DID YOU KNOW ONE of the best times to catch flounder is right now?
Very few anglers other than we real hardcore flounder fans target them other than during the “fall run” which is the migration from the bays into the Gulf of Mexico.
But according to my experience some of the best flounder fishing of the year is nearly two months ahead of the “run.”
It is all about the stage of migration.
Migrations do not happen instantaneously. Instead they occur in stages, and the first stage of flounder migration takes place in late August and early September. When the first cool fronts bring in large numbers of blue wing teal in the marsh, you can bet the flounder are biting.
In my experience, flounder in the distant reaches of marshes move into the main channels and start staging toward the mouth. With each front comes more fish. If you play your cards right, it’s a wonderful time to score on big ones.
When the first tiny cold fronts come through, the temperature drops from the upper 90s to the upper 70s for a day or two.
This bite lasts about two weeks, and it can get a boost if another small front comes through.
The day before a cold front usually features southerly winds and low pressure. If you can find protected water, these are great days to fish. The days before a front are slow, typically because of high pressure, which is our next step. Two days after a front is usually the premium time to fish during the fall period.
Barometric pressure is probably the least understood aspect of flounder fishing and it is one I am continually exploring in relation to fishing around fronts. High pressure puts a strain on fish and typically makes them a bit finicky and sometimes not at all. Pressure that’s falling or is on a downward trend means a strong bite.
That is why the day immediately following fronts is beautiful (clear skies with high pressure), but the fishing is subpar. Some suggest pressure over 30.20 is too high, and if it gets below 29.80 things can get a little shaky. If it is above 30 and falling you have ideal conditions. If you are fishing high-pressure days, use light line, small lures and be ready for a soft bite.
There is a reason the chances of catching a big fish is increased during this small window. There’s very little pressure on the fish, and the big ones that have been hiding away are moving in to key locations. You have a shot at catching them before other anglers do.
Just remember to watch for tiny cool fronts blowing through and pay special attention to the teal migration.
Shrimp, croakers and other baitfish are an all-important component of the flounder’s diet. However, menhaden, often called pogies or shad in Texas, are the prey source I focus on during this crucial period.
At times the results are stunning.
Eight years ago, my father, Chester Moore, Sr. and I watched flounder literally jumping out of the water. They were feeding on menhaden as millions congregated in a Sabine Lake cut during the storm tides spawned by Hurricane Alex.
Another time I caught more than a dozen flounder in a spot the size of my desk because it was inundated with menhaden.
Why are these fish so desired by flounder?
It all boils down to opportunity. Of all of Texas’s bay dwelling sport fish, flounder are the most opportunistic.
Due to their flat design, these fish are best suited as ambush predators and menhaden are easy to ambush.
Menhaden spawn numerous times from late fall through spring. They produce numerous classes of juveniles that gather in schools, which sometimes number in the millions. These tiny fish often cannot swim well .so they are blown against leeward shorelines. This was the case with the example at the beginning of this story.
Anyone who has attended my flounder seminars or one of my Flatfish University events has heard me talk about the importance of finding eddies (areas of slack water) in the bayous and along ship channels.
The reason is the tiny menhaden we most frequently encounter in the spring cannot negotiate strong tides well and will often congregate in eddies.
Flounder, being the consummate ambush predator, gather there as well and feed aggressively. The first spots I target are bayous, sloughs and other drains. That’s where I find concentrations of menhaden, and the first thing I look for is eddies.
When these tides are running extra high, I seek flounder along the main shorelines of bay systems. Attacking vast shorelines would be a waste of time and end up in dogged frustration so you have got to have 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 spring flounder. The first step I take is to once again look for a shoreline that has stands of roseau cane.
Roseau cane has an intricate system that is somewhat like a smaller version of mangrove and it gives menhaden a place to linger, hide and dodge larger predators. It is best to fish these areas during the first couple of hours of a falling tide. As the water recedes, the menhaden are removed from their cover, and the predator/prey dynamic begins.
The “first push” of flounder will only get headlines here in Texas Fish & Game. However, right now is a great time to find big numbers of flatfish in our Texas bay systems.
Oh, and one final tip for this relatively unknown time frame in the flounder’s life cycle.
If we have a storm in the Gulf of any kind anywhere from the Florida Panhandle to South Texas, the flounder bite will turn on like you’ve never seen.
You might be fishing in Matagorda as the storm hits Mississippi, but the high tides coming with storms in September make flounder feed like crazy.
Let’s pray we don’t get any big storms this year but a little tropical storm that simply brings up the tides a bit and dumps a few inches of rain can be a big bonus during this first push period.
TF&G Editor-in-Cheif Chester Moore shares a valuable insight that might help you catch more—and bigger—flatfish.
—story by CHESTER MOORE