There’s something quintessential family weekend fishing about the humble flounder.
Catching flounder or “doormat” as he’s known to his friends…
Often takes us back to our tender youth when we first cast a line from the docks and jetties.
If that sounds unfamiliar but you’re curious about flounder, this guide can help you learn so that you can also experience the joy of catching flounder!
Read on to learn more about flounder and how to catch them.
The Old Doormat…
For many of us, flounder was amongst that handful of fish species on which we cut our angling teeth.
There’s a very good reason the old doormat turned up on our lists of first fish.
I’ll save that punch line for a little later in the article.
Having just relegated the flounder to humble, and to the catch lists of the weekend dangler, my 40 odd years of fishing have taught me that fishing for flounder is anything but pedestrian.
Flounder are nearly all the way around the US coastline, inshore, offshore, nearshore and in lakes, rivers and estuaries.
Seasonal fluctuations notwithstanding, the flounder is available all year round.
See the video below for tips on how to catch flounder.
Making Flounder Fishing Simple
In order to offer an article of value, a diligent author as I am, I’ve done some research.
The main reason for the research was to back up my understanding that targeting flounder is about simplicity, local research, and solid fishing basics.
Today we’ll look at keeping the approach to flounder fishing simple.
But learning how to catch flounder is not quite Huck Finn stick and a string simple…
But minimalist, nonetheless. In my opinion, keeping things simple delivers the most satisfying tips for flounder fishing.
To help you learn how to catch flounder…
We’ll look at best flounder rigs, tackle, locations, techniques, lures and more, all with a focus on keeping it k.i.s.s easy.
Before learning how to catch flounder, we’ll have a quick look at some commonly held flounder identification issues.
Let’s learn more about flounder!
Is it a Flounder, Sole or Halibut…or…?
I won’t harp on this but before focusing on how to catch flounder, it’s important to clear up a few identification issues…
Flounder are a pretty big family of fish. They usually have brown bodies, white bellies and with eyes on the side.
The location where you catch flounder will determine what family member you’re targeting.
Essentially, we’re talking about summer flounder or fluke. Of course, this will encompass other flounder family members.
However, chasing halibut, Pacific or Atlantic is a different prospect owing to the potential of considerable size, so we’ll leave halibut for another article.
Keep in mind, Atlantic halibut are also on the endangered list and cannot be targeted. Here’s a couple of links to help you out.
The first link gives a nice overview of distribution and the second link provides some great details about different flounder and their table quality.
A Word About Seasons, Laws and Catch Limits
Our tasty doormat is available for catch all year round.
Their very broad distribution makes it impossible to cover all local laws and restrictions.
There are limits, seasonal restrictions and complete bans in places. If you know how to fish for cod, then you know all about the bureaucracy.
Make sure you check your local restrictions and limits. Also, make sure you can identify the fish you are catching.
Consequences for getting it wrong or flaunting the laws can be severe.
It’s not out of the question that you could hook an Atlantic halibut while you fish for summer flounder.
Before you target flounder, can you identify if it’s an Atlantic halibut or Summer flounder?
See the link above in the note section. Remember, ignorance is not a plea.
There are universal flounder behaviors. For example, most flounder tend to dwell and hunt the bottom.
Flounder, like most fish, love structure.
These are solid basics that can be taken as rules…
But every waterway and location will present any number of nuances that should be understood to maximize your chances.
I’m a big fan of searching online, particularly chat sites for tips on how to catch flounder.
However, the first thing I’ll search for online is a local tackle shop or fishing club in the area I intend to fish.
Where to get the best information?
Websites and chat sites can deliver a lot of information and helpful tips on how to catch flounder.
The best information I get every time is when I go to a local tackle shop and get into a conversation with a local.
Importantly, I spend money there.
Buy something, show some appreciation for the info and tips that are being delivered and you’ll be surprised at just how much you can learn about the local area.
A person to person conversation over a fishing tackle transaction will often deliver more critical information about a local area than any online chat or static website.
You might even get tips that you’ll never find online.
Here’s a personal anecdote of how asking a local changes everything.
When I was a very young man, I fished on the central Queensland coast in Australia where I was camping.
This beach had no gutters or holes.
Depending on the wind, there was little in the way of wave action too.
Yet I was told it produced great whiting.
I was chasing something locals called elbow slappers, which simply meant really big whiting – like, over 15 inches big.
For all intent and purpose, it was not a great beach to fish as it was pretty featureless.
I worked it for quite a while (over 10 days) all times and tides, live sandworms, and a cray they call ‘nippers’, also live.
(By the way, this was pre soft plastics and hunting whiting with lures of any sort at this time would have been considered absurd.)
Not Much Success
I got fish, even a small sole as it happens. But I was disappointed that I didn’t see one of the fabled elbow slappers.
I was discussing my lack of success in a local ‘bowling club’ (sports bar), when a local named Ken said to me…
“naa mate. Ya gotta fish the arvo (afternoon) mate. Bitta breeze over your back, two hours after the turn to run out. Use ya live worms mate n cast just up from the 4WD track. It’s perfect now mate. Go now mate, you’ll clean up.”
I did. I left nigh on immediately. I had a few worms left but was devastated to see they were pretty lifeless despite my efforts at creating a happy home for them.
A Happy Turnaround
Anyway, he was right and I did. I did “clean up,” lethargic worms notwithstanding.” With 8 big whiting (like BIG), I started to fish for fun, not pride…I fished the next two days in perfect conditions for the same result.
I’m sure I don’t need to explain the moral of the story. Without this info from Ken, I’d have not ticked this fish from my bucket list.
The reason I had failed from the outset was that I simply didn’t ask enough of the right questions in the first instance.
When I spoke to the guy at the tackle shop I told him I was chasing whiting on the beach near the campground.
From this, he made some assumptions that I was a tourist / occasional holiday angler and advised accordingly. His advice was as casual as my question I guess.
What I should have said/asked:
- I’m a born and bred angler and I NEED to catch an elbow slapper.
- What’s the premium bait. SPECIFICALLY. Alternatives?
- Where do I find the fish? EXACTLY. To the nearest few yards. Give me a landmark.
- Time of day and tide. To the hour.
- Sunlight. Wind direction/strength.
- Best rigs. Alternatives?
- Of course, these days I would be asking for detailed information about lures as well
The best of everything, best baits, tackles, and skills, is only half the picture…
My successes with these fish are illustrated in the elbow slapper experience. I cannot overstate the importance of local knowledge with flounder.
My fishing skills have certainly made me a much better angler.
My research skill was the key to making me a more successful angler.
Without a doubt, the not-so-secret to catching more flounder is research.
The tackle and rigs you actually need to catch flounder literally fit in your pocket.
However, we’ll leave the old handline out of this article and focus on rod and reel.
Outfit Number 1: Inshore, land-based and the Beaches.
Balance a 2500 or 3000 spin reel with a 7-foot medium-lite composite rod or an inshore spinning tackle.
Spool with 8-pound mono or braid. Use a lighter class of line if you dare.
The first attack of a flounder can often be tentative (i.e. bite and let go), there is arguably an advantage to braid.
Having said that, I’m very happy with mono that has very low visibility and stretch.
Use a fluoro leader if you like, again, low vis. I don’t. I tie a leader with the mono from my mainline…because…
I prefer the lightweight presentation, ease, and value of using mono. I also use a long shank hook. This makes release easier and protects my leader from flounder teeth. I carry size 1 through to 8 but would usually start with size 2.
The hook selection is where I’ll likely get the most argument from other anglers…
Most will argue a suicide shape or circle hook.
In my experience, I’ve not noticed any definable difference in the hook-up rate between the hooks…
I prefer the way a shrimp or worm is presented on a long shank, first and foremost.
Tie a two-foot leader to a swivel and number two long shank.
Bait it with live shrimp, blood worm or sandworm, fresh at the very least, or live bait is best.
This is my go-to rig for pretty well most circumstances…
Weight is determined by cast length requirements wind and current. The default setting is as light as humanly possible.
I will say, though, that no matter the hook choice, learning about deep set hook removal is essential for anglers of any experience level.
Alternative 1. Circle Hooks.
For the beach and bay and other locations where snags aren’t really an issue, ditch the long shank hook for a circle hook.
Run your sinker straight down to your hook.
This is a brilliant option if you don’t require much weight. Back to a basic Carolina rig if a more considerable weight is required, however.
Alternative 2. Braid for Casting Reels. More Length for the Beach.
Of course, those who prefer a baitcaster should use one. Substitute mono for braid as it’s the modern way.
I chose to promote mono because it’s far more affordable, easier, and I’ve been catching flounder in numbers for years before braids were common in everyday fishing, with the same success braid has afforded.
If you want to catch flounder at the beach you might want a little more length in your rod, up to 12 feet, but still medium at max. Here are my recommendations for the best rods to catch flounders.
Agreed, surf-side flounder are often feeding right at your feet, and length is often not required.
Casting and Rod Length
However, as surf anglers know, sometimes there is no substitute for length (rod and casting) when you’re catching fish at the surf.
Beating the wind and waves as well as reaching that perfect gutter may well require a little more length in your rod.
This too may also require you to weight up a little more, so spool a heavier line, as much as 12 pound for more demanding elements.
Alternative 3: Weight Up for Lifting.
If you’re angling from a higher jetty or wharf, you may want to stiffen the rod up a little for lifting.
Jump to a 12-pound line and a medium rod that can handle the lift from water to deck. Having said that, a net with a long handle is always a better option.
Alternative 4: Drift the Summer With a Paternoster
In the summer, I love to drift the rivers and estuaries for summer flounder.
A double hook paternoster is my go-to rig when drifting.
My feeling is that the sinker hitting the bottom attracts the hungry eyes of summer flounder.
Use fluoro leader. Drifting can cause plenty of abrasion problems. Check your leader frequently to ensure it’s intact.
I employ this method often when I’m struggling to find flounder. A drift allows me to cover plenty of water.
Know your baits
When you fish for flounder, these baits are staples. They work for most flounder. However, I strongly advise asking a local about natural bait so you can have the best bait and feed the flounder their local delicacies.
In many locations, local clams of whatever species are generally a brilliant bait for flounder. Again, ask a local and get them to be specific.
Use chum. In the winter, it’s an absolute must, and use plenty of it.
Firstly, to get them there and keep it coming to keep them on the chew.
Be it a commercial chum or your favorite homemade potion, use it.
Hmmm. This is a tricky and often subjective area…
I’ve caught flounder on artificial baits, everything from vibes to soft plastics and Mepps spinnerbaits.
Look at the teeth on them…
These guys are determined hunters and of course, they will take lures or baits aggressively.
Which ones? I do hate to cop out and say whatever’s in your box, or, your guess is as good as mine, but recently…
I’ve been more inclined to think that most fish will take just about anything that moves.
Here’s a good example. Here’s another. And, another.
For what it’s worth, I use a 3-inch shad paddle tail to catch flounder, various colors, depending on the waters I fish in.
It’s brilliant for me, hence my go-to soft plastic, indeed, lure.
Get my drift? It’s hard not to succumb to the old adage that lures are designed for catching fishermen.
The trick is scent. Flounder really respond to it. I never cast a plastic without it.
These guys have plenty of evidence to back me up here. Check out the video below to find out more
Outfit Number 2: Fishing With Lures
If I’m fishing with artificial lures I love using a 7 foot light rod rated 4 to 8 pound with 2500 spin reel. I spool with 4-pound braid and a 4-pound fluoro leader.
This is a sport for me and it can be for you too.
The big tip here is to invest a little more in your reel to ensure a super smooth drag.
Nearly every brand has an option for artificial lures here, but I like the small Okumas, Daiwa and the Quantum if you’re on a really tight budget.
I’ll use this outfit everywhere, boat to beach. The underlying drive with this set-up sport.
It should be noted, fishing light as you can is one of the keys to successfully catch flounder. This is why I use this outfit, it’s continually successful and probably the most thrilling and rewarding. We’ll talk about what lures for flounder shortly.
Outfit Number 3: Outside the Heads.
Simple. It depends on how deep you want to fish…
You’ll be using a bit of led to get your baits to the bottom.
In all honesty, this is where your general-purpose 7-foot spin outfit comes into play.
A 4000 spin reel is plenty in my opinion, with a rod rated to around 15 pounds.
The perfect outfit will be determined by and large by depth and current, so use common sense here.
Keep in mind, lighter is always best. So fish as light as the conditions permit.
A two-hook paternoster rig is the best rig here and I’ll mix up baits, a worm on one hook and a cube of something oily like mackerel on the other.
Flounder live on the bottom. They love the sand flats, mudflats that are in shallow water. Like many fish, structure is everything for flounder.
To locate flounder, search for them around pylons, wharves, and jetties. Drift the edge of channels, grassy beds, and rocky bottoms. There are even times when you can use flounder tracks seen during the low tide to find them.
In the winter, the fish are spawning and they’re busy offshore. However, they’ll still take you’ll still find them in numbers around the entrance to estuaries for example.
Try all of your regular summer haunts, your flounder is still there…if a little slower.
Flounder fishing on the beach
On the beach, feeding flounder are regularly right at your feet on the shore break. They’re feeding on all the goodies that the waves are exposing and they’re biting at everything.
The beach would be my preferred place to catch flounder.
The main reason being is I love angling in the surf. Here’s a great video of flounder surf fishing. Clearly the spot for a bigger class of fish.
The other reason I fish the surf for flounder is that more often than not I catch larger flounder. Not necessarily more flounder but certainly better flounder.
In my experience, sand and structure are a brilliant combination to catch big flounder. Where the sand meets a rock wall for or a breakwater is ideal. Fish for flounder along a rocky seabed where it meets flat sand on the bottom.
When I’m fishing for flounder upriver I like to target flounder beneath the oyster racks. If the mud is really soft (not silty), it’s even better. You needn’t been in deep water at all. I’ve caught flounder in shallow water, to as little as four feet of water.
In my experience, as the water is turning warmer following winter, flounder will feed in shallow water where the temperature is warmer. Try it.
Other locations great for flounder fishing
When fishing for flounder, also try the little inlets upriver, where the inlet hits the river. Flounder moves depending if it’s high tide or low tide. But a slack tide is best if you’re fishing with live bait.
In terms of catching flounder around the USA, check out this link for a few locations with local flounder legend fishing tips to help you catch and find flounder.
The Flounder Wrap Up
While solid angling basics are important for targeting flounder, It’s impossible to overstate the value of local knowledge.
Doing your local research will make a very positive impact on the outcome of your flounder adventures. The key is that you should have a plan and actually HUNT flounder.
In many respects, flounder is often a bycatch. The old doormat pops up occasionally and is a welcome visitor when we are chasing another species.
While there are plenty of anglers that regularly target these less than attractive fish known as flounder, the majority of us are out hunting striped bass, bluefish, GT’s and snapper.
Flounder fishing is grassroots fishing. It’s simple, inexpensive and available all year round. You don’t even need a boat.
More than anything, however, catching flounder is awesome fun on a light kit, and they’re brilliant in the pan. Doesn’t get better than that.
Thanks for reading my article on how to catch flounder. I hope you enjoyed it, and don’t forget to check out my other articles such as the mysterious anglerfish or the best way to catch catfish. All the info you need is right here.