Until recently, catching flounder in Tampa Bay was almost nonexistent. Valued for its flesh by restaurants and households alike, flounder struggled to survive. Years ago, if we were lucky enough to get a flounder on the hook, it was prized as much as a 40-inch snook.
Today, however, flounder have made a comeback and are common enough that they have become a targeted species.
Two species of flounder inhabit the bay area. The more common is the gulf flounder, which has three distinct dark spots on its back that distinguishes it from its cousin, the southern flounder.
Both species are found inshore on mud or sandy bottom areas, and nearshore around artificial or rocky reefs. The color pigmentation of its skin is dictated by the habitat. The darker the bottom, the darker the skin.
Even though the southern flounder Florida record is 20 pounds, 9 ounces, most flounder in our waters average just a couple of pounds. Males generally only grow up to 12 inches, females to 25 inches.
Flounder are truly a wonder of Mother Nature. Hatched with the typical eye on each side of the body, flat fish go through a metamorphosis early in life, the right eye migrating to the left side of the body. The flounder is one of the only fish that does not have an air bladder, which enables it to spend its life on the bottom.
One of the most exciting ways to harvest flounder is by spearing. Flounder is one fish that is legal in Florida to take by using a gig or spear. Most people who go spearing leave at night with high-powered lights mounted on the front of a small flat-bottom skiff. They comb the shallow grass and mud flats until their light picks one up. Hitting a flounder with a spear is not as easy as it sounds and takes practice.
Of course, flounder can also be harvested by hook and line. They're aggressive feeders and can be caught using a variety of natural baits as well as artificial bait.
When using live bait, rig a lightweight outfit with either 8-pound monofilament line or 10-pound braided line with a 20-inch piece of 15-pound fluorocarbon leader. Attach a No. 1 hook at the end of the leader and small 1/8-ounce split shot weight about a foot above the hook. That's all there is to it.
Some of the best natural baits are live shrimp, scaled sardines, threadfin hearing and pinfish. But flounder will attack most any small baitfish.
Artificials that hug the bottom are supreme. Light jigs work especially well. Recently, I interviewed an angler in the Pinellas Point area who caught more than 30 flounder on a jig using Haw River's glow shrimp tail.
Flounder will also come off the bottom to inhale small quarter-ounce gold spoons.
Even when using artificials, use the same outfit and terminal tackle as described above. Just tie on your favorite artificial instead of a live bait hook and forgo the split shot.
The daily bag limit for flounder is 10, and the minimum size limit is 12 inches. There are no closed seasons.
Rick Frazier runs Lucky Dawg Charters out of St. Petersburg and can be reached at (727) 510-4376. If you've had a great day fishing from land and want to share it with readers, contact the lubberline at (727) 893-8775 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.