It’s flounder time once again in Georgia coastal waters. The warmer water has enticed the doormats from their winter retreats on offshore reefs and wrecks. They have made their way back into the estuaries, the creeks and the passes, and they can be caught all along the Georgia coast this month.
Flounder tend to be different than other saltwater fish in more than their physical shape. While reds and sea-trout will school and feed on a particular tide in a particular cut, flounder break out of this mold. They move with the tides, always searching for food. While they generally do not school, they can be found in good numbers wherever the baitfish are plentiful. Find the baitfish—finger mullet, mud minnows (mummichogs) and shrimp—and you will likely find the flounder.
We fished in mid May, looking for flounder on the Georgia coast. We stopped and put baits in the water at a number of locations. The old saying goes: “Flounder are where you find them.” What follows is where we looked, and what we found.
We launched at the South Newport River public ramp on the Barbour Island River. This location is a bit inland from our normal fishing areas, but we launched here to be able to hit as many flatfish holes as possible. As we said, flounder are where you find them. And knowing where you are likely to find them can make all the difference.
In general, flounder can be found on a sand or mud bottom up and down the entire Georgia coastal estuary. More specifically, they tend to sit on the bottom, cover themselves with the surrounding sand or mud and await a passing meal. Which particular bottom they choose depends solely on the food supply. If there is no flounder food (pronounced “baitfish”) in the area, the chances of a flounder being there are slim and none.
So, our first priority on this trip was to try and locate a school or two of baitfish. As we headed south from the ramp, the west side of the river was an almost endless array of small creeks and run-outs coming off the salt marsh. We spent some time just idling along and watching the water for any sign of bait: a school of finger mullet; mud minnows in the shallows; or, glass minnows showering, afraid of their own shadow.
We were here on a high outgoing tide, and water was running off the marsh and into the creeks and the river. Because the Georgia coast has tides as much as 8 feet difference in depth from high to low, most of these marshes will be void of water at low tide. The baitfish that spent the incoming and high tide feeding in the marsh have no choice but to come off the flats and into the creek or river.
We saw a small school of glass minnows right at the mouth of a small run-out. You could see their telltale, shimmering, surface wake. As they rolled out of the run-out, they hugged the edge of the bank and moved along with the current. About 5 feet down from that run-out, the entire school came out of the water—what we call showering—because something under them spooked them. Some of the minnows ended up flipping around on the mud bank until they made it back into the water.
We had mud minnows and live shrimp for bait and a cast net to catch any finger mullet we happened upon. We had rigged our spinning outfits with a 20-lb. fluorocarbon leader tied to a 1/4-oz. jig head. We used a live shrimp on one rod and a mud minnow on the other. If the current got too strong, we switched to a 3/8- or 1/2-oz. jig head, using only as much weight as we needed to get our bait to the bottom.
We made a cast with a mud minnow to the mouth of that first run-out. Then we slowly moved the jig head along the bottom, letting the current move it as well. Two casts later in the same general spot produced our first flounder of the day. It was a small one, only about 10 inches long.
A little farther down the river an opening into the marsh was the mouth of a larger creek. There was enough water under the boat to move into this creek because the tide was still fairly high. We used the trolling motor to quietly get us into the creek. This creek had numerous run-outs emptying the marsh water, and we hit each one of them as we slowly moved back in the creek.
Areas like this are ideal for smaller boats. While we could get back to most of the marsh in our 20-foot bay boat, a smaller boat could have gone places that we could not get to. Kayaks work well in this type of environment.
Our boat has a trolling motor and a Power-Pole. These two extras, while not really necessary, make this type of fishing easier. As we approached a likely casting spot, we simply pushed the remote button and the Power-Pole descended and stopped us cold. After a few casts, we simply raised the pole and continued with the trolling motor.
Smaller boats without these amenities are fine, and you can catch your flounder just like we did. We catch a lot of flounder in our 14-foot jonboat. We take the non-electric, manual Power-Pole with us in the jonboat. It’s a 2-inch diameter, 14-foot, wooden dowel with one end sharpened to a point. Rather than drop and pull an anchor, we just push the pole into the bottom and loop a bow or stern line around it. When we finish fishing one spot, we pull the pole and let the current take us.
We moved along with the outgoing tide, hitting all of the creek mouths and run-outs we could see. The baitfish were fairly scarce, and that meant the flounder would be scarce as well. In this first network of marsh creeks, we caught three flounder and one jack crevalle.
We continued fishing the run-outs and creek mouths as we moved out the Barbour Island River. As the tide moved out, the mud banks began showing along the edge of the river. Don’t overlook a stretch of river bank that has no run-outs. When the baitfish come into the river off the marsh, they tend to hug the edge, staying close to the bank. The shallower water gives them a sense of safety.
Flounder will sit close to the edges and wait for a meal. They are purely ambush feeders, hidden on the bottom, up close to the river or creek bank, or sitting just off the mouth of a run-out.
We did not see any finger mullet schools on this trip, so the cast net stayed in the bucket. What we did see in some locations was an oyster bed beginning to show as the water dropped. This is an ideal place to fish. The baitfish feed all over the oysters, and the flounder will position themselves in the mud right up close to the edge of the oyster bed.
We fished our way down the river to the opening to Sapelo Sound. Crossing the sound southward, we headed for Blackbeard Creek. This creek actually cuts right through Sapelo Island and creates Blackbeard Island on the north end. A number of local anglers use the creek to access the ocean south of Sapelo Sound.
This creek is another ideal location for flounder. There are numerous small creeks and run-outs that can hold fish. It meanders left and right and ends up cutting through to the beach and ocean.
We began fishing, using our trolling motor and working the edges of the creek. Several other boats were in the creek, all of them anchored and fishing more in the middle of the creek. While it’s not impossible to catch a flounder this way, you are more likely to catch a redfish, a black drum or a seatrout from the middle portion of the creek.
We fished the edges and creek mouths almost all the way to the ocean, catching three more legal flounder (12-inch minimum). The mud edges all along Blackbeard Creek on both sides can hold flounder, but only if the baitfish are present.
We like fishing for flounder in Blackbeard. It runs from the sound to the ocean and is an ideal path for baitfish to follow into and out of the estuaries. If baitfish are in the area, they will be moving in Blackbeard, and the flounder should be under them.
We particularly liked fishing the white sandy shore in the creek close to the mouth. The east bank of the creek comes very close to the ocean with only a small narrow strip of sand and brush separating the creek for the ocean. It’s a gentle outside curve on the creek, and the current washes right around the curve. It’s a really good place to find flounder. While they do not school per se, they can be found in good numbers if an area is really suited to them, and the food is present. This sandy curve has produced many flounder for us over the years. It was no different the day we fished.
This is a spot where we actually anchored the boat. The tide was running out, so we anchored in the deeper part of the creek within casting distance to the sandy beach.
We used up our mud minnows and most of our shrimp in this location. A school of short redfish—puppy drum—had found this spot to be just right for their own food. While we caught a number of flounder here, we also caught 10- and 12-inch reds one after another.
There are parts of Blackbeard Creek that will be high and dry on a low tide. You will need to pay attention and watch the water level. Always leave yourself enough time and water to get out to the sound before dead low tide. Otherwise you will be stuck in the creek for a few hours waiting on the water to return.
We fished the outgoing tide on this trip. We fished from dead high tide for about four hours and then pulled out of Blackbeard. While we chose the outgoing tide, you should be aware that you can catch just as many flounder on an incoming tide.
Staying in Barbour Island River or any of the other local creeks, you can fish for flounder as the tide begins to move in. The baitfish will be heading back into the marshes with the tide, and the flounder will be sitting at the entrances to the marsh waiting to ambush their dinner.
We fished in some spots where we have historically caught flounder, but, these spots have also produced zero fish for us in past trips. Why? The bait was not there; consequently, the flounder were not there either.
The entire Georgia coastal region is almost identical from Savannah to St. Marys. This golden estuary has so many “fishy” looking spots to fish that anglers can get frustrated. They wonder why they can’t get a bite when the spot they are fishing looks so good. In our experience, it’s almost always the bait. If there is no bait present, there will usually be no fish.
June is the last month of spring, the last month before it gets really hot. It is the ideal time to hunt for flounder up and down the inshore Georgia waters. Wherever you decide to look for flounder on the coast this month, always remember to look for signs of baitfish. As fishy as some spots look, it is often better to pass them up if the bait is not there.