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Flounder Attack!

By John N. Felsher
Fall Issue 1999




plastics that is...
Surprisingly aggressive for such oddly-shaped creatures, flounder cruise shorelines along the Gulf Coast, sometimes using their flattened bodies to live in water less than six inches deep.
Nearly every bay, inlet or marshy bayou along the Gulf Coast contains a population of these furiously fighting delicious fish. Flounders even tolerate freshened water normally found in river-fed estuaries. Heavier than fresh water, salt water sinks to the bottom, creating a brine layer. Flounder thrive in that brackish bottom layer where other saltwater species cannot. It some cases, anglers catch them miles upstream in freshwater rivers.
Each spring and fall Gulf Coast fishermen catch flounders as they congregate in shallow bays, coves and passes to feed on shrimp, crabs, minnows or other morsels. Their mottled, flattened bodies form perfect camouflage against black marsh muck or dark sand as they wait to ambush unsuspecting prey. Sometimes, they cover themselves in a layer of sand to complete the camouflage.
Anglers used to fish for flounders exclusively with live or fresh bait, such as cut fish, shrimp or minnows. They tied special "flounder rigs" with a weight above a hook and attached a succulent piece of bait to these hooks. Sometimes, anglers hooked a live minnow through the lips to a leadhead jig and bounced it along the bottom.
These methods proved effective; few people thought to use lures to catch these flatfish. Many people didn't think to tempt a flounder with a fake minnow, until bass anglers in brackish coastal marshes began catching flounders with plastic worms.
"I've caught flounders on plastic worms," said bass tournament competitor and avid saltwater angler, Ronnie Addison of Robert, La. "They'll eat a red shad worm up. I've even caught them while Carolina-rigging lizards before. They'll hit just about anything that swims by when they are in a feeding mood."
Today, saltwater anglers still throw bait against shorelines, but many anglers prefer artificials. They learned to take advantage of a flounder's natural aggressiveness in shallow water. They seek them in coves, along weedy shorelines, in passes connecting bays and other strategic points. Look for a place with good tidal movement and a generous supply of baitfish. The mouths of bayous emptying into major bays make excellent starting points.
"We'll start here," said Capt. Erik Rue of Calcasieu Guide Service. Under a cool leaden sky, the boat idled to a stop astride the delta of a narrow pass splitting marshes surrounding the south end of Calcasieu Lake south of Lake Charles, La. "This is usually a good place. We have a strong, incoming tide and good water. Flounders feed on baitfish around a place like this. Look, there's one along the shoreline."
Rue pointed to the reedy shoreline. The bayou flowed into the lake and opened into a wider mouth. Marshy bayous typically create mini deltas where they converge with larger water bodies. Usually, a delta forms a shallow shelf on one side of a bayou and a deeper channel on the other side, depending upon prevailing tides and currents.
In this case, tides piled mud onto a shelf along the backside of the curve. The main channel cut next to the shelf, forming a definite drop-off. On the muddy shelf, baitfish scattered as a predator erupted from the mud. A flounder snatched at a school of minnows hugging the shoreline for protection. Quickly vanishing swirls marred by a whipping cool breeze briefly telegraphed its presence.
Anglers frequently see flounders popping the surface as they attack prey along shorelines. Unlike redfish, which make brutish wakes when herding baitfish, flounders slash at prey and sink back to the bottom almost unnoticed. Untrained eyes can easily overlook these misty spouts, but observant fishermen zero in on feeding flounders by watching for subtle shoreline disruptions.
"Here's one," Rue proclaimed, yanking back on his rod. The bowed rod pointed to a flat brown fish slashing at the surface. Rue fought it to boatside.
"Here's the critical part," the captain said. "A lot of people lose flounders right at the boat. A flounder uses its body as leverage and stays down toward the bottom. When people go to pick it straight up, a flounder opens its mouth, shakes its head and the bait comes flying out. When you get them close to the boat, work them back and forth from side to side. Zigzag him up through the water column without as much force being applied to the bait."
While Rue zigzagged his fish toward the boat, Danny Schwem wielded the net. He hoisted a two-pounder.
"That's about the average size," Rue said, "but we catch a lot of them that size. We fish along shorelines and off drop-offs. The main thing is you have to keep your bait on bottom. That's where flounder are."
Flounders readily hit several bottom-bouncing lures. Anglers use soft plastic lures, such as leadhead grubs, cocahoe minnows or small spinners that imitate baby croakers, minnows and shad. Other hot plastic baits include sparkle beetles, Slimy Slugs and other soft plastic temptations.
"I catch a lot of flounders on plastic cocahoes or clear and silver sparkle beetles," Addison said. "One of my favorites is an H&H twisty tail grub on a 1/4-ounce jighead. My favorite colors are a white twister tail grub or a white and pink flat paddle-tailed grub. I also like a root beer color with an orange tail. Purple and white or avocado and red cocahoes do well. Any bright swimming grub works. Chartreuse is a good color. I like baits that have some action, even just reeling it slow."
Rue threw a plastic cocahoe toward the far shoreline and let it sink to the bottom. Slowly, he moved the bait from the shoreline to the shelf to the deeper channel. As the bait dropped off the shelf edge, a three-pound flounder engulfed the offering. Not built for speed, flounders waste little time taking the bait.
A flounder usually hits its prey hard and solid, but anglers often people miss a striking flounder. Sometimes, a flounder hits a bait to kill it before eating it. Often, people miss it by striking too soon. When a flounder hits, drop the bait back down instead of setting the hook. Frequently, the flounder will return to devour what it thinks it just killed, hitting a bait on the fall.
"Flounders are very aggressive fish," Rue explained as he added the fish to the ice chest. "They hit it hard, like a big trout or redfish. They will come up off the bottom to get bait, but most of the time they will be within two feet of the bottom."
To keep the bait near the bottom, work it slowly. Either hop it up and down off the bottom or throw it upcurrent and let the tide wash it out.
"I swim a bait more than hop it across the bottom," Addison explained. "I will hop it if there is grass. Once I'm clear of the grass, on a flat drop or a flat point, I barely crawl it across the bottom with small twitches and jerks, not really hopping it. If I catch one or two flounders or I'm in an area known to have flounders, I slow the bait down and swim it across the bottom."
In cool water during the fall, slow baits down even more. Keep it just above the bottom and use smaller baits, about two to three inches long to mimic shrimp or baitfish.
"During the summer, we catch more flounders on plastic cocahoes or faster baits," Addison said. "In the fall, we catch more flounders on slower baits, probably because of low water temperatures. In cold water, I fish quite a bit slower. Sometimes, I let the bait sit on the bottom for a while before moving it. If a cold front comes through, I'll fish deeper pockets on the outside of any sharp curve."
At any time of year, flounders relate to tidal movements. Many anglers prefer a strong incoming tide that pushes salty water into coves. It also carries fresh baitfish. Flounders follow baitfish, looking for opportunities to strike. Passes and cuts opening into bayous create choke points that concentrate baitfish, creating good hunting conditions for hungry flounders. High tides also flood marshes, providing flounders better access to cover.
"We catch a lot of flounders on an incoming tide," Schwem said. "The beginning of the incoming tide seems to work real well. When tide slacks off, fish slack off. You'll still pick up a few fish, but it's not as good as on a strong incoming tide. If you catch one, keep fishing. You might catch four to eight at a spot, sometimes 10 to 12."
Other anglers prefer a falling tide. A falling tide concentrates fish in deeper holes. Falling tides also flush bait from inaccessible areas. Flounders lurk at the mouths of cuts as bait washes to them.
"I like the first part of a falling tide when the water is the highest and starts moving," Addison said. "Once the tide falls, I'll switch to fishing deeper banks with better defined drop-offs or structure."
Tides create current. Like bass, flounders ambush prey near structure. They drop off ledge edges to watch for shrimp and baitfish passing overhead. They gather around points, shell reefs, weedy shorelines, pilings or other places where they can hide and attack. Any structure washed by strong tides may attract flounders.
"Flounders hide in structure from currents just like bass," Addison said. "They'll hide behind pilings and structure on the downcurrent side. In a heavy current situation, I'll go to a 3/8-ounce jighead to keep the bait on the bottom and not let it drift as fast. In current, pick the bait up and let it float down with the current."
Coastal islands provide excellent structure to attract flounders. Tides cut small passes through these barrier islands. These passes between islands make super places to search for flounders. Little pockets, bays or sandy shelves on these islands also form perfect floundering holes.
Sometimes, picky flounders in even the best spots just won't cooperate. At those times, they may need a little encouragement. A small piece of succulent shrimp on a plastic jig will usually entice them to bite when nothing else does the trick.
Flounders probably don't attract as much attention as redfish and speckled trout, but that could be an advantage. If fewer people fish for flounders, that leaves more for each flounder fisherman.
For booking a trip with Capt. Erik Rue call (318) 598-4700.

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