07/24/09 — Floating rigs needed to catch flounder

View Archive

Floating rigs needed to catch flounder

By Mike Marsh
Published in Sports on July 24, 2009 1:46 PM

The tide was so high even the shoreline grasses were inundated. The rising water had also obscured the flatfish attracting structure we knew was there. The change in water level required a change in tactics.

Flounder are the most highly-sought saltwater inshore gamefish. They are excellent eating with snow-white flesh and flavor so mild they have been called "fish for folks who don't like eating fish." When I head out for a day of fun fishing, flounder are always high on my menu.

Flounder feed on the bottom. They can't even look down with both eyes migrating to the topside of their flattened bodies during the larval stage. To catch them, fishermen use bottom rigs consisting of a swivel, leader and sliding egg sinker. The rig is called a Carolina rig or flounder rigs, but these rigs are not always the best to use under certain situations.

My son Justin and I were faced with one of the oddball situations. We had just purchased several new packs of Kahle flounder hooks following a shark spree the day before, fishing natural offshore ledges that cost us a couple dozen hooks. Now our new hooks were being "eaten" by an oyster bed.

A low-pressure system blanketed the coast which created tides higher than the astronomical high tides of a full moon. The flounder were likely right up in the edge of the grass feeding on shrimp and small minnows hiding better than unusual, and the oyster bed was in the way.

Reaching into the tackle box, I pulled out a Styrofoam clip-on float. Cutting the bottom rig away, I simply tied on a No. 4 treble hook and pinched on a split shot with pliers. Hooking a menhaden through the nose, I cast it at the edge of the grass bed. The menhaden swam along, keeping the hook from contacting the oyster shells.

"Are we fishing for trout now?" asked Justin. "If we are, I need a float rig, too. This flounder fishing is getting to be too much trouble. I have to retie my rig after every cast."

I handed him the rod as the minnow swam along the grass bed and began tying a float rig for another rod. We fished with the float rigs, which allowed our baits to tickle along just above the bottom in the perfect strike zone for flounder.

While fishing a bottom rig for flounder is an active event in its own way, with the bait reeled in slowly to keep the slack out of the line so the strike can be detected, fishing a float rig in current is more active. The current moves the float as the angler pays out or retrieves line. The line gets a big belly as the float holds its own against the current. Eventually, the line drags the float away from the bank as the current straightens the slack.

So we cast, allowed the floats to drift along the grass bed and above the oysters and watched them like an osprey eyeing a mullet. Take your eyes off the float for an instant and that's when it happens. There's a strike, you're not minding the rod and you've missed setting the hook.

"My rig's hung," said Justin. "Either that, or a flounder ate the bait."

The depth setting was perfect because we could still see the float in the dingy waters of the Cape Fear River. It wavered slightly in the current, six inches down. It was either held in place by an oyster shell or a flounder's jaws. Justin waited a full minute before the float began to move against the current flow.

He set the hook hard, and the rod bent and throbbed. Soon the first flounder of the day struggled in the landing net then pounded his tail on the boat deck. For catching flounder, a bottom rig works best most of the time. But sometimes the fish don't know that and will strike a bait suspended overhead.