All up and down the Atlantic coast, flounder will move from the estuaries, creeks and rivers, to near-shore reefs in the fall. In the spring they migrate back. They make a regular migration to deeper water, and settle in the sandy bottom as far as 25 to 30 miles offshore. They will lie 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.
Targeting the fish
Most knowledgeable anglers like to catch flounder during their migration. From about September through the end of November, the flounder move out of the creeks, inlets, and rivers and into the ocean. They have spent the spring and summer months spawning and last year’s crop is now large enough to make the migration with the older brood fish. This year’s hatch is left in the estuaries to grow another year before making any moves. This is why we still catch a large number of very small flounder all the way through the winter.
The live 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 can’t find any finger mullet, I will opt for mud minnows. If mullet and mud minnows are both scarce, I will opt for live shrimp.
Gulp, grubs, screw tails, swim tails, , whatever you call them, they are the plastic trailers we put on jig heads. The action on the jig is most often determined by a combination of the shape of the lure and the movement of the jig head. Rather than a live bait swimming about, you create the action by moving the jig.
Fish these artificials just like you fish a live mullet – slowly along the bottom. A very nice feature on the Flounder Fanatic™ bottom jig is the small, wire, keeper pin on the hook eye. The hook is in the body of the lure, either “showing” or “Texas rigged” while the head of the lure is kept in place by the keeper pin. It’s a perfect set-up.
Using Mullet and Natural Bait
With the live 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 lie and wait for an ambush. They often will strike out into the current at moving baitfish and then 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.
Looking for Bait
It’s not the bait at the tackle shop, it’s the bait you see in the area you plan to fish.
Idle up to our chosen creek, stop the boat and shut the engine down. All eyes on the water at the mouth of the creek. Look for activity, for movement, for any sign of something alive in the water. A school of small baitfish at the mouth of the creek, means activity, and activity usually means fish.
If a creek does not have bait—don’t fish. No bait—no fish.
The best live bait cast net is a Betts® Old Salt™.
Using a Jig Head
A jig head is ideal for using natural and live bait for flounder. The new Betts® Tackle Company Flounder Fanatic™ is developed specifically for flounder. The hook is actually positioned sideways as opposed to vertically. Think about it – the flounder’s mouth is actually sideways, and this unique new hook position – sideways and up off the bottom – allows the flounder to more easily get the hook in his mouth.
With the Flounder Fanatic™, you won’t have to wait for the flounder to reposition the bait in his mouth, count to five, or any of the other methods anglers have used over the years to make sure the fish has the hook. When the fish bites, you’ve got him!
The jig has a built-in weed guard and comes with a small rubber bait keeper. Live bait has a bad habit of swimming free and getting off a hook; the bait keeper prevents that. Both bottom and Jig Flounder Fanatic™ work well on live bait. To keep live bait on the hook, bait keepers are enclosed in the Flounder Fanatic™ package. Simply hook the small finger mullet or mud minnow sideways through the mouth or jaws, put the keeper in place, and use the jig like any other lure.
The Flounder Fanatic™ comes in a variety of weights in increments from 1/8 ounce on the regular jig head all the way to 1½ ounces on the bottom jig. This is an ideal situation, because heavy currents and deeper water require a heavier weight to keep your bait on the bottom where the flounder are! Shallower water and lighter current demands a lighter weight, and the 1/8 ounce jig head size is perfect.
When using either a Flounder Fanatic™ regular jig head or bottom jig with a mud minnow or shrimp, or even with a grub tail, just slowly move the bait on or just off the bottom.
Feeling the Strike
A flounder’s strike will never take the rod out of your hand. It’s subtle, and sometimes it just feels like some extra pressure – like maybe your sinker is hung on something. The trick to catching more flounder for plain hooks and jig heads 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, you’ll come back with half a mullet!
This is where the new Flounder Fanatic™ plays such an important roll. The new hook orientation on the bottom jig means that the flounder will already have the hook in his mouth when he first bites. You can set the hook when he bites!
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 flounder’s 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.
On the other hand, with the new Flounder Fanatic™ you don’t have to wait! The sideways, wide-gap, 4/0 hooks do their work as soon as you set the hook. Most light weight jigs have small hooks and most heavy jigs have big hooks – that’s just the way they are made. If you need a larger hook and a lighter weight on a jig, you are usually out of luck. The nice part about the Flounder Fanatic™ is that the hook is the same size, regardless of the weight of the jig – 4/0, wide-gap, from 1/8 ounce all the way to 1 ½ ounce.
All along the Atlantic coast, the rivers, inlets and estuaries will hold flounder. Work the docks that line the shore of these creeks and rivers. Sometimes you can find a flounder behind every large piling it seems. At the harbor entrances the river and inlet current can be relatively swift. The water depth comes up from about 40 feet deep or more to around 15 feet just off the rocks and shorelines. That shallow area is usually dotted with rocks and other structure, and provides an excellent place for flounder to sit and wait. If you aren’t sure where this is specifically, just look for the other boats – they will be right in the thick of it. But be sure to observe the channels and “no anchoring” signs.
Flounder will be located behind almost any structure that breaks up the current along the bottom. The Flounder Fanatic™ bottom jigs will keep your bait down there where the fish are located.
In the creeks and estuaries, flounder will be found wherever a current is moving baitfish. They lie in the mouth of a creek or run-off and wait. They lie on the back end – the down current side – of an oyster bar and wait. That’s where the right bait presentation makes a difference.
The Flounder Fanatic™ is designed to keep the weight on the bottom and the bait up off the bottom – visible to the fish. When the bottom jig passes a hidden fish, it looks more natural than a jig head that has the bait stuck to the bottom.