Flounder And Fluke
By: Gary Buchannan
Posted On: 2009-01-24
The Flounder and Fluke belong to a family known as "flatfish" because they swim flat on their sides, horizontally, like swimming "doormats" as they are sometimes affectionately called. They're scrappy fighters and plentiful most of the year; you can catch Flounder off New England when it's so cold that icicles sprout from your fishing rod. They're a prized food delicacy, too. The "fillet of sole" you see on restaurant menus is usually our friend the Flounder. The true Sole, found only in Europe, and the Halibut are also members of the flatfish family which includes more than 500 species. The common Flounder of the Atlantic from Labrador to the Carolinas is technically called the Winter Flounder because he seems to enjoy icy waters. The larger Fluke, found from New England in summer to Texas, is technically the Summer Flounder. Along the Pacific Ocean from California to Alaska there's the Starry Flounder, so-called because he's covered with small star-shaped plates.
A baby flatfish starts life as a normal-looking fish—he swims upright, has an eye on each side of his head and a horizontal mouth below them. Then, as he grows, he undergoes an amazing transformation. One eye extends and moves down his face; the second eye gradually moves around his head to join the other eye on the same side; he flops over from a vertical to a horizontal swimming position—and he becomes a "flattie"—both eyes on top, a vertical mouth below them (horizontal before he turned on his side). His bottom side is bleached white and he's colored on the top side. What color ? Practically any because the flatfish can change his color scheme like a chameleon to match his environment. He can match yellow and brown patterns very quickly. Greens and blues take several months. Only reds seem too much for him. This is part of Nature's plan of protective coloration, and the Flounder supplements it with a few tricks of his own. To hide, he swims close to the bottom and stirs up the sand or silt by rapidly vibrating the fins which almost entirely encircle his flat pancake body. Then he lies on the bottom and lets the sand and silt settle over him. Only his strange eyes remain visible. But as soon as an unsuspecting crab or shrimp happens by, the sand comes to life, the Flounder darts out to seize his meal, then returns to hide once more.
There's another startling fact about the flatfish. There are right-sided ones (with their eyes on their right sides) and left-sided ones (with eyes on their left sides). This is the way to tell the difference between a Flounder (Winter Flounder) and a Fluke (Summer Flounder); the former is right-sided, the Fluke is left-sided. The Starry Flounder can be either. The European Sole is right-sided, as is the largest of the flatfish, the Halibut, which in the Atlantic can reach 700 pounds. Imagine what a "flattie" that size could do to your tackle! But you're not likely to be bothered by such giants close to shore. The Flounder that furnishes food and fun for Atlantic inshore anglers is a nice panfish size—from ½ to 1 pound. The Starry Flounder of the Pacific runs larger, from 2 to 5 pounds. The Atlantic Fluke is the largest of these three most popular angling species; he averages 5 pounds, with a world record of 20 pounds, 7 ounces.
Since the Flounder and Fluke are bottom feeders, hiding in the sand to pounce on their food, you must fish for them on the bottom, making your bait or its imitation move as naturally as possible. Sand-worms, bloodworms, small shrimp, killies (minnows), strips of squid, pieces of clam or crab—all are on the flatfish's menu. For Flounder, use very small hooks because this species has a tiny mouth. Fluke have mouths large enough to take No. 1 hooks, but since they also have tooth-studded jaws, use heavy nylon leaders, which they won't be able to chew through so easily. Any tackle from a drop line to rod-and-reel is suitable, although a light glass rod will furnish the most thrills, especially when a big Fluke runs off with your bait. Rig your line with a pyramid-type sinker at the end and three snelled hooks (hooks tied on short twisted nylon leaders, or snells) spaced above it about 2 feet apart. You can obtain your bait at any tackle store near the dock. Get an assortment of several kinds, then test a different one on each hook until you find which the fish are preferring. An incoming or high tide is best since the flatfish follow the current. Cast out as far as possible, let the baited hooks sink, then retrieve them in very slow jerks so they drag across the bottom in imitation of a crawling crab or grass shrimp or a feeding baitfish. If small fish or crabs steal your bait repeatedly, don't be discouraged! Throw a few handfuls into the water to make them happy. The more the merrier—and any feeding activity is sure to attract better and bigger fish.
Be sure to wash all tackle thoroughly in fresh water after use to get rid of the highly corrosive salt. Spinning tackle is recommended for all dock and bay fishing because it will cast your bait farther and enable you to explore more water until you find the fish. But in Flounder and Fluke fishing it has a special advantage few anglers know about— strangely, these fish will take various spinning lures even when they refuse natural bait! When nobody around you is getting any action, break out a spinning rig and tie on it a small, weighted, yellow, red or white feathered streamer. Add a touch of bait to the hook for realistic scent. Cast the streamer, let it lie on the bottom a second, then twitch the rod while you reel in slowly, so the streamer hops along like an excited shrimp. A Flounder or Fluke in ambush will hit it harder than any you'll ever catch on bait!