The angler nosed his boat into the thick canes, stripped out a few yards of line and held the excess in one hand. Then, swinging the bait toward the reeds almost like using a long cane pole, he released the line, dropping a succulent morsel into a pocket of open water between two grass clumps.
The small bait delicately penetrated the water with hardly a splash. The angler let the bait sink a bit, but it never touched bottom only 18 inches below the surface. Feeling a barely perceptible nudge on the line, the angler set the hook, and an enraged four-pound flounder erupted on the surface in a muddy cloud.
Many bass anglers flip jigs or other plastic baits into thick cover, but this same subtle technique can put more flounders into boats in places like the marshes surrounding Sabine Lake, river deltas, parts of Galveston Bay and elsewhere.
“Flipping for flounders is pretty much the same thing as flipping for bass,” advised Eddie Hernandez who guides on Sabine Lake for Golden Hook Guide Service (409-673-3100, www.goldenhookguide.com.) “Off Sabine Lake, we fish the canes and salt grass. If we find where canes meet the grass, that’s a good spot to fish, especially if it has a little water movement. Also, key on bait. A pod of small shad about an inch to an inch and a half long blowing out of the water means there’s a hungry flounder in the vicinity.”
Flounders often enter extremely shallow water as long as their gills remain submerged enough for them to breathe. In shallow cover, flounders generally face upstream to wait for currents to flush dinner to them.
Supreme camouflage experts, the elusive splotchy brown flatfish bury their bodies under soft muck. With only their eyes protruding above the goo, they watch and wait for food to pass within striking range. When they see or feel something interesting, they dart from their silty coating to devour morsels with astonishing speed in a swoosh of mud.
Even when threatened, flounders prefer to hide rather than run. Thinking that nothing can see them with their excellent camouflage, they might allow a boat to float over them, even in very shallow water. Therefore, many coastal anglers can often sneak incredibly close and target them at point-blank range.
Sometimes, anglers almost need to knock flounders over the head to make them bite. In their lairs, flounders don’t want to give away their hiding spots to any potential prey, so they won’t move very far or fast to chase down baits. However, even when not feeding aggressively, a flounder might subtly slurp something that almost lands on it.
“Flounders are masters at determining real versus artificial baits and spitting out a lure,” said Mac Gable of Mac Attack Guide Service in Rockport (361-790-9601). “Set the hook at the first tap.”
A skilled flipper can penetrate very thick cover with incredible accuracy, even slipping a bait between individual cane stems or into a pocket next to a grass clump. Sometimes, even the smallest hiding place can hold a huge flounder. A good angler can thoroughly probe just about every pocket along a reedy shoreline or marshy cut.
“I like to fish around the outlets of major bay systems where I see a good mixture of sand and mud,” Gable explained. “I’ll sit there for several hours. If we can catch one flounder, we’ll probably catch several in the same spot.”
Unlike baits thrown from a distance, flipped baits don’t plop in the water, possibly spooking skittish fish. When done well, the bait enters the water with barely a ripple. In thick cover, a fish usually either bites instantly or not at all. Frequently, a fish strikes on the fall. If a lure hits bottom without a strike, pop it up and down a few times before swinging to the next target just inches away. As the sinker bangs the bottom, it sends out vibrations a flounder can feel.
“What works best for me, whether I’m flipping or bait fishing, is to disturb the bottom a bit with the lure,” Gable said. “I like to drag it on the bottom so that it digs in the mud. Flounders react to any disturbances on the bottom and will come to that sound. It looks like something scurrying along on the bottom and flounders love that.”
Use the smallest weight possible. Many anglers use tungsten slip sinkers because tungsten weighs more than lead with less bulk. With a toothpick, peg a slip sinker to the line to keep the weight and bait together. Barely insert the hook point into the plastic like a Texas rig, to make it weedless. Anglers can also use similar-sized jig heads. Some flounder pounders use tiny weedless bass jigs to mimic shrimp or baby crabs crawling on the bottom.
Keep baits small enough that a flounder can gulp them in one bite. Use plastic minnows or curly tail grubs about two inches long or less in natural shad colors or white. Chartreuse and copper colors can also work when water turns dingy. If anglers start seeing too many plastic tails bitten off, they should go to smaller baits. Small, but chunky, tube baits slip through cover easily and spiral down like dying baitfish as they sink. Some anglers flip live minnows hooked to small jigheads and fish them almost like soft plastics.
“I usually use Gulp! curly tail grubs,” Hernandez recommended. “Gulp! Swimming Mullets are also good baits. Limetreuse is a really good color. We also catch some on Flounder Pounder CT Shads. Sometimes, we tip baits with a piece of fresh shrimp for scent and flavor.”
Story by John N. Felsher