SOUTHERN FLOUNDER - Paralichthys lethostigma Family Bothidae, LEFTEYE FLOUNDERS
Description: body color brown, its shade
depending on color of bottom, with numerous spots and blotches;
strong canine-like teeth; caudal fin in shape of wedge,
its tip in the middle.
Similar fish: gulf flounder, P. albigutta (3 eye-like spots; color pattern is key to distinguishing the two species).
Where found: INSHORE on sandy or mud bottoms, often ranging into tidal creeks; occasionally caught on NEARSHORE rocky reefs.
Size: common to 3 or 4 pounds.
Remarks: hatches into usual fish form, but right eye migrates overt to left side early in life; a bottom dweller; thought to spawn offshore; feeds on crustaceans and small fishes.
Flounder are highly prized as both a food and game fish in the state. Adult southern flounder leave the bays during the fall for spawning in the Gulf of Mexico. The young fish along with the adults in the Gulf will re-enter the bays in the spring. The spring influx is gradual and does not occur with large concentrations that characterize the fall migration. Juvenile flounder feed mainly on crustaceans, but as they grow fish become more important in their diet. Flounder are considered “ambush predators.” Instead of actively pursuing their prey, they lie in wait in areas that are likely to concentrate or disorient small fish or shrimp. From their position on the bottom, Flounder pounce on their prey as they move by. Because of their feeding habits, large numbers of Flounder will concentrate in good ambush areas. Especially productive are current-swept points and channels that serve as choke points for tidal currents. Adult flounder enter shallow water at night where they lie, often partially buried, and wait for prey. Empty depressions where flounder have lain are called beds. Both artificial lures and natural baits can be used. Southern Flounder take live bait, jigs, or even spoons that are fished near the bottom. Because their mouth opens side-to-side, rather than vertically, small hooks will produce more hook-ups than large hooks. Over barren bottoms, worm jigs are often very effective. In heavily vegetated areas, shallow-running spoons and soft plastic jigs are best. Flounder do prefer live to dead bait. Live shrimp and mud minnows retrieved slowly along the bottom often produce excellent results.
Gigging is another method for taking flounder. Lanterns are used in searching for flounder at night. The angler wades quietly along the shallows looking for flounder. Once the flounder is within the light from the lantern, normally it will not move, affording the fisherman a chance to the fish. For this reason, you can often "track" a flounder. This means, as the flounder relocates with the tide, it will leave "tracks" as it shuffles along through the sand to stay in shallow water. You will see its "bedding spots" and can often follow the "tracks", which have a directional pattern, right to the flounder! During a falling tide trying farther offshore in water one to two feet deep or around offshore sandbars which can be more productive. Try to gig on dark nights as opposed to moonlit nights. This is because flounder can see better during a full moon. Stingrays also frequent the shallows at night. They are flat and can sometimes be mistaken for a flounder or stepped on by the unwary. The inexperienced flounder fisher should make certain of what he has gigged before retrieving it. If in doubt, simply hold the creature on the bottom until the water clears for identification.
Although flounder can be gigged in almost any portion of the shoreline, sometimes it is more productive to gig around jetties, oyster reefs or sandbars that extend from shore into the bay. Flounder do not swim continuously, so they tend to accumulate in such places in their search for food. During the spring, gigging anglers should work the edges of channels, such as the Intra-coastal Waterway, as the fish are moving back into the marsh areas from the gulf. Floundering may be best during the migration from January to August, but is productive all year in the Southern states. Multitudes of flounders can often be seen in and around the shallow areas during the migration periods, and giggers gliding through the shallows in a small boat will often gig their limit in a few hours. During the spring and summer the best catches with gigs are made in the back water areas. Spots with cord grass along the shoreline are good producers, and a bottom that is slightly silty or muddy generally is better than a hard sand bottom. The mouths of small bayous and sloughs often yield flounder. Since water clarity is very important to the success of any floundering trip, floundering should be done on calm nights with an in-coming tide. When gigging on windy nights, anglers should try to work small protected shorelines.