How to Catch Flounder – Tips from a Pro Guide!
In this article, I will thoroughly discuss how to catch flounder. Flounder are a well known bottom fish in the “flatfish” family. In the northeast part of the country, anglers call them “fluke”. For all intents, they are the same fish with similar habits. Flounder fight hard, but are mostly prized by anglers for their snow white fillets!
I am a fishing guide on Siesta Key, Florida. I grew up in Maryland fishing Chesapeake Bay. Flounder were the top species up there, along with striped bass. Here in Florida, we catch Southern Gulf flounder. On my charters, we rarely target then specifically. Instead, we catch them using the standard angling techniques.
Special thanks to Johanna for the great pics and tech tips! Anglers can follow Johanna on Instagram
How to catch flounder and fluke
Often times, anglers can look at a fish and gain a clue to it’s behavior. One look at a flounder or fluke and an anglers can tell right away how it feeds. Flounder lie on the bottom, often partially buried in the sand, looking up. Both eyes are on the same side and the flounder has excellent camouflage.
Flounder and fluke often relate to structure. However, unlike other species, they will usually be found in the sand, just off the edge of the structure. Facing the current, flounder lie in wait, hoping to ambush unsuspecting prey as the tidal flow carries it past. Minnows and small bait fish are the preferred forage, but shrimp, crabs, and other crustaceans will not be refused either.
Best flounder and fluke fishing tackle
Anglers fishing for flounder and fluke can use a variety of tackle. If I had to choose one rod and reel combination, it would be a light conventional (or baitcasting) outfit. Casting will be limited, but is often not required. A 7′ to 7 ½’ medium rod with a fast action (stout butt, limber tip) and a matching reel spooled with 30 pound braided line is an excellent all round combination. This is the type of tackle that Johanna uses up in the Northeast.
In Florida where I fish, spinning tackle is used more often. The flounder are smaller and the lures and baits that we use are fairly light. Spinning tackle is just a better choice for this application. I use a 7′ medium light rod with a 2500-3000 series reel and 20 pound braided line. It is basically the same rig used for most inshore saltwater fishing.
Best flounder an fluke fishing baits
As mentioned earlier, fluke and flounder love minnows! Small bait fish are their preferred forage. Some anglers use live minnows, though plenty of flounder are caught with dead or frozen baits. Live minnows are more trouble, they need to be caught or purchased and then kept alive. Frozen minnows are much more convenient and look alive in the water, especially in some current.
When I grew up years ago in Maryland, the crabs were so bad that using live minnows was frustrating. We primarily used strips of cut bait as it was more durable and we could shake the crabs off. That is an issue today, but not nearly as bad.
Shrimp are the top live bait in the southeast part of the country. They are abundant and available and every species will take them. Dead and frozen shrimp can be used as well. In the summer, I will also cast net sardines and flounder will certainly take them as well. Finally, mud minnows are hardy, easy to catch in a trap, and are very effective flounder fishing baits.
Cut bait is very effective when fishing for flounder and fluke! Squid is a universal and productive bait. It is usually but into long, slender strips, waving tantalizingly in the water. Any fresh caught fish that is legal can be cut into chunks or strips. Veteran anglers will cut a strip on the white side of the first legal flounder that they catch. This is a technique that Johanna often uses.
A recent addition to flounder and fluke fishing baits are commercially prepared baits. This is especially true for anglers surf fishing; many prefer them. The advantages are convenience and durability. These baits can be stored and are ready to use at all times. They also stay on the hook well. FishBites is probably the most popular example.
Flounder and fluke fishing rigs
Flounder and fluke baits need to be presented on the bottom. There are a variety of rigs that can be used, but the most common flounder and fluke rig is some variation of a sliding sinker, or Carolina rig. This rig has the advantage of fishing on the bottom while giving the bait room for movement. It also allows the fish to pick up the bait without feeling the resistance of the sinker.
The running line goes through the sinker, which is usually an egg sinker. A swivel stops the sinker. A leader is then tied on, followed by the hook. The leader is usually around 3′ long. A spinner can be added to increase flash and action. This rig works well when casting, bottom fishing on anchor, and drifting.
The other rig used most often is the high/low rig, also called a dropper rig or chicken rig. It is a standard rig that allows for multiple baits to be presented at varying depths. It is versatile and productive and is a great choice when a variety of species are available. It is perfect for drifting but can certainly be cast as well.
Sinker weight is very important. When drifting, the goal is to have the sinker just bouncing off the bottom. The weight will need to be adjusted as the strength of the tide changes. Anglers bottom fishing from an anchored boat want just enough weight to hit and hold the bottom.
Best flounder and fluke fishing lure
There really is only one artificial lure that anglers use to consistently use to produce fluke and flounder. That lure is the lead head jig. It can be presented right on the bottom, where flounder feed. A white bucktail jig with a strip of squid has produced many flounder over the years!
In the Northeast, anglers mostly drift fish with these lures. While drifting along, the jig is bounced up and then allowed to fall to the bottom. This is a very natural presentation. Jigs from 1-4 ounces are mostly used. White is an excellent color, though bright colors can produce in stained water. The jig can be tipped with cut bait or even a live minnow.
In Florida where I fish, and all along the Gulf Coast, the jig and grub rules. A ¼ ounce jig head with a 3” to 5” soft plastic bait works very well for flounder. We catch them in water that is not as deep and tides are weaker. Therefore, lighter jigs work well. For the most part,, they are cast out and retrieved, but can be vertically fished as well, particularly in passes.
Top flounder and fluke fishing spots
As with most saltwater fishing, the first order of business is locating fish. This is the case when flounder and fluke fishing as well. Anglers should start by understanding the local migration patterns of his or her particular area. Local bait shops and online forums are both excellent resources to use. Successful anglers keep moving until fish are located.
Flounder can be found on open sand and mud bottom. However, they will more often relate to some type of structure. This can be man made structure such as docks, bridges, wrecks, and jetties as well as natural ledges. Drifting works best over large areas while anchoring is best to fish smaller pieces of structure.
When anchoring, the best approach is to position the boat on the up-current side. This allows the bait to be presented back with the current, this is a natural looking presentation. This works well when fishing docks, bridges, small rock piles and ledges as well as other small areas or structures.
Drifting is a very productive flounder fishing technique! It allows anglers to thoroughly cover a large area while the bait remains in the strike zone the entire time. Sandy areas with ledges and depth changes are ideal spots to drift. Larger wrecks and ledges can also be drifted, though snagging the bottom can become an issue.
Surf fishing for flounder
Surf fishing for fluke and flounder is very popular. Anglers from Texas to New England catch fluke and flounder casting baits and jigs from the beach. The surf is a natural location for flounder to roam and feed. They are often caught fairly close to shore, in the first trough.
Most anglers surf fishing for flounder do so using cut bait. It stays on the hook better both during the cast and while fishing. Standard surf outfits work fine. One approach that I like to take when surf fishing ( I love surf fishing!) is to cast out a larger cut bait on the big rod and place it in a spike. Then, I work the trough with a jig for flounder and other species with a lighter spinning rod. This is a fun and productive one-two strategy.
In conclusion, this article on how to catch flounder and fluke will help anglers be more successful when chasing these hard-fighting and incredibly tasty inshore saltwater game fish!