Louisiana's Fall Flounder Run
September 28, 2010
This season, Bayou State hunters will confront changes in regulations, season dates and schedules -- but we can still tell you where to find the whitetails. (October 2007)
Weed edges are a great place to try for pan-sized flounder like this one caught in Sabine Lake.
Photo by Chester Moore Jr.
Fall is flounder-fishing time along the Louisiana coastline. At this point in the yearly round, thousands of anglers are focusing on what many consider the tastiest and most challenging of the inshore game fishes.
Luckily, things are looking good for this species that -- owing to shrimping related bycatch and hurricane-spawned fish kills -- has seen some hard times in recent years. Coastal flounder stocks seem to be holding up well, and are providing some of the most exciting, most rewarding fishing action on offer anywhere.
And luckily for Louisiana anglers, plenty of places for intercepting these delectable flatfish are to be found along the length of our coast.
Sabine Lake offers anglers a shot at excellent fishing from the causeway bridge to Bridge Bayou on the extreme north end.
"It's hard to beat Sabine for solid flounder action," said veteran flounder guide Capt. Skip James, who added that the crucial thing to consider in the fall is that incoming tides produce the most fish until cold fronts start to arrive. "You will find fish feeding on both incoming and outgoing tides, but until the big cold fronts blow through the incoming is by far the best to fish."
James recommended that anglers fish with soft plastics like the Old Bayside Shadlyn or Speck Grub tipped with shrimp. "Hop it along the bottom and wait for a thump. Once you feel that, hold for a couple of seconds and then set the hook as if your life depended on it."
Nearby Constance Beach is at once one of the most productive and most neglected flounder fisheries. The flounder action is so good at this lonely stretch of shore near the Texas border that a handful of well-informed anglers from the Lone Star State routinely make the trip over to fill freezers with tasty fillets.
Figuring out the stretch of Constance Beach that you want to target is easy. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has put large rockpiles at various points along the beach to protect the fragile shoreline from erosion by water and wind. The rocks serve as great structure for fish to bond to and are a virtual magnet for flounder. Look for high tides to provide the best action and the north and south side of the rocks to hold the most flounder.
CAMERON SHIP CHANNEL
Elsewhere on the extreme southwestern coast, the Cameron Ship Channel between Holly Beach and Cameron is as good a flounder fishing spot as any in the state. One of the critical migratory spots for flounder, it tends to get better with each passing cold front.
At only a few spots can the channel be effectively accessed from the bank, and when the fishing gets hot, anglers will line the banks at those sites along the sides of the channel; meanwhile, those in boats work the edge of the dropoff. Live mud minnows or finger mullet dragged across the bottom are without a doubt the best baits here, although soft plastics like Twister Tails, chartreuse or white flounder worms fished on a heavy jighead, and Flounder Pounders have gained popularity in the area in recent years.
Other good flounder fishing spots in the immediate vicinity include Johnson Bayou Beach and the part of Johnson Bayou near the boat launch at Deep Portage Road.
Veteran flounder angler Kelly Jones of Lake Charles lists Lake Calcasieu as his favorite flounder destination. He fishes the refuge shoreline on the eastern side of the lake from late September until around the week of Halloween.
"If you fish the area as much as I do," he remarked, "you start to know what the right and wrong things to do are. You start to sort of know what the fish's habits are and when they move in what areas."
According to Jones, you can catch these fish at any time during the fall period, but he follows the cycles of the moon to get the best results and to catch the biggest fish. "I've found that during any time of year you should follow the moon movements to catch those flounder," he said. "Your best fishing is going to be on a full moon or the period around a full moon -- that is when the fish bite the best. If you are fishing another moon phase, then there is a chance you will have to work for the fish. On a full moon, catching them is almost a given."
His favorite bait for the big flounder is large live mud minnows fished on shallow flats under a plastic bobber. Since he fishes so much, he traps and catches his own bait. "When you flounder-fish as much as I do," he said, "you have to catch your own bait. Otherwise you could go broke."
Locating the fish at Calcasieu isn't all that difficult. Anglers should look for cuts that feed the marsh and areas of slack water in these cuts (eddies). "Something to keep in mind is not to stay in one area too long," Jones said. "If you're not finding fish, then you should move on to another spot."
He takes precautions to ensure that the quality of the fishing in this area remains high, and advises other anglers to do the same.
When blue northers don't set the winds to howling, asserted longtime flounder fanatic Ray Patrick, anglers can make impressive catches on jigging spoons fished in open water near the famous Mud Lumps out of South Pass.
Most of these flounder are truly nice fish, mostly averaging between 1 pound and 3 pounds. Nevertheless, Patrick noted, the appeal of this kind of fishing lies not in the size of any given fish but rather in the intensity of the overall action.
"Once the flounder get to going through this area, you can really catch some impressive numbers," he said. "They go into sort of frenzy. I catch them on jigging spoons, which are a little different from the way most fishermen target flounder. I have had three men in my boat catch over 100 fish total within three hours. For fall, you can't beat it."
According to Patrick, the key to success lies in finding the big bunches of menhaden and shrimp migrating outward. The flounder are feeding heavily on those holding at the structure of the Mud Lumps. "Since we've had a warming trend lately during the winter lately, the schools of shad tend to be bigger than they were a few years ago," he reported. "And the flounder are just as hungry."
Patrick recommended that anglers use their electronics to search for bait in and around the lumps; once bait's located, the area should be marked. "If you want to try this kind of fishing, bring at least eight good buoy markers and mark the spots where you find shad," he said. "They're pretty much going to hold to the same spots throughout the morning.
"Work the area over really good, and mark as many spots as you can. This way you can just move over if the spot you're fishing isn't producing."
Many anglers are unfamiliar with catching flounder on jigging spoons. It's really quite simple: Fish the spoons in a slow vertical drop around suspended baitfish. Don't get in a big hurry; work your spoon just fast enough to feel it falling.
Most of the time, flounder will hit on the fall, and all that you'll see or feel will be a slight tightening of the line, at which point you should set the hook.
Patrick uses a Cotton Cordell spoon or Crippled Herring in 3/4-ounce silver or silver with blue back. To maximize fishing time, he advised making slight adjustments to the lure. "Most spoons come with treble hooks," he explained, "but they are very difficult to pop off. If you get caught up one of those lumps of oyster or some other junk that has come out of the pass you can forget it."
To avoid losing the bait, Patrick takes off the treble hooks and replaces them with wide-gapped thin-wire single hooks. "Treble hooks are good for the economy," he remarked, "but hard on the angler's pocketbook in these waters." If cold fronts push through, he added, this feeding pattern usually holds throughout October, and the fishing should get even better with the each consecutive cold spell.
Capt. Billy Bucano, who fishes the beautiful marshes around Delacroix Island, said that the flounder action there can be tremendous in the fall. "These marshes hold lots of flounder, and the angler who watches the tides and movements of baitfish can score in a big way down here," he said.
According to Bucano, the dominant variable is tidal movement. He believes that tide may be the most crucial element in the flounder-fishing mix, and that the strength of tides can dramatically influence the feeding habits of flounder, especially in major passes.
"On the Louisiana coast you have lots of passes," he said, "and they will all hold tremendous numbers of flounder during the fall run. Look for big bayous and passes feeding out into open water to find lots of flounder."
Most anglers in the Delacroix area like to fish with live mud minnows or finger mullet. Since the current in these passes is strong, Bucano fishes with 1 1/2-ounce egg sinkers rigged on a swivel attached to a 20-pound monofilament shock leader; he hooks his baitfish through the lips.
As the run begins to fizzle in late fall, look to jetty systems and passes leading into the Gulf for the hottest action. Flounder can't move great distances in a short time, so flounder that leave the bay will gang up at jetties on their way to spawn.
Jetty fishing for flounder is much like fishing in the bays, but in a different environment. The key is to look for lots of baitfish and the spots at which eddies form and tidal exchange is strong. Keeping in mind that jetties extend southward into the Gulf, look for flounder at the southern tip of a jetty. These areas are important to cover because major eddies usually form here, and, as in a marshy cut, these eddies hold heavy concentrations of small baitfish, which in turn draw flounder.
Sometimes these eddies can be huge. At the Galveston jetties I've seen eddies 80 yards across; at the Sabine jetties, they're commonly 40 to 50 yards across. To narrow down your search, use electronics to find the washout from the current, which is usually just beyond the last hunks of granite in the jetty.
Another sort of spot at the jetties to investigate for flounder is in the boat cuts. Here the tidal exchange can be extreme, and flounder can crowd in thick, but they're often difficult to fish because of both the heavy current and boat traffic. The easiest place in which to position oneself is on the side of the boat best enabling you to throw against the current and allow the bait to drift backwards.
Fishing the passes between a bay and the Gulf north of a jetty system can be equally productive. The key here is to understand points of migration. The term "pass" doesn't necessarily denote a bottleneck area like Southwest Pass, but can also designate a historic area of flounder migration. Prime examples in Louisiana would be several points around West Cove in Lake Calcasieu. No physical reason drives the flounder through this spot, but they're there every year; it's part of their historic migration route.
The angler should keep in mind that fewer factors are in play at a pass than at other spots. As pass is a transitory position for flounder to hold at, they're either there or they're not, and if you've got the patience, you can usually score by simply waiting for the next school to move. Be mindful of outgoing tides -- they're the force that pushes flounder through.
Since flounder congregate in groups ranging from a few individuals to several dozen -- especially during migration -- keep pattern casting in mind. Try to cover every square inch of key flounder habitat in a given area. Throw to one spot; then, throw a foot or two over with your next cast until you've covered the entire area. It often pays to work the same spots over twice, since you may miss the exact spot by a few inches. Since flounder aren't very mobile, the key to catching them is to cover lots of ground.
The reason I mention these locations is that if you can find one, you may very well have your own hotspot that no one would fish. During the last part of the spring migration a few years ago, I found one when I stopped to ask a couple fishing from the side of the road what they were catching. I expected that the answer would be croaker, and maybe a few redfish, as we were in the ship channel away from any cut or bay; instead, they made reply by holding up a stringer of flounder. The next day I showed up there and caught a limit myself. A bass angler would call these spots "staging points"; I guess that's what they are. Perhaps the fish there just stop to rest and eat, or simply stop for no real reason.
Anglers who get heavily into flounder fishing will notice many similarities between flatfish and largemouth bass. In fact, I've always said that a skilled tournament bass angler could catch a lot of flounder. Like bass, flounder are patternable, more so than any other inland saltwater fish. Anglers not intimately familiar with flounder complain that they're difficult to catch, but in reality, they're far easier to pattern than are reds and specks. The reason: Flounder are largely territorial, and their bite patterns are driven more by the tides than are those of their saltwater counterparts. Once you learn the little intricacies of your favorite flounder areas, you'll find this to be true, and will attain the ability to pattern a fish that relatively few anglers truly understand.