Tips for Taking the Big Flatfish Prize in CA’S Annual Tourney
It’s time for the CCA STAR tournament. Each year the Flounder Division is one of the most hotly contested categories on both the adult and youth (scholarship) side. The irony is summer can be a difficult time to catch flatfish, especially big ones.
Here are a dozen tactics I have developed over the years for catching big fish during summer months. Some of them seem unorthodox, but sometimes that is what it takes to catch elusive trophy-sized southern flounder.
1. Current lines: The Intracoastal Canal and the river systems connecting to bays will have pronounced current lines where baitfish congregate. They are usually clear on one side and murkier on the other. If you find a current line with shad or shrimp, work it from the murky to clear side. Many times, big flounders will be on the edge of the murk.
2. Start Late: Dissolved oxygen levels are at the lowest level at daybreak. I believe this is why flounder fishing particularly in the summer tends to be slow early in the morning. By starting an hour or so after daylight, anglers can avoid the super slow early bite and focus the best efforts at a key time. Summer is the time of fish kills on the Gulf Coast, and the bulk of it has to do with low dissolved oxygen levels. This also has an impact on fish metabolism and I believe since flounder are relegated to the lower portion of the water column they are more impacted by oxygen levels.
3. Follow the Shad: The river systems on the Upper Coast are inundated with large populations of shad (menhaden), and flounders in these systems will follow the menhaden. Fish that bite at point X one day, may be a half-mile away at point Y if the shad have moved. Very few anglers target these flounders so you have a chance at catching big specimens.
4. Depth: The last big flounder I caught, I used a drop-shot rig, which is popular with bass anglers fishing deeper water. Baitfish were holding on a ledge in 14 feet of water, and I lowered down the drop shot to see what I might be able to catch there. It ended up being a flounder, and it was not the only one we caught in the same area in two days of fishing. Flounders will feed in deep water,but tend to concentrate around depth changes, so look for drop-offs and try the drop-shot rig.
5. Summer Highs: When tides are running extra high in the summer, I seek flounders along the main shorelines of bay systems. Attacking vast shorelines would be a waste of time and end up in frustration, so you need a strategy.
Instead of looking over eight miles of shoreline, narrow your search down to an eighth of a mile. You must eliminate water to successfully bag flounders. The first step I take while eliminating shoreline, is to once again look for stands of Roseau cane.
Roseau cane has an intricate system that is somewhat like a smaller version of mangrove. It gives menhaden a place to linger, hide and dodge larger predators.
6. Live Croaker: Croaker are available at many bait camps during the summer months. This is a phenomenal live bait for flounders especially when fished on a Carolina rig. Pick out the smallest croakers in the tank and avoid the extra big ones anglers often use for big trout.
7. Alligator Connection: When you see alligators with their heads positioned toward the bank a few feet away (several at a time) fish there. They are typically feeding on shad pushed against the bank, and often flounders are feeding with them. This can work anywhere, but you are most likely to encounter this in the Intracoastal Canal or a river system.
8. Chrome Sinkers: Flatfish fans in California use bright chrome sinkers to key in on flounders. They say the bright chrome draws fish in. And since flounders are visual, I believe this can offer an advantage in Gulf Coast waters.
9. Surf Jetties: There are small jetty systems in the surf at various points along the coast. Notable spots include the stretch between Cameron, Louisiana and the Texas state line on Hwy. 82 and the Galveston Seawall area. There are strong numbers of flounders in the surf, and they stack up at any kind of structure. Seek out these spots using live bait on popping corks or by fishing live bait rigged on football head jigs. Move along the edges of the rocks to score on big surf flatfish.
10. Sunken Barges: During summer months, flounders will stack up around sunken barges in the ship channel and along the Intracoastal Canal. Precision casts into tiny pockets stacked with baitfish using a live bait with a popping cork, anglers can score on big flounder.
11. Live Shrimp. Shrimp! Last year I watched a man absolutely smoke me using large live shrimp on a modified free-line rig. He had a wide gap hook with an 1/8- ounce. split shot rigged above it. He pitched into the current toward a point, allowing the current to push it into the key bite zone. The flounders hammered it!
Since then, I have used live shrimp several times (including jumbo shrimp) and caught many flounders including big ones. The key to this seems to be the rig. The flounder does not seem to want the shrimp if it is on a heavy Carolina rig, but cannot resist the free-swimming action of this setup.
12. Deep Shorelines: Looking back over the last few years of flounder fishing, my biggest fish in the bays have come from stands of Roseau cane and the deep shorelines in the interior of marshy cuts.
When moving into a marsh, use a side-viewing depth-finder to scope out deep shorelines with major drop-offs. As Captain Skip James taught me years ago, they are often in the “S-turns” of the cuts where heavy currents rushing against the sudden change in topography creates a washout.
I have found these spots hold a lot of fish, and usually more big ones than surrounding areas. These areas receive very little angling pressure, and therefore, the fish do not get caught and thrown into an ice chest. Also, these spots often coincide with eddies or small ditches feeding into the main cut, giving flounders serious bang for their buck in exchange for lying there.
Having been involved in early flounder tagging studies, I do believe they are territorial and primarily stay around the same drainage once they enter in the spring. You will probably be the only angler targeting these kinds of cuts in your area, and will have real hotspots to yourself which is always a plus.
—story by Chester Moore