What is it about flounder that seems to get y'all so riled up?
I must have received 20 or more phone calls and emails asking me where I caught the flounder I was holding in the picture that ran on the cover of The Bluffton Packet last week. I'll tell you the same thing I told them -- I caught it right in the corner of its mouth.
I guess the pictures that accompany this week's column are going to incite another flurry of phone calls, but I that just goes with the territory.
Did I gig them? No, every one was caught on hook and line. If it makes you feel any better, this is the only time of year when I consistently catch big flounder. I see them in the creeks all year long but, just like for so many of you, it is hit and miss when it comes to regularly catching these masters of camouflage. I guess it was about six years ago when I discovered that in the late part of fall flounder start moving toward the ocean, and it is only then that I find the big ones stacked up. Another observation is, almost without exception, every single one of them is a pregnant female.
What amazes me about flounder and flounder-fishing in this area is how no one has really figured out how to catch them like they do up around the Outer Banks and all the way up the coast to New York. I know for a fact there are just as many flounder here as in those places but, try as I might, I am only able to wail on them around this time of the year. For years I would go gigging for flatties at night, and if the conditions were right I would often come home with a cooler full of fish. I can remember nights when I would drift along the edge of the marsh and the big light that hung over the side of the boat would reveal the distinctive shape of a flounder laying there. On really good nights, there would be a flounder every five to 10 feet. But now that I have trouble staying awake past 9 p.m., my days of gigging are all but over. So my question is this: where are all those flounder during the day?
I haven't figured it out, but there is one creature that has. The osprey. I can't tell you how many times I have seen an osprey flying along with a flounder in its talons. It blows my mind that these birds can pick out a flounder laying there while they are 100 feet up in the air. I don't know about you, but I have had flounder on a stringer and even with them three to four feet in front of my face, it is sometimes hard to pick them out against the bottom. They are that good at blending in to their surroundings.
I will tell you this about catching flounder on hook and line: They love big baits, along with the color white. Even a small 3-pound flounder can eat a mullet that is darn near as long as it is. But if you are the impatient type then you might as well stay at home, because flounder fishing requires patience and lots of it. I try and find places that have a flow, and my bait of choice is a juicy finger mullet and a circle hook. I like to pitch the bait on the edge of the current and wait. If I don't get a hit I'll slide that mullet a few inches and wait again. Usually the bite is one solid "thump!" and then dead weight on the end of the line that feels almost exactly like a crab has grabbed your bait and is sitting there eating it. That is when patience comes into play. A flounder will often grab the mullet and simply sit there. I guess they want to make sure the mullet has expired before they go to swallowing it, so I often just set down my rod and let him eat. Recite the alphabet, read a book or eat a sandwich, because it often takes that long for a flounder to get that bait down its gullet. I can think of times when it has taken a flounder five minutes to get to the eating stage, so I never rush the process.
When I feel the fish has had enough time to eat, I slowly put pressure on him. I lift the rod until it has a slight bend in it and hold it there. It seems that flounder get agitated with that pressure and that's when they make their big mistake and start to swim away. Circle hooks are the neatest invention since, uh, cheese fondue, because that little swim slides the hook right in the corner of the fish's mouth.
Whatever you do from that point on, don't rush in a big flounder or you will lose it every time. Also, don't ever try and lift a flounder from the water, instead use a net because they are some of the slipperiest, slimiest fish alive.
So there you go. Flounder 101.
I wouldn't wait too long to give flounder a try, because they are on the move. Lastly, I am almost glad the bite is coming to an end because I have eaten flounder every way possible in the past three weeks. Sautèed, fried, broiled, baked with crabmeat, without crabmeat ...