Gerald Almy: For summer saltwater fishing treat, try flounder

Gerald Almy

Drifting along in the lower Chesapeake Bay, I suddenly felt a sharp tap, then a heavy weight on the thin graphite rod. Was a crab nibbling on my bait? Or was it the real deal – a flounder.

Rather than putting the reel on free-spool and feeding line, I simply held on. Dragging the unseen weight along, I waited a full 10 seconds, then began reeling hard, simultaneously raising the stiff rod upward. Solid weight and heavy bucking was the response. I was hooked up with my first flounder of the day, and it was a large one.

Several minutes later my fishing companion, Claude Bain, hoisted the net under seven gorgeous pounds of brown and white flatfish. Not only was it a huge flounder that would provide many delicious meals, it would also qualify for a citation under the state’s fishing awards program for trophy-sized gamefish.

It’s hard to think of a finer way to spend a hot summer day than flounder fishing. And fortunately, Virginia offers outstanding sport for these brown and white fish. Good spots include the lower tidal portions of its major rivers, the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, and the inlets along the Eastern Shore. All are within a 3-5 hour drive from the Shenandoah Valley.

And after you have a successful day on the water and head home with a few tasty flounder in the cooler ready to be pan-fried or broiled in lemon and butter, you’ll experience the second reward this fish offers besides fun fishing–fabulous eating. Few species can match the flounder for terrific taste and delicate texture with its flaky white meat.

Flounder can be caught with lures, but most anglers use bait for this quarry. In many areas minnows are the preferred offering. Mummichogs (killies) are favored on the Eastern Shore. In other areas silversides or other baitfish species get the nod. Whichever variety you use, keep them lively and fresh in a bait bucket, cooler or live well.

What if you don’t have minnows or don’t want to fool with them? Several other baits also work well for flounder. One is a strip of flesh from a freshly-caught fish cut in a thin tapered triangle from 3-7 inches long. Hook this about a quarter to half an inch in on the thick end of the tapered strip.

A third bait option is a piece of squid cut in a long 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 or synthetic hair tied on for extra bulk and flutter. In most popular flounder fishing areas you can buy these rigs already made up.

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

Spinning or baitcast gear works fine for flounder fishing. Rods should measure 6-7 ½ feet and have a bit of backbone but a fairly flexible tip.

To locate fish, first check with locals, marinas, and fishing reports online or in newspapers to find out where flounder have been concentrated lately. Then when you’re out on the water, watch where most boats are drifting. That’s likely where the fish are concentrated, though you can certainly explore and try to find your own hotspots.

In some areas anglers troll for flounders. In others they cast and retrieve. Generally, though, drifting through prime spots along flats, channel edges, creek bends and drop-offs is the best way to go. Slack tide is almost always the poorest time. You need some current movement to pull the baits along behind the boat.

When a fish strikes, you can respond in several ways. 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 holds the bait. That’s the tactic that produced the big flatfish described earlier.

How long to wait before setting the hook 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 or the bait is particularly large.

Once you set up, the fun begins – or rather the first part of the fun. The second part begins when you dine on those delicious flounder fillets after sautéing them gently in butter, olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice.

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