Fall is in the air and the fish are biting everywhere. The autumn months make fishing difficult for me, not because the fishing is slow (it’s not) but because I find it hard to choose one specific species of fish to target on any given day. We are so very fortunate here in Southwest Florida during the autumn months, because just about every game fish we have can be caught relatively easily.
Those of you who love to troll the nearshore Gulf (one of my favorite things to do) are in luck: Kingfish, gag grouper, Spanish mackerel and cobia are all out there for the taking. And just so you know, tripletail have already started to take up residence under some of the stone crab trap buoys just off our beaches (yum, yum).
You inshore guys also are seeing good times: Snook, trout, redfish, cobia, pompano, jacks and mackerel are all over the Harbor and willing to take just about anything you have to offer them.
With all these species out there and not enough time in a day to target them all, the question has to be, “What do I fish for today?” That’s the question I ask myself almost every day, and recently I have been answering that question with — wait for it — flounder.
Why flounder? The answer to that question is quite simple. First, this is the time of year we’re most likely to see some decent-sized ones. Second, they’re relatively easy to find and catch. Third, they taste great. And fourth, they are my wife’s favorite fish (which is actually my number-one reason for targeting them).
For most people, catching a flounder is an occasional pleasant surprise while targeting other species. Think of all the times you were beating the bushes for reds and snook and ended up with a nice flatfish on your line, or how many times you were targeting grouper and snapper and ended up with a flounder on the end of your hook.
If you haven’t caught more flounder while targeting these other species, you didn’t work your fishing spots hard enough. Flounder have a tendency to congregate in fairly small areas. They love to lie in sand in the potholes scattered across your favorite grass flat, under your favorite mangrove shoreline and around your favorite nearshore reef.
If you catch a flounder, you can bet your bottom dollar that there will be more (and usually quite a few more) in that same area. You need to really give those potholes a good beating. It’s worth the extra effort — not only do flounder look really cool, but as table fare they’re almost unmatched. Another reason to target them is the fight. For such a goofy-looking creature, they can really put a bend in your rod.
A flounder is not really a picky eater for the most part. I have caught them on shrimp and cut baits like squid, sardines, mullet and ladyfish. I have also taken them many times on artificial lures like the MirrOlure 17MR, Johnson silver spoons and Rapala X-Raps.
If you are planning a trip to target just flatties, let me give you a little tip. D.O.A makes a soft plastic shad tail under the moniker C.A.L., and it comes in many, many colors. I have been throwing these lures attached to quarter-ounce jigheads for as long as I can remember — and let me tell you, they catch everything.
For targeting flounder, you can’t go wrong with a pink C.A.L. on a red or white jighead. I’m not sure why, but flounder really love the pink tails. The white glow C.A.L.s are my second choice, but pink is the hot ticket for flounder fishing inshore and offshore.
For those of you who do not like throwing artificials a whole lot, load up your baitwell with finger-size pinfish and greenbacks. Flounder will eat shrimp and cutbait, but their regular diet is other fish. If you can get yourself a mess of mud minnows, even better yet. Flounder are aggressive predators of small fish, so if you are looking to take a bunch home then feed them baitfish.
Since they spend most of their time on the bottom, that’s where you ought to be fishing for them. Keeping your bait or lure on or just above the sand is important. Yes, they will sometimes chase a midwater or even topwater bait. No, that’s not how it usually works. Fish where they want to be, and you’ll probably catch more.
Flounder often have a subtle bite. It’s not like a redfish or snook that grabs and goes, or even a sheepshead that sometimes feels like a gentle nibble. When you hook a flounder, you may think you’ve just snagged some weeds on the bottom. They take the bait in their mouths and then just sit there. Many times they will hold on to it while you reel it up to clear the weeds off, then let go just as you get the fish boatside.
Try this: With natural baits or soft plastics, let the “snag” hold onto it for a slow 10 count. Then, set the hook. If it’s a fish, it should have the bait turned in its mouth bu then, allowing a good hookset. If it’s not — well, you have some grass or oysters to reel in. Either way, you’re developing a better sense of what a flounder bite does or does not feel like.
That takes some practice, but I say it’s worth the effort. Stop floundering around with all those other fish out there and see if you can catch a few flatties. Tight lines.
Capt. Mike Myers, owner and operator of Reelshark Charters, is a full-time Charlotte Harbor guide, and a co-host of Radio WaterLine every Saturday from 7 to 9 a.m. on KIX 92.9 FM. Having fished the waters all along the Southwest Florida coast for more than 40 years, he has the experience to put anglers on the fish they want. His specialties are sharks, tarpon and the nearshore Gulf waters. For more info, visit ReelShark.com or call Capt. Mike at 941-416-8047.