Home Drifting Easy - Fishing Tips Catching Summer Flounder in Ocean City, MD
Catching Summer Flounder in Ocean City, MD

 Drifting Easy  Catching Summer Flounder in Ocean City, MD- Overview- How and when and where! 

“I see these pictures of big flounder in the Coastal Fisherman every week and I can’t even catch a keeper! What’s the secret? Or is it just luck?”

If you take your boat out into the Ocean City bay and drift around long enough, eventually you’re bound to get lucky. With a few tips and knowledge of summer flounder, we can hopefully help you catch more and bigger flounder!

First and most important! Flounder are site feeders. If the conditions are such that they can’t see your bait, you won’t catch many flounder. That’s why many anglers fish the tide in Ocean City. If you fish 3 hours before high tide and two hours after high tide you will usually have the clearest water. This is the single, best summertime advice I can give you.

Spring is a totally different story! In the very early part of the season, water temperature is critical. When water temperatures are on the “edge”, anglers find that the outgoing tide can be 15 degrees warmer than the incoming tide. With that in mind, if you are out there fishing during that last three hours of the incoming tide with no bites, don’t leave until the tide turns around and starts going out. 

The bite can suddenly turn on!

In the early spring, the last part of the low outgoing tide can be VERY effective. Even though outgoing water can sometimes get dirty, when it slows up and starts to ebb (get low) the sediment in the water settles to the bottom, and the water clears up. Anytime the tide slows, water will be clearer, no matter whether it is high or low tide!) If you fish in VA during the early part of the season, flounder can bite the best during the whole outgoing tide. 

“Why is the outgoing tide warmer?” 

Water coming in from the ocean is cooler. The sun warms the water that has been up in the shallow back bays. When the tide starts out, these warmer waters move right into your flounder hole! Hint: remember, this is only really important in the spring and sometimes in the fall when the water temperatures are on the edge. Another hint: you do better in the spring when the sun is out to warm the water. Days of overcast cool weather can turn a flounder bite off!

Once the season gets into full swing, the most important part of flounder fishing is to find clear water. Put on your polarized sunglasses and you can actually see tide lines. It will be clear here, and dirty there…. follow the clean, clear water!

Light, easterly breezes usually give you clearer water. That always seems to be the best for flounder fishing. If the ocean is calm and clean, the incoming tide will be clear and clean. If we had a storm overnight, and the ocean is dirty, this ugly water will come into the bay during the incoming tide. In that instance, the outgoing water will be cleaner and clearer. 

The upper parts of the bay behind Ocean City can be excellent in the spring. The bay up by the Route 90 Bridge and the bay down behind Assateague Island can be productive. If you start running your boat in the bay behind Assateague, heading towards buoys #8 through #13 (a favorite area for locals) and you suddenly start seeing globs of grass and muddy, foamy water, just forget it and come back closer to the Inlet! Hint: the bay behind Assateague gets dirty when you have a hard, south wind.
Later in the season, from July though October, flounder tend to bite best in the main channels closer to the Route 50 Bridge.

Flounder really liked “structure” this past year. Anglers did well drifting in the East Channel close to the bulkheads and rocks between 1st Street and 14th Streets. Anglers butting up close to the Route 50 Bridge and then drifting off did well. The South Jetty rocks also produced good catches of flounder. The West Channel on each side of the Route 50 Bridge gave up a surprising number of flounder this past season. Be careful on the north side of the West channel, just offshore of Hooper’s Crab House. It is not marked, so anglers need to stay on their toes.

Hint: watch other boats and note where the bay party boats are fishing. Don’t get in their way, but learn by observing. Look for anglers netting fish. Eighty percent of the flounder are probably caught in twenty percent of the bay waters. If you’re not fishing in the right place, you won’t catch fish. Fish the edges of channels, deep water next to green marshes or sand bars, drop offs, close to structure such as rocks, bulkheads or piers and near mussel beds. Hang out in local tackle stores and marinas and get pointers from good flounder anglers to add to your own! 

My husband Bob is a really good flounder fisherman, and he says that to catch flounder you need clean water and maintain an optimal drifting speed of .8 to 1.2 miles per hour. If the drift is too fast, the flounder can’t catch up with your bait! If the drift is too slow (like barely moving) the fish aren’t seeing your bait move across the bottom floor. He also suggests a limber tip rod so your bait stays on the bottom as you drift along. A rod rated for 8 to 15 or 8 to 17 pound test is good for flounder.

Most avid flounder anglers fishing from a boat invest in a trolling motor so they can move the boat faster on a slow tide or run against the tide when it is moving too fast. Anglers without a trolling motor can “buck” the tide with their motor in reverse when the tide is running too hard or they can “bump” their motor in and out of gear to move faster when the tide is moving too slow.

All boaters should have a depthfinder when they are drifting along. Changes in water depth usually produce good flounder catches. Flounder feed on ledges and underwater slopes. Sometimes you will notice that all the bites happen at a certain depth. If that’s the case, keep fishing that depth! It might be a certain underwater water temperature that the fish like. Always be aware, and see where you got the last bite, what depth it was, what tide it was, and what color flounder rig was working best. Good flounder anglers aren’t half asleep just drifting easy in their boats. They are moving, working, watching, changing baits and rigs and looking for clean water.

Denny Blessing at Oyster Bay Tackle works the channels hard in the Ocean City Bay in his boat the “O.C. Joy”. His comment on flounder fishing is this: “The best boat method is to drift the edges of the channel. Remember, it is illegal to anchor in the main channels. I have really good luck with a rig made by Great Eastern called the “Tap Dancer”, which is a high/low rig made with a 2-ounce ball jig with a bucktailed hook.”

“What about baits?” 

Since flounder are site feeders, you need to keep your bait clean. If your live minnow isn’t lively anymore, replace it. If your squid strip gets dirty, put on a new one. The basic flounder baits are live minnows, frozen shiners and strips of squid. It’s best to use a live minnow OR a frozen shiner with a strip of squid hooked along side the minnow or shiner bait for extra attraction. For anglers looking for big flounder, the old adage “bigger bait=bigger fish” generally runs true.

Budd Heim, an avid local flounder fisherman, believes in big baits. “To catch these larger fish, my philosophy has always been that large fish take large bait. While that is not 100% true, it works more often than not. In the spring, use large bait such as frozen finger mullet and smelts. During the summer months, get the cast net out and catch live spot, finger mullet and peanut bunker. You will not be disappointed. Also, circle hooks work great with the live bait. ” (Budd likes to use an Owner Multi-light circle hook.)

Rusty Daub from Ocean Pines also believes in big baits. He gives us his advice on successful flounder fishing, “I'm primarily fishing from a boat and often take inexperienced fishermen along. The keys to successful flounder fishing for me are fishing the "drop offs" and matching the current with the correct sinker weight. You need to have the smallest amount of weight possible but still be on the bottom. Keep those lines tight with no slack from rod tip to bait.

You need to feel the sinker bouncing on the bottom so you can feel the hit. If you are just out to catch any size flounder, a squid/minnow combination will do. If you want to target large flounder, there is no better bait than live spot. Your catch rates will go down but your box will have big fish in it!”

Starting sometime around the end of June to early July, anglers can start catching live spot on small hooks and bloodworms (or Fishbite bloodworms) around the Route 90 Bridge, in back bay canals and lagoons, from the shore at Northside Park at 125th Street, the 9th Street Pier and in the Commercial Harbor. You need to keep them alive in an aerated bucket. Anglers can also cast net small bunker and finger mullet. All these make excellent flounder baits!

Berkley Gulp! has become one of the most popular artificial baits for flounder there is.

I personally like to use it in conjunction with a live minnow but many people use it by itself. If you do, you need to keep it moving. The 4-inch Swimming Mullet, in either pearl white or chartreuse, are the best summertime colors. In the spring, pink and orange are also popular. I slide the Gulp! Swimming Mullet all the way up on the hook shank, just like you are putting a plastic worm on the lead head. Then I hook a live minnow through the lips. Anglers fishing the flats and in relatively shallow water (5 to 8 feet) will use a simple lead head in the 3/8 to 1/2 ounce size and add the Gulp! and a live minnow. Then, they “work” it along the bottom just like a lure. Cast it uptide and let it bounce back along the bottom. I use this technique when fishing from the Route 50 Bridge sometimes, bouncing the lead head off a bar and letting it fall down into the deeper water along side. Deadly….

Jeffrey Grimes fishes Gulp! a lot. Here is his advice on flounder fishing and using Gulp!: “When I rig for flounder, I always use a double hook rig with some type of spinner or bucktail on each hook. Why use two hooks? The bottom hook is for a live or frozen bait and the top hook is always for a Gulp!. Many years of trial and error have proven to me the two-hook rig with Gulp! on the top hook catches more fish. I have found over the last several years that Gulp! has outfished any other live, frozen or artificial bait on most days. When I start the first drift of the day, I will try several different colors of 4-inch Gulp! Swimming Mullets in white, chartreuse or pink to see if the fish have a preference on that day. Some days they prefer chartreuse or pink, but I have found the white/pearl color catches the most fish.

Last summer we were getting the tails bit off one after another right before a tide change. After going through about a dozen tailless baits in 30 minutes we started catching a few flounder on the Gulp! bait with one flounder having three different color Gulp! tails in its mouth! So much for color preference! The key to using Gulp! is to keep changing out the Gulp! baits with fresh ones every 15 to 20 minutes and never using a bait that has any part of the tail bitten off. By changing out the bait every 15 to 20 minutes, you keep that fresh scent in the water and have a much better chance of hooking up. The tail section of the bait is what makes the bait come alive and attracts the fish. If any section of the tail is missing the bait loses it effectiveness. The bottom line is Gulp! catches more fish!”
Gulp! can work great, but many anglers use nothing but live or fresh strip baits.

Wilson Cropp of Wilson Cropp Charters and Guide Service in Cape Charles, VA had this to say, “The spring bite is best on Virginia’s Eastern Shore starting April 15th. Bull minnows work best with a teaser in front. After July 1st our bites move to the Chesapeake Bay. Big fish like live bait the best, such as live spot and finger mullet. Also, large strip baits on a lure work good around the bridge pilings.”
I’ve fished with Wilson Cropp more than once and he’s really a good angler. I learned the “spec rig” trick with him one day while fishing around the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel pilings. When the tide was slacking, we put a bank sinker on the spec rig, added strips of fresh cut bait (I believe we were using croaker strips that particular day), and casted close to the pilings. Then, with the sinker staying on the bottom (no bouncing up and down), he would twitch his tip of the rod like crazy. That made the baits wiggle and twitch, but let it stay close to the structure! He caught flounder right away. It was amazing how that worked.

When I first tried it, I bounced the sinker up and down and the rig quickly drifted away from the piling in the tide and I got no bites. I learned quickly how to do it right.

I tried this technique on the Route 50 Bridge one day with a spec rig and bluefish strips. I caught a lot of flounder right away!

I’m a big believer in strip baits. When I fish in the middle of the summer and right into fall, I always keep the first legal bluefish I catch. I love using a bluefish strip for flounder bait. Offshore on the wrecks, it’s my favorite bait. Those ugly lizardfish you catch when flounder fishing in the late summer and fall make excellent strip baits for flounder as well. So do fresh mullet, though they need to be really fresh. After three days in the cooler, they get too mushy. Fresh spot fillets are excellent also. If you go spot fishing for small spot and catch one too big for live baiting, don’t throw it back. Fillet and cut it into strips about 1 ½ to 4 inches long and wow, you have a pretty bait. Flounder belly works, but of course, you have to catch a legal flounder first and then keep the carcass with you! Sea robins, a legal-size croaker and almost anything you catch out there that’s legal will work.

Fresh bunker will work too, but it’s got to be really fresh. Flounder start biting in our bays around mid-April and bite through October and even into November. The flounder run is best in May through July and sometimes shows up a bit in August. That’s when anglers start to catch flounder offshore on the wrecks. Popular wrecks are the African Queen, Bass Grounds and the Great Eastern.

Walter Moore of Oyster Bay Tackle goes offshore and fishes for flounder on the wrecks with his dad. They caught some whoppers this year. Here’s his advice for you: "Flounder fishing inshore at the wrecks off Ocean City, MD can be an enjoyable day. I prefer a 3 or 4 oz. Spro bucktail jig on the bottom of a top-and-bottom style rig. Color doesn't seem to make much of a difference, as long as the hook above the Spro bucktail jig has a similar color teaser on it. Dress both hooks with squid strips. When you get to a wreck determine which way your drift will carry you across the wreck. Start out ahead of the wreck and drift over it, watching your line so you don’t get snagged. Continue your drift a couple hundred yards past the wreck.

A bouncing action with your rod helps a lot!”

For sure about the bouncing action! Capt. Monty on the “Morning Star” is the best flounder angler I’ve ever seen, except for maybe Flounder George! He likes to cast out away from the boat when anchored. I e-mailed him and asked him what his technique was: His answer was: “Bounce, bounce, slack and twitch like a nervous wreck.” Capt. Monty always uses long strips of cut bait and always encourages his anglers to keep their baits fresh and moving.


Dan Stauffer goes into this technique in more detail while adding even more flounder fishing advice. “I would say the most important thing about flounder fishing is NOT to snatch the rod up the first tap you feel. Many times flounder are simply trying to kill the bait with their first bite. Subsequent bites are where they're actually swallowing the bait. Many of my more experienced flounder masters will actually fish with their reels in free spool waiting for the bite. As soon as they feel the first thud, they start paying line out allowing the flounder to freely have the bait without any resistance. It is then, and only then, they lock the reel and set the hook.”

“The most common method for flounder fishing is drift fishing. However, when conditions don't allow for drifting, another technique is to anchor right next to the structure you want to cover and cast your bait as far up current as you can and work your bait back towards you. This can be deadly when targeting fish next to wrecks. One key aspect to this method is to "pop" your bait along the bottom as you work it back toward you. This creates little puffs of sand that will draw the attention of fish several feet away. Another element to this style of fishing is watching your line much like a freshwater bass fisherman would do while working a plastic worm. The fish normally strike while your bait is falling back down from the "popping" action. When you see your line jump, it usually signals a strike.”

“Bait is very important. Flounder will eat HUGE baits in the ocean, much larger than you would expect. We commonly use strip baits 8 to 10 inches long. If you're using minnows, get the largest bull minnows you can find. While many very good flounder fisherman put a lot of emphasis on lure color, I have found that day in and day out good old white seems to consistently produce.” 

“Water clarity is of great importance. If the water is dirty and turned-up, you might want to look for some sea bass or tog. Flounder are sight feeders and need to be able to see the bait.”

Wow. I really like that part about watching the line! I’ll have to try that! 

If you fish offshore for flounder it is of utmost importance to get yourself a set of charts from the Ocean City Reef Foundation. They only cost $25 and pinpoint each and every artificial reef structure out there. You can buy them online at http://www.ocreeffoundation.com or at many local area tackle stores.
The Ocean City Reef Foundation depends on annual donations and generous contributions to continue placing structures offshore of Ocean City, MD. The creation of this much-needed habitat will guarantee a plentiful fishery for years to come. 

Well, you just received a lot of advice on flounder fishing. You can see that most of the advice from good flounder anglers talk about water clarity and using larger baits for larger fish. Tides are important and technique is critical when targeting big flounder. And of course, you have to be at the RIGHT place at the RIGHT time. 

Good luck and good fishing…

Sue Foster is an outdoor writer and co-owner of Oyster Bay Tackle in Ocean City, MD and Fenwick Tackle in Fenwick, DE.

Last Updated on Thursday, 18 April 2013 10:13