The Best Live Bait for Flounder and How to Rig It: Everything You Need to Know!

For many anglers, saltwater is synonymous with live bait. 

Ask them why, and you’ll get a variety of answers, but it all comes down to this: it works.

While lures like bucktail jigs and soft plastics imitate prey items, shrimp, finger mullet, crabs, and other live bait options are the real thing. And there’s nothing like the real thing for drawing fish in for a closer look, triggering a strike, and getting them to really take your hook with no hesitation.

Think about it for a second: live bait has the right appearance, the perfect scent, and the ideal taste to attract attention. And from a scent trail that leads fish back to your hook to movement that demands a reaction, live bait gets bites when even the best lures come up short.

Flounder are simply suckers for live bait - if you’re throwing the right kind.

If you want to know more about the best live bait for flounder, keep reading!

Related: Best Flounder Lures

The Best Live Bait for Flounder: Bait Fish

With what we’ve said about habitat and diet, you won’t be shocked by our live bait picks.

Whatever your choice of live bait, you’ll need strong, sensitive main line and a tough leader, as well as the right hooks.

For my flounder fishing, I like to use 20-pound Sufix 832 in conjunction with a 10-, 12-, or 15-pound leader

And you’ll need a bigger hook than you might expect. I like to run a 3/0 to 5/0 Owner 5314 Mutu Light Circle Hook as they’re just perfect for holding live bait, prevent gut hooking, and set themselves with just a turn of my crank.

Rig your bait fish by passing the hook up through the lower lip and through the upper lip well forward of the eyes. This will lock it to your hook, but allow it to swim freely.

Small bait fish are king!

small baitfish for flounder

There is no more effective live bait choice than a small fish for catching flounder. 

Period.

And whether you offer mullet, menhaden, croaker, spot, mud minnows, or something else, as long as you throw a natural prey item in your area, you’re going to catch flounder.

Catching your own bait with a castnet is probably the best way to ensure that you’re offering what the flounder are eating, and I’ve spent a few minutes throwing a cast net under a bright lamp at night to get ready for the next morning. 

In no time, I had plenty of bait - and a very good sense of what the flounder were looking for.

The trick, then, isn’t in bait selection but rather in rigging, and to get the most from those finger-sized fish, you need to know a few excellent options.

The Fish Finder Rig (A Modified Carolina Rig)

fish finder rig

The Fish Finder Rig is my go-to flounder setup. It casts like a dream, holds tight even when the current is strong, and presents my bait perfectly.

About the only thing the Fish Finder Rig doesn’t do well is fend off crabs, and floating rigs are the way to go if this becomes a problem.

The Fish Finder Rig is easy to assemble. Just follow these steps:

  1. Slide a sinker sleeve onto your main line. Attach a pyramid sinker to the clip.
  2. Follow it with a bead. This will protect your barrel swivel from the heavy sinker.
  3. Using a Uni Knot, attach a barrel swivel
  4. Wet your knot, tighten it, and trim the tag end.
  5. Cut 18 to 25 inches of leader.
  6. Using a Palomar Knot, attach a circle hook to one end of the leader.
  7. Wet your knot, tighten it, and trim the tag end.
  8. Using a Uni Knot, attach the other end of your leader to the barrel swivel.
  9. Wet your knot, tighten it, and trim the tag end.

You’ll want to cast your fish finder rig in among pilings, bridge support columns, and sudden drop offs. 

It won’t take long for the flounder to discover your rig!

The Floating Fish Finder Rig

floating fish finder rig

When crabs just can’t leave my bait alone, I switch to the Floating Fish Finder Rig.

The Floating Fish Finder Rig adds a step or two to the standard version, but it’s easy to assemble:

  1. Slide a sinker sleeve onto your main line. Attach a pyramid sinker to the clip
  2. Follow it with a bead. This will protect your barrel swivel from the heavy sinker.
  3. Using a Uni Knot, attach a barrel swivel.
  4. Wet your knot, tighten it, and trim the tag end.
  5. Cut 18 to 25 inches of leader
  6. Using a Palomar Knot, attach a circle hook to one end of the leader.
  7. Wet your knot, tighten it, and trim the tag end.
  8. Crimp a split shot or two, 3 to 4 inches back from your hook.
  9. Slide a cigar float onto your leader.
  10. Using a Uni Knot, attach the other end of your leader to the barrel swivel.
  11. Wet your knot, tighten it, and trim the tag end.

The Slip Float Rig

slip float rig 2

When I’m fishing shallow water, I’ll often switch to a slip float rig.

Easy to cast, it offers a fantastic live bait presentation that you can adjust to keep your minnow swimming just where you need it to.

It’s simply murder on salt flats in wadable water.

I like a big, visible float on my rigs, and I don’t like clamp-style bobbers at all.

My pick for a float is the South Bend Catfish Pole Float. It casts well, is super easy to see, and comes with everything you need to rig it properly.

South Bend Catfish Pole Float

Amazon 

To assemble a Slip Float Rig, follow these steps:

  1. Attach a float stop to your line and follow it with a bead. This must come first!
  2. Slide a slip float onto your line behind the stop and bead.
  3. Add a second bead to your line.
  4. Attach a barrel swivel with a Uni or Palomar knot, wet it, and tighten it down, trimming the tag end. 
  5. Cut approximately 18 inches of tough leader.
  6. Using a Palomar Knot, attach a strong hook. Wet your knot, tighten it, and trim the tag end.
  7. Attach the leader to your barrel swivel using a Uni or Palomar knot. Wet it, tighten it down, and trim the tag end. You can add some split shot just below the swivel, but keep it away from your hook!

Adjust your float so that the minnow is about a foot above the bottom, and hold on!

Flounder Basics: Habitat

Ask a fisherman in North Carolina for the scientific name for flounder, and he’ll tell you Paralichthys dentatus, before explaining that he just calls them fluke. Further up the coast in New England, you’ll hear the name Pseudopleuronectes americanus. On the Atlantic side of Florida, Paralichthys lethostigma is the Latin you’ll hear spoken, while over in Texas, Paralichthys albigutta is what biologists know them as.

That may sound confusing, but it makes more sense when you understand that “flounder” are a group of related flatfish that include many species, often with overlapping ranges. And despite the differences that mark them as separate species in biological taxonomy, they share remarkable similarities in habitat, hunting behavior, and diet.

For instance, each of them over-winters in deep water, spawning while out to sea and moving shallow in spring once they’re done breeding. They’ll hang close to the coast through the summer and fall, heading into deeper water again as the water cools and winter takes hold.

These four species are bottom-oriented fish, blessed with a flat body that allows them to hold fast to the sand, gravel, or mud. When possible, they’ll be attracted to structure like pilings, reefs, and oyster bars, and they like a moving tide that sweeps prey items close to their waiting mouths.

But flounder also love even slight deviations along the bottom. 

As Jake Markris says, “Flounder relate to the slightest drop-off, sometimes only six or eight inches, and a one- or two-foot ledge can be a real fish magnet…I use a boat to get to prime fishing locations, but I find that wading is often the best way to approach flounder in shallow water. Wading doesn’t spook the fish, and you can use your feet to feel for the little drop-offs that often hold fish.”

This is especially true on an outgoing tide, when flounder will hide and wait on the low side of a ledge.

Flounder are almost invisible on the bottom, and anything that comes too close is going to have a nasty surprise!

Flounder Basics: Diet

As fry, flounder feed on zooplankton, tiny amphipods, and other small marine invertebrates, graduating to larger prey items as they grow. Mature flounder are opportunistic predators, and they’ll gladly take everything from annelids (big saltwater worms), small crabs, shrimp, bivalves, and small fish.

Flounder aren’t picky, but they do have keen sight.

Final Thoughts

Catching flounder with live bait is amazingly effective, and there’s simply nothing that competes with small bait fish as an option.

Yes, shrimp, small crab, and even cut mullet will work, no doubt about it. But live, small bait fish are unbeatable, and when rigged properly, they should be your number one choice.

We hope that you’ve learned something from his article today, and as always, we’d love to hear from you.

Please leave a comment below!

About The Author
John Baltes