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April 30 - May 2, 2010



Trolling for Flounder in the
Chesapeake Bay and Rivers

By Martin Freed

If you are getting bored of drifting around for flounder, you may want to try trolling. At times it is a lot more productive than the standard drift and feel.

One of the most important considerations in trolling for flatfish is that one needs an engine that can idle down to a figurative crawl. Some anglers who use this method and do not have their engines tuned to the point of being able to move at a snail's pace, use a simple trick. To slow the boat down they tie a heavy rope to the handle of a five-gallon bucket and fasten it to a cleat on the stern. They then drop the bucket overboard, fill it with water, and the drag might be enough to slow the boat down to the desired point. If one bucket isn't enough, some will use a second one on the opposite side of the vessel.

A tasty meal is the greatest reward.

There are three basic ways to troll for flounder. Everyone knows that no matter how much we anglers like to think of ourselves as skillful when we catch fish, much of our expertise is simply statistics. The first method of trolling involves just controlled drifting.

On the seaside of the Eastern Shore of Virginia, flounder fishing is often done in very narrow channels. Frequently, due to winds and/or tides, the boat just doesn't stay in the area where the flatfish are located. So by using controlled drifting, your vessel will remain in the striking vicinity for a longer period of time therefore improving your chances of encountering a hungry fish.

If the drift is across the channel, run the engine either in forward or reverse to stay in the channel. It may take a lot of shifting in and out of gear so make sure your lower unit oil is fresh and filled to the top.

There are times when the fish are on the slope where the channel gives way to the flats. Keeping an eye on your fish finder, try to make a note of where the flounder are hitting.

The ladies love to catch flounder, too.

Then you can attempt to keep the boat over that depth. When the fish are spread out over a large range of depths, a good strategy is to troll across the channel. If the wind is blowing obliquely to the waterway, the boat could be allowed to drift in one direction then power trolled back across.

The rigs for this type of trolling are about the same as those for simple drifting; a long leadered, 30 to 36 inches, hook tied an inch or two above the sinker. You may need a little extra weight for power drifting than non-powered because there will be a little extra drag.

Some use spinners of various colors, on the leader above the hook. A bucktail tied directly to the hook may also entice a flatfish to take a look at your offering. Soft plastic or rubber grubby tails and assorted worms may also be of value at times. Remember, since flounder are basically sight feeders, keep a variety of colors in your arsenal. If one shade doesn't work, try another because depending on cloud cover, inclination of the sun, water clarity, etc., each day is different. The second flounder trolling method is what we call Deliberate Trolling. Here you are not just trying to stay in the channel, but pick your own path.

The rigging is just about the same as for the above method, but we have found the spinner to be far more important. You can troll with, across or against the current. All work well at times. However, if you know the fish are there and they are just not biting, sometimes working your spinner rig against the tide is more than the flatfish can handle and they strike it as hard a bluefish.

Unlike the first method and unknown to many fishermen and women, periodically, there are lots of fish on the flats. We have caught our limit many times, fishing no deeper than three or four feet.

It's important to either cast out or drop your line back 10 or 20 yards. Using this method, we seem to get a lot more hits than if we keep our lines close to the boat. It appears that the flatfish may be sensitive to engine noise in the shallow water, whereas in the deeper channels it doesn't seem to make a difference.

Quinby Bay is a great place to do this shallow water trolling, especially to the south directly before entering the Gap. We have always found the beginning of the ebb tide as best, but have also been successful at low tide and during the flood.

The third method is primarily a shallow water, flats strategy that we have coined Spoon Trolling. When the fish are relatively thick in the shallows, try trolling spoons. The ones that we found work well are the thin sheet metal type that lake trout fishermen use.

These lures come in a variety of colors and any may work on a particular day. We like the fluorescent red and green as well as silver. If we had to pick our favorite color, it would be the green.

These spoons are tied directly to your mono or perhaps with a plain or ball bearing swivel to prevent line twisting. Never troll in depths greater than three or four feet and only use this method if the water is relatively clear. We have actually seen flounder, who were waiting in ambush on the bottom, come shooting up like a missile to grab one of these spoons then come out of the water like a large mouth bass.

Trolling for flounder is an alternative method of fishing for these tasty critters. File the method away in that bag of tricks that is located somewhere in the back of your brain. Someday when the action is slow, you'll remember it and may be pleasantly surprised.


Kelley Marine Construction


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