Flounder, or flatfish, as they’re commonly called, abound throughout the waters of the southern coast of the United States and Mexico. Anglers love them for their taste and the challenge they pose when pursued year-round. As with most fish, the habits of flounder change as the seasons pass, and fishermen seeking to fill their cooler with them will have to adjust their tactics if they don’t want to go home empty-handed.
Depending on the time of year, flounder can be found anywhere from deep, offshore waters to shallow canals and marshy flats. During the spring and summer, they move inland and even head upriver in some areas. When summer brings baitfish into bays and coves, large flounder follow such prey and reside in such shallow waters for a time. Once fall arrives, however, they head back to deeper water. If flounder happen to be your quarry, keep such migratory behavior in mind when seeking them out.
Flounder can be caught with natural and artificial bait, but the real trick is making subtle tweaks to your technique depending on the situation. Anglers using live bait should rig the bait with a heavy sinker to keep in on the bottom amidst the ocean current, and be sure to use a heavy leader, as flounder teeth are sharp. Remember to avoid immediately setting the hook should you feel a bite. Flounder take some time to get the bait in their mouth entirely—15 to 25 seconds—and setting the hook too early can result in a missed opportunity and one less piece of bait.
If artificial lures are your cup of tea, try tying on soft plastics and work them slowly along the bottom. Flounder rely on ambushing their prey, and will lie camouflaged on the bottom until a potential meal passes by. Inshore anglers will need to work the lure among the mouth of a creek or an area where the current isn’t very strong. Offshore, flounder can be found near wrecks or other types of bottom structure.
One important thing to keep in mind is the tide. Fish can pick up on the slightest unnatural presentation and one surefire way to ensure you go home with an empty cooler is to work your lures against the tide. For instance, if fishing from a dock, be sure to fish from the back side and work the lure back towards shore, towards you.
Flounder are one-third of the Gulf Coast’s Big Three—redfish and speckled trout are the remaining species—and if you find yourself down South anytime soon, I highly recommend taking a stab at catching some of these fish. Not only are they a challenge to hook into, and incredibly tasty, but they’re so unique in appearance that the photo ops alone make it worth it!