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Almy: Flounder present a delicious challenge

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Gerald Almy

By Gerald Almy - sport@nvdaily.com

Instead of glamorous bluefish and stripers, more and more Virginia saltwater anglers are seeking a different kind of game fish these days -- the humble flounder.

The strike of a flounder is a more timid, gentle affair. Sometimes it simply feels like your line is snagged on the bottom or a hefty crab has grabbed hold of the bait -- just a little extra weight on the line.

In fact, it's something else. It's a tug from one of the most underrated gamefish around -- the flounder.

I have to admit I've been a flounder addict for a long time. There's something about this two-tone fish -- brown on one side, white on the other -- that has always intrigued me.

For starters, they're a challenge to catch. It takes knowledge to know where to drift for them, skill at choosing the right bait and deftness in knowing just how long to wait before setting the hook.

Flounder also fight surprisingly well, considering their odd shape and bottom-feeding status. And best of all, they are the most delectable fish in the Chesapeake when broiled or sautéed in lemon and butter with a few cloves of garlic.

These are some of the reasons flounder are becoming more and more popular in the Chesapeake Bay and Virginia's Eastern Shore waters. Another reason is that populations are thriving, thanks to careful management. Not only are lots of flounder available, lots of big ones are grabbing fish strips and large minnows anglers are dragging past them.

Every few years, the regulations seem to tighten just a bit -- a few less in the bag, a slightly longer length limit. The result is more flounder, and larger ones.

So how do you catch these brown and white fish? Start with the right bait. This can be a live minnow (mummichogs are the favorite), a three- to seven-inch fish strip cut in a long, thin v-shape, a strip of squid, or finally, a small live spot. All of these offerings are fished on bottom rigs with a sinker bouncing along the bay floor and the bait trailing anywhere from a few inches to a foot or so above it.

Drifting is the favorite tactic. The tide and wind combination can influence how good of a drift you get. Vary the weight according to how these two forces interact.

On a still tide, you'll mostly catch just crabs, blowfish or sharks. But when the tide is moving and wind conditions are just right, your bait will drift temptingly over the bottom behind the boat and soon you'll feel a dull weight or perhaps a "pecking" sensation telegraphing up the line.

Don't set the hook and don't feed line. Simply drag the fish along behind the boat without moving your hand or the rod at all or the fish will drop it. After anywhere from five to 15 seconds, when you sense the fish has the offering securely in its mouth, set the hook by quickly turning the reel handle. Then you can add a jab with the rod if you like, but the reeling quickly is what sets the hook.

Where to go? The best bet in the entire bay is the area around the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel in the lower bay. Many spots along the span are good. Just look where the boats are concentrated, then drift a polite distance away.

The "tubes" where the bridge turns into a tunnel and goes underwater are hot spots for particularly large flounder. Fish right where the bottom comes up onto the "tube" and also where it drops off again on the opposite side.

Other good flounder locations include the Cell, Tangier Sound, and the mouths of feeder rivers leading into the bay such as the Potomac, Rappahannock, Wicomico and James. Finally, on the Eastern Shore Wachapreague and Chincoteague inlets are two other famous and reliable flounder spots in Virginia.

For more information on the state's flounder fishing, contact the Virginia Saltwater Fishing Tournament, 968 S. Oriole Dr., Virginia Beach, VA 23451, 757/491-5160; mrcswt@visi.net.

-- Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.

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