A tackle box full of jigs, a spinning reel, some eight pound monofilament and a depth finder. Sounds like a check list for a tournament bass fisherman
and it could be, but it's not. No, these are the tools that a handful of died-in-the-wool saltwater anglers are using to tap into one the Gulf's most consistent spring time fisheries: the flounder run.
"There are many hot areas for Galveston Bay. The flats along the Texas City area are good, especially in late spring. And any of the cuts or passes leading into East Galveston Bay can be really good, especially round Rollover Pass and Rollover Bay," said Galveston Bay guide Capt. George Knighten.
Knighten says while these areas can be as hot as a firecracker, knowing what to do when flounder are located is just as important as knowing where to find them.
"Knowing where to find the fish is of course the first step, but just because you know where they are doesn't mean you are doing to catch them. Flounder can be real finicky and at times you have to play the old bass fishing-type mind games to put them in the boat," said Knighten.
Very important is water clarity at the mouth of a tributary. Flounder will gather where black marsh water meets murky bay water. Fishing clear water is a no-no according to Knighten.
"The clarity is usually alright for flounder fishing on Galveston Bay in the spring. Spring rains usually get the water off-colored and that's fine. Ultra-clear water can actually be a liability when flounder fishing," Knighten said.
The tides dictate how flounder will be feeding. On a fast falling tide, they move in close to the drainage. When it is falling slowly, they might scatter out around the mouth of a drainage or up into the marsh.
Working a soft plastic baitfish imitations like a Twister tail, DOA shrimp or Hogie around marshy points where they meet these flats can lead to serious numbers of fish. There might be four of five productive points at the mouth of these bayous and working all of them is sometimes what it takes to find flounder.
"Mud minnows are great, but I have found that I can cover more ground with a plastic and more importantly manipulate the presentation," Knighten said.
In most of my flounder fishing endeavors I like to tip my jigs with shrimp. Over time I've learned that the key is not to peel the shrimp until the last minute so that the scent holds with the meat inside. Equally important is rigging the jig so that the tail points down and the shrimp can be rigged parallel to the hook, not perpendicular.
Flounder generally bite because of intrusion of domain or hunger. If that bait moves through bed with that tail pointing down with that shrimp on there and comes across a flounder, it will scent track the jig and attack it. I would say that tipping with shrimp adds another bunch of percentage points in your favor for catching flounder on a spring day.
I'm into heavy tackle that still enables me to finesse a flounder. I prefer using Spiderwire or Berkley Fireline in the 6 to and 8 pound class that has a strength of 12 to 20 pounds. A jig worked on light line drops like a real injured fish and the added sensitiivty of a braided or Fusion line allows me to be able to detect even the slightest bite. Important to remember when fishing this way is to set the hook on fish just after you feel the first bump. And when I say "set the hook", I mean set the hook.
Ninety percent of flounder are caught with the hook barely in their mouth. Flounder have a very weird skeletal structure and a bony face. The hook does not penetrate through the bone easily, so when you're fishing a jig on light tackle, its important to jerk the heck out of them.
An easy mistake to make in the Galveston complex during spring is relying solely on concentrations of mullet to find flounder. Since they are large and surface often, mullet are easy to stay with, but fishing the shad is of utmost importance.
Small baitfish can not navigate well in moving water. What happens is that the flounder will lay in the current and snap up the disoriented shad. A flounder will eat just about anything that presents itself, but flounder are opportunists and by default of nature, it is the shad that presents the most opportunity.
Keeping with the idea of fishing the concentrations of shad, anglers should not hesitate to venture into the cuts coming out of the main bay. This also includes cuts that penetrate the marsh along the Intracoastal Waterway. There are some terrific spotss along the Intracoastal just behind Rollover Pass that are pressured very little. Rollover is a major migration point for flounder and it makes perfect sense that many of the fish stop in these cuts instead of venturing far into the bay.
These areas have the potential to produce some truly big flounder. It's a little known fact that the largest flounder in a bay system will most often be caught in deep water and the Intracoastal is pretty much the deepest thing going in the Galveston complex.
Also, if the tide is high, working over the unique systems that are created by stands of roseau cane can put fish in the boat.
A lot of anglers concentrate solely on the mouths of these bayous and more often than not, they catch fish, but by going into the cuts and looking for cane stands, they can step into a whole other realm of flounder fishing.
Roseau cane has a very intricate rooting system, not unlike mangrove, which provides baitfish protection from predators. On high tides, the shad will seek refuge among the jungle of roots and the flounder wait patiently just a few feet away waiting for the inevitable escapee. Pitch a soft plastic lure like a DOA Terror-Eyez down a bank of cane on a high tide and you may find the saddle blanket fish you've been looking for. People have got to remember that flounder are lazy fish. If they can get what they need by just lying there and gulping up stuff, they're going to do it.
Many a bass tournament has been won by fishing "new" structure, when a lake or river floods. Working a spinner or worm on this normally dry ground can produce good number of bass. Translate this technique over to flounder fishing and you might just surprise yourself.
In Springtime, the Galveston Bay system often has very high tides. The baitfish hug the shoreline and can be seen playing in just a few inches of water. What few anglers realize is that on these high tides, flounder can be caught very as shallow as 3 or 4 inches of water.
Watch for tails flopping in the shallows. If you see some shad come cruising along in a few inches of water and something hit at them, more than likely, it's flounder. Throw your bait at the edge of the shore and slowly drag it in. These moving flounder are feeding and will gladly gulp down your bait.
This can be especially productive for landbound anglers in the Texas City area. I've fished this spot several times and have seen mullet, menhaden and shrimp being terrorized in inches of water. That was most likely flounder.
On the far south end of the ecosystem landbound anglers can also taking advantage of the ship channel and key spots like Sea Wolf Park
These are great spots to fish live mud minnows or finger mullet. You'll often have to fish in heavy current do don't be afraid to use heavy tackle. I like a 1/2 to 1 ounce eggs sinker rigged on a swivel attached to a 20 pound monofilament shock leader and hooks his bait through the lips.
I like to work these migrational areas over very thorough. Making a good, long cast and dragging it all the way to the shore are important. Before I had a boat I caught many a flounder right at the shore, a spot that many overlook.
Twenty years ago, a limit of big flounder on any Texas bay was a cake walk compared to what we have now. Old salts always talk of the way things used to be, but the proof is in the numbers. Ask anyone who fished for flounder in the 1960s and 70s and they will tell you that the fishing now pales in comparison.
Coastal anglers from Sabine to the Laguna Madre are reporting skyrocketing numbers of trout and redfish, but fewer flounder than ever.
Four years ago, changes were made in both Texas and Louisiana to conserve the southern flounder.
Let us hope that the ball of change keeps rolling toward further conservatory measures like listing flounder as a sport fish and working to lessen the problem of shrimper by-catch. Recent figures show that 600,000
flounder where harvested by commercial and recreational anglers combined, whereas 1.5 million were taken due to by-catch. Something is wrong here.
If you've never specifically targeted flounder, now is the time. It's a whole other world of fishing and one that I enjoy very much. I can't help to think how much redfish and trout have benefited from their popularity with sport fishermen. Maybe the same can happen with flounder.
Flounder tip - When fishing light tackle, make sure that you drag is loose so you can play the fish. Never forget a landing net. Many flounder are lost at the boat because an angler left his net at home.
Chester Moore's Favorite Recipe for Flounder:
One of my favorite flounder recipe calls for scaling, gutting and heading the fish then basting it liberally with butter and garlic salt. Slice up a few onions and a clove of garlic and stuff the fish. Broil until done. To add more flavor, marinate your fish in Italian salad dressing in the fridge for one day before cooking.