I talked with several people throughout the southernmost part of our region who held similar stories of the ongoing flounder decline. Captain Johnny Patterson of Cocodrie Charters said, “Since the oil spill, flounder have been sparse. I’d love to say they are making a comeback, but we just haven’t seen it.” Capt. Johnny put a figure out that among six charter boats, they have only caught around a dozen or so flounder this year. The same sentiment is true when talking with Capt. Danny Wray of Calmwater Charters located in Grand Isle, La. Capt. Danny said, “Since the oil spill, flounder have been almost non-existent. I don’t even see headlights of people gigging any more down here.” He went on to say, “It isn’t just Louisiana. I do a lot of fishing around the Fairhope, Alabama area, and their flounder population has declined also; but there is an upside.” This year alone, Capt. Danny has already landed double the amount of flounder that he did in 2017; and while this number is small and not comparable to the numbers before the spill, it gives a little light to the future of the population.
I have to agree with both Capt. Johnny and Capt. Danny in regard to numbers. While the Delacroix area has never had the best flounder fishing, it wasn’t ever a surprise to catch one; but in recent years when one is caught, it’s talked about around the docks and on radio chatter for weeks. Heck, when my clients catch one, it gets babied at the cleaning table and deboned very carefully so when I’m done with it, it’s a perfect pocket of meat and skin without a bone in sight. And while our flounder numbers were never through the roof, I’ve caught more this year than in the last two years combined; but that’s still below the limit.
On the flip side of the controversial topic of flounder being in decline or not, it may also be a factor of actually targeting them. We usually catch flounder as a bycatch and never really target the fish, but there are some folks out there who do target them and have been having a great 2019, versus years past. Josh Thompson, President of the Bayou Coast Kayak Fishing Club, said in their recent tournament where a slam (red, trout, and flounder) is the goal, their members brought in over 50 flounder to the tables. Even this month alone, he and a group of four others brought in over 20 flounder in one morning fishing the back side of Grand Isle.
The big flounder run usually begins around October near our coastal outlets where the flat fish stage before swimming off to spawn in deeper waters; but spring and summer are not unusual times to find them along shallow flats near moving water that leads to our Gulf. And while I like to catch flounder on spinner bait and bouncing jigs with plastics, most captains I spoke with suggest a minnow on a short shank jighead bounced like a plastic worm for bass around structure and oysters on shallow flats. I’ve always taken the approach of looking for them around flooded grass points with a sandy or coffee-grounds type bottom, along with water moving through and around those grass points.
Many people think flounder are not a very aggressive fish, and they just eat what swims right in front of them and don’t like to work for their meals. I disagree, I’ve always felt that flounder are an aggressive species that will attack, and attack hard. I’ve even caught them on topwater when fishing the flats along the ship channels in Lake Charles while targeting trout. One key to catching flounder once you find where they are holding may be using a smaller hook size as their mouth isn’t exactly giant; but that’s not always the case. And don’t think just because you missed a flounder or lost a flounder at the net that they won’t come back and try to eat your lure again. Flounder are famed for being caught on the second and third cast after missing a lure or getting off at the net; and if that’s not an aggressive fish, I don’t know what is. From small beetle spins to the larger Hall’s HD Spinner bait to dead and live shrimp under a cork and Matrix Shad to Gulp, flounder eat them all.
While many anglers out there are not happy about past years’ decline of the flounder, it appears they are still here, and in abundance for some. They may not be as populated as they were before the oil spill, and they may not be roaming the same corridors as they were back then; but it appears if you are targeting flounder as your primary focus and not just a bycatch, they are out there to be caught. It’s an unfortunate event that our coastal waters have suffered a decline in flounder. I can remember fishing as a kid for bass, and we always came home with a box of flounder. I can remember days when we caught more flounder than redfish, while all we were targeting was largemouth. Flounder is top on the menu in my house as it tastes, looks, and cooks better than most fish we chase; and I hate that I have personally experienced the decline in their population over the years, yet I am excited about the prospect of what I am hearing from some out there who target them specifically. I welcome the day when the flounder bycatch numbers catch back up to what they were when I was kid, I am just not sure it’ll happen anytime soon.
Until next time, stay safe and Catch1
Capt. Casey Brunning