This flat fish with both eyes on one side is a local favorite to catch and as table fare. We have three species of flounder in our area,
Summer Flounder, Southern Flounder, and Gulf Flounder. Depending on the time of year, flounder are found both inshore in our sounds and creeks as well as in the ocean on ledges and reefs.
There are many techniques to catch a flounder, both lures and natural baits are used. Flounder lay on the bottom and are master of disguise, blending in so as to be unseen by their prey. They often can be found hiding behind a current break just as oyster bed, pier piling or similar object. They lay it wait to ambush bait fish, shrimps and even small crabs as they pass nearby.
There is a size and creel limit on flounder. Below is a chart which was current on the date it was uploaded, however please check with the NC Department of Marine Fishers for the latest information.
Catching Flounder Tips from Topsail Angler
Flounder are one of my favorite inshore fish—they are fun to catch and they taste great! However, catching them with any consistency takes practice and patience.
There are probably as many thoughts on how to fish for flounder as there are fishermen, below are some of my favorite techniques learned and practiced over the many years I’ve been flounder fishing.
Let’s start with their habitat. Flounders are predators and their favorite tactic is the ambush. They have a great camouflage in their flat body and spotted topside—even their eyes are hard to detect. The shade of their skin can change depending on the environment. They lie on the bottom and wait for a potential meal to get close and then attack.
They usually do not chase a meal very far, preferring to wait for their prey to come to them. This means you will need to put bait “on top” of them. Both pattern casting and drift fishing work well. You want your bait to be on or close to the bottom.
If casting: after you cast and tighten your line, let it set on the bottom for a five count then just pick up the rod tip and let it drop back down. Wait another five count, then retrieve a few feet of line and pick up the rod tip again, repeating this until time to cast again.
Another technique is the slow retrieve—just use a steady but slow retrieve with an occasional pause. With either of these techniques, don’t be surprised to get a “pick-up” on the downward or slack movement of the bait.
Drift fishing for flounder is similar to casting, but you just leave the line out. Be sure to hold the rod—the flounder usually will not run with bait, so if you set the rod down you may not know if a flounder gets on until too late. A flounder will often turn a live fish in its mouth before completely swallowing it, so patience is required or you risk pulling the bait from its mouth.
If you are using live bait, when you feel him pick up your bait, let out a little bit of line to keep him from sensing the weight of the sinker. Then after a 20 count, gently tighten the line and set the hook.
Flounder are likely to spread out over a wide area, so don’t anchor in one spot for hours on end. When the tide is falling, try drifting around the mouths of inlets, rivers and the edges of a channel rather than anchoring. On rising tide, work the pilings around piers, docks and other hard structures.
Often you’ll find them on the flats, when there is enough water, or up against the oyster rocks (little fish hang out there so flounder hide nearby waiting for a meal). Flounder use structures such as sloughs, channels, deep holes, ledges and man-made things like piers and bridges to ambush their prey.
When the water turns colder, look for them to move into deeper water and up on the mud bottoms instead of the sand (mud holds heat longer). Where small creeks and tidal ditches connect to bigger channels and creeks can also be productive places.
Remember, think ambush… Where would be a good underwater spot for an ambush? That’s where you’ll find the flounder.
Flounder are not picky eaters—if it looks appealing they will eat it. Fishing with live bait is a favorite of many fishermen. Finger mullet (finger sized pop-eye mullet), mud minnows, small menhaden and pin fish are all good choices to use for flounder bait.
When using a pin fish, I usually cut off the dorsal fins to make the fish easier to swallow—if you have ever been stuck by the fins of a pin fish, you know how it got its name!
One of the most popular ways to rig live bait for flounder fishing is called a Carolina rig. Let’s start from the bottom of a piece of 25- to 40-pound leader material (I like to use fluorocarbon). Tie on a 2/0 or 3/0 circle style hook; above that you can add beads and a spinner if you want; and then about 18 to 24 inches above the hook tie a barrel swivel. Tie on another piece of leader material about 12 to 15 inches long. Add an egg sinker to the line with a colored bead on either side. Finish the rig tie with another barrel swivel at the end of the line.
This rig allows the line to move freely through the sinker, which will keep the flounder from feeling the weight when it picks up the bait in its mouth. Also, the live bait is free to swim around in a natural way.
Make up a variety of these rigs in advance using different size weights, from a half ounce and up, and using a couple of different hook sizes. Then when you are ready to fish, you can match the rig to the fishing conditions. Just select the appropriate rig and tie it directly to your line.
A variation to this rig is to add the sinker directly to your main line and tie the line directly to the barrel swivel above the hook.
Other popular natural baits are shrimp (both dead and alive), cut mullet pieces, pork rind strips or squid strips. These are often tied to a standard two-hook bottom rig or to a lead jighead.
On the artificial bait side of things are bucktails and soft plastic baits. Bucktails are often tipped with a pork rind or piece of cut bait. A variety of soft plastic baits are available, many of them pre-rigged. My favorite artificial bait for flounder is a lead jighead loaded with a Berkley Gulp! shrimp or pogy.
No matter which bait you choose, remember that flounder are opportunistic feeders, not hunters. They wait for food to come to them, and then they pounce. They use their great natural camouflage to blend into the bottom, wait for a meal to pass nearby and then attack.
However, once they take the fish, they often settle back down on the bottom to enjoy the meal; they usually do not run. This is where it can get tricky, especially if you are using live bait. If you try to set the hook before the flounder has swallowed the bait completely, you will pull the fish out of his mouth and not set the hook. When the flounder first takes the fish, you will sometimes only feel a slight tension on the line or a light tug.
At this point, keep the rod still, or play out line if needed and count to 20 or so; then take up any slack in the line and set the hook with a smooth short snap (not too hard).
I think more flounder bites are lost because the hook set is attempted too soon than just about any other reason. It takes patience and attention to the line, but it’s well worth the extra effort and patience.