Texas' Backwater Flounder

Texas' Backwater Flounder

For spring flounder fun on the Gulf Coast, you'll do best by hitting the backwater areas of our bays and estuaries. Here are some good spots for getting started.

By Robert Sloan

We got to the ramp at about 10 a.m., and I couldn't believe my eyes. It was empty! That was good news: less competition for flounder in the backwater bay of Rollover Pass.

We launched my flats rig and motored across the Intracoastal Canal, and eased around the corner, where there was a little drainage coming out of the marsh. Baitfish were flipping on the water's surface.

"This is going to be good," I said. "Everything looks right."

On my third cast the little shad-colored crankbait got thumped hard.

"That's probably what we're looking for," I told Rocky Chase, who was making a move for the net.

Sure enough, a beautiful bronze-colored flounder splashed on the surface as Rocky slipped the net under her. It was a fat 3-pounder that would be mighty tasty when broiled.

Capt. Skip James is a pro at taking big flounder like this from the backwaters of Sabine Lake. Photo by Robert Sloan

The boat ramp behind Rollover Pass on Galveston's East Bay doesn't get too much pressure, simply because not very many anglers know it exists. However, it leads the way to some of the best flounder fishing on the Texas Coast.

The backwater areas of Rollover Pass really begin to load up with flounder in April. Ditto that with a few other backwater areas along the Texas' Upper Coast.

April is when water temperatures begin to warm up. When that occurs, southern flounder begin their migration back into the bays from the Gulf. As word of the flounder run spreads, more and more opportunistic fishermen head to the backwater areas that are generally located near passes linking the bays to the Gulf of Mexico.

Rollover Pass and San Luis Pass are both part of the Galveston Bay system. And both are hot floundering waters during April.

What's so great about both of these passes is that they can be fished by boat or by wading from the bank.

While growing up in southwest Houston, I spent a serious amount of time fishing for flounder at San Luis Pass. This pass separates Galveston from Freeport, but it's a link from the Gulf to Galveston's West Bay. Based on many years of experience, the backwater flats on the Galveston side of the pass are a natural draw for flounder.

What I normally do is park my vehicle, gather my wading gear and head to the backwater flats of the bay, about 200 yards around the bend from the pass. As the tide moves in flounder will stage in the guts formed by the currents ripping in from the pass. What you want to do is wade the shallow flats, and work jigs or live baits in the guts.

Much of the best fishing will be in the guts that are 3 to 4 feet deep. The backwater flats off San Luis Pass are generally gin clear. Because of that you need to keep a low profile. Flounder are very spooky fish by nature, and once they spot you, they are gone in a flash.

Conversely, the water behind Rollover Pass on East Bay is generally murky. The flounder are not nearly as spooky there. One very good option at Rollover is to park your vehicle on the east side of the pass, and wade into the back bay. The flats just to the east of the pass are wide open. And on a high tide they will load up with flounder.

What I prefer to do at Rollover is launch my flats boat and head to the marsh on East Bay. The marsh on the upper end of the bay is huge and offers wide-open flats that are anywhere from 1 to 2 feet deep.

As flounder come in from the Gulf at Rollover, they will migrate through the pass and into the marsh along the upper end of the bay. Finding flounder in that marsh is easy. I usually look for baitfish in the shallows. But another very good option is to fish the mouths of canals and drainages linking one marsh estuary to another. Those canals are plentiful, and they attract a lot of fat spring-run flounder.

Some of my best catches of flounder have come as I fished jigs at the mouths of canals leading out of the marsh and into East Bay. Those outlets are best when fished on falling tides. If the tide is coming in, simply move up the canal where it enters the open flats of the marsh.

Sabine Lake is a well-known flounder fishing hotspot. One of the best at catching Sabine flounder is guide Skip James.

"My favorite areas to fish for flounder on Sabine Lake are the mouths of canals that lead to the backwater marsh," says James. "That's where flounder will stage prior to moving into the backwater marsh lakes."

To prove his point, James and I went out on the lake, dropped anchor just inside the mouth of one of those canals, and proceeded to load up with big flounder.

James not only knew where those fish would be feeding, but also what they wanted to feed on.

"I use jigs almost all the time for flounder," says James. "But what I like to do is tip the jig's hook with a tiny piece of fresh table shrimp. Part of the tail section is best. Flounder have an excellent sense of smell, and keen eyesight. The combination of a jig moving by a flounder plus the fresh scent of shrimp is too good to pass up."

When fishing the backwater areas of Sabine Lake, James will key on humps. "Regardless of where I'm fishing - a canal, marsh lake or whatever - I'll key on humps, or some sort of break along bottom. I've found that flounder will stack up on humps and along subtle drops."

The best humps are often found at the mouth of marsh canals. The daily movements of tides form small cuts at the mouths of canals. As flounder move in and out of the marsh, they will position on those humps to feed on baitfish and shrimp.

There are all sorts of live and artificial baits that will catch backwater flounder. A soft-plastic jig is probably the best artificial you can use.

Mike Jenkins, a flounder fishing ace in the backwater marsh of East Galveston Bay says a white 1/4-ounce Assassin with a chartreuse tail is deadly on flounder. His son, Will, says a 1/4-ounce gold spoon is tough to beat.

During the past year or so I've been catching lots of flounder with an Excalibur Swim'n Image. This is a shallow running crankbait that closely resembles a 3-inch threadfin shad or p

ogy. That's the type of baitfish flounder often feed on. I've done well with the speckled trout and bleeding shad patterns. The way to fish this little crankbait is to bring it across bottom with a medium to slow retrieve. They work best in about 2 feet of water.

Live baits definitely will catch plenty of flounder. Live mud minnows, shrimp, finger mullet and shad are the top live baits for flounder. But quite often they are not available at bait camps during April. If that's the case, you can either opt to use artificials or find and catch your own bait with a cast net. More often than not, there will be baitfish in the backwater marsh areas.

The best way to fish live baits shallow is under a small float. I like to rig the bait and float rig so that it moves with the current. The bait should be rigged about 4 inches off bottom. That's a very good way to cover lots of water. It's definitely the best way to catch good numbers of flounder.

For guide information on East Galveston Bay call Gene Ballard at (409) 684 3574. On Sabine Lake call Skip James at (409) 886-5341. If you're interested in fly-fishing for flounder on East Galveston Bay's backwater areas call Robert Sloan at (409) 896-2011.

By the way, fly-fishing for flounder is a real hoot. Flounder will blast a deer hair popper like a bass hitting a topwater plug. I've seen them come completely out of the water and eat the fly on the way down. Streamers and spoon flies will take flounder, as well. A gold spoon fly is absolute death on big flounder. Talk about a battle: Try taming a 3- to 5-pound flounder with an 8-weight fly rod!

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