April 27, 2023
Northeast Florida is most definitely not the best place in Florida to pursue the glamour species that made Florida fishing famous. We have few billfish and relatively few mahi— even our numerous tarpon are usually hooked in deep water instead of being stalked in crystal clear conditions.
After the days fishing is over, while the anglers at Cheeca Lodge are toasting their bonefish releases for the day, the fishermen 300 miles north are sitting down to their first plate of very fresh fried flounder filets. What Northeast Florida lacks in glamour species is more than made up for by enough flounder to keep our freezers stocked 365 days a year.
Yes, it’s helpful to have a boat, but it is far from mandatory. The Florida State Record of 20 lbs. 9 ounces came from the George Crady Bridge over Nassau Sound. In fact, we’re going to list the top ten places to catch flounder in Northeast Florida. They are not in any particular order, so let’s start with the very bridge that holds the record.
George Crady Bridge Fishing Pier
This was actually the original Nassau Sound Bridge, where the state record of 20 lbs. 9 oz. It is now a long pier that has no auto traffic, and that makes it a perfect place if you have the family with you. It’s one of my favorites because for hundreds of yards around the barnacle-encrusted pilings, is nothing but sand.
In my opinion, if you can find the many encrusted pilings of a place like Nassau Sound, without much other structure close by, it’s a perfect place for flounder to congregate. My preferred method is to drag a small finger mullet on a fishfinder rig around each piling. Make sure you have a bridge net to help you get a fat one up on the bridge.
South Side of Jetties
This is largely a spring fishery. When small porgies come up the beach in late April, flounder will stack along the ocean side of the south jetty. This is poagie on a fishfinder rig country, and dragging it close to the rocks when the water is clear will pay off.
The Saint Johns River Ferry joins Jacksonville and the road to Amelia Island. The ferry pulls in and out of each slip every 30 minutes. Each in and out stirs up the bottom all around the slips. Dragging a mullet on the down current side of the slip has fed Northeast Florida fishermen for generations.
Docks of Heckscher Drive
Yes, I’m committing flounder suicide for talking about these docks, being as one of them is mine, but once the first northeaster of fall shows up, flounder will stack around the docks on Fort George Island. When the tide is falling hard, they can be difficult to fish, so pick the turns of the tide for best results. Dropping a ¼ oz jig with a mud minnow will score plenty of legal fish, and the monsters of fall will be there in October to eat a mullet on a fishfinder rig.
Flats of Dunn Creek
Now we’re switching to a different kind of structure. Dunn, Clapboard and Browns Creek are all full of flats and oyster mounds. The bottom is muddy, and as any gigger will tell you flounder would rather lay on mud than hard sand. The areas that the flounder will be scattered in are massive.
This type of fishing requires lots of casts, and I’ve found that throwing a 1/4 oz. spinnerbait with a scented tail is the best method of finding scattered flatties. Roll it slow, and stay in touch with the bottom.
The Little Jetties are the area where the Saint Johns River intersects the Intracoastal Waterway. The “jetties” have actually been removed, but the shoreline is lined by rocks for over a mile. That’s a mile of structure and if the weather lets you get close enough to them, fish parallel to the structure with either a spinnerbait or a jig head and mud minnow.
If I had one place to catch a flounder I would choose the massive flats of Mill Cove. It’s miles of flats with grass islands everywhere. This is “Throw and Go” country so you know I’ll be throwing a gold spinnerbait, with a scented tail, or if I’m getting hung up too much, a plain jig head with a scented tail.
The Downtown Bridges
This is a tough fishery. The water is deep, and moves fast. It’s almost impossible to fish around the pilings, with anything less than a flat jig, with a skinny tail. The flounder aren’t many, but the size can be very impressive.
Downtown Sea Walls
This is prime country for a cheap jig head, with a mud minnow or scented tail. Almost every sea wall has rubble under it, so you’ll go through lots of tackle. You will also catch lots of flounder in the spring and fall.
The docks of Ortega, and beyond
I have learned over the last few years, that flounder go much further up the Saint Johns River than I ever thought. I have never fished Lake George for them, but stories of flat fish in the “Croaker Hole” have slowly leaked out over the years. The truth is, whereas shrimp are difficult to fish for flounder (because of pinfish, etc.) they follow the shrimp run.
Fishing docks is different than fishing from a boat. If the current isn’t too strong just drop your bait to the bottom, and S-L-O-W-L-Y start walking down the dock. I will tell you one thing of which I am certain. Almost every new flounder fisherman fishes way too fast. During the end of the fall run, when the biggest fish of the year start toward the ocean, I will fish a 5 “ jig tail at a pace only an old-time worm fisherman could appreciate.
When you pull a live mullet on a fishfinder rig, keep your leader no longer than 10” long. You don’t want your mullet’s instinct to swim on top of the water to swim over the flounder. Your best method is to drag him the length of the leader, then stop and let the mullet swim around your 1 oz weight. After he’s covered that piece of bottom, drag him another 10 inches. Eventually, you’ll feel a “pop”. If it stays in one place, it’s probably a flounder. If it runs a few feet and then lays down, it’s probably a flounder. If it keeps going, it’s probably a red or jack. If you think it’s a flounder, let him lay for 30-45 seconds, or as long as you can stand. Then hit him as hard as your tackle will allow. I also slip a rubber bead onto the bend of my mullet hook. It keeps the flounder from getting the hook turned around, and back in the mullet.
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