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While I was busy running the boat out of Indian River Inlet heading for our favorite flounder bar, Mike Pane was busy at the bait board cutting up strips of squid.

Pre-occupied with running the boat and keeping an eye peeled for fishermen landing fish, I was not paying attention to what he was doing. Even though this native of Cape May, N.J., insists on calling them fluke, he has a lot of savvy when it comes to flounder fishing. That is why I was surprised to see these strips of squid that were at least an inch wide and six to eight inches long.

"What are we going for, Marlin?", I asked with a lot of tongue in cheek.

"You need big baits for the door mats that run this time of year," Pane replied as he threaded a strip of squid on to a half ounce white bucktail.

"Guess that's why you're using the big bucktail, too?", I asked.

"Sure is, but why don't you use some smaller baits just in case the big ones are not here yet."

With two quarter ounce bucktails rigged in tandem on my medium action spinning rod, I took a knife and made a diagonal cut to make one of Mike's big strips into two smaller strips. I put one of the small strips on each of the bucktails.

It was beginning to look like I had the right rig when I landed a pair of flounder weighing two and three pounds on our first drift over the shoal.

"Better switch to smaller baits," I advised.

"It's too soon," Mike replied. "Let's try a drift a little closer to shore."

I cranked up the motor and headed up tide. It was a perfect morning for drifting as there was practically no wind and the tide carried us at just the right speed to keep our baited lures skipping along the bottom.

We had only drifted a couple of hundred yards when Mike's heavy action bait casting rod snapped in an arc pointing towards the water.

"Got the bottom?", I asked.

"Not unless the bottom swims," Mike answered as line began ripping through his drag at a steady, but not fast rate.

The fish pulled about 25 yards of line off Mike's spool before he could gain any back. After three more shorter runs, Mike had the fish under the boat. Even though there was a bend in his rod indicating some strong pressure, the fish was reluctant to leave the bottom.

As Mike slowly gained on the fish, I stood poised with the landing net. When the flounder first came into view, I wondered if I had enough net even though the one I had was 30 inches across the rim. However, it just fit.

As I swung the net full aboard, an excited Mike Pane yelled, "Now that's what we call door mats."

Indeed the flat fish would have made an adequate covering for most door stoops as it was three feet long and almost half that wide. When we weighed it later, it tipped the scales at seven pounds eight ounces.

That was our biggest fish of the day, but we had five others between four and five and a half pounds. With a dozen smaller flounder, it was a better than average day of recreational flounder fishing.

Big flounder are likely to show up occasionally in catches during anytime during the season. However, every spring, usually in May, there is a run of the big ones, commonly referred to as door mats.

Adult flounder migrate to the edge of the Continental Shelf in the fall and spend their winter spawning in 20 to 40 fathoms of water. With the warming of the ocean in early spring, flounder head inshore to feast on a variety of marine organism that include menhaden, bluefish, sea bass, crabs and most anything else that swims.

Because the adult flounder were collected together to facilitate their spawning activities, they migrate together, arrive inshore together with a hardy appetite.

If you are there to meet them, the conditions are right for the best two weeks of flounder fishing of the year.

After this annual bonanza, the flounder scatter and it is believed that most of the big ones return to the ocean.

About a half million flounder are caught each year are caught by Delaware sportsmen and most of them are caught in Rehobeth, Delaware and Indian River bays.

However, if you can find the migrating flounder in the ocean before they get into the bay, you can add a week of good fishing to the spring run and not have to compete with a big concentration of boats.

There are a series of shoals or humps about a mile off the beach scattered from the Maryland line to the mouth of Delaware Bay. A coastal chart will show that these humps come out of deep water to anywhere from 19 feet to 30 feet. Some are no more than a quarter of a mile across, but others are a mile or two long.

These humps are where Mike and I try to ambush the big flounder on the way to the bays.

When the big flounder get into the bays everyone knows about them after the first good catch, but information is difficult to come by while they are still in the ocean.

Mike and I start looking for them in late April or early May, making as many trips as possible. We also keep in touch with a couple other fishermen who look for flounder in the ocean and swap information with them.

We have had a lot of dry runs before the flounder show, but on a couple of occasions ran into some big bluefish to keep from wasting a trip.

If you don't have a boat suitable for ocean fishing, wait for the flounder to show up in the bays. It's safe and it's certain.

There are more than one way to rig for flounder. One of the most popular is to attach a three-way swivel to the end of the line. To one eye, tie on about a three-foot leader and add a flounder hook. Then drop a sinker about eight inches below the bottom leader.

This is a good rig while fishing from the beach or from an anchored boat, but drifting in a boat is the most productive way to catch flounder. And I have not found a way to keep this rig from tangling while drifting.

I feel that a single bucktail or a tandem rig with two bucktails is the best rig. This gives you the weight you need to get your bait down close to the bottom and presents the bait without a sinker dragging along the bottom.

I think this is important because of the way a flounder feeds. It lies on the bottom, sometimes partially covered with sand, and waits for a meal to swim by. It lunges up at a pretty good rate of speed to ambush its meal.

In my way of thinking, a sinker dragging across the bottom with baits trailing behind will disturb a certain number of fish to the point they will not strike.

However, if a bucktail sweetened with minnow, squid or a combination of both comes skipping along the bottom, it looks like an easy meal to a flounder.

Just about any tackle will handle flounder, but I feel too many anglers go fishing for flounder with tackle that would land a 50 pound black drum. Then they complain that flounder don't fight. If they had a hook in their mouth attached to a locomotive, they wouldn't fight either.

I have caught flounder weighing more than five pounds on ultra-light spinning tackle with six pound test line. It was a ten minute battle that required perfect performance by me and my equipment. I won that time, but when the big flounder are around I like a little heavier equipment.

Medium spinning or bait casting outfits with 10-pound test line will handle the biggest flounder that swims. You will have to fight the fish rather than crank it in, but isn't that a part of fishing?

Besides locating fish, the most important factor in flounder fishing is drifting at a speed that allows you to keep your bait just off the bottom.

On days with a light breeze, the tide will push your boat at just the right speed. There are no problems on a day like that.

However, how about a day when the tide and a brisk breeze are going in the same direction. On those days, it is difficult to keep your baits from skipping on the surface. To control this situation, I tie one of those five gallon buckets that wall plaster comes in on a rope, tie it to the boat, and toss it in the water. It makes a nifty sea anchor. If one bucket is not enough, I'll put out a second one. If two are not enough, I go home because it is too windy to be on the water in a boat.

Another common situation is that the wind is blowing against the tide just hard enough to keep you from drifting. The only way to combat this is to start up the engine and troll as slow as your motor will allow.

Moderate cross winds or winds a little stronger than the tide usually do not cause a problem because you will drift at a proper speed, however, they can make it difficult to predict where you will drift. This can be a problem if the flounder are concentrated in a restricted area.

I have caught a few flounder on unbaited bucktails while fishing for other species. Therefore, the possibility of catching them on artificials exists. However, if you enjoy a baked filet of flounder as much as I do, you'll go after them with bait.

My first choice of bait, and I believe the flounder's, are marsh minnows, sometimes called bull minnows. When going for big flounder, I use the biggest ones I can find.

What I consider the ultimate bait for flounder is a big minnow with a strip of squid on the same hook. I believe the minnow creates a fish smell and the white squid increases visibility.

If only squid is available for bait, I feel a little handicapped. It will catch flounder, but I don't think it will catch as many as minnows.

One trick I picked up a few years back when the only bait I could find was squid, was to cut strips from the white under side of the first flounder I caught. I hate to share flounder filets with fish, but it is worth it if it will put more flounder filets on the table in the long run.

Delaware only has about 30 miles of Ocean front. Therefore with a reasonable fast boat operating out of a central location, like Indian River Inlet, all of the ocean humps are within striking distance.

There are series of shoals across the mouth of Delaware Bay that are feeding grounds for big flounder. This will be where they will show up first, but will work their way up to Bowers Beach and above before most of them will head back towards the ocean. While up in the bay, they can be found on sandy shoals, some as shallow as three or four feet. A bay chart is a good reference for finding places to look.

When the big flounder get into Indian River and Rehobeth bays, they will be found on the shallows just off the channels.

Flounder are one of the finest eating fish to swim in our waters. If you don't over kill with too heavy tackle, they can be great sport. If you hit the spring run of door mats, it is out of this world.

Uploaded: 2/21/2004