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Targeting Summer Flounder
written by Ron Brooks

Knowing the habits of summer flounder can help put a mess of these flatfish on your dinner table.
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Summer flounder are one of the most abundant fish along the Atlantic and Gulf coast of the United States, ranging from North Carolina all the way around to Mexico. Pursued by many anglers some of whom have their own special rigs these fish can be caught by anyone willing to follow a few simple tips.

Migration Patterns

Caught Ya! In the spring and early summer, big flounder make their way inshore and head up a variety of rivers, creeks and bays.

Flounder can be found from estuary creeks to the ocean bottom, depending on the time of year. They are migratory fish during the year, moving back and forth from estuaries to ocean. They can thrive in brackish, nursery, estuary waters where small flounder spend their early years. They also thrive in comparatively deep water as deep as 200 feet in some cases around offshore wrecks and reefs. Depending on the time of year, you can find and catch these flounder wherever they are.

In the spring and early summer, big flounder make their way inshore and head up a variety of rivers, creeks and bays. Amazingly, studies have shown that they will usually return to the same area every year. Larger flounder spend the summer months in the inlets and bays, feeding on the huge variety of baitfish that the summer brings.

In the fall, beginning around October, they will migrate through the inlets and head offshore. An early cold front will hasten the migration and can mean a big flounder bite for anglers willing to fish in the cold weather. Once offshore, the flounder will spawn, often more than 10 times, producing tens of thousands of eggs.

As spring approaches, the flounder larvae will drift into the inlets with the currents. They head for brackish water back in the estuaries to feed and grow. As they grow, they will move back to water with a higher salinity level. At the end of one year, they will be almost a foot long, and they will head offshore in the fall.

This information is important to know if you plan to fish for flounder. In the spring, as the larger fish move inshore, you can catch them in the inlets as they migrate in. In the summer you can find them inshore in almost any bay, creek or river. In the fall you can find them migrating back offshore to spawn once again.

Tactics

Wherever you find them, there are some basic tactics that can help you catch more fish. You need only adjust the tactics to fit the water you happen to be fishing.

Flounder rigs for natural bait fishermen consist of the standard hook, leader and sinker arrangement. The sinker or weight is usually a long, thin sinker similar to a trolling sinker, often with a beaded chain. The weight of the sinker will be dependant on the depth of the water and speed of the current. Use only enough weight to get your bait to the bottom.

Leaders need to be relatively heavy the flounder has sharp teeth and can cut lighter line and leaders with ease. Kahle hooks are used by most flounder anglers because they work well with live bait, and they act like a circle hook, allowing the flounder to hook itself on most occasions.

When fishing for flounder with live or natural bait, you will have to avoid the urge to set the hook when you first feel a bite. Flounder will grab the bait with their sharp teeth and almost sit with it for a moment before they get the whole bait in their mouth. When you feel a bite, allow the fish to swim with the bait for up to 30 seconds before putting pressure on him. Setting the hook earlier than that will most often result in bringing half of your bait back, bitten off neatly just below the hook.

There are many artificial baits that will take flounder, the most popular of which are soft plastics on a jig head. 

Where to Find Them

Whether you fish with natural or artificial bait, you need to remember that flounder are ambush feeders. They lie on the bottom, camouflaged by the mud, sand or silt, and wait for their next meal to come by.

Inshore, they will lie in the mouth of small feeder creeks and saltwater marsh runoffs. They will position themselves on the back side of a piling or the edge of an oyster bar, out of the current. They will slowly ease along a shoreline, looking for food.

Catching Dinner. Flounder can be found from estuary creeks to the ocean bottom, depending on the time of year.

Offshore, they will position themselves in the sandy bottom adjacent to a wreck or bottom structure. In the winter, spearfishermen consistently take very large flounder from around the edge of a wreck.

With either live bait or a jig and plastic, anglers need to work the areas that flounder inhabit. On an outgoing tide, find a creek mouth or marsh runoff and gently place your bait up in the mouth. Flounder lie on the bottom in front of these areas, waiting for a meal to come their way. Slowly drag or work your bait back to you, making sure you keep it on the bottom. If a flounder is there, he will eat your bait in short order.

Work from the back side of docks and pilings, pulling or working your bait with the current. An ambushing flounder will nail your bait as it goes by. Working a bait against the current will not produce any fish. It is unnatural for bait to move upstream against the tide. Flounder know this and will generally avoid baits presented to them in that manner.

In the winter, offshore flounder can be caught bottom fishing, although two things need to happen for you to be successful. First, the weather has to allow you to anchor properly, and that means getting the boat off to the side of a wreck or reef so that you can fish the sandy bottom. Second, you have to get your bait down to the bottom before another specie of fish takes it. This second condition is the most difficult, and it is why flounder anglers generally avoid looking offshore during the winter months. They caught fish on the outgoing migration; now they usually await the incoming migration in the spring to fish for them.

Flounder are good eating and fun to catch. Following these few simple rules and knowing the habits of summer flounder can put some of these flatfish on your table.

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