By Dr Ken Neill III
Flounder are one of the most sought after fish in our waters. They are great to eat and are fun to catch. Lately, there has been a surge in the number and in the size of flounder. In Virginia, it is primarily an April through November fishery though some are caught in March and December.
Early season action is found in the seaside inlets of Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Wachapreague has a world class fishery that is at its peak April through June. Summer and Fall are the times to fish the lower Chesapeake Bay. Flounder can be found throughout the bay and in the rivers feeding the bay. Certain areas are known for producing numbers of big fish. These include the area near the Cell, 36A off of Cape Charles,the Hump, Back River Reef, the channels at the mouth of the bay, and of course, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. There are also good fisheries that develop at the mouth of Back River and at the mouth of Lynnhaven Inlet.
The key to these areas is deep water. Flounder can be found in skinny water, many are caught by speckled trout fishermen on Poquoson Flats, but most of the bigger fish are caught at least adjacent to deep water.
The most common method of fishing for flounder is drifting bait on the bottom. The rig most often used is the high-low bottom fishing rig. The classic bait is a strip of squid and a minnow placed on each hook. More serious flounder-pounders will usually use different rigs. They consist of a three-way swivel attached to the main line. There is a short line from the swivel to a sinker heavy enough to bounce along the bottom as you are drifting. A longer mono leader, 2-3 feet, goes to the hook. Above the hook will often be added beads, a bucktail skirt, and a spinner blade to aid in attracting fish. A Kahle style hook is the most popular. These rigs can be bought pre-made at your local tackle store or you can make your own.
For big flounder think big bait. Small live spot are great though most any small fish will do. Long strips of cut bait work well. Favorites are shark, bluefish, ray, and flounder belly. Strips of false albacore work well also. A piece of pork rind can be placed on the hook along with the fish strip to make it harder for the flounder to bite through your bait.
When the flounder bites, your line will feel heavy. You can feed out some line to let the fish get the hook in its mouth or you can just drag the fish along. It will work its way up the bait to your hook. How long you wait to set the hook will depend on the size of your bait and the size of the flounder. If you miss the fish, drop back, often they will latch on again. Drifting in deep water is an area where the braided lines shine. You can feel a lot more and you can use less weight to hold bottom.
Trolling is another method of catching flounder. This method is used extensively around the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, though it will work wherever there are flounder. Around the CBBT, wire is the line of choice. It is attached to a three-way swivel. A 3-4 foot mono dropper goes to a large sinker and a 10-15 foot mono leader goes to a bucktail, 1/4-1/2 ounce. A piece of pork rind and a strip of fish or squid is placed on the hook. Troll slowly, working the rod to keep contact with the bottom.
A less often used way to catch flounder is to chum from an anchored boat. Place a weighted chum pot down near the bottom, filled with ground menhaden, and place your baits just down current from it. Many flounder are caught this way by cobia fishermen each year.
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