Dec. 2005

The Outer Banks of North Carolina

Flounder in the Surf
By Joe Malat


Jaime Ranck caught this keep-sized flounder in the surf near Salvo on Hatteras Island. Photo by Joe Malat

Flounder consistently rank high in the "favorite fish" category of Outer Banks anglers. Sometimes they can be a challenge to catch and the firm, delicate meat of flatfish always makes it them a welcome guest for dinner.

Generally, along the beach, they are most cooperative when the weather is moderate. Light winds and clear water are favored by the flatties, and rough surf or dirty water conditions will lower your chances for success.

For surfcasters, any stage of the tide can produce, but finding a small slough, pocket or trough on the beach that is within easy casting range is more important than fishing a particular tide. Some holes are productive only at high tide, only because they may be too shallow to hold fish when the tide is low.

If flounder are your target, be careful not to overpower the fish with your tackle. A ten to eleven foot surf rod is great for big drum and stripers, but leave the big sticks at home if flounder are your quarry.

Most serious flounder fishermen prefer graphite, fast taper spinning rods in the 6 to 7 foot range, because a long cast is not necessary. The sensitivity of graphite is ideal for feeling the flounder's sometimes tentative bites, and 10 to 12 pound test line will do fine.

Lures and bait will catch flounders, and regulars are usually armed with both. A popular local setup for surfcasters employs a hook snelled to a 2 foot long piece of monofilament, with a bit of white bucktail tied in front of the hook, and a three-way swivel on the other end. A small sinker clip is fixed to the three-way. Variations of the rig may add spinner blades or plastic beads in front of the hook.

Dress the hook with a strip of cut bait. Squid or mullet strips work well, and some anglers are using the new Fish Bites with success. Whatever natural bait you choose, try to cut it into strips similar to an exaggerated triangle. Ideal size is from 2 to 4 inches long. Run the hook through the bait only once at the wide end, so the bait will" flutter" in the current, and resemble the swimming action of small bait fish. Keep the bait neat and fresh, and change it when it appears to be washed out or tattered.

Flounder are not fast moving, run-and-gun feeders like bluefish. They are masters of camouflage and ambush feeders. They frequently will bury partially in the sand and wait for their prey to swim by. So, to catch a flounder you must find a flounder.

Keep your bottom rig moving in the surf. Rounded sinkers are preferred over the typical pyramid sinker that's popular on the beach and it is important to use just enough weight to keep your rig on the bottom. Try an erratic "jigging" retrieve alternately mixed with a more deliberate presentation such as moving your rod back toward you in long, slow sweeps, while slowly cranking in the slack line.

Frequently your rig may stop mid-sweep, feeling like it has snagged something on the bottom. That "snag" is often a flounder mouthing the bait. Resist the temptation to set the hook, and if you can wait a few seconds until the fish pulls back, he may hook himself. When you feel a commitment from the fish, set the hook.

The mobility of a four-wheel-drive is an asset when you are trying to find a good flounder hole and you have a lot of beach to shop around, but walkovers that may be limited in their choices also take their share of flatfish. As you scan the beach, look for a place where the outer bar comes within casting range, and the fish will usually be holding in the pocket of calm water between the beach and the outer bar.

Cast and retrieve your rig from the bar right up to your feet, and work an area for several minutes before moving on. If the beach isn't too crowded, I move my casts in a fan pattern from left to right, practically casting parallel to the beach a time or two. This technique may pick up a fish that is hanging right on the edge of the drop-off, near your feet.

Currently, North Carolina has a minimum length requirement of 14-inches for flounders and anglers are allowed to keep eight fish per person per day.

Most of the serious flounder anglers I know are sticklers for detail. They use the right rigs, they fish in the right places and they take care of their bait. All are key ingredients to a successful day of flounder fishing on the beach.

Back to top.
Back to previous articles

Home | Contact Us | About Us | Calendar | Reports | Subscribe | Tides
Articles from Previous Issues
| Wrecks, Reefs & Fishing Hotspots | Classifieds Online
Charter Boat Directory
| Fishing Bulletin Board | Tournament Links | Advertisers with Web Sites
Photos From Our Readers
| Regulations | Virginia Charterboat Association