How to Fish for Flounder: The Complete Guide

Oct 11, 2023 | 9 minute read
Reading Time: 9 minutes

Out of all the famous Flatfish, none is more loved than Flounder. When you go after this species, you get a “full house” – they’re fun to catch, there’s a lot of them, and they make for delicious table fare. No wonder Flounder fishing is so popular all over the country.

A group of smiling anglers squatting on a fishing boat, holding their catch of Flounder

Flounder go by different names, so depending on where you target them, you can hear monikers like Fluke (commonly used along the East Coast) and flatties, while the big ones are universally called doormats. But what makes them special and why should you give this inshore classic a try? What’s the best way to target them? We’ll be answering all these questions, so keep reading.

Types of Flounder 

If you’ve never seen a Flounder before, chances are you’re imagining the adorable cartoon character from The Little Mermaid. The reality is quite different, so don’t be surprised when you reel in this unusual brown critter with wonky eyes and sharp teeth. There are three types of Flounder you can catch along the US coasts – Summer, Winter, and Southern Flounder.

Two photos showing the expectation vs. reality of Flounder's appearance

Summer Flounder are known as Fluke, and they live all over the Atlantic region, from the Chesapeake Bay, up to Maine and even further north. Winter Flounder share the territory with their summer relatives, and you can often find both types in the same spots. Main difference? Fluke have their eyes on the left side of their head, while Winter Flounder’s eyes are on the right side. 

An infographic showing the map of Flounder distribution in the US

Finally, there are Southern Flounder, which prefer the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the southern Atlantic region. Want to hook into all three? Head to one of the Carolinas, where all three live and thrive. 

Where to Go Flounder Fishing

Flounder are infamous ambush predators – their murky brown color, flat shape, and eye positioning allow them to be very efficient hunters. Opportunistic feeders to the core, these fellas bury themselves into sandy or muddy bottoms, and wait for unsuspecting prey to swim along. Then, they pounce! 

A man standing on a fishing boat in a cap and sunglasses, holding a Flounder in front of him

That’s why the number one rule of fishing for Flounder is to have your lure or bait bouncing along the bottom. This can prove to be a tricky task because they like to hide and hunt around underwater structures. Find rocks, jetties, bridge pylons, docks, or fallen trees in the inshore waters, and you’ll find your target. Flounder congregate around strong currents because fast-moving water delivers their food to them. They’re not the most hardworking fish, you see. 

If you’re fishing from a beach, cast your offering around holes in shallow water, sandbars, oyster bars, slews, and drop-offs. Wade fishermen chase Flounder across grass flats in only a few feet of water. That’s not to say that these Flatfish avoid deep waters. You could score impressive doormats fishing the nearshore and offshore wrecks. Wherever there’s some “hideable” structure on the bottom and a lot of bait fish around, there’s Flounder to be had.

When to Go Flounder Fishing

One of many reasons Flounder fishing is so appealing is that you can target them most of the year. Be it spring, summer, or fall, these flatties are in the mood to gobble down your offering. 

A middle-aged fisherman with grey beard, in a baseball cap and sunglasses, holding a Flounder he caught

The truth is that if there’s bait fish around, Flounder feed throughout the day and night. One thing everyone agrees on is that the bite is at its best during the high tide. Smaller Flounder come out to play under the cover of darkness, while the biggest ones feed just after sunrise and sunset.

When it comes to seasons, spring sees Flounder heading back to shallow waters after their winter vacation offshore. Follow their favorite food, and you’ll be on them sooner rather than later. This is the time to hit the grass flats and snag a flattie in a couple of feet of water. The action around jetties, bays, and piers is very good.

The beginning of summer is probably the best time to fish for Flounder. With higher temperatures, Flounder will move out of the shallows, but still, stay inshore. The sweet spot for inshore anglers are waters up to 30 feet deep. In the warmest months, the bite is strong in the nearshore and offshore realm as well.

Fall means unpredictable weather but it also brings the Flounder fall run. On their way to their offshore homes, Flounder gorge themselves on anything that comes their way, including your bait. Brave the weather and your sacrifice is likely to pay off.

Things slow down in the winter because Flounder are less active and harder to find, especially because this is their spawning period. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, just that it requires a bit more patience and skill. 

Flounder Fishing Tackle

It’s time to delve deeper into the technical tips that will help you get that Flounder on the line. If you’re into inshore fishing, you already have all you need for a successful day of fishing. 

An older fisherman in a fishing hat and sunglasses, sitting on a boat, holding a big Flounder

Flounder vary in size – anything from 1-pounders to 20-pounders is a possibility, though most of them average out at 2–4 pounds. To battle them, you’ll need a 7–8’ medium action rod paired with a 2,500–4,000 series spinning reel. Add to that 10–20 lb braided line, a 10–20 lb leader, and you’re ready to rumble.

Now, a word of advice. As we mentioned, Flounder like to hunt around underwater structures. The chances of your tackle getting snagged or breaking off on the rocks or debris are very high, so be prepared for that and don’t give up. You don’t want this to stop your fishing streak, so make sure you bring all the extra supplies you need.

Flounder Bait & Lures

When you’re going after Flounder, you can use both lures and live bait to get their attention. As ambush predators, they will jump at anything that moves, so you want your offering to be tempting. You’ll be bottom fishing, so your bait should either drag or bounce off the bottom at all times.

A close-up of a Flounder's head with a lure in its mouth

Remember that Flounder strikes aren’t explosive, so you should take extra care to detect the bite. The right placement of your setup is equally important, as you want to cast the bait within the fish’s line of sight, without spooking it.

For live bait, then we’d suggest using whatever bait fish is abundant in the area. Finger mullet, shrimp, mud minnows, and pinfish are some of the popular choices that could help you land something bragworthy. When you feel that tug, wait about 10 seconds before you set the hook. That way, your Flounder can really bite into it and stay on.

Artificial lures are just as productive as live bait, some would argue even more so. Because the lateral line on the side of the Flounder’s body allows it to detect vibrations, you want artificials that have a lot of movement and a strong scent. Jigheads and soft plastics (like Berkley gulp) work wonders. If you’re fishing in deep waters, bucktails with a strong added scent (mullet or shrimp) are the way to go.

Flounder have a “sensitive palate,” so they quickly recognize that artificials feel wrong and spit them out. That’s why you should set the hook as soon as you feel the nibble on your line and avoid losing your catch. Once you’ve got it on, the battle can begin!

Productive Flounder Rigs

Let’s move on to some of the favorite rigs that help the Flounder fishing magic happen. Jigging along the bottom is the best way to entice Flounder to bite, but you’ll need the right tools. Thankfully, Flounder fishing doesn’t have to be complicated to be productive. Take a look at this video for a step-by-step video on Flounder rigs:

Anglers who use live bait love pairing it with the Carolina rig aka the “fish finder.” You’ll need an egg weight sinker (sliding, 1/2 oz works best) and a two-way swivel to make sure that bait stays on the bottom. To that, you’ll add about one foot of leader line along with a small hook for your live bait. This setup is versatile and it works whether you decide to just let it sit on the bottom (dead-stick it) or slowly reel it in, making sure it bounces off the bottom along the way.

When it comes to artificial lures, you can’t go wrong with jigheads. The size of the jighead depends on the depth of the water. If you’re fishing the shallows (2–5 feet), ¼ oz jigheads will work like a charm. Wade fishers go even lighter and go for a ⅛ oz jighead. Finally, ⅜ oz jighead works for most circumstances – it will keep the lure on the bottom, readily available to hungry Flounder.

If you’re casting a line in super shallow waters, you can use popping corks. The lure won’t be at the very bottom, but it will still be close enough for the Flounder to reach it. Tandem rigs, with a ⅜ oz jighead on the bottom and a ⅛ oz jighead one foot above it can result in some awesome catches. 

How to Catch Flounder

Our favorite ambush predator can’t resist movement and strong scent. They might be skittish if you bump into them with your setup, but jig it around the bottom while staying in their line of sight, and it’s only a matter of time before you get a bite.

An angler in a cap and sunglasses holding a big Flounder, with blue skies and water in the background

The general rule of thumb is to retrieve your bait slowly, whether it’s live or artificial. You want to give Flounder time to see it and come after it. Especially with Berkley gulp, make sure to reel it in very slowly, so that it dances on the bottom and becomes irresistible prey. You can also try the “twitch-twitch-pause” strategy –  all you need to do is twitch the rod twice, lower the tip of the rod, and slowly reel in the slacked line. 

When using a tandem rig, you’ll need to move the rod in twitches and bounces, all the while making sure your lure is touching the bottom. Bear in mind that the tandem is less sensitive, so it might take a bit of practice to detect the bite. If offshore wrecks and reefs are your playgrounds, try vertical jigging with a strongly scented bucktail.

Flounder gigging is becoming increasingly popular, and Texas is the best place to try it out. At night, Flounder come close to shore to feed and you can catch them just by using a simple gig (looks like a trident). It’s an exciting way to experience Flounder fishing in a completely new light.

Top Flounder Fishing Destinations

There’s more than enough Flounder all along the Atlantic Coast and the Gulf of Mexico, but there are some hotspots that stand out. You can target flatties in brackish and saltwater, around bays, estuaries, flats, marshes, coastal areas, and offshore. Here are some of the must-fish locations.

An aerial view of New Jersey shore
  • New Jersey: The whole state is like a Fluke treasure trove, and if you stop by in the summer, you’ll understand why. Whether you’re looking for doormats or simply want to get a few for the grill, you won’t be disappointed. Barnegat Light Reef, Elberon Rocks, and Raritan Bay are only a few of the hotspots to check out.
  • North Carolina: If you’ve got Southern Flounder on your mind, head to the prolific waters of the Old North State. NC Flounder fishing is a treat throughout the year, and you can find all three varieties here. Pamlico Sound, Outer Banks, the Cape Fear River, and Oak Island all hold impressive Flounder numbers.
  • Texas: The Lone Star State is full of fantastic Flounder fishing opportunities. Wherever you cast your line, chances are you’ll stumble across this delicious fish. Whichever location you choose, you won’t go wrong, but we’d recommend Galveston Flounder fishing, as well as Matagorda Bay, Rockport, and Laguna Madre.
  • Florida: You didn’t think we’d skip the Sunshine State, did you? Come out to the sunny Gulf, spend your fishing days in the productive backwaters, and be amazed by the sheer number of Southern Flounder. Cedar Key, Steinhatchee, Jacksonville, Everglades National Park, and Choctawhatchee Bay are all famous Flounder hubs.
  • Maryland: This Mid-Atlantic state has plenty of waterways for every fishing taste, and Flounder is one of the top catches. Stop by Ocean City in summer, or take a trip to the Chesapeake Bay and you’re in for a blast. If you’re after bigguns, this is the place to fish.

Flounder Fishing Beyond the Borders

An aerial view of a cliff side with a beach and blue water in New Zealand
  • New Zealand: Flounder fishing and gigging is a popular sport in the land of the Kiwis. New Zealanders hunt the Yellowbelly Flounder, which live wherever there are shallow waters with a muddy bottom. The waters of North Island in particular are full of these flatties, especially estuaries, harbors, and bays.
  • United Kingdom: Did you know that Flounder are native to the UK waters? The fish came to the US from Britain, where they remain one of the all-time favorite catches. The fact that they feed in shallow waters and are gluttonous makes them a great target of beginner anglers. Wherever there’s an estuary or bay, chances are, you’ll find your Flounder. 

Flounder Fishing: Epic Inshore Action Is One Cast Away

A smiling angler in sunglasses and a cap, standing on a boat, holding a couple of Flounder

Chasing Flounder is like a rite of passage for any aspirational inshore fisherman. They have the trifecta that every good catch requires – they’re fun to reel in, they’re around most of the year, and they’re super tasty. Flounder fishing is something you can hone and perfect and still have fun every time you get one on the line. Along with Redfish and Spotted Seatrout, Flounder are one of the most sought-after inshore species in the US. Give it a try and you’ll see why!

Have you ever tested your hand in Flounder fishing? Is there a special setup you use to get flatties to bite? Is there a hotspot we missed? Share your experience in the comments below.

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Andriana has been in love with nature since before she could walk, and she lives to explore the great outdoors whenever she has the chance. Be it traveling to far-off lands, hiking, or mountain climbing, Andriana loves discovering new places and writing about them. The first time she went fishing with her dad she insisted on returning all the catch into the water. Dad was not pleased. Her curiosity about fishing only grew from there, and she’s been writing and learning about it for years. Andriana’s favorite fish to catch is Mahi Mahi.

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