From Rehoboth Beach to Indian River Inlet and beyond, here are places you should try right now for some of our states' finest summer flounder fishing.
Cut bait fished on a skirted leadhead jig makes for a winning combination to coax summer flounder into biting. Photo by Charlie Coates
By Charlie Coates
Flounder anglers in Delaware and Maryland experienced on-and-off success with these tasty bottom- dwellers last summer. On some days, fishermen caught good numbers of keeper-size summer flounder, while on others, legal fish were few and far between.
Still, considering the minimum size limits in force (17 1/2 inches in Delaware and 17 inches in Maryland) and the frequently atrocious weather affecting the Mid-Atlantic region last year, the area's flounder aficionados didn't do badly. Despite their handicaps, anglers managed to land a good number of 17- to 20-inchers, along with some genuine doormats.
In fact, the fishery's recovery is apparently on track, with the 2003 Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistics Survey showing an increase in catches over 2002 for both states. Throw in the high numbers of near-legal fish released last year, along with the probability of clearer and saltier water this year, and it would be reasonable to look toward this summer's flounder season with optimism.
The bar is lowered for Maryland's anglers this year, as that state's minimum size drops to 16 inches, a change that will undoubtedly motivate a lot more anglers to target them. "I didn't fish for flounder at all last year," said Captain Tom Ireland, a longtime charter captain on Chesapeake Bay. "I will this year, though. There are a lot of them out there between 16 and 17 inches."
There is one drawback to the new size limit, however. To stay in compliance with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's regulations governing target catch limits, anglers will now be allowed to keep only three flounder instead of the previous eight. Since relatively few limits were attained at 17 inches anyway, most of the state's fishermen are content with the change.
Delaware's size and creel limits will remain the same (four fish at 17 1/2 inches). But the First State's anglers are blessed with more saline and productive bay waters, as well as excellent access to inshore coastal fishing.
TACTICS & TACKLE
Summer flounder are ambush feeders, spending most of their time buried on the bottom waiting for tide and current to bring them an easy meal. They can be found in the warmer shallows in the spring, but by summer, most flatties will hang out on or near deeper channel edges and other sharp dropoffs. The angler's best chance for success is to bounce bait off the bottom along one of these dropoffs, a job best done by drifting along the dropoff's edge.
It is important to keep contact with the bottom at all times. This requires repeated lifting and dropping of the rod tip, making sure you feel the sinker touch bottom each time. When you feel a tug, drop the rod tip to give the flounder time to get the bait in its mouth before setting the hook.
Medium spinning gear works fine and supplies good sport in relatively calm and shallow water. But when dealing with strong tides and currents, especially in deep water, stout gear and heavy sinkers are often necessary. A baitcasting or levelwind reel will give you better control of your line and a better feel for strikes under these conditions.
A good basic terminal rig consists of a 12- to 24-inch length of shock leader made of 20-pound-test line, with one or two 1/0 to 3/0 wide-gap hooks and an egg or bank sinker attached by dropper loops. A hair- or rubber-skirted leadhead jig is often used instead of a plain hook, with spinners and beads added to better attract a flounder's attention. Bucktails in yellow, chartreuse and white are also effective.
The most popular baits are strips of squid or fish and minnows, often used in combination. Strips should be 4 to 8 inches long, and tapered to a point so they flutter in the water.
Location is everything, in fishing as well as real estate. While distribution of flounder will vary somewhat from year to year (depending on weather conditions, water salinity and food supply), certain areas perennially show up on the short list of top producers. The following locations have proven themselves over time, including the unusually dry season of 2002 and the near-record wet year of 2003.
Lewes, strategically located at the northernmost point of Delaware's coast at the mouth of Delaware Bay, has long been a magnet for Mid-Atlantic saltwater anglers, many of whom come looking to fill their coolers with flounder.
They don't have to look very far. Although anglers fishing out of Lewes have a wide range of choices in both the bay and ocean, some of the most reliable summer flounder hotspots are found close to port. The Outer Wall off Lewes and the canal that runs between Lewes and Rehoboth Bay are two nearby spots to try. Roosevelt Inlet, the Coral Beds and Broadkill Slough are all in the vicinity, and produce their share of flounder as well.
The deep dropoffs of the shipping channel from the mouth of Delaware Bay up to the Bowers Beach area are especially productive during August. Brown Shoal, just west of the shipping channel, is a consistent producer every year. Try drifting between buoys 9 and 10 southeast of the shoal. Dropoffs at the Anchorage, southwest of Brown Shoal, present another reliable fishery. This area, especially the southern side, gives up good numbers of summer flounder in the 6-pound and bigger class each year.
There is also a good fishery at the mouth of the bay, where a series of shoals provide ideal feeding grounds for flounder. Overfalls and Prissy Wicks shoals are two of the more reliable. The rips at Cape May are also worth a try.
Delaware Bay is full of flounder-holding structure, which can be found with a little bit of map and depthfinder work. There are also a number of artificial reef sites in the bay and nearby ocean that will harbor flounder and other species. Check the Delaware Angler's Guide, available at local tackle shops, for more locations.
While a boat is needed to effectively fish the bay, pier- and surf-anglers have access to productive ocean waters at Cape Henlopen State Park just east of Lewes. Long casts are not necessary, as flounder will usually be found in close. Strip baits and live baits should be moved slowly across the bottom. Look for cuts in a sandbar, where flounder will lie in wait to ambush baitfish.
Indian River Inlet
Indian River Inlet, which separates the Atlantic Ocean from Indian River and Rehoboth bays, is home to Delaware's state-record flounder, a whopping 17-pound, 15-ounce doormat caught here in 1974. William Kendall of Dundalk, Maryland took this trophy flatfish.
Nothing approaching that size has turned up in recent years, but the inlet still produces flatties in the 8- to 12-pound range each year, most of them taken from mid-July through September. As the water cools in late summer, bigger fish congregate here before heading to nearby inshore coastal waters.
The bottom around the bridge is mostly rocky, making bottom-fishing a difficult task. A good drift over sandy bottom is available, however, off the Coast Guard station on the north side of the inlet. Either side of a high or low tide is productive.
Both Indian River and Rehoboth bays offer good flounder action all summer long. Drift the edges of the channels, using large minnows with fish strips or bucktails and squid. The drift between buoys 19A and 24 in Indian River Bay can be especially productive. The slough near Quillens Point south of the inlet is also good.
Rehoboth Bay accounted for a good number of flounder from 4 to 7 pounds last summer, and Massey's Ditch, at the southern end of the bay, is always a top producer. Shore-anglers can get in on this action at Massey Landing.
A number of access points along Delaware Seashore State Park provide surf-fishing opportunities as well, but a permit is needed to drive on the beach or park on the lots. A float rig may be necessary to keep your bait off the bottom and away from crabs.
Flounder fishing starts picking up in deeper waters along the coast in late August and continues into October. Located midway along Delaware's 28 miles of shoreline, Little River Inlet provides convenient access to the state's coastal wrecks, reefs and shoals. The dropoff at B buoy, a short run due east of the inlet, consistently gives up good catches of flounder, along with sea bass. Reef sites 9, 10 and 11 were all productive last year. A coastal chart will show lots more flounder-holding structure along the entire coast.
Ocean City, Maryland
While the bays behind Ocean City did not produce a banner flounder season in 2003, savvy anglers who planned their fishing excursions according to tides and weather conditions caught a good number of quality fish nonetheless. Since incoming tides bring cooler ocean water into the coastal bays, the best flounder fishing during the heat of summer will coincide with a high tide. Prime time is a couple of hours before and after the peak of the tide. Morning tides are usually more productive than those in the afternoon, partly due to less boat traffic. If you're fortunate enough to catch a cloudy day with light east or southeast breezes, so much the better.
Anglers can extend their productive fishing time by being in the right place at the right time. Tides at Ocean City Inlet and Sinepuxent Bay south of the inlet run an hour or two earlier than those on Isle of Wight and Assawoman bays to the north.
Some of the area's most popular and productive flounder fishing takes place in Isle of Wight Bay, which encompasses the water between the state Route 90 bridge and Ocean City Inlet. Here, flounder are taken from the edges of the thoroughfare on the bay's western side and the main east channel between 14th and 1st streets. Trophy summer flounder in the 7- to 9-pound range are caught in this area each summer.
Drift between the channel markers and between the markers and nearby flats. A map and a depthfinder will help you to find the numerous holes, cuts and sandbars that hold flounder. Shore-bound anglers can get in on the action by dunking bait off the U.S. Route 50 bridge and several piers in the area.
Minnow and bait strip combinations work well throughout the region all summer. By late August, however, large minnows, mullet, alewives and spots start showing up in the bays. Anglers who fish these baits live will score on some of the year's biggest flatfish.
The same game plan works in Sinepuxent Bay behind Assateague Island. Drift between buoys and between sandbars or marshes and buoys. The area around the airport produces flounder from 7 to 8 pounds each year.
Chesapeake Bay Shipping Channel
The sharp eastern edge of Chesapeake Bay's shipping channel between buoys 72 and 76 offers classic flounder habitat, especially for bigger fish. Strong tides and currents sweep disoriented bait to waiting flounder, providing easy meals. Successful anglers drift the edge of the drop with 4- to 6-inch-long strips of bait.
The best July and August results usually come in 25- to 35-foot depths, but as the water begins to cool in late summer, look for flounder to move even deeper. When you get a bite, make a mental note of the depth as well as the location. On any given day, summer flounder are likely to be found at the same depth, even along a different dropoff.
The entire edge between buoys 74 and 76 is productive most years, with Buoy 74 off the southern tip of Barren Island and the Horse Channel southeast of the buoy normally being top producers. With last year's unusually low salinity, however, the bay's better fishing moved farther south to the area around Buoy 72, where the edges drop from 22 feet to over 100 feet. While most of the bigger flounder come off the drops, it can be worth an angler's time to troll the nearby flats, bouncing baits off the bottom. Chances for bigger fish are improved if you can find areas with grass or oyster shells.
With its deep drops and fast-moving water that can require weights of 5 ounces or more to hold bottom, this area is best fished with heavier gear, preferably including a stout, fast-taper rod matched with a baitcasting or levelwind reel. Moving up to heavier tackle also allows the use of larger baits, which are more likely to lure bigger flounder out of their lairs.
In addition to longer strip baits and larger minnows, live spots can be employed to entice the jumbo flatties. Artificials such as bucktails and metal jigs can also be used. A piece of cut bait or crab added to an artificial will increase your odds, as long as it's small enough not to impede the lure's action.
The Solomons area near the mouth of the Patuxent River is blessed with numerous productive fishing holes for flounder fishermen, including many that are small-boat friendly when the Chesapeake Bay becomes unruly. Between Cove Point to the north and Cedar Point Hollow to the south, anglers can find close-to-shore fishing to suit different tides.
"Cove Point and Little Cove Point are good places to fish on an incoming tide," said local charter boat captain Sonny Forrest. "They both have drops that go from 10 to 30 feet. The dropoff in front of the lighthouse is always worth a look. The area right above Cove Point is good on an outgoing tide."
to the many sandbars and other dropoffs in the area, Capt. Forrest likes to work the flats, trolling floater rigs with small spoons and bucktails. He also turns to trolling when there's no moving tide or the wind is wrong for drifting.
"I can troll into the current slower than drifting with it," he said. "That way I can keep my baits on the bottom and cover more ground. The Cedar Point Hollow area has hard, sandy bottom that holds flounder. Trolling is easier there because there are fewer crab pots."
When drifting, Capt. Forrest uses a variety of fluke rigs, feather jigs and leadheads, along with bull minnows and cut baits. The cut baits are kept in a plastic bag with kosher salt to keep them firm. "It also gives off a scent that seems to make a difference," he said.
Anglers should also try the rip at Cedar Point, although the current there during a strong tide can make it impossible to hold bottom. Try the beginning and end of the tide, and be prepared to use sinkers up to 8 ounces to hold bottom. Also, check out the Three-Legged Buoy just outside the mouth of the Patuxent River, where water depth drops from 8 to 24 feet.
More good fishing can be found from the Patuxent River mouth up to the state Route 4 bridge. Drift the ledge near the southern shoreline that drops from about 15 feet down to 40 feet. On the northern side of the river, Drum Point can be productive on an incoming tide.
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