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Spring Flounder

by Chester Moore, Jr.
Spring 2007

 

Heading 'em off at the passes...

 
Spring Flounder at Gulf Passes
The basic relationship between flounder and fish passes is widely understood among coastal anglers. Flounder migrate through them into bays in the spring and out toward Gulf spawning grounds in the fall. The bulk of rod and reel pursuit of flounder occurs in and around these passes as the spring and fall "runs" take place.
 
There is more to this flounder/pass connection than meets the eye however.
 
For starters, from late February through mid April, it is best to target passes on an incoming tide. Flounder are not the best swimmers in the world and a strong incoming tide aids them in moving through the passes toward their inland territories. For many years, the ideology behind flounder fishing on the Gulf Coast is that it was a fall thing only and that outgoing tides and big cold fronts were the motivating force behind flounder migration.
As knowledge of the spring run filtered through the fishing community, some anglers still carried the outgoing tide connection into spring fishing. This is not to say you cannot catch flounder on outgoing tides in the spring because you certainly can. The migratory aspects of the species and what I consider the best fishing is centered on the incoming tides.
 
With that said one of the most overlooked areas during spring is on the outer edges of fish passes. These fish will stage on both ends of the migration and if there are "eddies" or areas of slack water on the outside of a pass, it will give flounder both a place to rest and eat. Small baitfish cannot negotiate strong tides very well and when they end up in eddies they tend to try and stick around them. Flounder have figured those out over the years and you will find lots of them in these eddies on the outside of passes.
 
If the spot you are fishing, vertical fishing might be the only alternative, so try a heavy jigging spoon tipped with a piece of shrimp. If the waters are conducive to using the trolling motor you can cover the entire eddy within a few minutes. I recommend making small, slow lifts with the rod and allowing the lure to sink slowly. If there are flounder there, you should get a hit pretty quickly.
 
Although few anglers pursue flounder in the surf, there are quite a few flounder inhabiting the surf within a1/4 mile or so of big fish passes. These areas are extremely tidally driven and typically have more structure and a higher concentration of baitfish than other areas.
 
As noted in my book, Flounder Fever, the typical drill for flounder is to stay out in deeper water in the surf during low tides and move into the shallows when it is high. That is actually quite typical of all predatory species, but for flounder, it is especially true.
 
It is very difficult to find big schools of flounder in the surf. The fish usually scatter out, but there are places to look for them. To a novice a stretch of surf look like any other but to the experience angler there are dramatic differences and certain "structure" to consider.
Let us start with points first.
 
Points are parts of the shore that extend into the water and they can be small or quite large. The most common configuration extends out at right angles to the beach. Occasionally the beach will turn and a "point" will look more like a "bend but they are essentially the same things. Smaller points are less noticeable but still detectable by the current rips they produce or by the way the breaking waves crash on them.
 
Most anglers choose to fish at the tip of the point because that is where the most baitfish congregate and thus predators show up. Going back to the beach, the sides of a sandy point are good, especially in the "pocket" which is a depression crashing waves and current scoop out of the beach.
 
Bowls are another type of surf structure. Bowls typically indent into the shore and form between two points. Many bowls form in what many dedicated surf anglers call a "teacup" configuration. If you ever hear someone saying they caught fish in the "teacup" they are not speaking in codes but probably talking about a bowl in the surf. Some bowls are subtler and you can only seem them when tides are low and that bring up a good point. During winter months when low tides are common after northers go out to the stretch of surf you fish, bring a GPS and camera. Photograph the structure and mark it on the GPS. This will give you a huge advantage over other anglers who spend less time preparing and help you eliminate a lot of surf when the fish are biting around the spring run.
 
Fishing a bowl involves working along the edges and paying special attention to the upper rims or spots where the bowl makes a transition to a point. The center of a bowl can be great too because these are often the deepest points and in shallow surf sudden depth usually means fish.
 
Troughs or "guts" are the long depressions or ditches running parallel to the shoreline and sandbars. Surf anglers often talk about fishing between the sandbars which refers to fishing the troughs in the surf. The sandbars can either be the bottom between the troughs or an actual "bar" formed by current.
In deeper water, flounder will feed along the sloping sides of a trough but in deeper surf, they feed in the center. Old timers say they gravitate toward the sharpest edge of the trough. Sand bars as we explained earlier are parallel the shore for great distances. For surf fishing for flounder, concentrate on the inner bars closest to the fish pass. Most surf fishing experts agree that fish feed along the outer sloping front side of bar. They tend to gravitate toward the bottom where the sloping front of the bar ends.
 
Some flounder never leave these passes (or at least they don't travel very far) after the spring run. A prime example can be found at Rollover Pass on the Bolivar Peninsula in Texas. This small piece is famous for its flounder runs but following suit with common knowledge, most of the flounder fishermen hit the area in the fall with a smaller, hardcore group targeting spring action.
 
"I catch flounder there from March through December and some of my best fishing for big fish is actually in the summer," said Nathan Spencer of League City, TX.
 
Spencer said that beginning in mid April through late September; big outgoing tides push flounder from the nearby Intracoastal into the southern end of the pass.
 
"A lot of those big fish like the deep water. That is why giggers like the stretch of shoreline between Rollover and the Stingaree area. When we get strong outgoing tides of any kind, good numbers of flounder move down on the side of the pass to feed," he said.
Spencer targets them with live finger mullet on a fish finder (Carolina) rig finished off with a small treble hook through the lips of the bait.
"Flounder aren't really that hook shy and since I rarely catch undersize ones there I use a treble hook to increase my chances of getting the big fish. I don't like to miss many of those."
 
Some anglers like to target flounder in the passes by simply throwing out a half dozen rods rigged with live bait on the bottom and simply let them sit. Most flounder fishing involves dragging bait across the bottom and literally hitting a flounder to grab their attention. This method more or less revolves around the theory that in passes during migrational periods flounder will be moving through and will come across your bait as they move through.
 
A couple of years ago, I sort of stumbled into this method while launching at the Chicken Crossing in Sabine Pass. An elderly gentleman had a bunch of rods set out and when I asked him if they had caught anything, he pulled up an impressive stringer of flounder. He said when the fish were moving through the cut at Texas Bayou which were launching at during March, it was not surprising to have two or more fish on at the same time.
 
Pass fishing for flounder can seemingly be very one-dimensional but for those who do not mind trying new things there are many ways to catch a stringer of flounder at their migratory points, even when the migration is not a factor.

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