Flounder fish are widely recognized as one of the more exciting saltwater species that anglers target along the world’s coastal areas. They are highly-prized due to their reputation for ferocious fighting and the fact that flounder are excellent table fare.
In this article, we’ll lay out a guide that explains what flounder fish are, as well as how to catch them using a few tried-and-true techniques.
What is a Flounder Fish?
Flounder are often referred to as fluke, doormat, and a host of other nicknames that have been given to these peculiar fish across different parts of the world where they are found. It’s hard to find a fish that’s more distinct than the flounder.
The strange appearance of flounder also accompany odd feeding habits as they are known to bury themselves down into the sand before waiting for an unsuspecting baitfish or other creature to wander overhead.
Flounder have both eyes set on one side of their body to aid them in this odd, but effective ambush tactic and their flat body shape also appears to be well-designed for this purpose. These fish are part of the Pleuronectidae family that includes halibut and various species of flounder that are found throughout the world.
What Types of Flounder Are There?
One of the most well-known flounder species among anglers in the United States is the gulf flounder. This fish derives its name from the fact that it’s found mostly in the Gulf of Mexico, which is well-suited for the large flounder population along its coastlines.
Gulf flounder are known to reach 12 inches when fully mature and the average weight of an adult specimen is roughly 2 to 3 pounds. Like most other flounder species, the Gulf flounder’s diet consists mostly of shrimp, small fish, small crustaceans and other prey.
These fish can be caught using artificial jigs or crankbaits, but will also bite various kinds of natural baits such as shrimp, minnows, finger mullet and others. Gulf flounder are considered to be among the better-tasting variety of flounder as it has a mild, sweet flavor and ideal flaky texture.
Southern flounder is very similar to gulf flounder in many ways, including their natural distribution range which consists of America’s southern Atlantic coastline. A typical southern flounder is usually a bit larger than most other species and often measures anywhere from 15 to 18 inches when fully grown.
The southern flounder tends to spend most of its time in the brackish waters of rivers and tidal creeks that join the sea. When the southern flounder is young, it will eat mostly invertebrates, but as it grows larger, it will begin to consume mostly shrimp and small bait fish.
You can catch southern flounder using a drop shot rig that’s baited with artificial or live shrimp or minnows. Southern flounder tend to have a flaky meat with mild flavor and is usually preferred to most other species of flatfish.
Starry founder is a slightly different type of flounder that’s found around the northern Pacific coast of North America all the way down to the California coastline. They are capable of growing considerably larger than most flounder and often reach a length of 3 feet while tipping the scales at 20 pounds.
The starry flounder typically live and search for prey at a much deeper depth than their Atlantic coast companions. They will bury themselves down into mud, sand, or gravel on the bottom and wait for their next meal like any other species of flounder.
The diet of the starry flounder is also a bit different as it generally eats worms, sand dollars, clams and other hard-shelled organisms. Many anglers catch starry flounder with sliding live bait rig with worms or shrimp.
They are described as having a mild flavor that’s more akin to tasting like shellfish than southern or gulf flounder.
Summer flounder (flukes) are known to live along the upper Atlantic coast of the United States and Canada. Although they live a short life, summer flounders will grow quickly and reach sizes of up to 2 feet while weighing 1 to 3 pounds on average.
They will stage on the bottom of estuary waters and wait for their prey like all other demersal fish, but summer flounder are also known to live in deep offshore waters as well. Juvenile specimens will eat small crustaceans and fish while full-grown summer flounder usually target almost anything that wanders overhead.
It’s not difficult to catch these opportunistic feeders and many anglers often use a drop shot rig that’s baited with live minnows, shrimp or other creatures to entice summer flounder to bite. It’s well-known that summer flounder, or flukes, possess a very similar taste when compared to flounder, but their texture is quite different and said to be a good fish for sushi or sashimi.
Windowpane flounder are known to live throughout the United States’s Atlantic coastline from Florida to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. They are relatively short and thin, only growing to about 10 or 12 inches and often weighing less than 1 pound.
They spend the cold winter months in deep water that’s anywhere from 150 to 250 feet deep, but will migrate into more shallow regions near the shore as the temperature warms. They like to stage on the bottom near structure or cover, both natural and man-made.
It’s rare for anglers to target windowpane flounder as their puny size makes them mostly unfit to bother with cleaning and cooking. Many anglers catch them by mistake when targeting other flounder species. They are known to be very tasty, but many anglers consider them unworthy of the time it takes for preparation and cooking due to their small size.
It’s common to find winter flounder all across North America’s eastern coastline. They are known to grow up to 2 feet in length and often weigh 4 or 5 pounds on average. Winter flounder are found in estuaries entering the Atlantic Ocean, as well as out along the ocean floor along the continental shelf.
The winter flounder has a diet that consists mainly of shrimp, clams, worms and small invertebrates. Since their diet is more limited than other flounder population found to the south, most anglers use bloodworms and sandworms to catch winter flounder. They are also highly-regarded for their flaky white meat and mild, sweet flavor.
How to Catch Flounder
Here are some useful tips for catching flounder.
Flounder on Bait
Natural bait is widely considered to be best for catching any flounder species. It’s important to consider the type of prey they are likely to target at the particular time of year you’re fishing.
Shrimp seems to be one of the favorite baits for experienced anglers as it can be fished using a variety of techniques and presentations to successfully catch flounder. You can make use of some of the more simple rigs like a Carolina rig or even free-lining your bait along the bottom.
Flounder with Lures and Flies
Artificial lures are sometimes just as productive as live bait, but it’s important to be fishing in the right locations when using them. Various imitation lures that resemble minnows, shrimp, crabs, and other flounder prey tend to work when rigged with sinkers that keep them just above the bottom.
It’s good to choose scented soft plastic lures and you should consider adding scents to hard lures like jerkbaits or crankbaits to increase your chances of getting a bite. Bucktail jigs are also exceptionally productive when used with light tackle.
Some anglers have success catching them on flies in shallow water, but this is much more challenging than using live bait or artificial lures. Fly fishing is often productive for catching flounder in the spring and summer, but they will retreat to their deepwater abodes once the cool fall weather causes the water temperature to drop.
How To Clean Flounder
Flounder are very lean fish compared to most other coastal species. It’s important to carefully take your time when cleaning them in order to get the most meat. Be sure to keep the flounder on ice for a few hours before cleaning as this will make it easier to make more precise cuts.
Make a diagonal cut just behind the fish’s pectoral fin while cutting down to the spine, then make another cut along the base of the tail.
Carefully slide your knife into the cut under the skin at the base of the tail with the blade facing outward from the spine.
Applying constant pressure to cut along the rib cage, cut away from the spine until you have fully cut through the skin.
Carefully slide your knife in at the base of the tail on the other side of the spine, having the knife blade facing the opposite direction as before. Cut until you have successfully removed the filet from the bones, then cut away the remaining skin to free the fillets.
Turn the fish over and repeat the process.
A simple, easy-to-follow video of this cleaning method can be found here.
Do Flounder have one eye or two?
Flounder are born with two eyes, but only one of them will be on the ‘top’ side of the fish. As the flounder grows and matures, the eye on the bottom side will gradually move until it sits next to the other eye on the fish’s top-facing side.
Are Flounder Found in Most Countries?
Yes, there are actually more than 700 different species of flat fish known to exist, especially where sandy ocean bottom is found. Some variation of flounder can be found in almost every country in the world. European flounder are very popular as is the flounder species found around the coast of Australia and Africa.
Are All Flounder Good To Eat?
Flounder are considered to be one of the best-tasting fish that also has near-perfect texture and meat quality. Certain species of Atlantic founder are said to be toxic due to contaminants in the water, however.
How can you Cook Them?
You can cook flounder using a variety of recipes. One of my favorite is a simple pan-fried flounder recipe, as well as this delicious baked garlic parmesan flounder recipe. There are many different ways to cook flounder, most of which produce excellent results when done carefully.
Final Thoughts on Flounder Fish
It’s easy to see why so many anglers love to target flounder as they are prevalent throughout most of the world and provide outstanding table fare. Using the information we’ve provided in this article, you should have a solid understanding of the different flounder species around North America, as well a show to catch them.