May 2007

Finding Flounder in all the Right Places
By Charlie Petrocci

At right: Spring flounder move into coastal back bays seeking warm waters and baitfish.

By the time you read this, wads of flounder will be pouring through seaside inlets and up the Chesapeake on their way to feeding grounds in the back bays and deep water sloughs. Since we had a mild winter, with little rain, this equates into high salinity and fast warming back bay waters - all good news for flounder fanatics. Though we have some tough new seasonal size limits to deal with, it may turn out to be a great spring flounder fishery after all.

By early May flounder will be following their sense of warming waters and the presence of prey species. Long term tagging information has shown that flounder often travel in age classes and, it seems larger, mature fish annually lead the vanguard of this early spring migration. So spring is usually the best time to get a shot at the biggest fish of the year, often found in the greatest numbers of concentration.

Though you can catch flounder from shore, the most effective way to nail fish is by drift fishing from a boat. This allows you to cover more bottom quicker and the moving boat also gives the bait a more natural presentation, mimicking a fleeing meal. In the coastal bays of the Eastern Shore, almost any small boat will do fine for drift fishing. You may want a little something more solid under you when fishing the open waters of the Chesapeake though. I personally think fiberglass does better than tin boats, since the heavier weight allows a more controlled drift, especially in high wind or a hard running tide.

Above: Anglers usually get a shot at some of the biggest flounder during the spring season.

The best place to locate spring season flounder is to identify their travel and feeding corridors such as channels, sloughs, drop-offs and flats that fall away to deeper water. Flounder are ambush predators and they like to be in moving water to nail prey species that get swept through these areas. During the spring, fish will congregate where several channels or sloughs converge. These areas are hot spots because they hold not only baitfish, but also warm water being flushed out of shallow creeks and tidal flats. Also, flounder like clear water - find clear water and you’ll usually find fish. “Flounder hot spots can sometimes change weekly depending on wind and weather conditions, so even veteran anglers check in to find out where the current action is. We also carry maps of the area and try to help new anglers navigate the best places to fish,” says Donna Roeske of Capt. Bobs Marina on Chincoteague Island.

The Four Mouths area located behind Wallops Island, which is located just south of Chincoteague, is a spring season hot spot for flatfish. Here as the name implies, four different creeks drain into the main channel area. This not only brings in a daily flush of

warmer back marsh water, but also a plethora of bait species as well. Other Eastern Shore flounder hot spots include is the “Thorofare” behind Ocean City, the Green and Drawing channels near Wachapreague and Terrapin Sands off of Crisfield. All these areas are either channel intersections or have a drop-off to a channel.

I prefer to fish from the top of the high through to the bottom of the ebb tide. During the top of the tide, flounder can be found up on warmer shallow sand flats chasing baitfish and as the tide falls, fish will stage near drop-offs and tidal creek outflow to ambush bait. That’s why most flounder are caught on slopes of channels. They face up-hill waiting for prey to tumble down with the outgoing tide.

Flounder fishing is one of those specialized arts that does take some time and skill to master. To be good at the game means having good equipment to do the job. Choose a fishing outfit that is comfortable, because you’ll be standing and working that rod for many hours.

My current favorite flounder outfit is a conventional 7 foot Catera rod with a Trion 66 reel, spooled with 12lb test Supreme line. My go-to spinning rod is a 6’6 Ugly Stik Custom Inshore, with double footed guides and cork grips. To compliment this I’ve got a Pflueger 7540 Contender spinning reel which has constant anti-reverse, so I never have to worry about being “in-gear.” I’ve had good results with red “Cajun Lightnin” line in 14 pound test, which can also easily handle seatrout and puppy drum as well.

While drift fishing you’ve got to keep your bait in the strike zone, adjusting your line and changing weights for wind and current. Usually 2-4 ounces will do. I like a simple dropper rig such as a 3 way swivel tied directly to the line which you then attach a 24 inch leader to a 2/0 or 3/0 hook and a 6 inch sinker dropper loop below that. I’ll add beads, mylar and/or a blade for more attraction, especially in “dirty” water. Double dropper rigs work fine as well, often giving you a chance to fish two types of bait at once. There are plenty of good pre-tied flounder rigs out there on the market so always keep a few extra in your gear bag for back up.

Best spring flounder baits include live minnows, long strips of squid, and fresh-frozen silversides, which are spawning this time of year. My favorite baits are big strips of fresh bait such as bluefish or spot, if you can get them. Also white or yellow bucktails with plastic swim tails or coupled with strips of squid work great, especially when bounced in deep holes and along slopes.

So with all the right conditions in place along Eastern Shore back bay channels and sloughs, this spring may be your best chance to put a layer of big flatfish in the cooler. I can almost see a fat fillet in the skillet now.



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