TSFMag’s Pro-Angler Flounder How-To Seminar

Everett Johnson and TSFMag Staff Writers
TSFMag’s Pro-Angler Flounder How-To Seminar
In my editor's column a while back I invited readers to email suggestions regarding content they would like to see presented in future issues of this magazine. One reader wrote that at the 2015 Houston Fishing Show, he noted overwhelming attendance and audience participation at the flounder seminars. "Please consider a flounder fishing how-to," he wrote. "Your writing team would be an excellent source of how-where-when strategies and techniques to enable us to catch more flounder."

Flounder thrive in every Texas bay system; so what we have put together is a comprehensive presentation of flounder techniques that covers the entire Texas coastline, beginning in the flounder-rich estuary of Sabine Lake and reaching all the way through the Lower Laguna Madre.

The TSFMag writing team's advice on the topic of how-where-when to target flounder is presented in region-specific format to enable readers to become more proficient in their home waters as well as other regions and bay systems in which they may not be as familiar. You will find explicit explanations of areas to target, bait and lure selection, best times and conditions, among other tidbits garnered through literally hundreds of years of experience. I trust readers will find this presentation informative and helpful in improving their fishing success. After allthe southern flounder is one of the famed Texas Inshore Trioand they are a hoot to catch!

– Everett Johnson-Editor

Upper Coast

Chuck Uzzle – Sabine Lake

Before I go very far I want to confess that while flounder are well down my list of species to target they rate right near the top of my list of species to eat. I personally have a hard time slowing myself down long enough to truly target flounder; I guess I'm just wired a little different than some folks. However, on those occasions when conditions get right I can hustle flatfish with the best of them.

Easily, my favorite season to target flatties is autumn. They congregate predictably and the average size of the fish I catch is much better than any other time of the year. October and November are my two best months and I have been known to sling live baits as quickly as chunk lures. Using lures is easier in some respects – you don't have to locate and catch lures with a cast net nor do you have to keep them alive.

Berkley's Saltwater GULP sits kind of in the middle of both worlds and its effectiveness over the last decade has made it the go-to bait for many flatfish aficionados. There's just an absolute ton of fish taken on GULP during the flounder run each fall – the white and glow 4-inch swimming mullet (curly-tail) are about like dynamite on a jighead. It's hard to dispute the numbers that GULP produces but if you want to catch a truly big flounder you really need to consider throwing some meat. Live finger mullet, small croaker and shad are tops on my list for big flounder.

My best flounder trips have all been in or near deep water during the fall months and I have had considerably more success throwing live bait than artificials for flounder weighing 3-plus pounds. Without a doubt Capt. Dickie Colburn is the best flounder fisherman I have ever been around. Dickie told me a long time ago, "Big flounder want meat," and I certainly believe him after seeing some of his stringers over the years.

The only drawback to the live bait technique is that its very spot specific, unlike the artificial method where it's much easier to cover ground. Finding the right bottom contour or structure along with some help from a tide change (current) is the key for the live bait method. Put these factors in your corner and you could end up with a stringer that will turn your fishing buddies green with envy.

The basic Carolina rig with a 3/8 or 1/2 ounce sinker above a barrel swivel and a foot or so of leader tied to a live bait hook is all you need. A handful of frisky finger mullet or other baitfish cast to the proper spot should gain you some action from the better-sized flounder. Keep a couple for dinner and be sure to follow all the game laws.

Dickie Colburn – Sabine Lake

Due to extensive overfishing (commercial netting) that limited us to chasing mostly school trout and the fact that reds were taken for granted with few regulations, I built my guiding career on the back of a very healthy flounder fishery. Forty years later, thanks to the efforts of CCA, trophy trout and backwater reds are now the meal ticket but the things I learned about catching flounder in those days have not changed.

Rather than discuss catching flounder during angler-friendly migrations, I will pass along a few tips for catching them year round. When fishing Sabine Lake, we target the flooded root systems of the thicker stands of roseau cane and drains leading into the marsh on an incoming tide. When the outgoing tide exposes the roots, look for the same fish to move only a short distance and wait out the next incoming tide in a little deeper water.

When fishing water ten feet or deeper, any type of structure that diverts current is critical for me. Either tide direction is fine as I will concentrate on the downstream side of that structure. I prefer to fish this with a Carolina rig with a large enough egg weight to keep the bait in contact with the bottom and a 2/0 or 3/0 Kahle hook.

GULP products have been a legitimate game changer since they hit the market but every flounder I have ever caught in excess of six pounds ate a live shad, mud minnow or finger mullet in deep water. For years I fished the shallow shorelines with a horse head jig with a curl-tail body tipped with shrimp or a four inch tube jig with a piece of shrimp stuffed inside the body cavity and both options still work well.

Because I seldom if ever target flounder exclusively anymore, I now catch the majority of my flounder on a chartreuse or white GULP swimming mullet rigged on a quarter ounce head, a four inch Assassin Sea Shad rigged on a swimbait hook or a three inch Usual Suspect swimbait. Any time I am using plastic I add a scent and seem to have better luck with any product that has menhaden oil in the recipe. I also believe that fishing braided line provides a huge advantage in not only detecting lighter strikes, but setting the hook as well.

These techniques and patterns work year round for me. Even following the fall migration we continue to catch flounder fishing this deep water program throughout the colder months.

Steve Hillman – Galveston Bay Complex

Welcomed cooler weather will be here before we know it. Late-September offers us opportunities to deviate from chasing trout and focus on different species. Flounder rank at the top of the list for many. There's not a better tasting fish in the bay in my opinion and targeting them can be quite fun.

Prior to their fall exodus to the Gulf, flounder will reside near bayou drains, small cuts and passes. This holds true for Galveston Bay and most bays along the Texas coast. Timing is imperative as flounder become more aggressive (as do most other species) when there is good current flow. I like to fish areas such as a small bayou mouth that flows into the bay. The best tide in my opinion is a peak high tide leading up to an outgoing. The outward current will bring with it morsels such as shrimp, shad and finger mullet. This scenario applies to other areas such as the mouth of the Trinity River (Anahuac Pocket) and even breaks in geotubes at the front of some West Galveston Bay coves.

Aside from the old standby finger mullet or mud minnows, there are many "fake baits" that will trick flatties too. One of the most popular in the soft plastic category is a curly-tail grub. This bait was basically put on the map years ago by Mister Twister, but there are many other manufacturers with similar products. Salt Water Assassin's 4-inch Curly Shad is a great choice. Choosing the most effective color to use really depends on the water clarity and amount of sunlight. Darker colors work well in cloudy water and brighter colors get the job done when there is better visibility. Some of my personal favorites are red shad, chicken-on-a-chain and red with a white tail. Berkley GULP 4-inch Swimming Mullet is hard for them to resist as well. I typically use 1/8 or 1/4 ounce jigheads adjusting accordingly for current swiftness. Retrieval method is not all that complicated when tossing a soft plastic or a GULP. Simply dragging along the bottom at a slow to medium speed with an occasional twitch will work. Once you feel the initial tap or thump, wait a second before setting the hook.

The annual "flounder run" around here really gets going good in late-October and is usually in full swing by November. Depending upon cold fronts or the lack thereof, early-December can be phenomenal as well. As the water temperature continues to fall flounder will congregate in well-known areas such as the Galveston Ship Channel. It's not uncommon to see 100 fishermen lining the banks from Seawolf Park to the Pelican Island Bridge when it gets show time. Other hotspots include areas around the Bolivar Ferry Landing and the North Jetty boat cut. The same lures are effective as were recommended for September. However, heavier jigheads come into play in the deeper areas mentioned. A 3/8 ounce would be a better choice when fishing in 18 feet of water in the channel or at the jetties.

Dave Roberts – Sabine Lake

I am a kayak angler and as you may already know, fishing out of a kayak definitely has its pros and cons. The greatest benefit is the ability to fish where other boats simply cannot go, and here on the upper edge of the Upper Coast, this means being able to access top-notch marsh and other habitat anglers in larger boats can only dream of reaching.

Flounder can be found scattered all across the bays, bayous and back lakes and there is essentially no wrong way to fish for them. I have caught them on all sorts of lures: Norton Sand Eels, Corkys, Rat-L-Traps and gold spoons. However, if I was to target flounder specifically, large flounder, I would go about it in a completely different way.

I have come to learn that flounder love to hang around wallsmanmade bulkheads, jetty rocks, etc. Luckily, here on Sabine Lake, we have a rock wall that runs in the ship channel. This wall attaches to the big jetty and is made of square rocks. It is an ideal structure for holding good numbers, and large ones. My favorite thing about the wall is that you can paddle right up to it, get out and stand on it. When you can do this you are able to walk the wall and jig directly beside it; the flounder will lay right next the wall. Being on top of the wall will allow you to keep your lure in the strike zone longer. Even when fishing bulkheads you are able to cast parallel with the base of the structure. Anglers in larger boats can usually only cast perpendicular to the wall, and can only cover so much water with one cast.

My favorite flounder lures for jigging the wall are a green curly-tail GULP or Chicken Boy's Bubba Clucker. I like to rig these on 1/4 ounce jigheads and prefer a fairly stiff rod as most of my hooksets will be straight up and down. The extra backbone in the rod is essential for driving the hook home in their bony jaws. I also believe that using spray-on attractants and/or scented lures can be a complete game changer. Of the "Texas slam" species, I believe flounder use their sense of smell more than speckled trout and redfish. Keeping your GULP fresh and applying spray-on scent frequently definitely seems to draw more strikes.

Throughout the years I have caught some really big flounder right on the edge of walls. I only got to see my largest-ever for a few secondsshe slipped out of my hands after she broke my rod tip and then the line. She was by far the biggest I have ever witnessed and would have been entered in the CCA Texas STAR, had I landed her. I honestly believe that if I had the time and patience I could win the STAR fishing these walls. Use your kayak to your advantage and fish places that other anglers find tough to access. Find some structure, stay close to it, and find you a wall-hanger.

Mid Coast

Scott Null – Lower Galveston Bays and Seadrift/Port O'Connor

In my day-to-day fishing I don't typically target flounder. They aren't exactly the best species for sight-casting. However, every once in a while a customer wants one for dinner. In the marsh, that means heading for a drain. Any place where the tide is being forced through a funnel on an outgoing tide is a prime target zone. The shallower edges up against the marsh grass are the most likely ambush spots, but it isn't uncommon to pull one out of the deepest part of the wash.

If they're strictly fly fishing I'll have them tie on a weighted Clouser or other minnow-style fly. For conventional tackle guys, a jighead with a paddletail will work but, if we're getting serious, a white curly-tail grub is the go-to. And, if the wife has demanded a flounder for dinner it's time to pull out the white curly-tail Gulp.

Once you are in the right place with the right lure tied on it becomes a game of patience. While there are times that they're active and feeding aggressively, most days it comes down to thoroughly working every inch of bottom waiting for that tell-tale "tick" on the line. I like to start on the left side of the drain and then start moving to the right a few inches with each successive cast. If it doesn't happen on this drain, move on to the next.

Now my wife on the other hand tends not to give up on a drain nearly as quickly as I do. She is one of the best marsh flounder fishers I know. While I'll lose interest and move on to hunting redfish, she'll sit tight and keep working the same drain. When I swing back by she'll still be at the same spot and often have two or three flounder on the stringer. I swear she just pesters them until they surrender, but it does show that patience will pay off. If you have confidence in the location, chances are good there's a flounder or two in the vicinity and if you pester them long enough they'll eventually eat.

Shellie Gray – Seadrift/Port O'Connor

Fishing for flounder here on our part of the middle-Texas coast can be a challenging yet very rewarding experience. I am asked quite often if I catch flounder on a daily basis and my answer is always no, but not because we don't have good numbers of flounder. The simple truth is that during my average day of guiding I do not usually target them. Yes, we catch a flounder here and there but honestly you need to intentionally fish for flounder in order to catch numbers of them by rod and reel method. Let me give you a little insight as to how it's done.

It is no secret that flounder typically hang close to or in cuts and inlets. Cuts and/or inlets are the ideal location for flounder to lie low and let the tide movement push bait from one body of water into the next. Wading is really a must in my opinion in order to be as successful as possible. Also, since most of these inlets are narrow, they are best fished by no more than one to two anglers at a time.

I prefer falling tide and find it best to start your wade on the side of the cut or slough the current is sweeping the strongest so that your offering has a more natural appearance during the retrieve. Anything from fresh-dead shrimp to 4-inch GULP! Swimming Mullet will work, pumpkinseed is one of my favorite colors. I usually rig my GULP and other lures on 1/8 ounce jigs.

Fishing on or very close to bottom is a must and I like to make sure they have it solidly in their grasp before setting the hook. Flounder strikes are often very light, sometimes barely a "tap" or a series of light taps – quite unlike the "thump" we get with trout and redfish. That subtle bite can be tough to detect at times and you may miss more than you hook, while you are getting the hang of it – don't get discouraged.

I usually find that landing the bait near the shore and then applying a slow jigging retrieve to the middle of the cut works the best. Many times they seem to be lying on the sloping bank that drops down into the cut, facing the current. But you also need to make sure and work all the area in front of you, fanning your casts in all directions.

As always when wading, and even more so wade fishing for flounder, move forward slowly and stop when you get a bite as there very well could be more and you certainly do not want to walk past them. Be careful, most cuts can have a very muddy bottom that can make it difficult to maneuver. They also have steep drop offs and can go from waist deep to over your head in just one step – go slow and be cautious!

One last tipeven if you do not customarily use a landing net when wade fishinga quality net that floats at your side is the best way to get a good grip on your prize.

Jay Watkins – Rockport Region

It is amazing how quickly the middle-coast flounder population rebounded in the wake of revised TPWD regulations several years ago. Goes to show you what conservative fisheries management can provide. I observed an almost immediate increase in the numbers of flounder I was catching – and not just during the fall run but also during summer months. I seldom target flounder with so-called "traditional" flounder lures, opting to use the 5" Bass Assassins as my first choice and then the 3" or 4" Bass Assassin Sea Shad. I seldom use a lure with a contrasting (dipped) tail of any color and don't even own a red and white color pattern in any type of plastic. Reasoning behind my thought process here is that I believe flounder fishing can be likened to prime commercial real estate – location, location, location.

I prefer areas of scattered shell where you typically find strong tidal currents. Areas with distinct lips or edges where solid shell meets scattered shell over softer bottom seems to hold and produce the best numbers of large flounder in my area. Deep-water access is also important – in relative proximity to a major landmass (shoreline), that leads toward a pass or channel to the Gulf. Applying effort in regions/structures described over my career has logged some 20- to 30 fish days.

Areas along main-bay shorelines adjacent to backcountry drains (sloughs) where pounding waves create a gut or trough running parallel to the shore are also favorites. Flounder in these guts tend to run toward the small size during summer but highly predictable. In the mouths of the drains and also in the hard turns or bends along their course, flounder will stack during periods of peak water movement and these fish tend to run larger on average.

If asked to predict best times for flounder success, I like three to four days leading into full moon when tides are seasonally low – July and August. Other "better" days would be anytime the tide is moving hard – September through November.

Best bait for me is a 5" Shad Bass Assassin in plum or white and I also like the 3" and 4" Bass Assassin Sea Shad – plum, morning glory and white. I rig all my soft plastic baits on 1/16 or 1/8 ounce Bass Assassin Spring Lock Jigheads; size 2/0 or 1/0.

I strike a flounder the same as I would any fish – hard, after quickly cranking down to load the line and the rod. Good thing about missing or losing a flounder is that they tend to settle to bottom right where you missed the bite or they got off. Knowing the line you cast on and/or the approximate area you lost the fish will allow for a quick replay and maybe another shot.

I never use a net for landing flounder and probably should. Billy Gerke owner of ForEverlast Hunting and Fishing Products makes a great one that floats so it does not hang on the scattered clump shell I prefer for finding the biggest of the flat fish. I find that women have the best touch when it comes to catching flounder. I would love to know the reasoning behind this.

David Rowsey – Upper Laguna Madre and Baffin Bay

For years here in the Upper Laguna and Baffin, targeting flounder was never a viable option. There just weren't that many to be caught and certainly not enough to be targeted. Since TPWD revised the flounder bag limit and closed the fishery to gigging during the spawning migration, we have seen a profound impact on rod and reel catch rates. As of 2014 I can confidently target flounder with clients, with decent success most days.

Obviously, I'm on the water more than the average guy but, learning to catch flounder consistently has been a new chapter in my book. Simply put, I have had to learn to catch them just as I had to learn to start catching trout over 25 years ago – just like anyone else getting into the game.

When I first started catching them down here, they just happened to be haunting the same areas as the trout I was targeting. In most cases it was a combination of shallow, windward shorelines with bottom that consisted of a sand-mud-grass mix. I caught most of them on a 5" Bass Assassin or the occasional Corky. I started catching enough flounder while targeting trout that I decided to try and target just the flounder while clients were busy catching big trout. I experimented with all kind kinds of lures. Over time I realized that a curly-tailed grub was about as good as it gets for getting the flatties to bite. As much as I hate to admit it, the 3" GULP shrimp is pretty dang lethal also. More recently, I had a client really put it on me with a 1/4 oz gold spoon. Note to self: Add a small gold spoon to the flounder arsenal.

Now I'm no flounder expert but, having some fish savvy running through my veins, I have figured a few favorite areas and structures in this area where they like to hang out and can be reasonably targeted. First and foremost I have learned that flounder love current. Lack of tide movement in this part of the world means that we rely on wind to push water around.

Some of my most reliable areas for this scenario are around spoil islands; specifically the north and south tips of the islands where they fade into deeper water. I prefer to cast into the wind or at least on an angle quartering the wind to sweep the lure to them on the available current as naturally as possible. If there are good potholes on the submerged top of the island, they are heavily targeted as well.

Edges of deep channels where the wind is pushing water into the channel are also a favorite. In many cases these channels are barely navigable by boat, which means they have silted in to some degree and are a bit of a boggy wade. Apparently the flounder like the mud more than me because we always seem to catch in these areas.

As I said, I'm no expert on catching flounder, just a guy that fishes a whole lot. Saying that, I use the same basic retrieve as I would for trout or reds, but maybe just a touch slower, but never sitting motionless on the bottom. If a flounder is hungry and willing to hit a lure (as if to kill it for dinner), it will be a good thump, just like a trout. Just set the hook like normal and fight him in. I do not buy into the theory that he is "nibbling" on it. He's going to eat it or not so, I say, "Set the hook!" Maybe different with live bait but; how would I know? I'm a lure guy through and through.

Lower Coast

Capt. Tricia – Port Mansfield

My fishing program is year-round wading, focusing primarily on trout and redfish. Flounder landings tend to be more accidental than targeted, in general, but I have clients that sometimes request targeting them at some point during a charter. I also guide clients participating in local fishing tournaments and most have a separate flounder category or a "bay slam" division where a flatfish is important.

When fishing for flounder my strategies and tactics vary throughout the year – based upon locations and bottom structure where we've found them recently – even if unexpectedly. So, over time, you kind of learn where to look for them. The climate of the Rio Grande Valley is quite different than upper and middle-coast regions, summer is hotter and longer, and winter is shorter and not so cold. Seasonal patterns are therefore somewhat different down here. I basically divide the year into three seasons: Spring (late-February through June), Summer (July through October) and Winter (November through early-February).

Flounder are tougher for me to pattern in spring than summer and winter as they seem less attracted to deep water. Good bets in these months are shallow spoils along the ICW. Focus on areas of scattered grass whenever you find it and be sure to work slowly, fanning your casts thoroughly across a wide swath of water in front of you. Actually, that slow-thorough-fan approach applies to all seasons.

Summer is a good time to target flounder in the Lower Laguna; lots of places come into play. The combination of deep water and current is the primary key. Along the East Cut we get tidal currents flowing between spoil humps and islands and all along the edge of the channel proper. In the Land Cut, prevailing south wind moves water similarly. Abandoned oilfield cuts and channels out on the flats are also prime areas.

Winter is another good season for flounder fishing and I consider it another "deep water" season for flatfish, but deep is often relative – one or two feet deeper than the surrounding water can qualify. Any gut, trough or saucer-type depression can hold flounder in winter when tides and temperatures drop sharply during the passage of a front. This is when the oilfield cuts out on the flats really shine. The spoil drop offs anywhere along the ICW and East Cut will likely be holding flounder during and for a few days following the front.

Let's talk a bit about lures and rigging. I love paddletails! Trout-reds-flounder; doesn't matter, my first choice is a paddletail, the tougher the material the better. One of my tricks is to use my incisors to bite a notch out of the section between the body and the tail – makes it wiggle better on a slow-roll retrieve. Another trick is to shorten the bait, at least an inch from a 4-incher, a bit less on 3-1/2 inch baits. You can simply bite if off if you're in a hurry although a knife makes a prettier cut, angling slightly top to bottom. What you're trying to achieve is locating the hook point closer to the tail.

Depending water depths being targeted I will range between 1/8 and 1/4 ounce jigheads. Flounder have no swim bladder which means they are either swimming somewhere in the water column or lying on bottom – probably 99% of the time on bottom. The bottom is the strike zone!

Current is critical in flounder fishing. Even if very slight, flounder will always face into it. Quite often we have to cast into the wind in order to present the lure naturally; remember that bait usually swims with the current. This is like gravity – don't fight it.

How do I set the hook on a flounder bite? Instant and hard, the same as a trout or redfish. Call it a knee-jerk but that's the way I am programmed. If you miss, throw again, and again, and again.

Ernest Cisneros – Lower Laguna Madre

Back when my son, Aaron, was eligible in the CCA STAR-TEENS we focused a lot on catching flounder hoping he'd win a scholarship. The limit was ten and getting a limit was no big deal back then. Fast forward a few years and flounder fishing got tough, real tough. Today, thanks to major changes in flounder regulations we are once again enjoying plentiful catches. Even without targeting them, my charters in 2015 have been averaging at least one or two while focusing on trout, redfish and snook.

In no way do I consider myself a flounder expert but over the years I have gained some knowledge in finding and catching them. One thing that stands out is you must fish methodically and with patience. Not every spot that looks fishy will produce a flounder every time but there are common denominators.

Flounder are highly-opportunistic ambush feeders and they prefer sandy to semi-soft bottom. Flounder do not roam around like trout and reds looking for a meal. They lie on bottom facing into current, waiting for their food to be delivered. Running your lure with the current definitely helps.

Flounder also like to settle along drop-offs. Edges of the ICW and gaps between spoils are prime locations. They also seem to like lying near pier and cabin pilings. Some pieces of structure are steady producers and others only occasionally. My guess is that it has something to do with the bottom contours.

I prefer to wade and have had good success fishing natural and manmade guts and channels that intersect the ICW, and also old cuts across the flats. Wading allows me to read the bottom changes with my feet. Edges where sand changes to softer bottom are very good along the drop, especially any patches of grass in the transition zone.

I like to place my casts on the edges of grass beds and let the lure settle to bottom. Keep the rod tip low and bounce it on a slow retrieve. Patience is extremely important because there are times when they will only hit a lure that's in their face. If a known flounder hole doesn't produce the first time around, it is certainly worth trying again later. I strongly recommend using a net as flounder are notorious for clamping down on a bait and not getting hooked. If the net is under them when they let go you'll still get them.

Recently, I learned something about flounder from our editor. We were fishing a tournament and needed a flounder, so we hit a spot that had been producing some good ones. Being late in the day my optimism was low because I knew multiple boats had visited the hole ahead of us. As we were pulling in a boat was leaving and blasted it with prop wash. Everett said, "Aw heck, Ernest, if they've been here right along they won't leave. Let's try it." In all honesty I thought we were wasting our time but gave in to his idea. Not only did we catch one, we caught two, and our team ended up first and second in the flounder division! You learn something every day.