The summer flounder fishing has rarely been better in our two states, especially at the five areas highlighted here.
Photo by Mike Marsh
While recreational creel limits for summer flounder have been cut to the bare bone, minimum size limits seem to constantly increase for recreational anglers. This particular set of circumstances would tend to make avid anglers believe that their chances of catching a legal-sized flatfish range from slim to none. However, there are still a few locations in the Mid-Atlantic where keeper-sized flounder were taken last summer.
Many of 2004's flounder hotspots were completely overlooked by both local and visiting anglers, individuals who opted to fish for more glamorous species, such as striped bass, red drum and weakfish. Ironically, most of the stripers caught nearby were undersized as well, while many weakfish were smaller yet -- and sizable numbers of red drum did not arrive on the scene until late fall.
Hooper Island Area
While most Chesapeake Bay anglers were busy trying to catch striped bass, a small contingent opted to try their luck drifting live minnows along the bay's eastern channel edge between buoys 74 and 76. This particular location is nothing more than a vast expanse of relatively deep sand flats that stretches from Barren Island south to Lower Hooper Island.
Depths here range from 5 to 26 feet along this edge; however, the most productive locations all seem to be along the outer perimeter of the flats, between the main channel's eastern edge and the abrupt dropoff closer to the Eastern Shore. Tidal currents here are fairly swift; there are loads of small lumps and bumps, scattered wrecks, and at the southern end, Hooper Island Light.
"The secret to success here is to use extra-large, live killifish, and only those that are very lively," said Ken Lamb, owner of The Tackle Box in Lexington Park. "We try to keep big minnows in stock all the time, but it's not always possible, especially at this time of year. I fish those flats for flounder every day the weather cooperates, and most of the keeper-sized fish we found range from 20 to 22 inches long; but there were a few flounder of 24 inches or more caught in the same vicinity through much of the summer. The biggest I heard of last year was a 28-incher, and it was taken just a few hundred feet from buoy 76."
Lamb said that most of the larger fish seem to concentrate along the steep dropoff closer to the bay's main channel edge, mainly in depths of 26 to 32 feet.
"Last summer, the magic depth seemed to be about 27 feet, and as long as the wind or tide would carry the boat along that edge, you caught lots of keeper-sized fish. However, there were times when flounder were right in among the crab pots in just 12 to 15 feet of water. Under those circumstances you would line up on a particular pot marker, then establish a drift toward another marker. If you caught a couple of fish, you would slowly motor to deeper water, head upwind, and renew the drift. Usually, when you find larger flounder at a location, it's likely that they'll be there for the rest of the tide."
Lamb said he prefers fishing during the ebb tide, and that most of the feeding activity takes place during the first two hours of falling water. He rigs using a flat, pan-shaped 4-ounce sinker attached to a Chincoteague Flounder Rig, which is made locally from a piece of heavy leader with a barrel swivel at the top, large snap at the bottom for the sinker, and a pair of dropper loops rigged with size 1/0 wide-gap hooks. Some folks use a similar rig; however, bright red beads and a Colorado spinner blade adorn the hook's leader to provide a bit of enticing flash in the bay's often-murky waters.
Holland Island Flats
The vast expanse of flats stretching between Holland Island and buoy 72 can be highly productive for summer flounder action. Captain Mike Murphy, who runs from Lower Hooper Island, said, "There are a lot of flounder there through much of the summer months, and I've even taken them on jigging spoons while fishing for stripers and bluefish. Most of the bottom is completely flat and featureless, but there are a number of troughs that can be found southeast of buoy 72. This is where we usually come across the largest flounder of the season, despite the fact that we're not usually fishing for them."
Depths just east of buoy 72 range 32 to 35 feet, while just to the west, the dropoff falls rapidly to 108 feet. Therefore, this area can be readily drift-fished during a northwest breeze by merely running to the buoy and shutting off the engine. Just lower your bait to the bottom and allow the boat to drift over the vast expanse of hard-sand bottom.
Depending on wind conditions, you may need up to 4 or more ounces of sinker to maintain good bottom contact. Once you find good flounder fishing, mark the location on your GPS and drift over it until it's no longer productive. More often than not, you'll have no trouble catching your limit of exceptionally large fish here. A 34-inch doormat was taken from the decks of a small boat at this location last summer.
From early summer to late fall, flounder can be found in the confines of Cornfield Harbor, another location that is relatively close to launch ramps and situated near sharp underwater structure. In this particular instance, the structure is very shallow, a sandbar that extends from the southern tip of Point Lookout south to Point Lookout Light. And while there is a lot of boating traffic coming and going to nearby Point Lookout State Park, it does not seem to hamper the outstanding flounder action that takes place here annually.
Years ago, a commercial menhaden net was placed just inside the Point Lookout sandbar where depths range 12 to 18 feet. At the time it was a location that was ideal because between the net and the bar, fish were funneled into the trap during each incoming tide. The net has been long gone, but a few of its stakes still remain, a reminder that the way of the Chesapeake's commercial watermen is rapidly coming to an end.
Just east of the stakes, the Point Lookout sandbar falls vertically from depths of just 2 feet to 12 feet, all within the length of a 20-foot boat. Your bow can be touching the bottom of the bar, while you're fishing from the stern in 12 feet of fast-moving water.
If there is no wind, you can easily drift-fish this stretch of Cornfield Harbor by merely allowing your boat to follow the tidal currents. However, during peak tidal flows, the drift will be too fast, almost 4 to 5 knots on a windless day.
Indian River Bay
The entire contents of Indian River Bay empties through a narrow inlet just east of Delaware's Coastal Highway (Route 1) bridg
e, a passage that can be highly productive for striped bass, tautog, bluefish and an occasional flounder. However, when the tide is ripping through the inlet, it's nearly impossible to fish. Fortunately, this is not the case just 1/4-mile west of the bridge.
A vast tidal flat is constantly being formed just a few hundred feet south of Indian River's U.S. Coast Guard Station located on a small peninsula near the mouth of Balders Pond. While the area has been dredged on several occasions, the rate of siltation is such that dredging is almost an ongoing project to keep the waterway open for the passage of larger, commercial and charter fishing vessels. Depths over the bar range from 12 to 25 feet deep, and the adjacent channel quickly falls off to 35 to 50 feet, making it an ideal location to catch flounder.
Most of the larger fish seem to be caught in somewhat deeper waters during periods of peak tidal movement. However, as the tide wanes to the final hours of ebb, look for the bigger fish to move onto the relatively shallow flats. Though under the current regulations most fish caught here will be throwbacks, a 32-inch doormat was taken at this location during the 2004 Independence Day weekend.
Situated near the mouth of Delaware Bay, Breakwater Harbor has one of the most diverse bottoms of any waterway in the region. The harbor contains several extensive breakwaters or sea walls that were constructed nearly a century earlier to provide protection for passage of the Lewes/Cape May ferry, which docks within the harbor at Lewes.
Depths within the harbor range from 15 to 25 feet. It's along these edges where anglers caught good numbers of flounder to 24 inches through much of the previous season. However, this is not a good place to be on a windy day.
The above locations are just a few of the many overlooked hotspots in our respective states. Why don't you give one or more of them a try this fishing season?