Almy: Flounder fishing formula

One of the finest ways I know to spend a hot summer day is drifting for flounder. Virginia has excellent flounder fishing available on the Eastern Shore at Chincoteague and Wachapreague and also in the Virginia Beach area around the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. Both are about a four to five hour drive from the Shenandoah Valley.

When you succeed in your angling effort at one of these spots and head home with a few tasty flounder in the cooler ready to be filleted and broiled in lemon and butter, you’ll experience the second reward this fish offers besides fun fishing — great eating. Few fish can match the flounder for terrific taste and texture. And that’s especially true when you catch your own and know they’ve been kept cool and on ice from the time they were caught.

Although they can be fooled with lures and flies, most anglers, including myself, usually use bait for this quarry. In many areas minnows are the preferred offering. Mummichogs (killies) are favored on the Eastern Shore. In other areas different species get the nod. Whichever variety you use, keep the minnows lively and fresh in a bait bucket, cooler or live well.

The truism “big bait, big fish” doesn’t always hold true in angling. But flounder fishing is one case where it is valid. Minnows of three or more inches long are best.

If you don’t have minnows, several other baits work well. One is a strip of flesh cut from a freshly-caught fish cut in a long tapered triangle, from 3-6 or even 8 inches long if truly large flounder are present. Hook these about a quarter- to half-inch in on the thick end of the taper. Hook minnows through both lips from the bottom up.

Another option is a strip of squid cut in a triangle shape. In some areas anglers like a small squid strip and a live minnow both on the same hook–dubbed the “Eastern Shore Sandwich.” Use size 1-2/0 hooks, either plain or with a strand of bucktail tied on for extra bulk and flutter. In popular flounder fishing areas like Chincoteague you can buy these rigs already made up.

Terminal gear consists of an 18-24 inch piece of mono leader 10-20 pound test tied to a three-way swivel. On another eye of the swivel, attach a 5-10 inch piece of similar test line and a dipsey sinker of one to five ounces. The third eyelet is for the line from your rod. Use as little weight as possible to reach the bottom in the depth, wind and current you’re faced with.

Spinning or baitcast gear works fine. Rods should measure 6-7½ feet and have some backbone but a flexible tip.

Find out from locals, marinas and fishing reports where the fish are biting. Then watch where most boats are drifting. That’s likely where the most fish are, though you can certainly explore and try to find your own hotspots.

In some areas anglers troll for flounders, but generally drift fishing through prime spots is the way to go. Try flat and channel edges, creek bends and drop-offs. Slack tide is the poorest time. You need some movement to pull the baits along behind the boat.

When a fish strikes, many people feed line. Others strike immediately. I’ve found the best approach is to simply pull the fish along for a short ways as it munches on the fish strip or minnow. How long is an open question. You’ll soon get a feel for when the fish has the bait firmly. Then it’s time to set up by reeling quickly and lifting the rod tip sharply. It can be just a few seconds or up to half a minute if a fish is nibbling tentatively.

Once you set up, the first part of the fun begins — the battle. The second part starts later when you slip the fillets of that fish into a pan of butter, olive oil and garlic and sprinkle on some lemon juice!

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