August was very hot, and September promises to be almost as hot. Lots of fishermen tend to stay at home during the late dog days. If they do, they will miss out on some fine saltwater action in the creeks and rivers on the Georgia coast. The baitfish are flooding the estuaries and are in virtually all the creeks. The foraging fish are right there with them. Flounder, specifically, are easy to catch this time of year if you have the right bait and the right tactics.
We took a trip to the Georgia coast one week in August to find some flounder. Normally, we target docks, creek mouths and run-outs on an outgoing tide, and we do quite well filling out a limit of fish. The fish tend to position themselves at the mouths of these creeks and run-offs or behind pilings while waiting for a meal to come off the grass and mud flats and into their striking range.
We cast jigs with either screw tails or grubs or live bait up into the creek and work them out and over the waiting flounder. Many times it takes several casts to garner a strike—the flounder won’t move too far to attack a bait. Consequently, we make numerous casts and work our baits over the entire bottom area.
Flounder, like a lot of other fish, really don’t like swimming in a heavy current. They prefer to sink right into the bottom sand or mud, out of the current, lying in wait for an easy meal. They will camouflage themselves in the sand or mud right at the entrance to a creek where they will be facing the mouth of the creek on an outgoing tide. They’re looking for a meal of baitfish coming off the mud and grass flats.
Tidal currents on the Georgia coast are substantial. The tide differences can be as much as 8 feet, and for that much water to move in and out in a six-hour period, the water has to move fast. It’s this fast water that we use to our advantage while we look for flounder.
Docks, pilings and piers, while few and somewhat far between along Georgia’s pristine estuarine coast, offer both an ambush point and a feeding point for flounder. Next time you go by a piling in the water, take notice of the current as the water moves past the piling. An eddy of sorts is formed on the back side of the piling, and the larger the piling, the larger the eddy.
Flounder will often position themselves on the down-current side of a piling and lie in wait on the bottom. Baitfish, shrimp, small crabs and other crustaceans that are being carried by the current tend to swirl and linger in the eddy just long enough for a flounder to have a good meal. It is these eddies that provide a great place to drop a bait.
Ideally, you want to position your boat so you can cast up current, beyond and alongside the piling or pier. Then allow the bait to go to the bottom as you work it past the piling at about the same speed as the current. Without a trolling motor, that will mean fishing from the bow of the boat, if you anchor.
Although fish can be caught on this pattern on either an incoming or an outgoing tide, you should plan to fish an outgoing tide. Natural bait coming off mud flats and oyster bars will move out with the tide, providing more food for the fish. Flounder seem to know this, and the bite is usually better on that outgoing tide.
The tackle we use is really simple and basic. Use spinning or baitcasting tackle with 10- to 15-lb. test monofilament line, or as we prefer, 40-lb. test braided line with a 12- to 18-inch fluorocarbon leader. We tie the leader to our line using a double surgeon’s knot. Tying your line directly to the leader avoids using a swivel and makes the presentation less obvious. However, when fishing with active, live bait—like a mud minnow—that will swim and can cause twist in your line, we do use a swivel.
The refractive index (RI), is a measure of the amount of light refraction a certain substance has; water has a 1.33 RI, while fluorocarbon has a 1.42 RI. Regular monofilament has a 1.62 RI. The higher the number the more light it reflects, meaning the easier it is to see. Fluorocarbon is close to the water RI, consequently it is almost invisible underwater. We like it better than plain monofilament leaders for that reason.
Again, we like braided line. We like the fact that you can feel a bite better when using braid. It transmits the subtle pickup of a flounder, when monofilament sometimes does not.
We like to use a jig with a screw tail or a swim-tail plastic. On this trip, we used a 4-inch Bass Assassin Saltwater Sea Shad in an electric chicken and white/pink colors. These two color combinations work well not only on flounder but on speckled trout and redfish, as well. They are our favorite plastic bait and our favorite color schemes.
For natural bait, we prefer a small finger mullet over almost all other baits. If we can find a school of finger mullet running the edge of an island or grassline, we use a small cast net and bring in our own bait. Ideally, they should be about 4 inches long. If they are too large, the flounder may let them swim. Smaller is better than larger in this case. If the mullet won’t cooperate, we will opt for mud minnows; if they are in short supply, we will use live shrimp.
We carry a minnow trap and a cast net in the boat on every trip. The trap is the standard barrel-shaped wire with an inverted funnel on each end. If the tide is approaching low ebb, we put the minnow trap where we see mud minnows. We crush up a small crab or shrimp in the trap for bait. In literally 10 minutes or less, you can have enough mud minnows to fish all day.
In all circumstances, we use a plain jig head. The size of the jig depends on the current and depth of the water we’re fishing. Shallower water means lighter jigs; deeper water means heavier jigs. We go from a 1/4-oz. jig on the small end of the scale to as heavy as 3/4-oz. on the heavy end. We try to use as light a jig as possible—only what is required to get my bait down to the bottom.
We hook our live bait through the lips for mullet or mud minnows. For live shrimp, we hook them in the last joint before the tail. This may look backward, but it mimics a swimming shrimp—they kick and swim backward.
The method here is to work each piling or piece of structure separately. Make several casts to each side of every piling. Work them with your baits and make sure your bait has come by the piling enough times for the fish to see it. You may work one side of a piling, and the flounder will let your bait go by. On the other side of the piling, he may nail that same bait.
Always work your baits or lures with the current. The fish want a natural presentation, and baits that swim up current for no apparent reason will often be ignored.
Be patient and allow the current to work for you. Fishing in a current with jigs can be very frustrating if you are trying to make the jig fight the current. Fish slowly and deliberately. Fish every piling, and then come back and fish them again. If you are using artificials, work the pilings with one color, and then switch to another color and work them again. Often that switch will draw a strike.
We fished out of Shellman Bluff and headed out to Sapelo Island on this trip. Heading out Sapelo Sound, Blackbeard Creek takes off on the south side of the sound. It twists and turns all the way to the ocean, providing the division between Sapelo Island and Blackbeard Island.
The tide was outgoing, so we were able to drift along most of the time, using the trolling motor only to keep the boat pointed in the right direction or to stop the boat at a creek mouth. Remember one cast to a creek mouth is not enough. You need to make several presentations in each creek mouth for flounder. You may miss one by 2 feet and never know he is there.
Several of the creeks that run into Blackbeard Creek have enough water to traverse and fish. We chose to stay in the main creek and work the mouth of each creek thoroughly. One of us fished with artificial baits, the others with live bait. It was a toss-up as to which bait worked best, but that is not always the case. The reason we fish with different baits is to find what the fish will eat that day. On this trip, they ate everything!
We made our way through Blackbeard Creek to the Marine Patrol dock next to Nelson Bluff. We stayed in the area of the dock and fished the pilings there, but there were no flounder to be had. We did manage to boat a short redfish, which we released.
Past the docks we fished the mud banks along the edge of the creek. As the water drops, the shallow parts of the mud banks will be completely out of the water. If you notice the mud banks, look for depressions that look like someone had tried to dig a shallow hole in the mud. These are flounder trails, places where a flounder buried itself in the sand and mud and created a depression. We go with the thought that if we don’t see any depressions, we may need to look elsewhere for flounder.
Just before you reach the ocean end of Blackbeard Creek, it runs very close to the sand dunes. You can hear the waves crashing just on the other side of the dunes. It’s a big, half circle, and the water shallows as you move toward the east shore. For some reason, we find flounder here almost every trip we make. Some trips the shallow water on the east side of the creek next to the dunes is covered up with flounder. On other trips, we catch one or two. But, we always catch something here.
On our most recent trip, we caught one flounder and several seatrout. And that brings up a point to remember. Just because we caught flounder in one location, does not mean the fish will be there every time we stop there. Flounder move with the tide and with the baitfish. You may catch flounder in a specific creek mouth one day, and they may not be there for several days.
The trick to catching a lot of flounder is to fish every location you can that could hold flounder. Look at a NOAA chart and identify the creek mouths and oyster beds where you might find a flounder. Then make your plan to fish each of these locations thoroughly.
The best tip we can offer is to watch the baitfish. If you are looking at a creek mouth and you see no activity, no mullet swimming by, no wading birds feeding and generally a dead looking mouth, plan to find the next spot. Flounder will be where the bait is. A creek mouth that has glass minnows showering out of the water or a nervous school of finger mullet is where you want to fish. This goes for every creek from Savannah to St. Marys.
You can currently keep 15 flounder per person in Georgia that are at least 12 inches long. We caught one limit of flounder, but almost all of them were right at the legal length limit, so we released most of them. But we caught fish, had a lot of action and took home some good eating filets.