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Flounders - Louisiana's Fall Migration
Category: Fishing - Saltwater - Marsh
Date: 10/9/2003 1:00:00 PM
Written By: Roger Lee Brown - The Bass Coach

 Louisiana's Fall Migration
by Jeff Bruhl. RodnReel.com

To most anglers flounders are a bonus fish. Occasional flounders landed on casts for redfish and speckle trout are the rule for many Louisiana anglers. However, knowing a few key facts about flounder's changes these doormats from lucky catches to a sure thing.

Flounders make a great dinner presentation when stuffed. Besides being fun to catch, flounders are one of the best tasting fish found in Louisiana waters. Learning the biology, habitat, and tactics for catching these great sports fish will add numbers to your trips. Jerald Horst, Associate Professor at the LSU AgCenter, provided information about the biology of the flounder. The foundation of any game fishing is knowing as much about the fish you are trying to catch as possible. After my phone call to Professor Horst, I knew my understanding of the flounder was in need of some homework. The most interesting bit of knowledge was the migration of the Southern Flounder as it relates to the spawning and life cycle of the fish.

"The Southern Flounder is the most common species caught in Louisiana," starts Professor Horst, author of the RodNReel.com's Fish of the Gulf of Mexico. "The flounder weighs about three pounds on average but can grow as large as the world record of 20 pounds 9 ounces caught in Florida."

The fall migration or run of Louisiana flounders is due to the spawning period of late November to January, with the peak in offshore waters in December. The fall peak of flounders found in inshore waters is mid-October to mid-November, which is a direct correlation to the spawning period in December. Simple put, flounders move from inshore habitat to the offshore spawning ground during the fall.

"Flounder spawn in offshore waters," adds Professor Horst. "The fish stage near the Gulf of Mexico in the lower bays, lakes, and bayous when the first cool weather arrives in late September or October."

The inshore staging is a prime time to have a flounder stretch your line. Knowing a few more facts provided by LSU AgCenter professor will help you understand and catch more flounders.

"Male flounders have a life span of about three years and rarely grow larger than 14 inches," states Professor Horst. "After the first year of life, males live mostly in outside waters."

Females are the trophies of the species, growing as large as 3 feet in some areas of the country. The Louisiana Record is 13.06 lbs and was caught on a Charter Trip With Captain Jack Payne by Gary Hargis at the South Pass 12 mile Rigs on June 12, 1998.  The fish was caught on the bottom in over 300 feet of water. 

Since males live in offshore waters, females comprise the larger portion of catches. After the fall gathering, both sexes move to offshore waters to spawn. After the spawn, the females move back to the lower estuaries to start the yearly sequence over again. Studies have shown the late winter stage is the best seasons to catch trophy flounders because the females are migrating back to inshore waters to feed.

"Flounders migrate long distances, as much as 100 miles up the Mississippi River," continues Professor Horst. "After reaching their destination, flounders usually remain in the same bay system or area until it is time to repeat the spawning ritual in the fall."

Flounders are great predators. Perfectly camouflaged to lie on the bottom, the fish waits until the prey passes near the concealed spot. This is another key to catching flounder. Water movement is vital to the feeding habits of the flounder. This one characteristic makes points, cuts, and tidal flats prime location for flounders.

Most anglers know that Dudley Vanderborne is the king of big trout along the Highway 11 Bridge near Slidell, Louisiana. However, Dudley catches the October flounders found along the bridges of Lake Pontchartrain with the same ease and tactics as he does big trout.

"We call them summer and winter flounders," Dudley tells me with hint of excitement in his voice. "Winter Flounders usually show up in October and last until winter starts."

Summer flounders are the fish found in the marshes near the Rigolettes, which are caught from April until August. The Winter flounders hug the bridges during the fall and peak catches occur during late October. The flounders average about two pounds with some reaching five or six pounds. Dudley guides trips targeted at the migrating flounder during the fall. Despite the local names, the flounders exhibit the characteristics of the Southern Flounder.

"The west side of the bridge is often the best place to locate flounders during the fall," adds Dudley. "The main tactic is the one used for speckle trout. I use a Deadley Dudley near the bridges. Cocahoes and shrimp on a Carolina rig are another good way to catch flounders."

The marsh near Lake Borne and Lake Pontchartrain hold flounders on the numerous points and cuts along the Intercoastal water way. Dudley, who has a special line of Castaway Rods due out soon, searches these areas for the flat fish of fall during late October. Along with the abundance of flounders near the bridges, a limit of flounders fills the boat in a morning of fishing the marsh and bridges near Slidell.

Herman Solar is another Louisiana master that considers the flounder as bonus fish most of the time. Herman uses the knowledge of his many years of fishing and studying the waters of Louisiana to target flounders in the fall.

"I like an incoming tide on the flats of the Venice area near Southwest Pass," exclaims Herman, who conducts classes on fishing the Louisiana coast. "I fish in three to four feet of water near flats or points."

Herman uses a shrimp on a jig head and employees a dead stick tactic. After casting the bait onto the flats, let the bait rest on the bottom for about a minute.

"Most of the time you see the strike," add Herman. "Slowly lift the bait then allow it to rest on the bottom for awhile. When you lift the bait again, you will see the fish strike the bait. Set the hook hard and hold on."

Herman recalls how the fishing pressure on flounders increased when the trout and redfish harvest was closed. Recreational fishing pressure increased on the flounders at the same time when limits were placed on specks and reds. A statewide limit was needed on flounders because of the pressure placed on the species. Since most inshore species caught are females, it does not take long to decrease the number of flounders in the local waters.

"A fisherman can catch flounder around any point from Delacroix to Venice in the fall," continues Herman, soon to be the author of a new book about fishing tidal waters. "In the early winter the beaches along the coast are great places to look for flounders because these areas can be prime spawning grounds."

Captain Peace Marvel of Reel Peace Charters is well known guide for big offshore fish out of Venice, Louisiana. When the big winds of cold fronts make the gulf too rough for blue water fishing, Captain Peace uses the flounder as a light tackle trip.

"October and November are prime months for flounders in the passes of the Mississippi River," starts Peace who is widely known for his offshore trips. "Cuts, sand bars, and flats are great places to catch October's flounders."

The main rig used by Peace is a Carolina Rig. He places a rubber core Water Gremlin weight about 12- 18 inches above a hook with a live cocahoe. The rig is fished on 20-pound test line with a Shimano rod and Stella spinning reel. Slowly drag the rig over the area believed to hold flounders. Use firm hook sets when the flounder takes the bait. These fish have powerful mouths and a strong hook sets deliver the hook to the roof of the fish's mouth.

"Flounders average around two to three pounds during the fall run," adds Peace. "Bring plenty of cocahoes because the passes hold good numbers of fish."

Flounder fishing in Louisiana is simple and economical way to add fish to the table. Flounders can be stuffed or cooked whole. A flounder is easy to filet. Four nice filets are cut from a flounder. After the pieces are cleaned, batter and fry the fish like speckle trout. Flounders that are scraped free of scales, gutted, and deheaded are delicious broiled. There are as many ways to prepare flounders, as there are to catch them.

After interviewing all the participants of this article, several keys to understanding flounders were obvious. First, flounders are more likely to be caught during October and November due to their migration back to offshore waters. Searching points, cuts, and other coastal areas will yield good catches of flounders. Second, big flounders caught by inshore anglers are females. Remember this fact. The continuation of this sport is important so releasing a few flounders will help perpetuate the species. Finally, whatever tactic you chose, understanding the hows and whys of a species is very important in catching the species. Migration and spawning patterns dictate habits. Understanding a species habits is the key to catching that species.

When football season arrives and the leaves turn their beautiful colors, remember the flounder migration is not far away. After the first cold front passes the mouth of the Mississippi River, spend a fall day in the back estuaries of the Louisiana marsh in search of the flat fish known as the Southern Flounder.

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