A “How To” guide on Flounder Fishing: ProFishNC Charters/ Captain Trevor Smith
-Part 1: Understanding the Flounder (habits, habitat, tendencies and evolutionary instincts and Traits)
To understand how to fish for flounder you first need to understand the flounder itself and its “evolutionary makeup”.
- Flounder are a Demersal Fish: A species of fish that feeds on or near the bottom of their aquatic ecosystem. Many species of fish that fall in the demersal category live in not only the deep ocean but also the backwater esteruaries and inland bays as the flounder does. On the flip side, the pelagic fish feed in the mid to upper water column. Note: I have caught flounder in the mid to upper water column areas on rare occasions notating that their feeding habits are not 100 percent exclusive to the demersal zone.
- Flounder are a Benthic Fish: A species that requires no effort to lay on the ocean floor due to the dense nature of its body and unique genetic makeup. Additionally and greatly assisting the flounder to fall in the benthic category is its lack of an air bladder (which adds bouyancy) and its abnormal vertical laying ability. The absence of the flounders air bladder makes it a very unique fish that does not need to be “vented” when releasing back in deep water due to the lack of the need for decompression!
- Flounder Vision/ Eye Migration: Most anglers know that the flounder (including all in the “flatfish species”) have both eyes on one side of its head. Many anglers do not know the flounder started its young life looking like a normal fish. During the larval stage of the developing young flounder, both eyes are on either side of its head; however, a metamorphic transformation occurs during this larval stage in which a migration occurs and one of its eyes moves over the fishes head to to join the opposite eye. This evolutionary trait enhances the flounders ability to be a top demersal ambush preditor and enables the fish to have excellent vision from the sea floor.
- Flounder are Ambush Feeders: Flounder are a very stealthy, quick and instinctive feeders that use the method of surprise to fill their stomachs. They do this utilizing a few ingenious and advantageous evolutionary traits: Flounder have the unique ability to change their body color depending on the color of the ocean bottom they are laying on. For example, I have caught flounder that are almost white in pigment when fishing clear water with white sands; conversely, I have caught founder that are dark brown and some even black when fishing water tinged dark with tannins coupled with a dark muddy bottom. Flounder have the ability to cover their bodies with sand and essentially bury themselves on the seafloor to hide and then “ambush” their pray. Flounder do not actively chase schools of bait in the water column; instead, they lie in wait for the the instinctive moment to strike.
- Where and How Flounder Lay on the Sea Floor: Flounder are unique in terms of what bodies of water they lay in and what waters they can adjust to. I have caught flounder 55 miles out in the ocean grouper fishing, in the heat of the summer in 97 degree water of the creeks and in brackish water rivers and fresh water lakes (near saltwater)! The genetic code of a flounder is to survive in ever-changing environments of varying salinity levels, temperatures, depths and currents. Here are the “typical” patterns of where and how flounder lay (in no specific order):
- Offshore Flounder: If there is current, they will bury themselves with their head facing into the oncoming current. Offshore, flounder typically lay on sandy bottoms immediately surrounding structures (artificial reefs, rocks, ledges, sunken anything) as this is where the smaller prey will be lurking. If they are holding on a ledge in the ocean, you will typically find the flounder on the bottom deeper side of the ledge).
- Inshore Flounder: I find most of the feeding flounder to be in the moving water current directly in the mouth of inlets with their head facing into the direction of the water flow. Along deep marsh banks closest to the marsh drop off (i.e. where the marsh grass meets the water in channels along the intracoastal waterway. Laying under docks and bridges specifically when the sun is at its highest in the sky. In the backwaters we find many flounder within the first 3 feet of a submerged oyster bar and in deep holes surrounded by shallows. On the outskirts of any structure inshore where they have a sandy or muddy bottom to hide in with moving water flowing. Flounder like moving water as they do most of their feeding waiting prey to find them (find moving water with any of the above mentioned elements and you will find the flounder).
- What Flounder Eat: I have cleaned thousand of flounder and have come to the conclusion they eat anything they can get their mouth around! That being said, flounder are a carnivorous fish and their typical diet here on the North Carolina coast consists of all species of fish that are between 1 inch and 8 inches (depending on the size of the flounder). They also frequently eat crabs, sea worms, shrimp, squid, and any artificial soft bait that is fished correctly in front of them. In short, a flounders diet will change seasonally as the fish and bait migrations change (being an ambush predator that is not picky, it literally eats whatever swims or drifts by).