A lot of folks fish for flounder by drifting or trolling their boats through the inlets and waterways. It’s true that in most cases this is probably the best way to pick up big numbers of flounder. However, with size limits seeming to increase year after year more inshore anglers are turning to anchoring up and casting to structure to catch larger flounder.
Big flounder well over the size limits are all females, and they orientate themselves to hard structure like bridges, docks, and jetties. This provides them with a steady source of food since baitfish and shellfish also gravitate to such structure and allows them to do less work to get their meals.
As flounder get older they get lazier and really like to position themselves around things like pilings and rocks and then just lie there until the dinner bell is rung. Big flounder have also learned from experience that hanging around structure is the best way to hide from predators that target them, like big redfish, dolphins, chopper bluefish, and even big birds.
To catch these flounder you have to learn a few simple fishing tips that will get a big lazy flatfish to bite.
Look for a strong tide
Even though you are anchored and not drifting the tide is still of crucial importance. Big flounder will be the most active on a strong tide, whether running high or low, as that is the time bait is pulled off the pilings and small schools of finger mullet and other baitfish are likely to have “strays” that get disorientated and come into range for a big flounder.
A heavily running tide about two hours after the turn makes baitfish the most active as they either rush to get into cover or get flushed out of it. That is when the schools are moving and that’s when you want to fish for big flounder.
If the tide is running away from structure, put your bait as close to the structure as you can and let it flow outward. If the tide is running into structure then cast ten or fifteen feet away and let your bait get swept into it. You are going to lose some rigs this way, but that is always the case if you are fishing for big flounder.
Use a rounded weight and a fishfinder rig
You want to use a rounded sinker like an egg sinker or bank sinker. Place it on the line running from your rod and then use a swivel (with maybe one red bead in front of it) to stop the weight. Then add a leader. I use 25 lb monofilament line. Some guides like fluorocarbon leaders. Do NOT use wire leaders for flounder as they are unnecessary and will get less hits.
Tie on about 14 inches of leader so the bait can move around a little bit, then add a 1/0 or 2/0 Kahle-style hook. If you know how to fish circle hooks you can use one of those. This rig allows you to feel what is going on at the end of your line when the flounder hits.
Remember, in most cases you need to give a flounder 20 to 30 seconds to take the bait. That is because flounder hit a bait and then take a while to actually attempt to swallow it. Flounder will scale a minnow like a finger mullet or mud minnow with their small, sharp teeth. If you set the hook right away you won’t catch many big flounder.
Bait up with live bait
When fishing for big flounder around structure live bait is your best bet. Go with big, juicy finger mullet mullet (even smaller corncob size mullet will work for big flounder) in the fall if you can get them. At other times flounder love pogies (small menhaden), little pinfish, spot, croaker, and most other small fish.
If you don’t have a cast net you can buy mud minnows at the tackle shop, and they work as well. If you do have a cast net and can catch some live shrimp big flounder will hit them as well, but fishing shrimp around structure often attracts bait stealers like pinfish and small croaker, so it may be best to stick with live baitfish like finger mullet and mud minnows.
You can even use lures
If someone tells you big flounder can’t be caught on artificial lures don’t believe them. I’ve done it and I’ve seen it countless times. There are good lures for catching big flounder around structure when the tide is really rolling.
I like the scented soft baits like the Gulp jerk shad, as well as the Gulp and Fishbites imitation shrimp. These lures have great action and the scent makes them top big flounder baits. Don’t use a fast retrieve, just hop them slowly off the bottom and let the tide do most of the work for you.
When a flounder hits one of these lures do NOT wait to set the hook as you would with live bait. Although flounder will hold onto the soft baits a little while as soon as they figure out it isn’t the real thing they will spit it out, so you want to set the hook quickly. Don’t worry, fishing with these lures you won’t lose any flounder doing this, plus it is a really fun way to fish.
For flounder cooking tips see my article Beyond frying: How to cook flavorful flounder