Fall Flounder Fishing on the Texas Coast
Fall and flounder are virtually synonymous thanks to the legendary fall flounder run. This year, Texas anglers are anxiously anticipating this annual event much more than they have for nearly a decade due to higher than average catches of flatfish during the spring and summer months. Some attribute this increase to recent regulation changes by Texas Parks and Wildlife. Still others say Mother Nature has turned generous with flatfish numbers. Others still see this as a normal uptick in a population cycle. In any event this fall promises to be a memorable one for those seeking flatfish along the Texas coastal curve.
Port Mansfield guide Capt. Steve Ellis of Get-A-Way Adventures Lodge is a flounder fan and says he’s been extremely encouraged by the increased catches as of late.
“There are a lot more flounder in the Lower Laguna Madre than there used to be,” said Ellis. “We’re catching a lot more than we did a few of years. You still have to work out it and need to know when and where they are – but there are a whole lot more fish now than there were.
“The new (TPW) regulations have got to help. You know, we’re also catching a lot more big flounder. Most keeper flounder are female so letting them do their egg thing and give birth to all those little flounder (because of tighter regulations) has got to help. And, I think there is less trawling going on as well, which absolutely destroys young flounder populations. So, less trawling means more flounder.”
A little further to the south, Port Isabel guide Capt. Mike Mahl has been seeing the same increase in flounder catches.
“We don’t target flounder all year long, but we catch them all year while we’re fishing for trout and reds,” said Mahl. “And, we’ve been catching more over the last two or three years. It used to be a fluke if you got one in the Lower Laguna Madre, but now it’s pretty regular to catch them while fishing for reds and trout – we even catch some on topwaters on the shallow flats. In fact, some of the bigger flounder are caught on topwaters. And, bait fishermen are catching lots of them all year long. But, during the fall, we’ll actually target them.”
Another popular big trout destination has also begun establishing itself as a flounder fishery in recent years.
“There were more flounder in Baffin Bay this spring than I’ve seen in 10 years,” said Capt. Aubrey Black of Baffin Rod & Gun. “May was tremendous. And, it seems like it’s just been getting better. We’re actually targeting them again, which we hadn’t really done for years. As they start ganging up in the fall, we should have some really good flounder fishing.”
And, of course, that is what everyone is hoping for. As summer fades to fall, the biological clocks of flounder begin to tick louder. The mature fish group up and begin to funnel out of the bays in estuaries in mass migrations toward the Gulf to spawn. This happens, to varying degrees, in every bay system along the Gulf Coast.
“Our flounder will start staging, getting ready to run, in late September and early October,” said Sabine Lake guide Capt. Randy Foreman. “They don’t leave the lake until November, but they’ll be moving up (shallow) and feeding, getting themselves ready to go. So, we have good flounder fishing early in the fall, but flounder fishing will be really good during November. The fish will start migrating out to the Gulf the first two weeks of November.”
The Lower Texas Coast will also see increased flounder fishing action in the fall.
“Throughout most of the year, we’ll be catching flounder on the flats,” said Mahl. “But, flounder will start getting thick in little secondary channels during late summer and fall then they’ll start moving out later in the fall. Again, every single month we’re catching flounder, but they are much easier to target in the fall. You know if you catch one flounder in the fall, there are lot more around in that same area.”
“Yeah, fall is when they load up certain areas,” agreed Ellis. “They will get in shallower and shallower water on the shorelines and you can catch more of them quicker in the fall months. You also want to look for passes and bay drainage areas in the channels – little drain areas off the bankline. Remember, flounder love moving water on top of them. A lot of times they bury on bottom and won’t come out unless they are going to eat. So any are you can find with moving water will usually see more active flounder.
“Later in the fall they will group up around jetties. The first few northers will trigger the run – not necessarily the temperature, but the fronts will move a lot more water through those passes and trigger them to start moving.”
Galveston guide Capt. Greg Verm will also be looking for drainage areas when targeting fall flounder.
“We will be fishing all of the passes from drains that drain to bayous, bayous that drain to bays, and bays that drain to Gulf,” said Verm. “It is a staging game and process. You will find most of the flounder staging in front of these drains.”
Foreman says he’ll see a similar pattern in the fall on Sabine Lake.
“These fish will be staging on the points and eddies along the Louisiana shoreline and near the ship channel,” Foreman said. “They’ll be feeding on shrimp, mullet and pogies. A lot of people think flounder don’t like sand. But, when they are staging in the shallows, they’re there to feed and they will stage on sandy bottoms. I catch a lot of my flounder out of the sand holes along the edges. So, in the fall I’ll start setting up on points and cuts and sand flats. I’ll be keying on mullet and pinfish and looking for areas with good water flow. I’ll also fish the grass banks that drop into a deep trough and have good water flow. I’ll go along fishing all of the eddies that are formed by the current. Finding moving water is really the key.”
“They also like seawalls, piers, pilings – any structure like that,” added Ellis. “And, in the fall, they often hang at base of jetties in the surf. In the bay, they’ll move into sandy areas. Wand bars, any high spots that are sandy and have deep water around them – submerged spoils islands are something to look for – are really good. Also check out any rivers flowing into the bay.”
“Even in the fall, though, we’ll be catching flounder from the potholes,” Mahl stated. “Flounder love those sandy potholes and are known for just moving from hole to hole. When one flounder leaves a good hole, another just moves in. In fact, they’ll lay in the same stade as another flounder that was there before.
“When the water is lower, those channels and little secondary channels is where they’ll be. You can also find some good flounder on a flooded mud flat. Find a good flood tide with a good wind direction that has pushed stuff up against spoils banks and that’s where you’ll find those big giant flounder. Those bigger ones seem to like that 8 to 10 inches of water. They’ll be up there chasing bait just like a snook or trout would. In fact, those are the ones we usually catch on topwaters up against flooded mangrove edges and places like that.”
Regardless of the bay system they are fishing, all of the pros agree that speed and scent make a huge difference when fishing for flounder. Obviously lots of flatties will be taken on natural baits, but artificials work, too. However, tipping artificial or using scented lures such as Mister Twister Exude or Berkley GULP! up the odds. But, whatever they throw, fishermen need to work it slow to consistently catch flounder.
“Most of the time, we’ll be using live mullet ‘Carolina rigged,’” said Verm. “We’ll use some artificials, too, but the biggest fish always seem to come on mullet.”
“We’re usually throwing GULP! if we’re fishing for flounder – just dragging it real slow,” said Black.
“I like throwing Down South Southern Shad,” Foreman stated. “But, if I’m fishing for flounder, I’m going to tip my jig with something. I’ve used bits of dead shrimp, Fish Bites, ProCure Gel – there are lots of ways to do it, but adding scent to the lure really helps when flounder fishing.”
“I like GULP! or fish imitating plastics,” said Ellis. “They eat fish more than shrimp – especially big flounder. Plus, our shrimp population hasn’t been as good the last few years, so we are more likely to catch good flounder one baitfish imitation. And, you have better chance of them hanging on a little longer with scented bait.”
“I catch flounder on a lot of different baits,” said Mahl. “Really, the key seems to be slowing down the bait and letting sit in the potholes a little longer. If you do slow down your presentations going through the holes, you’ll almost guarantee you’ll catch them. A lot of times, I’ll use a tandem rig with ¼ ounce head on back and 1/16 ounce on top. I’ll have a jerkshad on top and GULP! Shrimp on bottom. Or, sometimes I put a mud minnow on botton and jerkshad on top and just work it real slow. That mud minnow is kind of swimming and making that jerkshad jiggle at same time.”
“Really, you have to fish like you’re on tranquilizers if you want to consistently catch flounder,” added Ellis. “It is a slow man’s game fishing for flounder. A lot of times, you have to cast to the same area time after time after time. A lit of times they don’t come out of bed unless it comes through there just right. They are not like these other species that swim around and chase down baits. You might have to cast four or five times on same retrieve line because you might not bounce it just right on first few casts. You have to be thorough and patient if you want to catch flounder.”