How To Fish For Flounders: Tips, Rigs, & Baits

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Flounders are a very accessible species to fish along the eastern shores of the United States and Europe, and they are also a ton of fun to catch. 

If you are looking to go surf fishing from the beach, chances are you will have heard of flounder. They are an excellent species to target from the shore, and they are quite delicious if you are looking to take home your catch for dinner! 

But, if you want to be a master at catching them, knowing everything you can about flounder is key to being as successful as possible.

But, as with all species, there are some specific ways to fish for flounders that will produce far better results. Join me as I explain how to fish for them, including where to fish, what baits to use, and tips on catching more! 

What Is A Flounder Fish?

Before we start on how to fish for flounders, let’s understand what they are. Flounder is a term used to group together multiple species of saltwater flatfish. The group includes sole, plaice, halibut (the largest species), dab, and turbot and includes over 800 types that can be found all over the globe.

Flatfish look rather odd compared to non-flatfish. They are flat (hence the name), meaning they have two eyes on the upper side of their body along with their gills and markings.  The underside of their body is white and flat, which helps them hug the bottom and disguise themselves in the sand, weeds, or rocks. 

Where Do Flounders Live?

During the warmer months, flounders like to hang out in shallow tidal areas close to the shoreline. They always prefer shallow water because they sit on the bottom and their eyes on the top of their bodies. 

The shallower the water, the closer the flounder is to its prey, which makes its food source easier to see and snap up when it swims past. This means you can target them successfuly from the beach, rocks, and estuaries, too. They are incredibly easy fish to catch, as you don’t need a boat or anything; you can just walk along the shoreline.   

However, in winter, most flounder species head offshore to find warmer water in the deep and for spawning. At this time of year, flounders can be found on the bottom in depths of up to 900 feet. 

Step 1: Finding Flounders 

The ocean is a big place, and the first step to successfully catching a saltwater species like flounder is finding the hot spots. 

Small Ledges & Drop Offs Are Hot Spots

Flounders like to hide on the bottom to ambush their prey, and small drop-offs and ledges are the perfect places for this. We are not talking about depth changes of 10 feet; we are talking about micro depth changes of 8 inches to up to 2 feet. 

If you can find an area with this kind of depth change, chances are a lot of flounders will be hiding there, waiting for their prey to swim past. Finding these micro-depth changes can be very hard, as they do not usually appear clearly on a depth sounder such as a deeper fish finder

A great way to find small ledges and drop-offs is to explore at low tide. You will see the spots out of the water, mark them, and then fish them when the tide comes in, and the flounders come with it. 

Look For Flounder Tracks

Another excellent way of finding flounder hot spots is by looking for their tracks at dead low tide. 

Flounder dig themselves into the sand in order to camouflage themselves from their prey, and when the tide gets too low, they have to move to deeper water, leaving a flounder-shaped divot in the bottom. 

When patrolling the shoreline at low tide and looking for small ledges and drop-offs, you should also keep an eye out for flounder tracks. You might just find an area with hundreds of tracks, which equals a flounder hot spot. You can then go and fish it when the tide comes in and catch a lot of fish! 

Step 2: Understanding How Tides Affect Flounders 

When fishing for any inshore species, the tide governs everything, and the flounders follow it to the letter. 

Tides move all the nutrients and, therefore, all of the flounders’ prey choices around inshore habitats. The flounder knows this and positions themselves in certain locations during the tide changes to maximize their chances of getting an easy meal. 

Dropping Tides Are Deadly 

When the tide drops, it flushes out all the small crabs, shrimp, and bait fish flounders like to eat. This is when fishing, the micro ledges and drop-offs you have found at low tide will provide the best results. 

The flounder will hide on the ledge or drop off and eat all the prey being flushed out in the dropping tide. Using jigs close to the bottom and casting along the ledges is absolutely deadly in this situation. 

But you will have to keep moving as the tide drops, and the flounders will move with it. Fish a spot, catch a few fish, drop down with the tide, and reposition when the bites stop. 

Continue this until the tide fully drops, always targeting ledges and drop-offs with a tidal flow that brings food to the flounders. 

Dead Low Tide Exposes Flounders 

When the tide is at its lowest, flounders are in high concentrations. They have had to follow the tide down and are now isolated in deeper areas around the dry shallows. 

At dead low tide, look for deepish channels that still have a few feet of water in them, as the flounder will be hanging out in them, waiting for the tide to come in so they can move into the shallows again. 

Incoming Tides Are Tricky

Fishing for flounder on an incoming tide can be tricky, as the fish continuously moves to shallower waters or stays put in water around 20 feet deep. This means the flounders will spread more and more along the shoreline as the tide comes in, making it very hard to target them. 

One effective tactic is to sit up-tide and fish in channels you think the flounder will use to move their way into the shallows. Don’t be late, though; the fish may have moved past you already! 

Fish a spot, and once you have had a few bites, you’ll know your timing is right. When the bites stop, move shallower and wait for them to come up further with the tide again. 

High Tide Is As Hard As It Gets 

When the tide is full high, the flounders will be spread all around the shoreline and estuaries, making it hard to find them. 

But if you have marked some great spots with flounder tracks, ledges, and drop-offs close to the shore, you may have found a high-tide honey hole, which you should keep a secret! 

Step 3: Gear For Catching Flounders

Now that we know where to find flounders and how the tide affects their movements, let’s examine what tackle you should use to catch them. 

A standard 7-foot spinning rod with a matching 20 lb reel is ideal for flounders as it is light enough and provides sufficient casting power. 

You should spool the reel with a braided line option. Braid provides excellent bite sensitivity (flounders, when taking the bait, typically don’t give much indication on your rod) and allows you to fish the bottom with more feel since it is so thin and has close to zero drag in the water. 

You should then add a 12 lb fluorocarbon leader about 10 feet long to the braid. Flounders are quite line-shy, but they will not notice thin, near-invisible 12 lb fluorocarbon, which is why it is such an effective leader. 

Step 4: Best Rigs For Catching Flounders

If you are using live or dead bait when fishing for flounder, there is a particular rig you will want to use. Obviously named the Flounder Rig, it keeps your bait close to the bottom, within striking distance of lurking flounder.  

The rig consists of mono with a bullet or eggsinker tied to a barrel swivel. This keeps the rig on or close to the bottom. Attached to the other end of the barrel swivel should be 3 feet of 12 lb fluorocarbon. 

Add a float or cork to the middle of the fluorocarbon leader and attach some plastic beads, a spinner blade, and a hook to the end. The float keeps your bait just above the bottom, which is exactly the kind of prey flounders are looking for, and the spinner blade attracts them, too! 

Step 5: What Are The Best Baits For Catching Flounder? 

Understanding what a flounder eats in its natural habitat is incredibly important if you want to catch them successfully. 

What a flounder eats does change from one species to the next, but only slightly, and these are their general prey targets: 

  • Crabs
  • Shrimps 
  • Clams 
  • Snails 
  • Worms 
  • Small mullet
  • Anchovies 
  • Sardines
  • Shad
  • Other small fish, such as minnows

As you can see, their diet consists mainly of inshore bait species, from small crustaceans to worms and small fish. Therefore, these are the best live or dead bait anglers to use for catching flounder and attaching to the rigs listed above. 

When fishing live baits or dead baits, be sure to keep your rig moving as flounders wait for prey to swim over them and will not come to your bait. 

Step 6: Best Lures For Catching Flounders 

There are two lures that are most effective for catching flounders – feather jigs or soft plastics fished on a jig head hook.

Soft plastics come in a range of shapes and sizes. You can choose shrimp imitations, paddle tail baitfish imitations, and more. Rig these on a size 2/0 hook with a ¼ ounce weighted head and bounce them along the bottom. The action created is deadly, and the flounders love it! 

Feather jigs are similar, but instead of soft plastic molds, they use deer hair, which pulsates in the water and looks just like a small fish. A ¼ ounce jig in size 2/0 is best; you should also bounce these along the bottom. 

You can also add strips of small bait fish, like mullet, to the jig hooks to scent the lure and entice the flounder even more. 

Step 7: Best Tactics For Catching Flounders

Now that we know what tackle, lures, and baits work best for flounders, let’s discuss the best way of fishing them. 

Drifting With The Tide 

Drifting a new area is the best way to find flounder and learn where they like to hang out, but this method requires a boat. 

To do this, simply drift with the tide (dropping is best) along a drop off  and bottom troll as you go. Bottom trolling bounces your lure or bait up and down off the bottom as you drift across the area. 

This method allows you to cover a lot of ground very quickly. When you run through a hot spot, you can drop your anchor and catch plenty of fish in a short period.

If it is very winding or the current is moving too fast, using a sea anchor or a trolling motor is a great way of controlling your drifting speed! 

Fish Close To The Boat

Flounder will often follow your lure or bait all the way to the end, meaning they will eat right next to the boat. When retrieving your lure or bait, continue right to the boat and take it slow at the end, as this is when they will probably strike. 

Also, when a flounder doesn’t eat after following your lure or bait, it will settle under your boat, and over time, a few flounders are likely to stack up there. Target them by “flipping” your bait into the water close by. 

“Flipping” is a type of casting similar to fly casting but on a spinning rod. Pull out some line with your left hand, and while holding it, swing the lure into the water and let go of the line. Then, slowly jig your bait off the bottom to catch the flounder under the boat.

Fish From The Pier

Pier fishing is ideal for Flounders as they prefer the shallow water and sandy beach areas. They are also relatively small, so a 2 lb fish easily fits in your pier drop net.

Winding Up 

Flounders are not particularly fussy about hitting various baits, making them easier to catch than other species. This means a day of flounder fishing will likely be quite action-packed, exactly what we anglers are looking for! 

Luckily, flounders are not that hard to find. If you follow the tactics and tips above, you should catch flounders quickly. 

Please share the article with your fishing buddies, and why not check out some of our others? We cover everything from great fishing destinations to the best gear and great tactics for various species.

Jamie Melvin