June and its accompanying rise in water temperatures mark a time when larger and smaller flounder begin to go their separate ways. It’s time to go flounder fishing. Now larger fish will seek out and lay claim to the most advantageous habitat available, habitat that will provide them with ample food as well as deeper, cooler water. In most cases, such prime real estate will be found farther from shore, away from the shallower inlets and creeks. Choice locations will include bridges, rockpiles, reefs, wrecks and deep channels with sharp drop-offs.
These bigger fish are also seriously into energy efficiency, unwilling to waste valuable calories chasing their prey. Instead, they prefer to hide in or near sizeable hard structure that holds bait they can ambush. As summer progresses, the biggest flounder will spend most of their time camouflaged and half buried in deep-water bottoms of mud or sand, watching for meals to be delivered to their table.
TACKLE AND TACTICS
The combination of big flounder and deep-water structure requires anglers to pack differently from springtime trips to their favorite inlet or creek. A fairly heavy-action 6- to 6 1/2-foot graphite rod matched with a quality reel is needed to handle heavy sinkers required to bounce along the bottom, strong tides and currents, and large flounder determined to avoid capture.
A bait-casting or level-wind reel will provide better control of the line and a better feel for strikes than a spinning outfit. The reel can be left out of gear while holding a thumb on the spool to quickly let out line as the bait drops deeper or to slow down a drift. The angler can also respond quickly to the tug of a flounder, dropping the bait back to allow the fish time to get it fully into its mouth.
Thirty- to 50-pound braid is a good choice of line, providing the strength needed for deep-water trophy flounder, as well as the sensitivity required to distinguish between a flounder’s light bite and a snag. It’s especially effective for dropping and jigging bait straight down into a flounder’s lair, and its no-stretch quality makes it ideal for successful hook sets.
An effective rig for drifting, trolling or casting and retrieving bait along the bottom consists of a 12- to 24-inch length of shock leader of 20- to 30-pound-test line attached to a three-way swivel with one or two 1/0 to 3/0 wide-gap hooks and an egg or bank sinker just heavy enough to bounce across the bottom, usually 1 to 4 ounces.
A big summertime flounder’s inclination to conserve energy will affect its preference in baits. While the best bait will always be live, cut or artificial versions of whatever they’ve been feeding on, chances are they will find a larger offering more worthy of abandoning a choice hiding place to pursue it. A live menhaden or mullet that’s a bit bigger than those that usually pass overhead is likely to attract a trophy-sized flounder’s attention.
The same bigger-bait principle holds true for anglers employing cut bait or artificial lures. Generous offerings of 4- to 6-inch strip baits, tapered to a point so they flutter in the water, can be very appealing to a trophy-sized flounder, especially when adorned with attention-grabbing blades, beads, spinners or hair. Such accoutrements make an even bigger impact in murky water, providing flash for improved visibility, as well as vibrations that flounder can home in on. Likewise, a flashy blade will improve the prospects of artificial lures dropped down into a flounder’s home or jigged in the vicinity.
FINDING THE HOTSPOTS
With the knowledge of a big flounder’s needs and wants in mind, trophy seekers can make the best use of time spent searching for their quarry. Big flounder will usually make the search easier by congregating in tightly bunched areas of prime habitat where no dinks are allowed. As a bonus, they will usually be found around the same depth during a particular tide cycle, even in different areas. Most-favored summer homes will offer a combination of amenities that top the flounder’s wish list: hard structure, deep water, sharp drop-offs, and strong currents and tides that deliver disoriented bait.
The best place to start would be structure that offers all these features. The short list includes bridges and tunnels that transverse a deep channel, a paradise for big flounder.
Such settings provide pilings and rockpiles that harbor baitfish and diverts strong tides and currents that flush meals out to waiting flounder. Anglers have a choice of drifting or slow-trolling beneath bridges and over tunnels or anchoring and jigging beside the structure.
Channels are best covered by drifting along the deepest edges, concentrating on any ledges along sharp dropoffs. When a flounder is hooked, anglers should make note of the depth for future reference. Special attention should be paid to bends in the channel that provide hidden ambush points. Any sloughs, humps or other bottom changes formed by tide or current should also receive attention.
Some of the very largest flounder are taken from the shipwrecks. Conveniently for anglers, some were intentionally sunk near shore to provide fishing reefs and breakwaters. While some big flatties can be hooked inside a wreck, they’re almost impossible to get out. An angler’s best bet is to concentrate on troughs and depressions just off the structure.
Those inlets that provided so much enjoyment in the spring need not be neglected during the summer, especially when unruly seas make them the only game in town. Some big flounder will still be waiting, and anglers who consider their summertime needs can still find them. Likely hangouts now will include channel edges under and around bridges and rips formed by rocks, jetties and islands.