"It's the best flounder fishing we've had since I've been guiding," captain Ray Markham of Palmetto reported. "I've always been able to round up three or four on a trip, but for the last three weeks we've been catching 10, 12, up to 15 a day, and some of them have been up to 4 pounds."
For anyone who likes to eat flounder - and that includes many people - this is a gift worthy of Thanksgiving. The ray-like flatfish don't have a lot of eye appeal, but on the plate they are pure fishy nirvana.
Markham says the fish began to show up when the water temperature dropped into the 60s, and the bite has gotten better since then. However, it's not simply a matter of casting a shrimp off a dock and waiting for dinner to arrive.
"Flounder hang on the edges where different habitat meets," Markham said. "I find most of them in 5 to 9 feet, where mud bottom meets shell or rock, where sand meets grass, and on the shoulder of the passes, anywhere there's a good slope."
He said the fish also hang in the sloughs or run-outs between many of the mangrove islands that line the southeast shore of Tampa Bay.
"They're ambush predators like snook, and they like to wait in those cuts on a falling tide to get the bait as it comes off the flat," Markham said.
Markham is strictly an artificial lure angler, and his most successful offering for flounder has been a quarter-ounce CAL jig with a white plastic tail. He also likes the 3-inch DOA shrimp.
"Whatever the lure, you have to make sure it's making contact with the bottom, because the flounder is likely to be burrowed right into the sand," Markham said. "You also want it to be moving slowly, just ticking the sand, because flounder are not all that fast. They like an easy target."
He said in water deeper than 6 feet, many anglers might do better with a slightly heavier jig to make sure they contact the bottom.
"If the boat is drifting fast or there's a lot of current, many people have trouble feeling the bottom with a smaller jig," Markham said. "And if you're not hitting bottom you're not flounder fishing."
Markham has not been alone in loading up on flounder. Captain Scott Moore of Holmes Beach also has found lots of them.
"My clients catch most where there's good current running over the sand holes, and also on the edges of the flats, the shoulder where you get a quick drop," Moore said.
He advises tipping a quarter-ounce jig with a bit of shrimp for fast action. He also likes the 3-inch Gulp! shrimp dragged along bottom.
"Flounder feed a lot by scent, as well as by sight," Moore said. "If you add the shrimp to your jig, you'll usually get a lot more bites."
He said anglers fishing live shrimp or small baitfish at the Anna Maria and Rod & Reel Piers in Holmes Beach have been catching their share there, as well.
Classic bait for flounder are a small killifish or mud minnow. These can be captured in tidal creeks with seines, or in baited minnow traps. They're a natural food of the flounder, stay lively on the hook, and can be fished on bucktail jigs as well as on bare hooks.
Florida has three types of flounder pursued by anglers, according to the International Game Fish Association. The fish being caught here now are most often Gulf flounder, with three spots near the tail, or summer flounder, with five or more spots. Southern flounder are more common on the Atlantic coast; they have no spots, but reach considerably larger weights, often exceeding 5 pounds. The typical Gulf and summer flounders weigh about a pound.
All species of flounder must be at least 12 inches long for harvest, and the limit is 10 per day of all species combined.
Flounder are a bit tricky to clean. Most of the meat is found on either side of the lateral line on top of the fish. Cleaning involves making a cut down this line, then filleting the flesh away from the rib bones on either side. On larger fish, it's also worth turning the fish over and making similar fillet cuts on the bottom or "white" side of the fish. These will be thinner, but just as tasty.
For more information on flounder, Markham can be reached at (941) 228-3474, and Moore can be reached at (941) 713-1921.
Correspondent Frank Sargeant can
be reached at franksargeant@