Eastern Shore Flounder
By Capt. Pete Wallace
Flounder continue to be the fish of choice for eastern shores
coastal anglers in the region. There are many reasons for their popularity.
They are one of the first fish to arrive in the in the spring, they remain all summer and are one of the last fish to migrate in the fall.
They are one of the best tasting fish that swims, I have never met anyone that doesn't like flounder. They have more meat for their size than most other fish, an experienced
fish cleaner can get 55% meat from a flounder.
They are fun to catch and can be taken by many means, including drifting, trolling, fly fishing, casting artificials, surf fishing, spearfishing, gigging and pier fishing.
Flounder can grow to over 20 pounds.
So what's not to like about a flounder?
Flounder are much more of a “game fish” than many people realize. Some think because they lay on the bottom, that they are bottom feeders.
I have seen flounder break the surface many times, chasing bait in water as deep as four feet. They seldom take dead bait,
unless it's moving. They conceal themselves on the bottom by laying flat and adjusting their color to match the color of the bottom. They lay in wait near drop offs and rips to ambush smaller fish, crabs and shrimp. They often prefer shallow water, because it lessens the distance between them and their prey.
These shallow waters are a great place to fly fish.
Flounder will also use structure to their advantage. Inshore they can often be found near bridges, pilings, rocks and oyster beds. In the ocean, the wrecks and artificial reefs produce some of the largest flounder.
If fishing the wrecks or reefs, take plenty of extra tackle because you are going to loose a bunch. The flounder are not normally in the wreck, but next to it.
The most effective way to fish the structure for Flounder is to drift near the it, so you are going to get hung up. If you tie your weight on with light line (2 lb test) you can often break the light line and save you rig and fish. Circle hooks are
less likely to get snagged than J hooks. Live minnows work best when fishing the ocean.
Another method for fishing ocean structure is by using a wreck anchor. These anchors are designed to catch on the structure and be pulled off by use of a trip line, or by using
the boat to bend re-bar and pull the anchor out. You will need a piece of pipe to re-bend the anchor, if you use the boat to pull it off.
If anchored to the structure you should flip your baits off to the side of what ever you are anchored to. You can get the GPS numbers to the artificial reefs on line or at the local tackle shops.
Back in the bays you will have other issues to deal with. Tide, water clarity, wind speed and direction are all very important when deciding where, when and what to use.
Unlike most other fish, when flounder are feeding, they are not moving. That means that you are going to have to get the bait to them. Drifting by boat is by far the most popular method of flounder fishing.
If you are fishing a drop off, you are going to need
the right tide and wind to keep your boat on it. You can often maintain the right drift by bumping your boat in and out of gear, if not you are going to have to change locations.
If you are fishing in dirty water, some type attractant is often helpful. Spinners, skirts, beads or a combination of all of them can often get a flounder’s attention when water clarity is poor.
A popular set up is a top and bottom rig, with light wire circle hooks. Bait the top hook with a live minnow, hooked through the lips. Bait the bottom hook with Berkley “GULP”, the four-inch white shrimp seems to work well.
More flounder are caught by leaving the rod in the rod holder than by holding it. When the flounder strikes, it's best to wait a few seconds before setting the hook.
After you have finally got the right drift, have found what color skirt is working best, have all your spinners spinning and managed to keep the crabs off your bait long enough to hook your Flounder, you have to land it.
Never, never lift the flounder’s head out of the water. Flounder must be netted. Before you can see the flounder it's best to have the net in the water. The angler needs to gently direct the flounder, head first to the net, without lifting it's head out of the water. Never try to net any fish from behind.
The minimum size for flounder in Virginia is 17 inches. Each angler is allowed four flounder. Virginia gives anglers a citation for flounder six pounds and over, they also give citations for flounder released over 26 inches. The state record is 17 lbs. 8 oz. caught in 1971. The IGFA world record summer flounder was caught September 15th, 1975 off Montauk, New York and weighed 22 pounds 7 ounces. Consider this when you are
deciding which size net to buy.
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