How to Catch Flounder: Tips for Flat Out Success

How to catch flounder
Written by Neal Walker

Fishing is an excellent skill to have in a survival situation. Anyone able to fish efficiently will not go hungry. Fishing can also be great for morale if stranded, thus knowing a variety of fishing techniques is desirable.

The sea provides a wealth of fantastic fish that make great meals and ranking highly among them is the flounder. The flaky, white meat of the flounder is delicious making this fish one of the most sought after on the East coast.

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They can grow fairly large as well, ensuring a hearty meal. These flat, bottom-dwelling delicacies are not too difficult to catch when you know how.

See also: Backpacking Fishing Gear: Fish on the Trail

One needs only to know a little about how to catch flounder, such as where and when they can be found. A small amount of basic equipment and a few handy tips will ensure success every time.

Different Types of Flounder

Before going through some great flounder fishing tips, it’s useful to know a little more about them. Not only does this ensure you are better able to catch them, it also prevents mix-ups. Stingrays are not dissimilar to flounder and it’s unwise to go up against one of them unprepared.

Flounder are a type of flatfish that spend the majority of their time lying flat on the seabed. Their eyes are located on the one side that faces up. There are four common types of flounder found on the East coast of the States. All are edible and behave in much the same way.

Winter flounder

The winter flounder, also known as the black back, can be found along much of the East coast, from Labrador, Canada right down to Georgia.

Winter flounder

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They become less common south of Delaware however. They enjoy shallow waters on the coast and can grow up to 27” and weigh up to eight pounds. Their white meat is considered a delicacy and is also known as lemon sole.

Summer flounder

Also known as a fluke, the summer flounder can be found from Nova Scotia right down to Florida. They are also more common further North, being particularly abundant between North Carolina and Massachusetts. The dark side of their body is able to change pattern and color in order to blend in with their surroundings.

Summer flounder

They also have several eye-like spots covering this side. For a fish that spends so long on the seabed, they are surprisingly quick. They are also tenacious predators and unlike other types will not always just lie in wait, but will actively chase down their prey if they’re really hungry.

They are the most commercially fished flounder and perhaps also the most popular recreationally fished. They can live up to twenty years and may weigh as much as 26lbs. Typically, however, an adult will grow up to 15 – 20” long.

Southern flounder

As the name suggests, the Southern flounder is found between North Carolina and the Gulf coast. This blotchy brown skinned flatfish is the most commercially valuable of the four.

Southern flounder

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They can grow up to 25” long, though males rarely exceed 12”. They are frequently confused for the Summer flounder, though they lack the spots.

Gulf flounder

The Gulf can be identified by the three large spots in a triangle on its color changing skin, along with many white specks.

It’s also the smallest of the four species, weighing an average of two pounds, with specimens weighing more than five pounds fairly rare.

Getting to Know Flounder

The four types of flounder mentioned above are the most common in the States and are all found along the East coast. They behave in much the same way for the most part, with perhaps the Summer flounder being a little feistier.

Their skin is superbly suited to camouflage, with most species able to change the color and pattern to better blend in with their surroundings. This helps to evade predators, but also to ambush prey. They will typically bury themselves almost entirely under the sand or mud on the seabed, leaving just their heads exposed.

When prey comes along they will ambush it, moving surprisingly quickly. They enjoy a diet of fish spawn, small fish such as finger mullet, crustaceans, and marine worms. While they will hunt, they will always prefer their food to come to them, which is something the fisherman can use against them.

Where can flounder be found?

As mentioned, flounder can only be found on the East coast, but to be more specific we can look at their most favorable environments. As a saltwater fish, you will want to head for the coast, however, it isn’t necessary to go too far out.

In fact, flounder spend much of the year close to the shore and can commonly be found in estuaries, creeks, and even rivers.

Where can flounder be found

They migrate to the ocean over winter and return to the shallows in spring. It is during this migration period that many fishermen claim the best fishing is to be had.

Flounder tend to prefer shallow water, with a sandy or muddy bed. This allows them to bed in and hide more effectively when catching prey. Check out our review of the best handheld fishing GPS to help in your location scouting.

When looking for a good place to catch flounder, try to identify anything that may cause a break in the current. This can include dock and bridge piles, sandbars, rocks, drop-offs, and reefs. Flounder tend to flock to such areas and you can be sure of finding something.

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Creek’s mouths are another excellent place to catch flounder. They tend to bury themselves in the mouth of the creek as it enters the sea, waiting for prey to cross their path. Deep creek bends are another great place to try.

When is the best time to catch flounder?

Flounder can be caught all year round, though their location may change throughout the year. Between September and November for example, adult flounder will migrate to the ocean, where they will spend winter. Therefore, fishing in the shallows for flounder during winter will only bring home small fry.

In spring, summer and early fall, however, you will find far larger specimens in the same area. During the migration period, a boat slowly drifting out to the ocean dragging a line behind it will surely tweak the interests of a few flounders as they make their way out into the sea.

The time of day doesn’t have a great deal of importance with regards to catching flounder with a fishing rod. If gigging, or spearfishing, this is better done at night, though it can be done during the day too. Windy weather isn’t particularly good for flounder fishing and if you find the wind picking up, look for sheltered areas to fish.

Finally, when fishing at a creek mouth, the falling tide is a great time to get out there. During this time you may be able to see tracks, imprints of where a flounder had bedded down previously. As they tend to keep close to the seabed you may see further signs and be able to follow it. At the least, you will know flounder are there.

To round up, if you are able to meet the following criteria, you will find yourself in a good time and place to catch some delicious fish.

Spring and Summer:

  • Shallow water
  • Near the shore
  • Sandy, muddy bed
  • Eddies
  • Reefs
  • Dock/bridge piles
  • Rocks
  • Estuaries and creeks

September to November:

  • Trawl from the shore out
  • Sandy, muddy bed
  • Eddies
  • Reefs
  • Dock/bridge piles
  • Rocks


  • Deeper waters
  • Sandy, muddy bed
  • Eddies
  • Reefs
  • Rocks

Equipment Needed to Catch Flounder

Now we have worked out where and when to look for flounder, it’s time to take a look at some of the equipment we will require for the best results. The equipment necessary is determined by the method employed and we will discuss the methods in more detail shortly.


Surprisingly most fishermen are more or less in agreement as to the best bait with which to catch flounder.

Live bait is the most desirable for the most part and can include finger mullet and minnows. It’s a good idea to catch these from the area you plan to catch flounder, as it is no doubt a staple part of their diet. When fishing in estuaries, keep an eye out for the Mummichog, or mud minnow.

Bait for flounder

These are widely considered one of the best live baits to use on flounder and can be found swimming in estuaries. Live shrimps can also work as well as marine worms.


In the absence of live bait, a good lure can also work wonders and can on occasion even work better. They are easier to cast in comparison to live bait and there is less chance that you’ll lose them.

Look for lures that mimic the movement of shrimp or fish, in two tone, shiny colors. As far as colors are concerned, pink, red and white all work well.

A popular lure is the grub tailed jig. This looks and moves like a live grub and has a large feather like a tail to catch the attention of fish. The flounder snap these up like there’s no tomorrow. Even if you’re using live bait, it doesn’t hurt to carry some lures with you just in case.

Rod and reel

The key to catching flounder is a light touch and a bit of delicacy. This kind of setup allows you to feel the slight movements that indicate you have a bite. Flounder are a little shy and tend to take small bites or snaps that can be hard to miss. Do checkout our review of the best telescopic fishing rods so you can fish on the go.

Rod and reel

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Therefore a sensitive light to medium rod works well, measuring around seven foot. Pair this with a light to medium 10 or 12lb reel. Ensure that you are able to adjust the drag on your reel to release a little bit of line when you pull hard. This will prevent the line from snapping if you hook a larger specimen that puts up a fight.

Line and tackle

The type of line depends on the size of fish you are aiming for. With larger species, you will want a fairly sturdy line, around 14 – 20lbs. For smaller species 10 – 12lbs should work well. Fishing for flounder can be as simple as using a hook, line, and sinker. Choose a sinker that will allow your line to reach the bottom of the water, putting your bait in reach of the flounder.

The best hooks tend to be circle hooks. While a hook line and sinker setup will work, many anglers agree that using a spinner rig works even better. Add a gold spinner bait to your setup and the flounder won’t be able to keep away from the flash and reflection.


Fishing for flounder can be done from the shore, or even on the beach, however, a boat allows the would-be fisherman to haul in a lot more fish. You are able to cover a lot more ground and get to the prime locations, such as creek mouths, with ease.

Flounder fishing boat

The boat you use doesn’t have to be anything spectacular. A rowing boat or kayak can be used in fact, though most favor a motor powered skiff. Something with fairly low sides makes bringing the flounder in easier. For more information, see our piece on how to choose the best fishing canoe to help you.


For those looking for an interesting method of catching flounder, gigging is worth considering. It’s  essentially spearfishing and presents a whole new challenge. A gig, also known as a spear or trident, is basically a pole with a forked end.

One or more spiked points are found on the forked end. The best gigs are made from stainless steel, with a solid forked head containing one or more half inch, stainless steel spikes. Avoid using frog gigs as these are too flimsy.

Storage container

Once you’ve got your fish out of the water and checked it for size, you’re going to need somewhere to store it until you get home.

A collapsible cool bag filled with a two liter bottle of frozen water works very well and will keep your catch fresh.

Methods for Catching Flounder

Now we know the best locations and when to go fishing and have gathered up the necessary equipment, it is time to look into the methods of catching flounder.

The two most common methods are gigging and using a rod. Below we’ll discuss the basics of both methods as well as some variations and top tips.

Fishing from a boat (Drift and bounce)

By far the most common method of catching flounder is using a rod and reel. For the best results, you will want to jump into a boat and head out onto the water. During the “flounder run”, or migration period, a boat works wonders. Head out during slack tide if possible and try to find a slow moving current. Switch off the engine and allow the boat to drift slowly.

Cast your line out and ensure it touches the bottom. If not you will need to add another weight. Since flounder prefer their food to come to them, the movement of your bait and it slowly drifts along the seabed is perfect.

Fishing from a boat

As long as you have chosen a suitable location you are sure to cross paths with a flounder. As your boat gently drifts out to sea, keep your bait moving up and down, using movement to attract the attention of a hungry flounder. When you feel a bite – which will be very subtle, almost like a slight snagging of the line on a rock – wait for five seconds or so.

It takes the flounder a bit of time to get up off the ground and to take a proper bite. By waiting, you ensure that the hook is set. Start to reel it in gradually and bear in mind larger species can put up a bit of a fight.

Once you’ve pulled it in, check it for size, ensuring that it meets any restrictions that might be in place. If it’s a keeper, store it away in your cool bag.

Fishing from a boat (Creek/estuary mouth)

Outside of the migration period another tactic that works well is to anchor your boat at the mouth of a river, inlet or creek. This is a favorite hangout for flounder, as a constant supply of food drifts into their waiting mouths. Just make sure you have the right equipment for your boat. See our guide on how to correctly size your canoe paddle for reference.

With this in mind, fishermen reenact the behavior of flounder prey. Anchor the boat in position and cast out far up into the creek. Then bounce and bump your bait back towards you. The key is to work slowly, moving back and forth with the tide. If your boat is well placed, bring the line all the way back to the boat, as there may be flounder directly below you.

The idea is that you will run into a waiting flounder and if you have picked your bait wisely, you’ll almost certainly get a bite. Once you have a bite, the same steps mentioned above apply.

Fishing from the shore

The same tactics can be used as from a boat. Head for shallow, muddy waters and cast out. Move the line with the tide and keep your bait moving.

Fishing from the beach and casting out to sea is also possible during spring and summer. It’s surprising how close to the shore flounder can be found. Look for tracks as the tide goes out and cast in the direction they are heading.


For a more simple method that requires less equipment, gigging or spearfishing is an exciting alternative. This can be done on a boat or kayak, as well as on the shore. It is easier to gig at night, using a lamp to see the reflection of the light in the eyes of the mostly buried flounder. It’s easier to gig with a partner, with one holding the light and the other spearing the fish.

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If you are gigging on the beach simply walk slowly and carefully out into the shallow water looking for tracks or eye reflections. When you see the telltale eye reflection, slowly lower the head of the gig into the water, but don’t strike.

Aim the spearhead just behind the eyes and with a hard, swift thrust, spike the flounder. If your aim is true the flounder will not thrash around too much, but expect a storm of sand and bubbles initially. Bring the flounder up and store it away.

Bear in mind that you will have to aim deeper than you initially think, due to the way the water distorts light. If you’re not sure if a flounder meets size restrictions leave it. You can get a good idea by checking the gap between its eyes, as the body will most likely be buried.

When gigging from a boat, the same principles apply, just try to avoid falling over the edge. Always check the restrictions for gigging, which follow the same rules as spearing. There are some areas where it is not legal.

General Tips

To round up there are a few tips that relate to each of the methods that we can go through. This will make catching flounder even easier.

  • Learn the area you plan to fish. Use a weighted lure to bump along the seabed, looking for things like sandbars and rocks. Find as many of these current breaking anomalies as you can and remember them. These are the places that flounder love to stay put, awaiting their prey.
  • Avoid windy weather and head for sheltered areas if the wind does pick up.
  • Fish the correct areas at the correct times of the year.
  • If you’re having no success, switch bait. Sometimes even artificial bait works better than live. If after half an hour you are not having any luck, try a new location.
  • When gigging at night, avoid full moons as this will allow flounder to see you and can spook them. Also, ensure that your flashlight is secure.
  • Finally and most importantly always check local regulations and restrictions. Don’t take more than your daily quota and don’t take home undersized fish. Also, check whether a license will be required.

Don’t Get in A Flounder…

While it’s a lot of information to take in, fishing for flounder is actually rather easy. The best way to learn now is to get out there and give it a go.

Flounder fish

You may be surprised at how well you do now that you know the basics, as well as some great tips. Remember where to look at a certain time of year and if you have access to a boat get out during the flounder run.

Have you fished or gigged flounder? Tell us about it in the comments section.


Neal Walker

Neal Walker started fishing when he was 4. His father took him to the fishing trips all over USA and Canada. Later he took Angling Education Program at Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, but most of his knowledge comes from experience. Now he takes his sons with him to share his passion.