Carolina's Great July Flounder Fishing

Carolina's Great July Flounder Fishing

For outstanding saltwater fishing in our state, you need look no farther than the July flounder bite. (July 2006)

Summertime, saltwater and flounder are simply a perfect combination for South Carolina fishermen. Flounder fishing is excellent during the summer months, with good catches being made in a variety of ways. Typically, anglers fishing from inshore boats or from larger guide boats take the majority of flounder. However, these fish also are taken from piers, occasionally by shoreline anglers and by gigging at night.

There are several aspects of the flounder that make it a highly sought-after species along our coastline. First, it's available in excellent numbers throughout the coastal length of the state during the warm months of the year. Generally, late June and July are peak times for success. Second, the taste of the fish -- regardless of how you prepare it -- is superb. Third, flounder are not extremely difficult to catch, but they do offer ample challenge -- and reward -- for the thinking angler. Here we'll discuss the basics that should get you jump-started on having an excellent flounder season in 2006.

You do, of course, have to use the right tackle and techniques to be consistently successful, but overall, flounder fishing is not an overly complicated affair.

Ben Alderman, a professional guide who fishes out of his flats boat, The Superfly, pursues flounder during the summer, as well as for a variety of other coastal fish species.

"Sometimes fishermen will get things a little too complicated for flounder," Alderman said. "Of course, you've got to have a good game plan and fish the right places, but flounder are pretty abundant and can be caught in a variety of methods. Sometimes it's as simple as setting up on a good place and waiting them out."

That's exactly what happened with us on a trip out of his home base of Charleston. Fishing creeks and bays off the Intercoastal Waterway, we stopped at one particular place and basically fished mud minnows in a deep hole.

Alderman explained that as the tide continued to drop, this hole was the deepest water in the area and most of the larger predatory fish would be drawn to it. He was dead on target: As the tide bottomed out, the fishing really perked up. In addition to flounder, we did, I admit, catch some redfish as well. Alderman noted there are literally scads of places where this same scenario will work for flounder and a variety of other fish.

Our technique that day was to fish mud minnows on the bottom with a flatline rig cast from the boat. Alderman noted that you don't always have to be in a deep creek or along the main body of a river or the Intercoastal Waterway.

He said that he doesn't usually get too far from the creeks or rivers, because such places will "restock" themselves between fishing trips.

"There are some places fishermen can get to that have deep holes that will still have a few feet of water in them at low tide, when the surroundings area gets nearly dry," he said. "One hole in particular gets so low that I have to wait for the tide to begin coming back in before I can get the boat out. But that hole is deep and fish from that entire area migrate to that place."

He did add that he would caution fishermen to be careful about using this strategy if any unstable weather might occur. Consider it only if the weather looks good in terms of thunderstorms, wind and other safety considerations.

Alderman and other guides have learned that to enjoy consistent success, you must develop a strategy that integrates forage, tides, current, structure and depth into a workable pattern.

Peter Brown is another guide I've fished with for flounder out of the Charleston area.

"Flounder are certainly a popular fish species and during the warmer months of the year, we catch a lot of fish," Brown said. "They're good fighting fish and through the years I've found some patterns which produce flounder on a consistent basis. In fact, sometimes when fishing is tough for other species such as redfish, I can usually put my clients on a bunch of flounder and they'll have a ball catching them."

According to Alderman and Brown, flounder begin to show up in anglers' creels in April and May, but it's usually late June to July when the fishing gets really good, Brown said.

"We generally catch a lot of flounder during this time of the year, but the good news is that we typically catch quite a few really good-sized fish as well. We'll typically catch quite a few in the 4-pound class, which is a good-sized flounder. We'll catch them larger than that occasionally as well," Brown said.

There are several different patterns these guides employ, depending on the weather, water and tide conditions. One favored technique that can be productive around the high tides is to fish the mouths of creeks just inside an inlet or the mouth of an inlet adjacent to the ocean. Focus on areas with a sandy bottom. Brown showed me the day we fished that he specifically likes a creek that is rather shallow at the mouth, but once you get past the mouth, the water deepens. There are a number of places like this and they can be real flounder honeyholes, he noted.

Another factor that makes this situation even better is to find some oyster beds close to the marsh grass. The flounder like to lie between the oyster beds and the marsh grass, often right next to the grass when the tide is high enough. If there's a sandy slope between the oysters and the grass, that's where you can usually expect to find the fish. At the least, this gives you an easily identifiable target to begin your search. The ideal time to fish this situation seems to be when the tide is over the top of the shells but just at the edge of the grass. As the tide goes up or down from this spot, you'll have to adjust your presentation. But that tends to be a prime area targeted by the flounder.

Most anglers prefer to anchor the boat when fishing this particular pattern. You need to cover a lot of water, but by allowing the current or wind to drift the bait along the potential hotspot you can keep the rig in a high-probability strike zone.

Both Alderman and Brown said they will fish a rig with a specialized float, called an equalizer float. The water is usually not very deep and the flounder will move up to the more shallow areas as the tide comes in. Rig the float to be as deep as the depth of water you are fishing. They use a Kahle hook usually in the 1 to 2/0 size range, and for bait, will select big mud minnows, small to medium finger mullets, small menhaden or shrimp.

According to Alderman, any of these can be excellent

flounder baits. "The flounder will readily feed on any of them, so I don't worry about which of these live baits I'm using: I'll usually use the one that's easiest to catch," he said.

Cover as much of the area as possible. He has his clients cast the bait near the grass and usually the current will move the bait along the grass line. He added that it is important to cover all the territory between the shells and the grass, and to make several casts.

"Many times we will catch several flounder from one place," Brown said. "Often, when I'm in a place where we've caught a fish or two, or a place that's been real productive recently, I work the entire area before leaving. That may mean I'll move the boat only a short distance down the bank before trying another nearby spot," he added.

Brown continued by saying that some anglers prefer to use artificial lures and they will work fine in a situation such as this. The use of a jig and grub will work very well also. In fact, I've used both jigs and live bait on a couple of occasions and caught as many or more fish on the jigs.

One very productive area is the mouth of the larger creeks that empty into the rivers or the Intercoastal Waterway. In these places the tidal flow is creating a consistent current. The fish will often lie in the flow and they'll often orient to points at the mouth of a creek. In this situation, you can use the float rig described earlier with live bait, or you can opt to cast the jig. One of the keys, however, is to keep the bait on the bottom, but use as light a sinker as possible. Too much weight or disturbance may spook the fish. These fish are usually a bit deeper, but not necessarily holding in real deep water.

When fishing along these creek mouths, experts say it's important to bring the bait to the fish. The flounder don't cruise the grass lines or along the creek mouths as frequently as do some of the other species. Redfish, for example, will cruise along the edges and stationary baits will often work well for these fish.

However, for best results on flounder, keep the bait moving and covering potentially productive water. Brown notes that the normal pattern for flounder to feed is to settle in on the bottom and wait for the bait to come to them, and then strike quickly. So play the game that way, take the bait to the fish, and you'll improve your catch simply on that technique alone.

Trolling for flounder seems to be an extremely popular method for taking these tasty flatfish. There are a couple of reasons for that. First, trolling works and it will produce good action on flounder. Second, it's not a very difficult technique and will allow even fairly inexperienced fishermen a reasonable opportunity to catch some flounder. However, most guides point out that by fishermen refining the manner in which they troll can drastically improve their odds of success.

Many anglers will rig properly with the commercially prepared trolling rigs. These are readily available in tackle shops around the coast. However, their pattern of trolling is one that is random and haphazard. They come across fish on occasion and on some days will make a decent catch. However, by focusing their efforts on high-probability areas, they would increase their productivity enormously.

Some tips from the pros include focusing on large inlets, especially ones that have grass banks on one or both sides with a sand or mud bottom. The flounder seem to relate to the edges, either one or both sides of the inlet, depending on the type of structure on the bottom and along the edge. You can use the current to drift the boat or you can use a motor to slowly troll.

The smaller inlets that can be fished by anchoring and casting are also good places to target for trolling. If you can pinpoint the action, then set up and cast to the fish. That will often enable you to be more effective.

In addition, the edge lines of creeks and rivers, especially where there are some irregular features along the way, or junctions with creek channels, can produce good trolling action. Trolling is very productive because you can cover a lot of potentially productive water and, of course, you're keeping the bait in motion while you're doing it. Flounder are primarily ambush feeders because they lie on the bottom and feed on bait as it moves past. It's a perfect scenario for flounder catching.

Another very productive flounder fishing spot (and one that is prime for big doormat-sized flounder) is a jetty. Again, jetties are found at the mouths of the larger harbors along the coastline and offer large areas of prime fishing. Both the Georgetown and Charleston areas have excellent flounder fishing along the jetties.

Typically, flounder fishermen will anchor their boats along the jetties, far enough out so they primarily work the areas right at the base of the rocks. This is the prime ambush point flounder seem to prefer. According to Peter Brown, this gives the flounder a specific spot to relate to and one where they can forage on baitfish moving along the bottom of the rocks.

"I work these areas very thoroughly and when I move, I usually move only a small distance and begin casting again," he said.

Both live bait and jigs work well in this situation. Captain Brown notes that using the jighead tipped with a live bait offering produces a lot of bites and provides the attraction of using artificial lures with the effectiveness of live bait, which many anglers prefer.

"Sometimes the jighead and grub are all you need, but sometimes, flounder can be a bit more selective and when they are, you can improve your odds by using some live bait on the back of the jig. Fishing along the jetties is a perfect place for the combination of live and artificial baits," Brown explained.

In addition to big flounder, it's not unusual to catch a variety of species while fishing in this manner, including redfish, trout and sheepshead.

I've also fished with anglers who catch flounder from the shoreline. The key here is to fish from a place where you can reach a channel or a deeper stretch of water. Having a good tidal current is a critical factor in your catch rate. Since your mobility is limited in this kind of fishing, you'll need to cast the rig to the edge line and allow the tide current to pull the bait along. Simply work the rig along the edge, reel it in and repeat the process.

The commercial fishing piers along the coast also produce flounder at this time of the year. If you don't have a boat, this can be a good place to hook into some flounder and other saltwater fish. The pier operators and veteran anglers on the piers are usually very helpful in providing tips on how to specifically rig for flounder. Basically, and not too surprisingly, you'll be fishing a live bait on the bottom.

Another very effective method, which requires some preparation, is gigging. Gigging has evolved into a highly refined sport and the light rigs to illuminate the water are a critical component for successful gigging. With the lights rigged, use a long pole to slip along the shal

low-water shell banks, as mud and shell and sand bottoms will all hold flounder. Often, when you find one, there will be several more in the vicinity. One of the fun challenges of this type of flounder fishing is spotting the fish. Sometimes, even though they may be in mere inches of water, they blend in so well they are difficult to spot before they are alarmed and shoot away from the boat.

If you're not seeing flounder while gigging, move to a totally different type of area. The best part of the tide is the last half of falling and the first half of the rising tide. To spot the fish, the water needs to be out of the grass and falling, or not yet back to the grass line. So, plan your trip around the tide -- which is pretty good advice for any saltwater trip.

You should now be armed with some good information to be successful with flounder. Remember, the key to successful flounder fishing is to primarily think in terms of the types of places the fish will be at different stages of the tide. Then, keep the rigs simple and the presentations effective for the prevailing conditions under which you're fishing. Also, keep the bait moving, since flounder are ambush feeders and keep it in contact with the bottom, or very near the bottom, within the easy strike zone of the founder.

And have your flounder recipes ready'¦you'll likely need them.

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