Floundering Around The Gulf

Flounder is one of the most popular species of fish along our Gulf Coast. Here's how to find and catch them in April.

Unlike most other saltwater game fish that spend their time swimming about in quest for their next meal, flounders prefer to bury themselves into a sandy, muddy, or silted bottom, and wait for their next meal to swim by. Their odd flat shape is ideal for that life style.

But when a flounder sets it eyes on its next meal it can quickly blast out of the sand to gobble up an unsuspecting baitfish.

Flounder is a common species throughout the waters of southern states bordering the Gulf of Mexico. From Texas to Florida, if you ask 10 flounder anglers you're likely to get just as many variations on how each prefers to catch these fish.

That shows that flounders are generally eager to eat a variety of baits and lures and is one of the factors that make flounder fishing so much fun.

Three of the keys to catching flounders on a consistent basis is knowing where the fish concentrate, keeping your bait on the bottom, and moving it along at a very slow pace.

One of the Gulf Coast's leading flounder fishermen is Eddie Jones.

"The majority of the flounders I land are caught using jigs," Jones said. "Some of my favorites are of the old-school variety, including Shad Rigs and Speck Tail Rigs -- formerly referred to as Specks-A-Go-Gos. These baits are rather small in size, making them easier for a flounder to swallow."

These baits come pre-rigged in tandem, but generally set up too close together for his preference. Thus, he reties them and has the trailing jig about 1 1/2 to 2 feet behind the leading one.

"The jigs seem to work best when sweetened up with a piece of cut bait," Jones continued, "and, when available, my favorite is a small piece of bonito belly. Since the belly section is a bright silver color it shows up well; is tough as nails, so it doesn't get nibbled off quickly by bait stealers; and the oily nature of the strip just seems to drive flounders wild."

To have a supply of bonito bellies on hand at all times, Jones keeps his bellies salted down in a Tupperware container. He put a layer of salt between each layer of strips, and keeps them available in the refrigerator year round. Jones gets his bellies from charter boat buddies at the local marinas.

"Berkley Gulp! Strips are good also, and I've had success placing one of them on the jig. Other cut baits will catch flounder, too, including croaker, mullet, Spanish mackerel, and flounder belly.

"Personally I like black or chartreuse hued jigs. And a chartreuse Sparkle Beatle threaded on a 1/4-ounce jig head is popular among numerous anglers, too," Jones added.

Jones went on to say that he prefers to fish a low rising tide, and uses braided line so that the distinctive bump-bump-bump of the flounder's bite can be detected. Once the bite is felt he often waits up to a count of 25 before setting the hook.

Although flounders can be caught year-round in most southern waters, it's in April when they start to make their big inshore migration. These delicious bottom dwellers then can be caught off piers, marina walls, rock jetties, bridges, and around any other structure they use as points of ambush.

Many in-the-know flounder fishermen slowly walk along piers and marina walls, bumping a jig along the bottom. It's sort of like land-bound trolling, yet it's extremely effective at times.

Flounders have a hard mouth and often require a good firm hook set. They also have a knack for shaking loose the hook when coming to the surface. To avoid losses be sure to keep them under the water during the fight, and be quick with the landing net.

A few flounders added to the daily mixed bag are always much welcomed treats. Jigs or a combination of jigs and cut bait are employed on my boat, but another old-school style of catching flounders is bumping live bull minnows slowly along the bottom. My favorite set up is a simple basic Carolina-rig.

First, slide a 1/2 to 1-ounce egg sinker onto the main line. That line can be a tough braided one. Next, tie on a black barrel swivel and then add 12-inches of 30-pound-test Seaguar fluorocarbon leader material. Finish off with a No. 4, 4X Strong Gamakatsu treble hook.

To fish the bull minnow insert one of the treble's tines under the minnow's lower lip, and then out through the top lip. This way the bait stays close to the bottom on the short leader, but still swims around in a lively and natural manner. Unlike most other live baits, bull minnows are extremely durable and need minimal aeration to keep them alive and frisky.

If bull minnows aren't available, other live baits such as small mullet, menhaden, and live shrimp deliver excellent results. Of course, if live bait is scarce, hook a piece of cut croaker or mullet on the same rig, work it slowly along the bottom, and flounder bites should occur on the dead baits as well.

Another option is to use a Blakemore Blade Runner. This traditional freshwater jig adorned with a shiny blade is killer on flounders, too. Blakemore now makes a saltwater version of this lure.

Once you feel you're in a productive flounder area, fan cast in all directions, and slowly cover the bottom as thoroughly as possible. Always keep in mind the flounders are buried, so you have to get the bait close to them. The more water covered, the better the odds of finding the fish.

Once a flounder is hooked be sure to work that specific area well for they do tend to gang up in certain areas at times. Once a honey hole is located, it's not uncommon to limit out quickly. And flounders are some of the most highly sought and delicious fish that dwell in our southern waters.

Now that it's April and coastal waters are warming up the inshore migration is underway, and these flatfish will cover the bottom like welcome mats in many locations. Just find an old dilapidated, barnacle-encrusted ones pier, a marina wall, bridge pilings, and mud flat and you should be able to hook a few of these fish.

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