Advanced Fluke Fishingby Capt. Terry Rand
During the winter months in the Northeast, there are not a lot of opportunities for catching saltwater fish. Most anglers either wait out the cold season in the warmth of their homes or some others may venture inland to ice fish on the frozen lakes and ponds in pursuit of sweet water species. Tidal rivers begin to see an influx of schoolie sized striped bass as March rolls through. As March gives way to April the winter flounder, or fluke, returns to the coastline to spawn.
Winter flounder are actually present along the coast throughout the winter months but overharvest of the species and the decline of spawning habitat have created the need for restrictions on the open season for anglers. Throughout their range, the winter flounder season is usually short lived, not usually surpassing 6-8 weeks in duration.
They don’t grow nearly as large as their summer cousins so tackle can remain light. A 6-7 foot spinning rod spooled with 8 – 12 lb. monofilament line will suffice for these fish. Most fish weigh in around 2-3 lbs. Rigs are as simple or complex as one would like to make them. A small hook to accommodate the small, toothless mouth of these flounder is essential. Add enough weight to keep your bait pinned to the bottom and you are off and running.
The first choice for bait is usually sandworms or bloodworms but clam and mussel also work well. Many anglers add yellow beads above their hook and/or a tiny yellow curly tailed grub to the shank of the hook as an added visual cue for the fish. Bright yellow has been a traditional color for flounder rigs for many years now.
Since most anglers catch these fish by anchoring in one location or by casting from the shoreline, chumming has long been a popular method for drawing these fish in towards the hooked baits by the numbers. Most quality bait shops will carry clam chum and small chum pots during the flounder season. Add the chum to the pot with enough weight to hold it against the bottom and tie the pot line off to a boat cleat or to a fixed object on the shore.
Fishing with two rods will help you maximize your results. At least one bait should be cast behind the boat in the direction that the current is flowing so as to place your bait directly into the scent line created by the chum. As an option the second bait can be dropped directly over the side of the boat, putting it in close proximity to the chum pot itself.
Fortunately, for fisherman, winter flounder are generally found in very shallow areas, usually less than 15 feet deep during the early spring season. They tend to move into skinny estuarine areas to do their business and since their food sources are generally quite good as the spring waters warm, they stick around for while. Look for areas in and around tidal rivers that offer sand, gravel and mud bottoms in shallow water. Though they seem to prefer sand and stone many of the organisms they eat are found in the mud bottoms so try focusing on transition areas where the sand or gravel turn to mud.
For those who don’t care for chasing freshwater species, this is usually the first opportunity that saltwater anglers get to fish after a long winter. Most freezers have been depleted of fillets by February and there isn’t a more delicate or tasty fish to cure those wintertime blues than some fresh caught winter flounder. Enjoy!