Flounder are one of the most popular game fish in America, and from New England to Texas, you can find anglers looking for big flatfish. As delicious as they are fun to catch, we’ve found that a few tips and tricks can really improve your odds.
Do you know which live bait flounder prefer? Do you know which lure is most effective? Can you predict where you’ll find big flounder on an ebb tide? And do you know which rigs work best?
If you want answers to these questions, keep reading!
Below, you’ll find our comprehensive guide to flounder and our favorite tips and tricks, all of which are guaranteed to tilt the odds in your favor.
Table of Contents (clickable)
The right rod and reel makes a lot of difference when working the bottom for flounder.
You’ll need a light to medium-light rod with a very sensitive tip--flounder will softly take your bait as often as they’ll hammer it. That rod needs enough backbone to handle these hard-fighting fish, but stepping up to a medium power rod just deadens sensitivity too much.
We’ve reviewed some of our favorite saltwater fishing rods, saltwater fishing reels, and saltwater combos before, and if you’re looking for a good rod for flounder, it’s a great place to start. The Cadence C4 combo is very hard to beat if you’re on a tight budget, and I would gladly fish with this tackle on my next trip for flounder.
Another great option is the Penn Battle II combo in medium-light power. Equipped with a 3000-size Battle II reel and a nice 7’ rod, this is a killer combo for flatfish.
A final option worth considering is the Ugly Stik Inshore Select in medium-light power saltwater fishing rod. Matched with a Shimano Ultegra 4000 spinning reel, you’d be well set for even the biggest trophy.
If you fish from the beach, we’ve got you covered as well! Just check out our reviews of the best surf casting rods on the market.
While adult males spend most of their lives in deeper water, the females migrate inshore as the weather warms and stay till mid-fall.
And whether you’re wading in the murky water off Texas or drifting with the current in Massachusetts, flounder like the same basic locations and habitats.
As prolific ambush predators that conceal themselves on the bottom and use their natural camouflage, flounder are oriented to even the slightest changes in the constitution and topography of the bottom.
Anywhere you find a shift, say, from mud to sand or sand to gravel, expect flounder. Similarly, any ripple, ridge, depression, or hole, however slight, can collect flounder waiting for a passing meal. This is especially true during the ebb tide, as these predators lie in wait for baitfish pulled from estuaries, river mouths, and weed beds to be swept along in search of shelter.
Indeed, if you can set up on the ebb near such a spot, any structure that creates a break from the tide will hold flounder waiting for easy prey.
Flounder are armed with many tiny, sharp teeth, and even the best fishing lines are going to fail if they have a run-in with one. But because flounder rely so much on sight, a wire leader will virtually guarantee an empty cooler, and you’ll need to run mono or fluorocarbon to get a bite.
Those teeth are murder on line.
I strongly recommend that you run a stout leader when you’re fishing for flounder--generally 20-pound test--and for reasons that I’ve explained before, I prefer monofilament to fluorocarbon.
In short, mono is easier to work with because it’s more pliable than fluorocarbon, ties more securely, and in my tests, has the same fantastic abrasion resistance. While the science isn’t in on fluorocarbon’s supposed invisibility, I’m not convinced by the evidence I’ve seen.
My pick is 20-pound Trilene Big Game in clear.
Adult flounder are piscivorous, meaning they feed primarily on fish. That doesn’t mean that they won’t bite shrimp, live or dead, but rather that nine times out of ten, a minnow or small fish will get a bite faster and more assuredly than shrimp.
As always, I recommend that you match the hatch, rigging minnows or fish that are common prey items in the waters you fish.
On the eastern coast, that means species like Atlantic menhaden, also known as the “peanut bunker,” mullet, immature bluefish, croakers, and mud minnows.
Atlantic menhaden make excellent flounder bait.
The trick is to use a bare hook and just enough weight to drag the minnow to the bottom without deadening its action. You want it distressed and swimming actively just where the flounder are waiting for a quick meal.
Lip and tail hooking both work, as will other techniques--as long as they keep the minnow alive, active, and swimming.
Check our guide for buying the best live bait bucket
If you’re going to be rigging live bait, most experienced flounder anglers can attest that the 3/0 to 5/0 Kahle-style hook is superior to all other designs. Kahle hooks like the offspring of a short-shank standard and a circle, and their large gap is perfect for catching a flounder by the corner of its mouth.
Among my favorites are Mustad’s Kahle hooks, which I’ve found to come and stay sharp, providing solid lock-up when a flounder takes my bait for a run.
I learned from some more experienced flounder-men that waiting a few seconds to set the hook--or just fishing the Kahle like a circle hook by tightening my line--improves hookset.
Give it a try--I think you’ll be surprised.
Available in a wide range of colors, Gulp! Grubs feature a long, wriggling tail that flounder can’t resist.
These Berkley Gulp! baits are easily the most popular choice for flounder.
You can increase their appeal by adding a bit of something tasty to the hook, whether that’s a minnow head or tail or a small curl of shrimp.
The key to success with curly-tail grubs is the right rig, and three are pre-eminent among flounder-men.
If there’s a better way to get that grub dancing than a drop-shot rig, I don’t know what it is!
A drop shot or dropper rig suspends your hook and bait to the side of your main line, above a weight that rests on the bottom. This provides simply unparalleled action while also preventing snags, and it lets you precisely set your distance from the bottom.
For my money, that’s as good as it gets!
A great finesse technique for largemouth bass, the drop shot is just at home inshore. Just switch to a Kahle hook and increase the weight of your sinker to fight current and tide as needed.
A tandem or bucktail rig allows you to run two artificial baits at different heights, allowing both baits to wriggle and swim freely. By letting the jigs settle and then gently popping them along the bottom to settle again, you get the attention of big flounder really quickly.
And with jig heads of ⅛, ¼, or ⅜ ounces, this can be a deadly option.
Berkley offers bucktails in a variety of weights ideal for flounder.
Two styles of tying this rig are common.
The first uses a three-way swivel to reduce line twist. Obviously, one point of the swivel is attached to your main line, while you run 20-pound leader to each of your Gulp!-tipped jigs.
A three-way swivel makes this rig super easy and effective.
It can also be tied with a barrel swivel.
The second makes use of a single barrel swivel, tying a longer leader and knotting it off-center.
This guide offers excellent instruction in this technique:
A flicker rig is an effective way to work the bottom while drifting slowly.
Using an egg sinker, a series of beads, a spinning blade, and a Kahle hook, this set-up goes by many names--all of which work like a charm because they present the bait or lure where flounder can see it, attracting attention with color and flash.
If you want to buy one rather than rig your own, Sea Striker offers a just the thing:
Some anglers like to add a small float to this rig, helping to lift the hook and lure or live bait and keep it out of the mud. If that sounds like something you need, it’s easy to tie your own.
As Bob Mcnally explains, “ Like the basic fish-finder, this flounder rig begins with the fishing line running through an egg, bullet or flat sinker, which is then tied to a barrel swivel. Next, a two-foot section of mono that's lighter than the main line is tied to the opposite end of the barrel swivel. Roughly one foot from the leader end, a bright-colored foam or cork float is positioned. Some floats have plastic ‘stoppers’ at their ends for sure positioning, and yellow or red floats are preferred. A couple of small, red, plastic beads are threaded onto the leader, followed by a small, chrome or brass spinnerblade [sic]. Many anglers prefer Colorado blades because they give off a lot of flounder-attracting vibration, but willow-leaf or Indiana blades can be used as well.”
A “compressed” illustration of a flicker rig.
Irrespective of their species, flounder share a lot in common.
They sport a flat body that tapers toward the head and tail and a mouth full of small teeth. And all adult flounder will have both eyes on one side of their body--though which side varies by species. Colored and patterned on one side, their off-side will usually be quite pale.
Masters of camouflage, flounder rest on the bottom waiting for unwary prey to swim past or be pulled by a current or tide near their waiting jaws.
Flounder are amazing camouflage artists.
Growing to 9 to 24 inches on average, larger species and specimens can reach sizes of 37 inches and nearly 28 pounds! They get this big by gorging themselves on small fish and minnows, and their appetite is legendary.
As you’d expect of a bottom-feeding ambush predator, you’ll find flounder are supremely sensitive to the shape and contour of the bottom, finding any bump, ripple, ledge, or hole a likely place to hide in search of a meal.
More oriented to prey by sight than smell, flounder key-in on movement and color more than anything else. Adult flounder are particularly piscivorous, and small fish of all kinds are their primary food source--though shrimp and crustaceans are on the menu as well.
Females tend to migrate seasonally from shallow to deeper water and back again. Summer and spring find adult female flounder in the shallow, salty water of bays and estuaries, while fall and winter send them into deeper water to spawn.
Males spend the entire year in the depths, often miles from shore.
As similar as flounder are to one another, there are differences, too. Four distinct species of flounder are common to the eastern and southern coast of the U.S. Most states don’t legally restrict species, but rather overall size and the numbers kept.
Warm water anglers from South Carolina to Texas are most likely to hook either the Gulf flounder (Paralichthys albiguttata) or the aptly named Southern flounder (Paralichthys lethostigma).
A nice Gulf flounder.
Three Southern flounder showing their characteristic spots.
The University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Lab has this to say about their differences: “Gulf flounders are distinguished by three large dark eye-like spots, arranged in a triangle with a pair of spots about midway on the length of the fish and a third closer to the tail. Southern flounders may also have scattered large spots but they are much more diffuse and gradually disappear as the fish grows older.”
Both species are “left-eyed,” meaning that their eyes will always be found on the left side of the fish.
According to the Gulf Coast Research Lab, “Southern flounders are larger and live longer than Gulf flounders. Female southern flounders typically grow to about 28", while typical female Gulf flounders reach only about 18". Males of both species are smaller, typically reaching only 10 to 14" in length.”
This Summer flounder is definitely a keeper!
On the east coast from North Carolina to Massachusetts, anglers are more likely to catch the Summer flounder, Paralichthys dentatus. And from Georgia north to Canada, the Winter flounder, Pseudopleuronectes americanus, is common, too.
As you can tell, the Winter flounder has its eyes on the right side.
I love fishing for flounder, and I appreciate the way they fight almost as much as I like the way they taste!
I hope these tips and techniques help you catch your limit the next time you’re after flatfish, and if they do, we’d love to hear from you!
Please leave a comment below.