First, flounder are available in good numbers, particularly in the Charleston area - and that's especially true during the hottest months of the year. Second, they are not extremely difficult to catch, but they offer ample challenge and reward for the thinking angler. Finally - and certainly a key to why this fish is so popular - the taste is superb, regardless of how it's prepared.
While any flounder of legal size is a keeper, there are some experts who have the keys to success for catching the real whopper, or "doormat" flounders. The term "doormat" is an obvious descriptive choice once a fisherman has seen an oversized flounder.
For consistent success, fishermen must develop a strategy that integrates a number of factors into a workable pattern. Professional guides have developed proven plans that can enhance the catch rate of this very popular fish.
One of the top flounder fishermen is Peter Brown of Charleston (803-830-0448), a full-time guide who spends a lot of time pursuing flounder. He has developed some strategies that consistently produce good catches of oversized fish.
"I'm excited about having a really great year for flounder in the Charleston area in 2007," Brown said. "Flounder are certainly a popular species, and during the warmer months of the year, we catch a lot of fish. In fact, sometimes when fishing is tough for other species, I'll put my clients on a bunch of flounder, and they'll have a ball catching them."
Brown said flounder are a bit unusual in terms of looks if a person is not familiar with them other than on a plate at a good seafood eatery. As they mature. one eye "migrates" toward the other until eventually, both eyes are on the same side and the fish is "flattened."
Brown said this flatness allows flounder to ambush prey from a stationary position on the bottom. They'll take up residence in certain areas and patiently wait for an easy meal to come by, then, they quickly strike the bait. They have a rather large mouth and are well-equipped with teeth. It is this method of feeding that dictates how to best fish for them, Brown said.
"There are three things that I specifically key on to help me find and catch doormat flounder," Brown said. "I key on the tide, the bait and presentation. If a fisherman will focus on those three things, he will not only catch a lot more flounder, he will catch some really big fish as well."
Brown said the keys are in the specifics.
"Tides are a real key to my success," Brown said. "I rate tides as far more important than time-of-day or how bright the sun is shining. If the tide is right, the flounder will be in relatively shallow water. This is not necessarily true with some other species I fish for, but flounders will be there.
"I will say that the fishing can be even better if the right tide occurs in the early morning when the sun is still low in the sky. In addition to less light, there is usually less wind during the summer early in the day. We'll have a sea breeze kick up nearly every afternoon during the summer. Because of the lack of wind, I'd rate mornings better for that reason.
"I specifically key on the three hours before low tide and the first two hours after the water begins to rise. I want the water out of the grass, which generally will make the flounder go to the areas where I can find and catch them. This is a key to find really big flounder. A fisherman can catch some fish on any tide, but this is when I catch most of the really big flounder.
Brown said that the bait is certainly a key to success, but there are several baits that work really well.
"Most of the time, I'll rely on live baits for the really huge flounder," Brown said. "Often, I'll have a variety of different live baits with me. I'll use mud minnows, finger mullet and menhaden. All will produce big flounder. Through the years I've kept track of what I caught the biggest flounder on, and small menhaden would be my No. 1 choice."
Brown said that for a lot of flounder of mixed sizes, jigs and grubs work really well. Also, he'll sometimes tip a quarter-ounce jighead with a mud minnow or finger mullet hooked through the lips.
The third key is presentation, and Brown is very specific when searching for big flounders.
"I typically fish from an anchored boat," Brown said. "I key on areas with a sandy bottom, and I specifically like a creek mouth (that) is rather shallow at the mouth, but once past the mouth the water deepens. There are a number of places like this, and they can be real doormat-sized flounder honey holes.
"Once I have found this type of situation, I'll look for oyster beds that are close to the marsh grass," Brown said. "The flounder like to lie between the oyster beds and the marsh grass, often right next to the grass when the tide is right. If there's a sandy slope between the oysters and the grass, that's where I expect to find the fish. The ideal time seems to be when the tide is over the top of the shells but just at the edge of the grass."
Brown said that although he anchors most of the time, he still wants to cover a lot of water. He allows the current or wind to drift his bait along the potential hotspot.
"I often use a rig with a float, called an 'equalizer float,'" he said. "The water I'm fishing is usually not very deep. I'll rig the float to be as deep as the depth of water I'm fishing. I use a Kahle hook, usually in the 1- to 2/0-size. The key here is the presentation made to the fish with the bait."
Brown casts near the grass, and usually, the current will move the bait along the grass line. He said that it is important to cover all the territory between the shells and the grass. It's also not unusual to catch several fish from a single location.
"A lot of times we'll catch multiple fish from one place," Brown said. "Often, when I'm in a place where we've caught a fish or two - or a place that's been real productive recently - I work the entire area before leaving. That may mean I'll move the boat only a short distance down the bank before trying another nearby spot.
"Another excellent method for catching flounder in this situation is to use a jighead with a grub or live-bait trailer before I leave," Brown said. "We'll work it slowly over the bottom, bouncing it back to the boat after casting it. I'll work the entire stretch of grass in front of me in a fan-cast pattern."
Brown also said that the use of a mud minnow or other live bait as a trailer on the jig is often the catalyst needed to provoke a strike.
"The use of a jig trailing a minnow is a long-time personal favorite method of mine," he said. "By using this rig, fishermen can effectively cover a lot of territory quickly, yet still give the fish the scent and look of live bait."
Brown said that the mouth of a creek is a good place, especially where the tidal flow is creating a consistent current. He said fish will often lay in the current flow, and they'll often orient to points at the mouth of a creek.
"In this situation, fishermen can use the float rig or cast the jig rig," Brown said. "Although I seldom troll, sometimes a fisherman can get excellent results simply by drifting or trolling in these type areas. One of the keys is to keep the bait on or very near the bottom. But use as light a sinker as possible; too much weight or disturbance may spook the fish. These fish are usually a bit deeper, but not necessarily holding in real deep water.
"When fishing along these creek mouths, it's important to remember that fishermen need to bring the bait to the fish," Brown said. "They don't cruise the grass lines or along the creek mouths as frequently as do some of the other species. Redfish, will cruise along the edges and a stationary bait will often work well for these fish. However, I prefer to keep my bait moving and covering potentially productive water when fishing for flounder.
"Remember, the normal pattern for a flounder to feed is to settle in on the bottom and wait for the bait to come to him, then strike quickly. So play the game his way; take the bait to him, and the catch rate will improve simply on that technique alone."
Brown said another pattern that produces consistent results is fishing areas where there are rock breakwaters with a sand or mud bottom. Since he fishes primarily in the Charleston area, he notes that perfect examples are the areas around the Battery - as well as around Fort Sumter, Ft. Moultrie and Ft. Johnson.
"The thing to key on is lots of rocks that come down the bank to a sandy bottom," Brown said. "Where fishermen find rocks, they'll usually find oysters growing as well. Sea walls are good places to fish as well. In a place like this, the flounder can feed in a larger area so I'll usually rig multiple rods. I'll rig up a couple of float rigs and keep them working over the area. I'll also rig some bottom bumping rigs. I'll use the Kahle hook on a 20-pound test leader below a swivel, and I'll only use a couple of quarter-ounce split shot. I want the bait to stay on the bottom, but I want the current to be able to keep it moving along."
The Charleston Harbor jetties also produce a lot of flounder. Other areas Brown likes for big flounder include the old naval base docks and such Price's and Capers inlets.
"I'll usually get on the outside of the jetties and pick a spot to begin where the water is moving, but not with a real fast current," Brown said. "I'll anchor the boat and cast toward the rocks. I'm really working the base of the rocks -where the rocks end and the flat bottom begins. I work these areas very thoroughly, and when I move, I usually move only a small distance and begin casting again."
In addition to big, doormat flounder, it's not unusual to catch a variety of species, including redfish, trout and sheepshead, Brown said.
"That type of action seems to keep everyone on their toes, and an occasional redfish or other species certainly enhances the days fishing," he said.
Drifting is generally a technique Brown uses for the larger inlets.
"Often I look for large inlets, ones that have grass banks on one or both sides with a sand or mud bottom," he said. "In fishing this type of situation, the tide can be up some from the other places. The flounder seem to relate to the edges, either one or both sides of the inlet, depending on the type of structure there is on the bottom and along the edge. I'll either use the current to drift the boat or use a motor to slowly troll. I recommend that the angler hold the rod so they can react quickly when the flounder bites. Fishermen can use the same type rigs as before, and keeping the jig or the bottom rig in contact with the bottom is, as always for flounder, a real key."
The tackle used is also important, Brown said. His personal tackle for flounder fishing has evolved through the years to what seems to work best for this specific fish.
"I use a 7-foot All Star rod, the Coastal Classic model," Brown said. "It has moderate fast/medium action. I use a Pflueger Medalist, Model 6035 reel with 10-pound test Shakespeare Ugly Braid line. With this rig, I have great sensitivity to the often light bite of a flounder, and it has increased my catch rate noticeably. I don't tie the braid directly to the hook. I use an 18-inch leader of 20-pound test monofilament. I do not use wire leader for flounder."
Brown said that although he seldom trolls for flounder, it is a great technique at times.
Another local flounder fisherman, Steve Marsh, prefers trolling most of the time.
"By trolling, I can fish effectively throughout all of the tidal periods," Marsh said. "Granted, I like the last half of the dropping tide and the first half of the rising tide best. Regardless of when I troll, it's imperative that I have a good plan of attack in terms of places I intend to fish.
"Random, haphazard trolling simply is not an effective technique. Pick the areas to troll as if anchoring and casting. Regardless of the techniques, fishermen still must fish the right places. In this case, fishermen will be working them by trolling rather than casting."
Marsh said that one of his keys to success when trolling for flounder is to consider the tide current.
"I usually prefer to troll with the current when trolling for flounder, especially for really big flounder," Marsh said. "I'll typically use a quarter- or 3/8-ounce jighead with a mud minnow hooked through the lips. The size of the jig will depend on the depth of the water and current. It is important to get it close to the bottom."
Marsh also said commercially prepared rigs work well for trolling.
"The pre-rigged trolling setups found in tackle shops also work fine for big flounder. The key is to cover the right areas and keep it near the bottom."
Marsh also said that he'll fish the edges between sand and shell bottoms as well as around points, inlets and deeper holes.
"Often, a fisherman will have to experiment to find what's best on a particular day," he said. "Plus, what works can change quickly even on the same day as the tide changes. But trolling lets me cover a lot of territory very effectively when looking for a really big flounder."
This coincides with Brown's advice on flounder fishing. Think in terms of the type of places the fish will be at different stages of the tide. Keep the rigs simple and cover a lot of territory. Keys to remember include keeping the bait moving, since flounder are ambush feeders. Plus, keep the bait or lure in contact with the bottom, or very near the bottom, within the easy strike zone of the founder.
"While a fisherman can make them bite other ways, I think the key to consistent success is to make it as easy for the founder to take the bait as possible," Brown said. "That's what I do, and it pays off in terms of some doormat-sized flounder for my clients."