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A Primer In Flounder Fishing - July 18, 2011

Flounder have been a staple in the coastal bays fishery for decades, and over the years we have seen some pretty serious fluctuations in the number of flounder and the regulations placed on them.

Historically the flounder population did very well, and they were caught, kept and eaten at most sizes. But eventually the need for regulation set in. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was a record low in summer flounder populations. This led to the implementation of tighter regulations than the ones previously held on the fishery in the 1970s.

More recently these regulations, especially in the coastal bays, have been a hot-button issue with anglers because of the placement of strict size limits on the "keeper" flounder. In 1991, the federal government estimated the spawning stock-biomass of flounder to be down to 9,000 metric tons, about 14 percent of the target biomass. But as of 2008, the biomass level grew to 46,029 metric tons -- 77 percent of the target -- and we have seen almost a 500 percent increase in flounder populations due to the sacrifices anglers made in conforming to the regulations.

We still face some historically tight regulations. But compared to in 2010, when the legal size limits for a flounder in Maryland was 19 inches, a great fish in any decade, we see a lowered limit of 18 inches in 2011, which indicates loosening in regulation -- and a recovering population.

Throughout July and August, the Maryland Saltwater Sports fishermen’s Association's Atlantic Coast Chapter and Maryland Department of Natural Resources will be hitting the water in a partnership to survey the recreational catch of founder in the Isle of Wight and Sinepuxent bays. These surveys will provide key information about where and how the fish are being caught and will be used to compare catch rates against the Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistical Survey (MRFSS) and independent data.

Flounder play an important role in the coastal bays. Not only are they are premium game fish but they are also a great indicator of a healthy body of water. Flounder thrive in oxygen-rich water, and a lot of dissolved oxygen is a good sign of healthy water. Through these surveys the MSSA and DNR are hoping to see high numbers of flounder to indicate that not only the fish are doing well, but the watershed is too.

Flounder are generally caught by drifting bait along the bottom through the use of a bank sinker. A 1-ounce to 3-ounce weight will do in normal conditions. A combination of squid and shiner is the bait for most, but new artificial baits, particularly the Berkley GULP! 4-inch swimming mullets in pearl white have proven to be effective, especially when trolled slowly.

Our coastal bays are relatively shallow, and flounder like to stay in deeper water. Consider fishing the main channels as they are going to be the deepest part of the bay. Be on the lookout for deeper pockets in shallow areas. Flounder tend to ambush their prey as it moves into deeper water, so fishing the edge of a pocket or channel (shallow to deep) could be lucrative. They like moving bait so don't be afraid to let your boat drift. Always have a net; flounder are hard to get into the boat without one.

A rod about 6 feet in length with a light action tip is a good choice. It will enable the angler to feel the bite as it happens. Not much casting is needed with flounder fishing; a simple drop over the side will do just fine. It's important to make sure you feel the bottom as you drift and adjust your line accordingly. Flounder are visual feeders and rest in the sand, and they generally won't swim up to floating bait, but rather wait for it to cross over or in front of them. Be sure check your bait every so often, because the crabs are thieves!

We are going to see our biggest flounder in the spring, after they are returning from the ocean, and in the fall, after they have eaten all summer long. The limit this year is 18 inches and each angler is allowed three per day.

Zach Hall is an intern for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program

 


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