Dredge ‘em up with these bottom rigs.
Look close. You’ll notice them, despite their low-key attitudes, skillfully pitching baits into likely flounder haunts. For flatfish followers, nothing matches the thrill of dredging a hefty doormat off the bottom.
Veteran flounder fishermen know success depends on terminal rigging. There are many kinds of rigs used by the dedicated angler, but all retain one attribute: They get baits down to the bottom, where flounder chew. If a bait does not find bottom, chances are a flounder will never see it, much less inhale it.
Several factors deserve consideration when selecting flounder rigs. Water depth, current and bottom terrain are three significant variables. Bait size also plays a role. It takes more weight to drag larger baits, i.e., silver mullet, pinfish and croakers, to the depths. However, a fine line exists. Baits need to move freely across submerged terrain, not hold fast, overweighted, in one spot. Too much lead decreases strikes as much as using too little.
A simple and effective livebait flounder rig is the jighead. With various weights and hook sizes, jigheads make good everyday bait carriers. Simply pin your bait through the lips, toss it upcurrent and let the leadhead sink your livie into the zone. Nothing could be easier.
All types of jigheads do the job, but some do it better than others. I stick with leadheads equipped with light wire hooks. These thin-diameter hooks usually find something to grab between a flounder’s sharp dentures. Jighead color can spell the difference between banner and mediocre fishing. Brightly hued heads amplify flash. Chartreuse, red and orange are good choices. Opt for chartreuse in clear water. Go with red or orange in dark, tannin-stained or brackish water. The glitter-filled TerrorEyz jigheads from D.O.A. lures consistently entice flatfish when baited with mud minnows.
Jigs work best with smaller baits. Live shrimp, small finger mullet and mud minnows (killifish to y’all hailing from north of the Mason-Dixon line) make excellent jighead baits. For added attraction, try leaving the plastic tail on your jig in conjunction with live bait. Tails provide extra action and often invite a second shot if a flounder steals your livie. Mud minnows and chartreuse tails make perfect companions. This combo remains one of my favorites.
Baits pinned on leadheads offer distinct advantages for anglers pursuing flounder in slow current, shallow water and around oyster bars. Leadhead rigs allow constant, direct contact with the live bait. The slightest bait movements and subtle telltale flounder taps telegraph instantly up the line to the rodtip. Remember, when flounder fishing you must “feel” your bait to distinguish hits. Work leadhead flounder baits around docks, eddies and shoreline structure for best results.
Jighead baits do have some drawbacks. Perhaps the most disconcerting is a tendency for flounder to “taste” the lead and spit the hook before the set. This happens almost every time a flounder mouths a jig-fished bait for too long. They’re also tough to fish in strong current and depths over six feet. Once you need more than a 3/8-ounce jighead, it’s time to switch to a different rig.
Doormat chasin’, inlet fishermen normally employ standard, barrel sinker livebait rigs. This type of terminal tackle produces more fish in fast-water and deepwater situations in many Florida inlets and passes.
Flounder anglers are essentially inshore bottom bumpers. Often, inlet hotspots require from one to two ounces of lead to get baits down. This is where that old dependable standby–a standard fishfinder-style, livebait rig–outfishes everything else. Expert flatfish seekers bypass store-bought rigs, sporting needless hardware and steel leader. The best flounder rigs utilize mono leader and minimum paraphernalia. A more natural presentation is a must when targeting flounder weighing five pounds or more.
Do like the pros. Make your own fishfinder-style bottom rig. Start by threading an egg sinker onto the fishing line. Tie the line onto a sturdy barrel swivel. Size 7 barrels are a good choice. This size swivel is not overkill, yet it’s big enough not to slip through an egg sinker. Next, attach an 18-inch length of 20-pound leader to the swivel. Finish the rig with a livebait hook sized to fit your bait. Downsize your hooks for small baits; upsize for larger offerings. Use either a Palomar, improved clinch or Uni-knot for all connections on the fishfinder rig.
I’ve found this rig works in every type of flounder terrain provided it is not overweighted. When weighted correctly, the egg sinker and bait should roll along the bottom with the tide, maintaining steady contact with the bottom. A good rule of thumb is to use the lightest sinker necessary to reach the bottom.
While egg sinker rigs perform in most situations, it pays to vary the rig a bit in certain conditions. Bullet or worm sinkers provide a good alternative when using the fishfinder rig in shallow water or around rough terrain. Their streamlined shape allows you to snake the rig up, over and through scattered oyster clumps and shell bars.
Experiment with hook size and types. For smaller live baits such as shrimp and mud minnows, No. 4 or No. 6 Kahle hooks work great.
Remember that small hooks pack a big punch. Finger mullet require larger hooks. Offset bait hooks such as Diachi’s D87Z and Owner’s 5116 in sizes 2/0 and 3/0 are gaining popularity among the flounder league. VMC, Gamakatsu, Eagle Claw and Mustad manufacture similar models.
Expect to see more flounder fishermen switch to fluorocarbon leader. Most line companies now produce softer versions. They’re much easier to tie than the stiff varieties introduced several years ago. And the price keeps coming down, making it affordable for all anglers. Plus, there’s no denying the stealth factor offered by a nearly invisible fluorocarbon leader. FS
FS Classics: This article was originally published January 2000.