The tasty flounder is a great sport fish you can target in Rhode Island waters. Every day during the summer hundreds of boats are out there targeting this great fish. By following a few tips you can become a better flounder fisherman. Summer flounder are a funny-looking brownish fish with a totally white underside. They have two eyes on one side of their head and swim with the eyes upward, tending to cruise along the bottom, not moving to far away from it. They cruise about 1-3 feet off the bottom looking for something to eat, usually using the current from the tides to cover ground. Often they will spook some small life form as they approach, and a small puff of mud or motion is sent into the water which attracts the flounder to that area and he will pounce on the poor creature. This habit is the one we exploit when fishing for them.
Ok, so you want to find some flounder. Well, they aren’t always in the same place. As the season progresses, you have to go deeper and deeper to find them. Sometimes they move east or west with the tide. They prefer sandy bottoms, so these are where you want to be and you always drift for them. Never spend more than 15 minutes on a drift when searching, that is the point many anglers don’t understand, keep moving until you find a good drift where you catch 4 or more fish. Then keep doing that drift until it no longer produces well. Sometimes I may move 10 times before finding them. If the drift is slow, the flounder fishing will be slow. If the drift is too fast, either slow the boat down with a drift sock or sea anchor, or give it up.
Onward to rigs and methods. A typical flounder rig uses a 3-way swivel with sinker snap and a 30″ leader with some kind of fluke rig attached. It can be as simple as a bare hook, or very elaborate with spinners, small squids and beads, etc. The sinker is important, as you need to have your rig on the bottom to catch these fish. The rig itself, well usually a simple green squid and a spinner blade works pretty well. Catching colors can change, and size of the spinner blade. But a bare hook doesn’t always work that well. Of course, we always put bait on the hook. It might be squid, smelts, peanut bunker, or strips of flounder belly. Depends on what is working that day. Squid is usually a good bet to bring. Cut it into long strips and hook it a couple times before putting it down. Now, as for sinker weight, use the smallest sinker that will keep your rig on the bottom, so you can jig it. The rig should always be jigged, never let it drag on the bottom. A gentle jigging, lifting the rod tip no more than 12″ and back down till you feel the sinker hit the bottom. Down below, what happens is your rig is moving as the boat moves along, and each time the sinker hits the bottom, it makes a noise and a puff of sand or mud. This noise and puff of mud attracts the attention of the flounder, and the bait on the hook tastes good. This is what brings them in.
Now, on to hooking the fish. The big mistake I see here is everyone wants to haul back quickly as soon as they feel a hit. This is a bad idea, as the flounder typically grabs the end of the bait away from the hook. So when you jerk the rod, it pulls the bait out of his mouth, or off the hook. The trick is to lift the rod tip slowly until he is hooked or lets go of the bait. Once he is hooked, then you can proceed with reeling him in. Use a light tip rod, a rod with a heavy tip makes it hard to feel the hits and hard to tell when you’ve hooked the fish. Put two anglers side-by-side, one with with a heavy rod, and the other with a light rod. The angler with the light rod will outfish the one with the heavier rod every time, given the same level of skill.
If you want to catch big ones, put on a big bait and be patient. If you follow some of these points you’ll be rewarded with more flounder in the boat.
Earl Bell is a fishing guide and has been fishing for over 40 years. He guides Rhode Island fishing charters on the Aces Wild from Jim’s Dock in Jerusalem.