Nine years ago, major changes were made to flounder fishing regulations throughout Texas.
These changes included cutting the recreational bag limit in from 10 to 5, cutting the commercial bag in half, banning all gigging in the month of November and limiting recreational rod and reel anglers to two fish per person that month.
This was after a 25 plus year decline in flounder numbers that saw the population at less than half of its formerly glory.
The result of this along with a limited flounder-stocking program has been phenomenal. There is a very good chance we could see the state record flounder broken-even this year.
“People may not realize the state record flounder was caught in Sabine Lake way back in 1976 by a Groves man named Herbert Endicott. That 13-pounder has yet to be beaten but I suspect with the improvement in the fishery there is hope that could happen,” said Capt. Skip James, a retired Sabine Lake guide often called the “flounder guru”.
A state record could happen but let’s focus on catching quality-sized flounder for now.
Timing is important with fall flounder fishing but it is often misunderstood by anglers. Cold fronts push out flounder as the strong north winds move vast amounts of water out of the system. The best fishing is the day before the front hits when strong sound winds blow. At this time the barometric pressure is falling. The day after a front hits, it is high and the fishing is slow. Typically, it picks up again two days after the front.
Outgoing tides are good to fish but incoming ones should not be overlooked. I always prefer incoming tides up until fall but in recent years have found even during the migration to the Gulf, incoming tides produce strong bites. Yes, I even catch more on outgoing tides in November and December. It may contradict conventional wisdom but when I look at the times that produced the absolute best catches (other than when the marshes first purge) it was always on an incoming tide.
The basic flounder-fishing rig is called the “Carolina Rig” or “Fish Finder”. It consists of an egg weight rigged above a swivel attached to a leader, which usually measures 12-18 inches and finished off with a hook. Anglers drag this slowly on the bottom and wait for the flounder to strike and then they wait. Most anglers wait at least 10 seconds but some weight as long as 20 to give the flounder a chance to swallow the bait. Live mud minnows and finger mullet are the most popular.
A few years ago however I watched a man absolutely smoke me using large live shrimp on a modified free line rig. He had a wide gap hook with a 1/8-oz split shot rigged above it and he pitched into the current toward a point allowing the current to push it into the key bite zone. The flounder hammered it! Since then I have used live shrimp several times (including jumbo shrimp) and caught many flounder including big ones. The key to this seems to be the rig. The flounder do not seem to want the shrimp if it is on a heavy Carolina rig but cannot resist the free-swimming action of this setup.
This is even more important later in the fall run. I have found that after Thanksgiving shrimp can outdo anything for big flounder. And it makes sense because there are still a fair amount of shrimp in the system at this time and the shad (menhaden) are gone. And if if you think about it, shrimp is tastier.
I prefer flounder fishing with lures and have caught thousands using curl-tail grubs. Lures like the Twister Tail from Mr. Twister tipped with a small piece of shrimp and rigged on a 1/8 or ¼-oz jighead can be deadly effective for flounder. My preferred color is pink but glow and chartreuse are also good. The Gulp! Swimming Mullet is good as well and has the added advantage of the amazing fish attractant that has made various Gulp! products a standard in tackle boxes along the coast.
Once again something different happens during the last week of November. I have found I can still catch flounder on the aforementioned lures but the biggest ones bite on small two-inch curltails. I fish these on 10-pounder fluorocarbon line and although it does not have the hookset power I like, I find the action is much better than with heavy braid and if the water is running clear the fluro is necessarsry.
With lures wait about three seconds if you feel a hard “thump” before setting the hook. If the lure simply stops or I feels sort of “spongy”, let it sit and wait about 20 seconds then make a hookset.
We’ll have more on late fall flounder strategies in next week’s newsletter.
Chester Moore, Jr.