menhaden) and mud minnows. Mud minnows can usually be bought at the bait shop. Finger mullet and pogies are caught in anglers’ cast nets. Other small fish like pinfish, spot and croaker also make great flounder baits and so do live shrimp and even live sand fleas.
Anglers without live bait often fish strip baits for flounder. Strip bait can be cut from fresh fish or you can use the highly effective artificial scent synthetic flounder bait found in the tackle stores. Strip bait is kept in motion to appear like a live minnow and attract flounder.
A fishfinder rig with an egg or bullet sinker is often used with live or strip bait for flounder. On the line side, run a ¼- to 2-ounce egg weight (depending on strength of current) and tie on a swivel to stop the sinker. Add 15 to 22 inches of 20-pound mono or fluorocarbon leader. Tie on a #1 to 3/0 wide-gap Kahle or circle hook.
Flounder take awhile once they hit to actually take live bait into their mouths. I’ll give a flounder about 30 seconds and some folks wait as long as 2 minutes. Flounder roll a minnow around and scale and taste it, so if you strike immediately you’ll just get back a mangled baitfish. If your minnows keep coming back with their bellies eaten out, you have a blue crab problem.
Flounder are caught on a wide variety of lures, most of them bumped along the bottom. The most popular flounder lures are probably jigs, usually with a plastic or synthetic grub or trailer. Long trailers of 4 to 6 inches are often used for flounder.
The weight of the jig head must be enough to get the lure to the bottom. Popular soft bait colors for flounder are white, pearl, green, chartreuse and pink. Shrimp-imitating plastic and synthetic lures catch flounder when they are hopped off the bottom. Shrimp lures should be fished slowly.
Flounder will also hit silver and gold spoons fished just off the bottom near structure or in the surf. Hard bucktail jigs have mostly been replaced by soft baits but were the most popular flounder lures for years and still can catch plenty.
With lures you don’t wait to set the bait but instead hit flounder immediately since they’ll spit the lure out. With the best-scented soft baits, like Gulp lures and others with a lot of scent, you can wait just a few seconds to insure the hook-up.
Once you have caught the flounder, you’ll probably want to eat it if it is big enough to keep. The current limit is six fish per day at 15 inches each, but you have to keep checking as the DMF makes changes regularly. Here is a great flounder recipe, and you can find many more on my blog and webpage:
6 flounder fillets
½ cup melted butter
½ cup lemon juice
3 teaspoons paprika
Dash salt and pepper
½ cup almonds, slivered.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange flounder fillets on a greased baking dish. Combine butter, lemon juice, paprika and salt and pepper, mix and pour over fish. Sprinkle almonds over the top. Bake for 18 minutes or until fish is done, then place into the broiler for 3 minutes to brown. Serves three.