by Paul Kerlinger
South Jersey Anglers’ Favorite Quarry
As a fly fishing aficionado, I sometimes consider flounder (also known as southern flounder or fluke) to be a consolation prize on days when the striped bass or weakfish action is slow. However, flounder have not infrequently saved an otherwise boring outing and they are a fine game fish. They also provide excellent table fare that can be prepared in many ways, making for a taste treat that few fish can equal.
Flounder are the most sought after fish along the Jersey shore during summer. These bizarre looking creatures are flat and occupy the bottom of the water column. They are pure white on their bottom side and dark brown with lighter brown spots on top. Both eyes are on top and are used to observe what is directly over them. They are ambush predators, waiting small fish or your bait to swim by. When that happens, they make a sprint from their hiding place to grab their quarry. This is when you feel them bite and attempt to set the hook. They have fairly sharp teeth which can scrap your skin when trying to unhook them, but they won’t usually try to bite you.
You can get them from shore, jetties, docks, and from boats. They can be found along the edges of the salt marsh, back bays, inlets, and from the surfline out to the continental shelf. They arrive in our waters in late April through May and don’t swim out to deeper, warmer water until late autumn. Though they cannot be kept, large fish remain until late November and even early December in some years.
How to catch flounder
Catching flounder isn’t difficult. A light or medium action saltwater rod with spinning or conventional reel will do. Twenty pound line is more than adequate. To rig for them, use a 1 to 4 ounce sinker at the end of your line and rig one hook with a 15 or so inch leader about 6” above the sinker. A second hook with a shorter leader can be placed higher on your line. Rig them so they don’t get tangled. On these hooks you can try minnies (Fundulus minnows – also called killies) hooked through the lips so they remain alive. You may try squid strips or a combination of a minnie plus a strip of squid. You may also try jigging with a spinning rod with a white, chartreuse, or pink lead-head jig with bucktail or rubber tail attached. Adding a strip of squid can help.
The best way to present your offering to flounder is to drift along with the tide and current. You should feel your sinker bumping along, thereby keeping your bait close to the bottom where the flounder are waiting. When you feel If you are fishing from shore, you may leave your bait in place after casting or, better yet, move your bait across the bottom to cover as large an area as possible. Once you feel a fish bite, a series of rapid tugs on your line, drop your rod tip a foot or so before firmly (don’t yank) setting the hook. Then the fun begins.
You can get all the tackle and bait you need at various stores in the Cape May and Wildwood area (Bob Jackson’s Surf Shop in West Cape May, Jim’s Bait and Tackle at the Cape May Docks, the Miss Chris Dock store, Bob’s Bait and Tackle at the end of the Garden State Parkway, Rodia’s Tackle Store on Route 47 in Rio Grande, and … on Wildwood Blvd between Rio Grande and Wildwood).
If you don't know where to go to catch flounder or don't have your own boat, try one of the dozen or more party boats that sail every day during the flounder season. For a nominal fee, they will provide the bait, tackle, and expertise to insure that you will have a fun day. Whether you jump aboard for a 4, 6, or 8 hour trip, you will have a fun time on the water.
Flyfishing for flounder
Even flyfishing anglers can catch these tasty bottom dwellers. A deep Clouser minnow fished slowly along a sandy or slightly muddy bottom can often bring a response. Getting down to them during a fast running tide can be difficult so fishing slack tides or fast sinking lines are the best way to dredge the deep water. When light levels are low, these sit and wait predators sometimes invade the shallows and actively chase spearing and other small fish. It is at these times that fly fishing pays off best. A light rod, in the 7-8 weight class, makes for a real struggle. Most often, flounder don’t take a fly deeply and can be released quickly and painlessly, unless you wish to enjoy the culinary
Rules in Jersey waters changed for 2001 with 16” being the minimum size and 8 fish over this size can be kept in a given day. The season opened for summer 2001 on May 12. These rules apply to all waters out to three miles from shore.
The flesh of flounder is pure white and delicate to the taste. They can be prepared in a myriad of ways including sautéed, fried, backed, broiled, and even in soups like bouillabaisse or chioppino. Prepared fresh, the same day they are caught, they are marvelous and should be cooked so that their delicate flavor is not overpowered. Try sautéing in butter with a bit of olive oil and tarragon (a green-leaf herb that has a hint of anise/licorice flavor). Sauteeing in butter and olive oil with parsley and lemon and a touch of white wine also works on the freshest of flounder. Frozen flounder can be cooked in coarser fashion, because they simply are not as good as same-day-caught fish. Frozen promptly after being caught, they keep for weeks or even months in the freezer if wrapped so as to keep out air. Remember, you have worked hard to keep the fish and a little more effort in storage and preparation will make your efforts really pay off.
As with all fish, take care to handle those you are releasing gently. Don’t squeeze them or throw them back.. Hold them firmly and gently place them back in the water. Treat them with respect because they will breed, making more flounder to catch, and come back next year as larger fish that you will be able to keep!
Paul Kerlinger has been fishing since he was 8 years old.
He's a dedicated salt water fly fisherman who enjoys nothing more than working a Cape May area sod bank or jetty.
Have a fishing question??
Go to the Cape May Fishing Forum.