By Mike Thompson
As we eased along the sandy shoreline of Mobile Bay during the dark of night, it was easy to imagine what it must have been like to be a pirate plying these shallow waters. During the 17th and early 18th centuries, pirates were known to sail the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and into Mobile Bay in search of Spanish galleons loaded with treasures and supplies.
Unlike the pirates, my son Laine and I were after flounder. As we pushed our shallow-draft skiff along over the multitude of sandbars, we scanned the bottom in search of the flatfish. The clear waters of the bay were illuminated by our underwater lighting system, comprising a deep-cycle battery and 12-volt bulbs.
Each sandbar looked like the last until we came upon one with an “extra hump” on it. This hump had another feature that was different than the rest; it had eyes!
I quickly drew back the long-handled pole, which was equipped with a three-prong metal gig, and plunged it towards the target. As the gig hit home, I could feel the muscular fish try to escape. My aim was true, and soon the 2-pound flatfish was heading towards the ice chest.
Still grinning from ear to ear about this success, I quickly focused my eyes on another flounder lying quietly on the next sandbar. With the fish’s body camouflaged to mimic the color of the sandy bottom, it would have been easy to move right past it, but the telltale protrusion of the flounder’s eyes gave its presence away. And just like the fish before him, this flounder was soon being slipped off the gig and into the waiting ice chest.
This scenario was repeated several more times during a hot summer night on Mobile Bay last year.
Even though the sport of taking flounder by gig may seem odd to the uninitiated, the flounder attracts legions of giggers who enjoy this nighttime pursuit. Some even specialize in the sport.
One such specialist is Mark Kruse of Mobile. Kruse has taken the art of floundering to such a level that he is known to most of his friends as “Flounder.”
Unlike those who walk the shorelines of Mobile Bay with a gas lantern and a gig, Kruse prefers to use his upscale flounder boat setup. Kruse believes this rig allows him to pursue the fish longer with minimal effort.
“Although you can take plenty of flounder by lantern and gig, I prefer to use a gas-powered generator and 110-volt lighting mounted on my boat. I can flounder all night long on a tank of gas,” Kruse said.
“I also like to use my own custom-made gigs. I make them out of 5/16-inch threaded stainless rod,” he continued. “I form a multi-prong head that’s as wide as your hand. The thread of the rod acts like the prongs on a conventional gig. The fish won’t slide off as easy, though.”
Kruse has learned a lot over the years about what makes a good flounder spot. Some of his advice may sound simple, but it makes lots of sense when it comes to locating fish.
“The keys for locating flounder are clear water and wind. You need the water to be clear or you won’t be able to see any flounder that are there. The wind becomes a factor because it stirs up the surface of the water, making it difficult to see.
“If you have wind, you have to target flounder in areas that are sheltered,” Kruse added. “An example would be to flounder the eastern side of Mobile Bay when the winds are out of the east. The shoreline would protect you and allow you to see down in the water much better in this situation.”
Finding clear water can often be difficult even on windless nights. Kruse has discovered a few things over the years that can benefit flounder giggers in less than crystal clear conditions.
“I’ve noticed over the years that when the clarity of the water is not at its best you can still find good water to target flounder. Two situations come to mind. The first is grass. Grass acts as a filter, helping to clear the water.
“The next situation is oyster beds. Most people don’t know that oysters are filter feeders. Oftentimes, when working murky water, you can find gin-clear water right next to oyster reefs,” Kruse said.
Even though water clarity is a key factor in seeing flounder, you must also see other things that will let you know flounder are in the area.
“Seeing bait is important in picking a good flounder location. Without food in the area, there will be no fish,” Kruse stressed. “Another thing to look for is the imprints on the bottom from a flounder being there earlier. These imprints, also known as flounder beds, let you know for sure that flounder are using the area.
“Once you find these beds, you should start hunting for the fish that made them. Obviously you should ignore the small imprints and target the large ones. If the tide is falling, you should look away from the shore. If the tide is rising, concentrate on the beach.”
Summer is a great time to target flounder in Mobile Bay, but Kruse believes that there are some other months on the calendar that are good too.
“In June I do real well, but as the water gets hot in July and August it gets a little tougher. Actually the months of September and October are great,” Kruse noted.
Of course, if you just can’t get enthused about gigging flounder at night, there is another option. Plenty of the flatfish are caught during the summer months at night on rods and reels.
Any light-tackle setup that is good for bass fishing will be fine for flounder. The average flounder you encounter will be between 1 1/2 and 4 pounds, so 12-pound-test monofilament line will handle most situations.
Flounder can be caught with both live baits and artificial lures. Bull minnows are the preferred bait for flounder, but flounder also readily take live shrimp. Keeping in mind that the flounder’s habitat is on the bottom, you need to weight your offering enough to keep it there.
The easiest bottom rig to use is the fish-finder rig, sometimes referred to in fresh water as the Carolina rig. Slide a barrel weight of at least 1/2 ounce onto your line with a swivel tied just below. Attach a monofilament leader of about 12 to 16 inches, tipped with a No. 2 Kahle hook.
Hook your bait and cast to the area you are targeting for flounder. Allow it to sit on the bottom for a minute or so to allow the flounder to find it. If you have no takers, move the bait a foot or so and repeat the process all the way back to the boat.
Once you feel a solid thump, resist the urge to set the hook. Flounder are notorious for capturing a bait and then repositioning it for swallowing. The most common method for hooking flounder is to count to 10 before setting the hook.
Artificial-lure fishing is slightly different. You have to set the hook a little earlier before the flounder realizes that it is chewing on a fake. Adding a scent to your artificials will cause the fish to hang on a little longer. You can also add a small strip of the belly of the first flounder you catch to sweeten your offering.
Some of the best artificials are plastic grubs on leadhead jigs. The most popular nighttime flounder grubs are those with metal flakes built into the color scheme.
Flounder are ambush feeders that like to position themselves in areas that allow easy feeding opportunities. At night there are few places that offer an easier meal than around the many lighted piers of Mobile Bay.
Within one hour of the light coming on at dark, the area comes alive with minnows, shrimp and other creatures attracted to the light. This in turn attracts the predators, which include flounder.
Even though the piers may be private property, the water surrounding them is in the public domain. Use common sense and be polite when approaching the piers. Homeowners are known to turn off the pier lights when noisy fishermen congregate. That effectively turns off the bite as well.
Discover even more in our monthly magazine,
and have it delivered to your door!
Subscribe to Alabama Game & Fish