Pro Tips: How to catch everyone’s favorite bottom dweller

The mottled pattern of a flounder makes it practically disappear on the floor. Photo: Captain Will Gillikin

There is one particular fish that most shore anglers are keen on catching.

Is it a spectacular battler that delights with amazing acrobatics? no Does it run in huge schools and offer a natural spectacle? no Will it grow to huge sizes and fight so hard it could drag you into the water? Not even close. Does bringing home a big bag of fillets make people happy? Yes that’s it.

Of course we think of flounder. This rarely seen bottom dweller, who makes no fuss and offers no memorable antics or theatrics when hooked, is a fish that nonetheless provides hours of fishing fun and brings many people to the water. Why? It’s just the fact that people love to bring them home for a delicious fish meal. They can be prepared in countless ways, as simple or complicated as we can imagine, and always please.

With the season approaching, it seemed like a good idea to take a look at some effective ways to target those tasty flatties, how to cook them, bring them home, and of course good ways to get them on the table . I spoke to a few charter captains off the North Carolina coast who specialize in bringing these tasty critters on board to see what we could learn.

Captain Rick Patterson of Cape Crusader Charters in Morehead City specializes in coastal fishing. You’ll find him in the swamps, streams and sounds hunting for trout, red drum and of course flounder. Because of this, he does things a certain way. He finds that fishing around hard structures gets bites. Docks and oyster bars seem to be pretty popular flounder hangouts.

Most of the time he will be using a Carolina rig with a live finger mullet. Slide a sliding egg sinker onto your line that’s just heavy enough to reach the bottom at your depth and current. The real pros then place a sliding bead on the line and then tie on a swivel. The bead protects the knot you tie on the swivel from abrasion from the egg sinker. Next, attach about 2 feet of leader line. I’ve always used a 40lb test to protect myself from bites from bluefish and other toothy critters. Finally attach a hook.

Many people still use traditional style hooks such as B. O’Shaughnessy types, size 2/0 or 3/0. However, the better option for live bait fishing is a circle hook. These hooks end in the corner of the mouth and allow fish that are too small to be released safely. Run the fish with the bait then just get stuck. The hook finds its place and you have a fish on it. Capt. Rick adds that he catches a lot of flounder in his home areas using a live shrimp under a popping cork. A snapper is a float that you attach to your line in front of your bait. It floats on the surface and when you pull the rod tip with a sharp snap it makes a sound on the surface similar to the sound a shrimp makes when it jumps. This attracts all types of shore fish and works on flounder as well.

Captain Rick also says, “Docks are definitely a place to really catch a big fish off shore. My biggest flounders are all from docks.”

His favorite docks are the ones that have been around for a while. These have more growth, attract more small creatures, and in turn have more large creatures. He also prefers they have a bigger boat on a lift, which means deeper water at the end. Some good current is a plus and the best time to fish is at low tide. The fish will end up sitting at this deeper point. He starts his trolling motor and takes a few casts into the hole.

“Most of the time, when the fish are there, you’ll catch one on the first few casts,” he adds.

Katie Patterson from Newport shows a beautiful flounder.  Photo: Captain Rick Patterson
Katie Patterson from Newport shows a beautiful flounder. Photo: Captain Rick Patterson

Large flounder can also be caught offshore around reefs and wrecks. I asked Captain Will Gillikin of the Local Knowledge Charter in Atlantic Beach how to do it. He likes to use a Carolina rig but he changes things up a bit, he fishes a heavy main line and uses a 25lb hooklink so if he gets snagged he can easily break the hook without losing his rig, and connect a new one and be back in action.

“Ever since I was a kid growing up in Morehead City, flounder has been my favorite species,” he says.

Gillikin spent his summer days drift fishing in the waters between Morehead City’s waterfront and the Atlantic Beach Bridge. Now the artificial reefs and wrecks along our coast are his favorite spots. Flounder like to hang around the edges of structure, allowing fish to drift in these areas with a live finger mullet.

A little additional method that I and many others like to use is to bounce a 2 or 3 ounce buckettail jig onto the bottom with a soft plastic tail on the tip. Flounder will hit these after you lift him from below and he’ll sink back down. It is quite common to catch fish that are over 20 inches in length.

Back in the house…

Now for the reason we all go fishing for flounder: what do we do with them when we bring them home?

Fillet the fish as you like. If you’ve never done it, watch videos on the internet, there are about a million (seems like).

Place your fillets in a bowl and prepare three bowls and another bowl. In the first bowl some flour, in the second bowl lightly beaten eggs, in the third bowl breadcrumbs. Roll in flour, dip in egg, then in breadcrumbs. Go to a clean bowl.

I like to roast outside in a large cast iron casserole over the flame of a turkey fryer. Bring your oil to 375 degrees. Use a clinical thermometer. As you put the fish in, the temperature will drop, but then start to rise again. Maintain control of your heat source to keep it below 375.

Remove the fish when it’s literally golden brown. They will be cooked to perfection. Add kosher salt while still hot. Serve on a bun with homemade tartar sauce (mayonnaise, cucumber relish, some mustard) and a slice of cheese.

Or just eat it while it’s still sizzling.

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