Fishing for winter flounder can be tons of fun. They may not present the challenge of steelhead fishing, or put up the kind of fight you can expect from a striped bass, but winter flounder fishing is a fun way to spend an afternoon at the beach or on the dock. Don’t let the name of these groundfish fool you either! Winter flounder can be found close to shore well into late spring and early summer, even if it is in lower numbers than the winter months.
Since they easier to catch than many other species, they’re a good choice to bring along kids, girlfriend (or boyfriend), spouse, or friend that doesn’t fish much. It’s one of the few species I can consistently convince my fiancee to come out and fish with me for, because we both know we are going to catch something! Let me share some winter flounder fishing tips with you to help you be successful in catching these often overlooked flatfish.
Winter flounder have extremely tiny mouths for their size, so the most effective winter flounder rigs will use a hook with a small hook gap. I most often fish for winter flounder using small home tied saltwater bucktail jigs (you can buy some smaller bucktail jigs if you want, but it’s much more fun to tie custom bucktail jigs yourself!) tipped with 1.5″ (4cm) Berkley Gulp Alive jigging grubs when fishing winter flounder.
Yellow, white, or chartreuse are all colours that produce well when fishing for winter flounder. Yellow or chartreuse is better used in off coloured water or on cloudy days. White is a good choice in clear water or on bright sunny days. Honestly though, these fish are not nearly as picky as many other species, your goal is basically to use a lure that will get noticed, be that by colour, sound, flash, scent, or any combination of these factors.
The small size of the bucktail jigs often means that they are not heavy enough on their own to stay deep enough for fishing winter flounder, unless you are fishing very shallow water close to shore. So I usually add an egg weight above the jig. Two brightly coloured lindy beads (yellow or chartreuse) are included between the egg weight and the bucktail jig.. The beads serve several purposes:
- They are yellow/chartreuse and shiny, attracting the attention of flounder. Flounder love bright colours!
- They create a small clicking noise when the rig is vertically jigged, piquing the interest of curious flounder.
- They help protect the terminal knot from being smashed and weakened by the heavy egg weight.
Even though additional weight is often needed, I do like to keep the rig as light as possible. Keeping the flounder rig light helps aid in detecting bites. The use of braided line will also help you feel when you have a bite, as braided line doesn’t stretch like mono or fluorocarbon does.
I actually tied my flounder bucktail jigs on jigheads intended for fly fishing. Wapsi jigheads in sizes 1/32, 1/16. and 1/8 are all good choices. I get the gold coloured ones if available, but it cab be fun to paint them yourself (like the bucktail jig pictured below)
You can fish this rig right of a dock or wharf. Just drop it directly in front of you and bounce it up and down. flounder sit on the bottom looking up, so you want to be bouncing the rig about a half foot to a foot above the bottom. There is an easy way to tell if you are fishing at the right depth, let the jig sink until the line goes slack, at this point you know you are on the bottom. Raise or reel in the line a half foot to a foot and now you are in the strike zone! You can continually check what depth your at by occasionally letting the lure hit the bottom to gauge the current water depth, useful when covering ground or when fishing in areas with fast changing tides.
Walk up and down the dock jigging the lure in this way, pausing every once in a while to give the sometimes slow striking flounder a chance to bite. It actually sometimes pays to stop in a location and bounce the jig for a minute or two. Often this will convince a flounder to strike that has been lazily following your jig, and wasn’t energetic enough to commit to actually striking at a moving jig.
You can also cast out and bounce the jig about a foot above the bottom as your retrieve it. You will cover more ground this way, but winter flounder are no were near as effective as catching a moving lure as their summer flounder relatives are, so take it slow.
A alternate method of winter flounder fishing is to use a hook with a long hook shank with a small hook gap such as the one pictured below. One of the best flounder fishing lures is a soft plastic Berkley shrimp, which fit perfectly on these long hooks. The Berkley shrimps also fit well on larger bucktail jigs for summer flounder, and as a bonus are also deadly for target sea run brook trout.
The problem with these long shanked hooks is that half the time the flounder swallow the bait, and it can be extremely difficult to remove the hook, which isn’t to big of a deal if you’re retaining the flounder, but makes successful release of undersized flounder that much more difficult. This is the primary reason I prefer to use a small bucktail jig for flounder, because they tend to hook in the lip of the flounder, rather than down it’s throat.
Regardless of how you fish for these groundfish, winter flounder makes excellent table fare! You can get four fillets off of them, two on each side. Fry them up in a frying pan with lemon or lemon based spices and they are delicious!