How to Catch Flounder: Tips & Techniques For Catching Doormats
Flat, kind of funny looking, and with fillets even the most discerning chef would approve of... Flounder are one inshore species you definitely don't want to overlook! If you frequent inshore and nearshore waters in your kayak, learning how to catch flounder will provide an interesting new challenge, add variety to your cooler, and will delight anyone with whom you share your catch.
With flat bodies that hug the bottom, the ability to change their color and spots to blend in with the sand and mud, and eyes on top of their bodies to see prey, flounder are an incredible example of what an ambush predator can be. They sit on the bottom, wait for a minnow or shrimp to swim overhead, and then... wham! Dinner.
You'll find flounder in marshes, estuaries, and bay mouths, hanging around structure such as rock jetties and piers. They prefer muddy or sandy bottoms, often in shallow water. Flounder are also known to move into tidal creeks and rivers with some presence of salt water.
Tackle and Bait for Flounder
The traditional method for catching flounder involves going out at night, lantern in one hand, straight point gig in the other, spearing flounder as you spot them. But for kayak fishermen, rod and reel is the obvious method of choice.
Rod, Reel, and Line for Flounder
Most flounder you catch inshore weigh between 1 and 5 pounds, so you don't need a heavy outfit to get the job done. Your standard inshore rig of a medium/light action rod paired with a lightweight saltwater spinning or baitcasting reel spooled with 10-20 pound braided line will work well for catching flounder.
Bait for Flounder
Flounder can be caught with both artificial lures and live bait.
Finger mullet, mud minnows, and shrimp are popular live baits for flounder.
One of the best rigs to use when fishing live bait for flounder is a fish finder rig. You can use either a wide-bend hook in size 2 to 2/0, or a circle hook in size 2/0 to 4/0.
Circle hooks allow the flounder to attempt to swallow the bait, and when you tighten the line, the hook will essentially set itself in the corner of the fish's mouth.
To build a fish finder rig, slide a sinker up your main line that's just heavy enough to get your bait down and in contact with the bottom. Tie a swivel to your main line below the weight, then to the swivel, tie a 12 to 18-inch leader of either monofilament or fluorocarbon. Tie your hook on the leader, hook your minnow either through the lips or nose, and you're ready to go.
Using live bait on a fish finder rig, you can either fish it slowly, raising your rod tip and reeling in to bump your bait along the bottom, or you can fish it dead stick and let your live bait swim around on its own.
Soft plastic swimbaits or jerkbaits rigged on a 1/8 ounce or 1/4 ounce jig head can be fished slowly along the bottom for flounder. Generally, the slower you fish your lure, the better. Use small twitches of your rod tip to bounce the lure along the bottom, and every few movements, let the lure rest with some slack in the line. Flounder will often hit the lure while it's falling, but may pick it up after it lands on the bottom.
Although counter-intuitive, keeping a bit of slack in your line will increase your chances of hooking a flounder, whether fishing with bait or lures. Flounder tend to take a bait and swim off with it a few feet before they swallow it, and if they feel any tension, they'll likely spit it out before you have a chance to set the hook.
Using a kayak to fish for flounder offers the angler a couple of key advantages: access to shallow water during low tide, and a slow, steady pace to help you fish an area thoroughly.
In estuaries where flounder reside, bait is often concentrated at low tide, creating feast-like conditions for hungry flounder.
These areas are often inaccessible to motor boats but are easy to navigate in a kayak. Moving through these areas at low tide will give you incredible access to feeding flounder.
The slowness of a kayak can sometimes seem like a disadvantage, but when flounder fishing, it is a serious benefit. Finding where flounder are laying often takes a disciplined effort to fish every quadrant of an area thoroughly, which is hard to do in a motor boat, but easy in a kayak. Slowing way down will often lead you to your limit of flounder.
Paddling through estuaries, marshes, bays and inshore flats while the tide is moving will often lead you to flounder that are actively feeding. Flounder can be found in almost any part of the bay or flat, but the best place to look first is around fishy-looking structure like rock jetties, piers, and docks where there is relatively shallow water.
The key to hooking into flounder is to fish slowly while covering as much water as possible. When you find a likely looking area, take your time and work it thoroughly. Don't be surprised when you hook into a flounder in an unlikely area like in the middle of a bay.
As mentioned, flounder have a tendency to take a bait, then swim off a few feet before swallowing. It may take some practice to feel a flounder bite, and give it enough time to commit to the bait before setting the hook.
The take will either feel like your line is snagged on the bottom, or like a quick thump followed by slack in the line. If you feel a snag, the flounder may have eaten your bait and your moving rod tip lightly set the hook. In this case, keep pressure on the line and start reeling slowly.
If you feel the thump followed by slack, it usually means that the flounder rose off the bottom to take your bait that was drifting overhead. In this case, try to leave some slack in your line so that the flounder feels no tension. Give the flounder a few moments to commit to the bait before setting the hook and reeling in.
Once you set the hook, don't expect the flounder to run off like a speckled trout. It's typical for a flounder to simply swim along the bottom all the way to your kayak as you reel in. The real fight begins once you try to get the flounder off the bottom.
If you're going after flounder in a kayak, one of the absolutely essential items you must bring is a good landing net. Flounder are notorious for throwing the hook right when you go to grab them, so a wide mouthed net with a four-foot handle will be your best friend.
Once you've reeled in the flounder so that it's below your kayak, have your net in your lap, ready to go, before you start playing the flounder vertically. Be prepared to grab the net and scoop up the flounder as soon as you see it in the water. Make every effort to get the net under the flounder while it's in the water, and try not to let it come to the surface.
Once the flounder is in the net while still in the water, get ready to officially land the fish. Flounder can pull some stunts at this final moment, so be prepared for anything. Some kayak anglers like to use a lip-grip to grab the flounder while it's still in the water and in the net to reduce the chance of it getting away at the last minute.
If you plan on keeping the fish, get ready to measure it and throw it in your cooler as soon as you bring it out of the water.
Once you have your flounder on board and stowed away, keep at it until you have enough for dinner. The unique challenge of fishing for flounder from a kayak is rewarded by one seriously delicious fish. Learn how to catch flounder and your days on the water will be that much sweeter.