- Black sea bass have dangerously sharp spines on their dorsal fin that can puncture human skin.
- The all-tackle world record for black sea bass is 9 pounds, 8 ounces.
- When hooked in deep water and brought quickly to the surface, a black sea bass will often regurgitate its stomach contents.
It was nearly dinnertime and the kitchen was filled with the wonderful aroma of fried fish. Several plump flounder fillets were gently sizzling in the skillet. They were succulent, flaky and coated with a fine crust of golden brown bread crumbs.
Anticipating a simple, tasty meal I savored the moment and the aroma while reflecting on how it came about.
Early that morning while drifting in my aluminum boat, I felt the incoming tide flow against its sides. As my rig rolled along the river bottom I gave it several good bounces as it passed across the channel and into the flat. The rig was dragging across the smooth bottom when the first strike occurred. A steady pull, like a snag, then WHAM, a rod-snapping strike as I set the hook and felt the sharp tug of a flounder cupping its body against my efforts with rod and reel. The flatfish was brought to net after a good tussle, as were several others that followed, and with a limit on board, I headed for the ramp.
Actually there are a number of flatfish species referred to as flounder, with the winter flounder (Pseudopleuronectes americanus) and the summer flounder (Paralichthys denatus), also called “fluke,” ranking as the most important to marine anglers on the mid-Atlantic coast.
Flounders are one of the most unique looking of fish found off the coast of North America, with one side a darker color (and containing both eyes) while the other side is white. They also have a flattened body and swim with one side upwards.
Although larger winter flounders can be caught in ocean waters, the primary fishery for this desirable table fish resides in estuaries, bays and tidal inlets. Most river flounders weigh under a pound and measure less than a foot in length. These flat-bodied bottom dwellers prefer water temperatures in the 40 to 50 degree F-plus range and are colored tan to blackish brown on one side and white on the other.
Like the summer flounder or fluke, both eyes of the winter flounder are on the dark side of the body, with a major difference being that the winter flounder's eyes are on the right side of the head while the fluke's eyes are offset to the left. Although the winter flounder lacks the pronounced spots of the fluke, the species can easily be differentiated by looking at the mouth. The winter flounder has a small, rubbery, sucker-type mouth while the summer flounder has a bony, hinged jaw with sharp teeth.
Winter flounders feed on tiny forms of marine life and can be caught from boat, bank, bulkhead or dock using small baits and light or ultralight tackle. Terminal tackle usually consists of size 8, 9 or 10 long or short Chestertown hooks, a leader up to 10 inches, a small three-way swivel and a bank or dipsey sinker. Two-hook rigs and weighted, wire spreaders are also popular. Although blood or sandworm baits less than 3 inches long are favorites, pieces of clams, mussels and kernel corn also work.
Chumming can help bring flounders to your bait. Experienced flounder anglers will anchor fore and aft and put out a rich chum of crushed clams, mussels, or a commercially prepared chum log, in a lead and wire chum pot, or mesh onion sack secured to the boat with a line. The chum holder should be sunk just upstream, or under the boat so its contents can be slowly released into the area to be fished. Flounders are curious critters and will investigate disturbances that stir up food. Scraping the river bottom with an anchor, pole or other object will often bring them into the immediate fishing area as will the old reliable technique of bouncing the sinker at regular intervals.
Some baymen believe that flounders are attracted to the color yellow and paint their sinkers accordingly, in addition to using corn beads on their leaders and chumming or baiting with canned corn.
Flounder behavior and flounder fishing action have a lot to do with weather and temperature changes, with the fish feeding more actively in warmer water. Historically, winter flounder angling improves with sustained periods of warm, calm weather and suffers temporary setbacks during the cold, stormy periods that are common during the winter flounder season, which usually begins in March and runs through May. Traditionally, the season reopens in September and continues through December.
On a warm, sunny day shallow water warms quickly and the fishing will be predictably hot in river flats. Cold runoff from rain and melting snow will lower the temperature of river water causing the fish to feed less actively, and under these conditions the fishing may be better on the incoming tide as warmer ocean water moves in. In this case a knowledgeable angler will fish just ahead, or upstream of, the leading edge of the incoming tide.
If the river water is warmer than the ocean, an incoming tide could bring a halt to the action as the cold water rushes in, and then the fishing would be better on a falling or low tide. Another timing technique involves fishing the last 1 hours of either tide high or low tide and continuing through slack tide and 1 hours into the next tide.
Summer Flounder (Fluke)
A collection of assorted sized fluke caught off the coast of New Jersey. The other fish is a croaker by-catch, which helps demonstrate the size of the fluke.
When it comes to a good fight and great table qualities, the summer flounder, or fluke, picks up where the winter flounder leaves off. Larger in size and somewhat milder in taste than the winter flounder, the fluke is regarded by many as the finest table fish available to the saltwater angler.
Not only is the fluke relatively easy to fillet and prepare for the pan or broiler, but its tackle-pounding attributes have helped to make it one the most sought after of all marine fish in the mid-Atlantic area.
The primary range of the fluke extends from Nova Scotia to Florida with the greatest concentrations living in the waters between southern New England and North Carolina.
Fluke fishing is especially popular in the New York Bight, where keepers are highly prized.
These summer flounders inhabit the estuaries and inshore ocean waters during the warm months and move to deeper offshore haunts in the fall and winter. The fish can be taken from May through October, with boat fishing in the rivers a best bet during the early part of the season and the ocean providing better action from mid-summer through early fall.
Although anglers hook large numbers of fluke in the 1- to 3-pound size range, the most desirable specimens weigh between 4 and 6 pounds, with even larger "doormats" ranging from 7 to over 20 pounds. A fluke measuring 15 inches will most likely be about 3 years old and tip the scales at 1 or 2 pounds.
The most popular methods of fluke angling involve bottom fishing with bait; from a drifting boat in river, bay or ocean waters; and surf-casting. The predator-like fluke prefers to lie partly buried on a sandy ocean floor or river bottom, striking out at minnows, marine worms and other prey that make up its diet.
Strip baits with a fluttering action such as live killies, squid, spearing, clams and sand eels work well on fluke, with the squid strip and killie combo topping the list. A strip of bait impaled on a - to 3/8-ounce bucktail jig will also take fluke. Keeping the bait moving is a key factor in fluke fishing as it encourages the fish to strike as they lie in ambush.
Fluke not only put up a pretty good fight but are also known for being good table fare.
Although stronger, modern monofilament lines have encouraged many fluke anglers to fish with lighter tackle, a 5- to 7-foot rod (longer for surf work) with plenty of backbone plus a sensitive tip, and a conventional or spinning reel loaded with 10- to 20-pound-test line is recommended. Terminal tackle variations are numerous and usually start with a No. 3 or 4 three-way swivel, a sinker heavy enough to just hold bottom and a leader between 10 and 20-pound test, ranging in length from 36 to 48 inches. Some fishermen favor high-low rigs using a bait hook and a jig.
Large hooks in sizes 3/0 to 6/0 work well and help reduce mortality, due to swallowing, in the smaller throwbacks. Size 3/0 beak or O'Shaughnessy and 3/0 wide gap English style are favorites.
Fluke feed actively when the water temperature is in the 50 to 60 degree F range and on the rise. In the rivers they can be found in the channels at low tide, and along the channel banks and in the flats as the tide comes up. An incoming tide brings fresh water, food and sometimes increased angling success.
The drop back technique has long been favored for catching fluke when drift fishing a river. Here, when a fluke first taps, the rod tip is lowered allowing the fish to take the bait with almost no resistance for a second or two. Then the rod is lifted sharply and the hook is set with a tight line.
The winter and summer flounder fisheries are subject to stringent regulations that change from year to year, and anglers should become familiar with the latest season dates and limits before going fishing.