Flounder is a term used to group together dozens of flatfish species. Flounder are common, widespread, bottom-dwellers that are fun to catch, presenting a seemingly simple, yet surprisingly challenging experience. Many flounder species have both eyes on one side of their body and can camouflage themselves to match their habitat and surroundings.
Where & When to Find Flounder
Flounder can be found in nearshore waters from Texas to Louisiana, around Florida’s coasts, and all the way up the east coast to Maine. Given their bottom-dwelling nature, you will often find them inshore along sandy or muddy bottoms, sandbars, small ledges, rocks, piers/docks, pilings and rocky reefs. They also venture into rivers, creeks, bayous, sounds, estuaries and brackish bays. Deep creek bends, specifically those that host several run-outs, will often prove abundant.
In Florida, the two most common species are gulf flounder and southern flounder. They are most present during their migration to the Gulf from October to December, but they can be found year-round, and with the new closed season taking effect last year, anglers have to respect the dates and get their fishing in when they can.
When fishing offshore, flounder are most active early in the morning and late in the afternoon near reefs and structure. Inshore, they are always active at high tide.
Gulf and Southern Flounder Appearances
Both species are bottom-oriented flatfish with both of their eyes on the left side of their bodies. These species will have strong, sharp, and canine-like teeth. They both will have a wedge-shaped tail where it ‘tips’ in the middle.
These flounder differ when it comes to their spots and color. The Gulf Flounder has 3 distinct eye-like spots that form a triangle on the mass of the body. Southern Flounder have 5 or more dark blotches/spots that are more circular than eye-like. Both species will be brownish in color with their spots being darker.
Rules and Regulations
In December of 2020, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) approved changes to the management of Florida’s flounder fishery that took effect March 1, 2021. The changes were prompted by data that showed a decline in the statewide flounder fishery, mostly due to overfishing. These changes included:
- The extension of ALLFWC flounder regulations into federal waters.
- An increasing of the minimum size limit from 12, to 14 inches in total length (recreational and commercial).
- A reduction in the recreational daily bag limit from 10, to 5 fish per person.
- The establishment of a closed recreational season (Oct. 15 – Nov. 30).
- For commercial harvesters using allowable gear: the establishment of a commercial trip and vessel limit of 150 fish from Dec. 1 – Oct. 14, and 50 fish from Oct. 15 – Nov. 30.
- A modification of the incidental bycatch limit for commercial harvesters using non-allowable gear from 50 pounds to 50 fish per trip.
- The creation of a federal waters trawl bycatch limit of 150 flounder per trip from Dec. 1 – Oct. 14, and 50 fish per trip from Oct. 15 – Nov. 30.
Hook and line, gigs, seine, cast net and spears are all legal methods of catching flounder, while the use of any multiple hook in conjunction with live or dead natural bait and snatching are illegal.
These regulations are for state and federal waters off Florida and apply to gulf, southern, summer and fringed flounder.
Special regulations also apply for this species when fishing in Biscayne National Park.
Fishing Tips and Tricks
Although they seem to be everywhere and easy to locate, there is still a level of finesse required when pursuing flounder. For starters, being familiar with the area you are fishing will prove advantageous. Flounder like to hold near small drop offs, wading through the shallows of well-known territory will provide many benefits. For example, many anglers enjoy catching their own live bait during low tide. In doing so, it becomes easier to spot flounder “tracks” – impressions left in the mud or sand where flounder were nestled. This will alert you to the amount of flounder that will be present when the tide comes back in. Wading also allows you to use your feet to detect bottom composition and search for ledges and potholes where flounder may be hiding.
You can also choose to stay on board and drift or bump troll. Many flounder are often caught less than a rod length away from the boat. Many anglers like to run upcurrent, covering a lot of water in a short amount of time. This is crucial as flounder move quickly once they’ve spotted their bait.
Although you’ll have the best luck with live bait, such as mullet, mud minnows, spot, sardines, menhaden, shrimp, crab, croakers, and shad; flounder are intrigued by both artificial and natural baits. A popular artificial bait model is the curly tail grub, but anglers also use spoons, buck-tail jigs, and other grub-tailed models. Some even recommend scented baits, such as gulp shrimp or jerk baits. If you are using live bait, cut bait is your best bet as it gives off a more potent scent.
Depending upon your bait type and the depth and current at your location, there are several tactics that can be employed while flounder fishing. You can use a rig such as the standard fish-finder rig, Carolina rig or the flicker, or you can free line.
Regardless of your bait type or tactic, it will take some working to get flounder to bite. Using light tackle and 1/8 to 1-ounce jigs, it is best to drift or dance the bait along the bottom and/or work it through the water column. This alerts you to any pilings or rocks, while enticing the fish with a natural looking display. The ultimate goal is to keep the water moving. They like to ambush their prey, waiting for it to enter the strike zone. When near a ledge, try casting parallel to it; this will keep the lure in the strike zone during the retrieve.
If you are fishing near structure, find a spot near a current break or eddy. Flounder will be nestled down current, just waiting to ambush. When near particularly tricky structure, heavier tackle is advised. If the flounder hits your bait, try coaxing it out gently by reeling in the line and leading it to an ideal spot prior to setting the hook. Don’t worry – once the flounder hits, he most likely won’t let it get away, so just keep working it.
If you find that the flounder keep spitting the bait or hook out, try keeping the line tight and reeling in slowly, waiting 5-10 seconds before setting the hook.
If you have never been flounder fishing, it is definitely something you should add to your repertoire. You will pleasantly surprised at how challenging, yet rewarding it is to snag a flounder. Not to mention, they make for great table fare. If you need the perfect vessel for such an endeavor, Ingman Marine has bay boats, bass boats and skiffs that would be perfect.