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Flounder-Inside and Out

Flounder is the most sought after fish in our area. Flounder are the most
talked about, wrote about, have fisheries meetings about fish around.
Anglers want to catch them, people want to eat them, consumers want to buy
them, and environmentalists want to protect them! Flounder! Let’s talk
about them!

What most of us call flounder and others call summer flounder are actually
fluke. The scientific name is Paralichthys Dentatus. The ideal water
temperature that it prefers is 65 to 80 degrees and the IGFA world record is
22 pounds 7 ounces and was caught in NY. Monica Oswald of Neptune hauled in
a 38 inch, 24.3-pound fluke off Monmouth County from 55 feet of water this
past summer but was disqualified as an IGFA record for a number of reasons.
The party boats offshore Ocean City saw some of the best summer flounder
catches in their history this past summer and fall with doormat catches
close to 10 pounds!

The largest summer flounder ever caught and measured was 4 feet long and
weighed 30 pounds! The oldest flounder ever recorded was 20 years old! But
don’t expect to catch a flounder that big around here. It seems that as
fluke get larger, they tend to migrate more north. Young summer flounder
are fast growers. It seems that a summer flounder can reach 9 to 12-inches
in their first year of life. They are sexually mature at 2 to 3 years old
with larger fish baring many more eggs than smaller fish. A large summer
flounder can release 4 million eggs in a season. A 15-inch summer flounder
is typically 3-years old and weighs one to two pounds.

“Where do the summer flounder go in the winter?”

Summer flounder begin their migration offshore in the fall when the water
temperatures start to decrease and the days become shorter. They spend their
winter offshore in 100 to 600 feet of water. They spawn on their way to or
during their winter stay offshore. In the spring, when the waters begin to
warm and the days increase in length, the flounder come to shore once again!

MD DNR’s Mike Luisi tells up the importance of measuring and reporting your
summer flounder: “Participation in the Volunteer Angler Summer Flounder
Survey is VERY important to summer flounder management along the East Coast.
Anglers who participate in the Summer Flounder Volunteer Angler Survey will
help guide the Department’s management approach for both the Chesapeake Bay
and Atlantic Coast populations. To participate in this important survey,
visit URL http://www.dnr.maryland.gov/fisheries/survey/sfsurveyintro.shtml
or contact DNR at 1-877-620-8DNR, ext. 8311. A packet with forms and postage
paid envelopes is available to anglers that do not wish to participate
through the Internet.”

In 2006 we only had 50-some participants. In 2007 we have over 180!
Participation in this important survey has helped Maryland keep a smaller
size limit than surrounding states because it gives the DNR the most
accurate data. Every year, even though flounder numbers are coming back, we
are subject to a lower (TAL) Total allowable landing. That’s because of the
newly amended Magnuson-Stevens Act and the 10-year rebuilding requirement.
Summer flounder MUST be totally recovered within 10 years. So even though
summer flounder are rebounding, we are looking at an 8 per cent cutback in
flounder we are allowed to keep in 2008.

So now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about catching some of
those 15.77 million pounds of summer flounder!

We first see summer flounder in the bay around Ocean City the first or
second week of April. It’s all about water temperature in the spring, so the
best days to go fishing are sunny days when the sun heats the water. It is
also important to fish the outgoing tides in the spring. The water comes
into the bay on an incoming tide (between low and high). The sun beats down
on the water in all the little creeks, lagoons and other shallow areas of
the bay and heats up the water. When the tide starts going out, (between
high and low tide) all this warmer water heads towards the inlet. This
outgoing water can be 10 degrees or more warmer than the incoming tide! If
the flounder are there, this is when you are going to catch them.

Some people think that flounder are lazy and just lay on the bottom waiting
for a morsel of food to drop in their mouths. This is far from the truth!
Flounder wiggle their fins and partially cover themselves with sand. Like
chameleons, their color changes to blend with the bottom floor. There they
wait, disguised, ready to scurry for any baitfish, crab, shrimp, squid or
other food to their liking. Flounder are anything but slow! But! Very
important! They are sight-feeders. They must be able to see the bait!

That is why water clarity is so very important when fishing for flounder.
That is also why presentation of the bait is important. Color of the rigs
can make a big difference on certain days. Tides are also a big
consideration when fishing for flounder. Working with the wind is a tool
good flounder fisherman practice when drifting in a boat. Some anglers swear
by the “slow troll” when the breezes do not work in their favor. Working
areas of bottom change is a very big consideration when casting or drifting.
If you have a boat, the depth finder is your most important tool!

Presentation of the bait: The most popular baits inshore for flounder are
live minnows (hooked thru both lips) or frozen shiners (hooked thru the
eyes.) Anglers then add a strip of squid next to the shiner or minnow and
let it dangle off the hook next to the minnow or shiner. Never ball your
bait up! Flounder like to see their bait dangling off the hook! They are
looking, not smelling! In the late summer and fall, anglers “match the
hatch” and use larger “live bait.” Live spot, live finger mullet, and live
alewives catch the big ones. In the fall of 2007 “live mullet” was the king
of baits for anglers fishing from boats and from the shore! Cast net sales
went through the roof! As flounder started to migrate out of the bay in late
summer and early fall, anglers caught them with these larger baits in the
deep channels close to the Route 50 Bridge. Summer flounder actually
stacked-up near the draw of the bridge!

Offshore, anglers did extremely well with strips of bait. Attractive strips
of cut flounder fillet (you must keep the carcass), bluefish fillet (my
favorite), croaker or sea robin fillet, squid, spot, mullet, or even bunker
fillet. Some anglers carried live spot or finger mullet offshore and did
excellent! Anglers fishing offshore had a great thing going this past
season with a bait strip attached to a 3 to 6-ounce Spro Prime Bucktail.
Jigging this bait brought party boats and private boats alike some real
“doormats!” Limits of flounder were not uncommon.

The Color of the rig or jig can sometimes make the difference between a good
day and a bad day of flounder fishing! White is the all time best color.
The color white can be seen further down into the water column than any
other color. Chartreuse can be deadly in clear water. Pink can be “hot” in
the spring when the flounder are eating grass shrimp. Sometimes just a plain
hook and a live bait is the answer to the day when the water is just average
or a little murky. Yellow can be good on a cloudy day but not work at all on
a sunny day!

Sometimes, in shallower water, (3-6 feet) anglers do really well with a
light rod, a jig head (one of the above colors) and a live minnow. Others
add one of the new Berkley Gulp Swimming Minnow grubs to the lead head
before hooking on the minnow. Experiment around with the different colored
Gulps and Lead heads. The combinations are endless!

Water clarity is one of the most important factors when fishing for flounder
inshore. As the tide changes, you need to continue to look for the cleanest
clearest water. For example, take the bay behind Assateague. It can be the
greatest fishing around on an easterly breeze and an incoming tide. Go down
there on a south wind and an outgoing tide and it is chocolate milk with
gobs of grassy muck floating in it! Impossible fishing conditions. Keep
your eyes open and look for the clean water. Sometimes it’s in the east
channel, sometimes the west channel. Sometimes it’s in the inlet or the
south side of the south jetty!

Tides! In the spring, the outgoing tides will give you the warmest water.
In the summer, the last two or three hours of the incoming and the first
hour or two of the outgoing is usually the best. On the low tide, you need
to be fishing close to the Rt. 50 Bridge or the Inlet. The last one or two
hours of the outgoing and the first hour or two of the incoming is the tide
of choice. Off tides? Slip out the inlet on a nice day and fish the south
side of the South Jetty. The tide is two hours earlier here and often times,
the water is clearer!

Slow troll or drift? Work the breeze and tide, so you cover areas of bottom
change. Watch that depth finder! If you catch a fish, go back and hit that
same hole! If there is no tide, no breeze, a wrong drift, or if you are
drifting too fast, try the “slow troll.” Let your lines out and troll
slowly. If the tide and wind are moving you too fast, troll against or
across the tide to slow you down. You’ll be surprised what you catch!

The year of 2007 saw some of the best offshore summer flounder fishing we’ve
ever seen. The summer flounder were biting offshore at all the usual wreck
and artificial reef sites where we catch sea bass. In Del, anglers caught
summer flounder at the Barge, B- Buoy, Site 10, Site 11 and other Artificial
Reef sites. Offshore Ocean City had great summer flounder catches all the
way through November at the Bass Grounds, Russell’s Reef, the African Queen,
the Great Eastern Reef, and other Artificial Reef sites and secret spots the
party boats go. In the years to come, offshore summer flounder fishing can
only get better. Capt. Monty of the “Morning Star” tells us about a “once in
a lifetime” opportunity…

“In The Years To Come... our coastal fishing will be greatly enhanced -truly
improved- by the artificial reef program. The Ocean City Reef Foundation
(OCRF) has been building reef with great success for a decade. In fact, many
are beginning to encrust with coral! Now, through the efforts of the
Maryland Artificial Reef Initiative (MARI) and especially the determination
of MD DNR's Marty Gary, the coast has an opportunity to more than double
it's artificial reef footprint with 600 stainless steel subway cars from the
New York City Transit Authority. Many of these units are to be sunk on brand
new, undeveloped, nearshore reef sites.

From the groundwork I did some 9 years ago with the commercial trawl
community and a lot of effort from the Town of Ocean City's reef liaison,
Gail Blazer, we have 3 newly permitted reef sites plus 5 existing ones that
are perfect for these units. Spread out over these 8 sites; I anticipate
that marine growth will be swift. The fish will follow suit.
This project is it. This is a chance to double our region's artificial reef
habitat footprint in the space of a couple years. Quite quickly I would
anticipate an absurd improvement in the fishing for boats that stay within
10 miles of shore. I base that assertion on experience from the Great
Eastern Artificial Reef site. Now well developed; 15 years ago there were no
fish caught there. None. Now it accounts for almost half of the full day
party boat effort. This started from nothing. So perhaps, given time and
surgical fishery management, we can return the near shore fisheries to their
former glory.

The potential for improving flounder, sea bass and tautog fishing is
unparalleled in our coast's history.
But it won't -can't- happen without sponsors helping to purchase the cars.
Varying in price from $400.00 to $700.00, depending on which reef site they
are delivered too, the cars are to be deployed over a 2 1/2 year period. To
help out with this project you can contact the OCRF at 410 208 0064 or go on
the web at http://www.ocreeffoundation.com/ . Send inquiries or donations
to: Ocean City Reef Foundation, P.O. Box 1072, Ocean City, MD 21843.
Specify the subway car project and the donation will go into an escrow
account solely for this project. (The Ocean City Reef Foundation is a 501c3
tax deductible non-profit.)” Fishers well into the future will benefit ~ We
can be the first generation to leave a legacy of improved fisheries!”

Summer flounder, fluke, flounder, whatever you want to call them, are coming
back. They’re not that hard to catch with a little knowledge of the fish and
how to catch them. Even with “cut backs” and larger size limits, they’ll be
plenty summer flounder for us to catch in 2008. And with the help of the
Ocean City Reef Foundation, they’ll be more places for us to go fishing for

Good fishing….