Flounder season is here, and the early run of fish in southeast Georgia has some flounder the size of doormats just waiting to be caught. The fish have migrated back inshore from their winter haunts to the sand around nearshore reefs and wrecks. Now is the time to cash in on some hard fighting and good-eating flatfish.
For a lot of anglers, flounder are an added bonus on a trip to find speckled seatrout or redfish. Although there are those anglers who specifically tar- get flounder, they are not numerous, and they are usually pretty secretive about their tactics and fishing spots.
We took a trip to southeast Georgia at the end of May to find some flounder. Normally, we target creek mouths and run outs on an out- going tide, and we do quite well filling out a limit of fish. The fish tend to position themselves at the mouth of these creeks and runoffs and wait for a meal to come off the flats and into their striking range.
We cast jigs with either screw tails or grubs or we cast live bait up into the creek and worked 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 out baits over the entire bottom area.
While the traditional creek-mouth tactic works, we looked on this trip for another tactic and another pattern that can produce some large flounder. We targeted the docks and pilings in and around the Cumberland Sound and Cumberland River.
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 cur- rent, lying in wait for an easy meal.
Tidal currents on the Georgia coast are substantial. The tide differ- ences here can be as much a five 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, 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 them- selves 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 the 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 along side 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.
If you anchor, make sure you stay away from the pilings. Y ou certainly do not want an anchor dragging right through the area you plan to fish.
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 I use is really simple and basic. Use a spinning rod or baitcasting reel with 10- to 15-lb. test line. I like to use a 20-lb. test, 12- to 18-inch, fluorocarbon leader. I tie the leader to my line using a surgeons knot. Tying your line directly to the leader avoids using a swivel and makes the presentation less obvious. Fluorocarbon has the same specific gravity as water, consequently it is almost invisible underwater. I like it better than plain monofilament leaders for that reason. I forgo the swivel, because the jig or bait I am using will not spin and twist my line. I don’t want anything that can be seen to distract the fish from my bait.
I use a jig with a screw-tail or swim-tail plastic. On this trip we used a Bass Assassin Saltwater grub in an electric chicken or white/pink color. These two-color combinations work well not only on flounder, but on speckled trout and redfish as well.
For natural bait, my all-time favorite is a small finger mullet. If I can find a school of finger mullet running the edge of an island or grassline, I use a small cast net and bring in my own bait. Ideally, they should be about four-inches long. If they are too large, the flounder may let them swim. Smaller is better than larg- er in this case. If the mullet won’t cooperate, I will opt for mud minnows; if they are in short supply, I will use live shrimp.
In all circumstances I use a plain jig head. I pour my own and don’t paint them — they seem to work every bit as well as painted jigs. The size of the jig depends on the current and depth of the water I am fishing. Shallower water means lighter jigs; deeper water means heavier jigs. I 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. I try to use as light a jig as possible — only what is required to get my bait down to the bottom.
I hook my live bait through the lips for mullet or mud minnows. For live shrimp, I 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. W ork 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 usually 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, then switch to another color and work them again. Often that switch will draw a strike.
We fished several areas in and around the Cumberland Sound and River on this trip. We caught at least one flounder in every location we stopped. You can do the same in these locations.
• No. 1: St. Marys City Docks
The docks here are on the outside edge of the river and consequently in deeper water. Some of these docks are old and numerous pilings are sitting there just waiting for a bait. Take care in this area because of boat traffic at the launch ramp. Currents can swing your boat in directions that put you in jeopardy of colliding with other vessels. This is true of the docked vessels as well. Make sure you work the pilings. There is a lot of bait in this area of the river, and flounder love to hang here waiting to feed. We actually caught three flounder here right after we launched the boat. We never even cranked the engine — just dropped the trolling motor and began casting.
• No. 2: The North River
Around the corner from the St Marys docks the North River runs in from the north. This creek borders the old paper mill, and docks and pilings in this are held flounder for us. Look for the largest pilings and the biggest eddies as you present your baits. An idle around the bend from the boat ramp put us in this creek. We fished the docks and seawall and picked up a couple more flounder.
• No. 3: Cumberland Island Docks
The west side of Cumberland Island has several docks that are used by island residents and the park ser- vice. All of these docks will hold flounder, usually on the outgoing tide. We fished all of them, casting up cur- rent and working our baits back with the current. We did manage two fish from all the docks, but boat traffic to and from the docks may have had the fish a little spooked. This is a good mid-week spot, when the boat traffic is down from the weekend.
• No. 4: Oldhouse Creek (N 30o 47.52 W 81o 28.12)
Following the Cumberland River north, Oldhouse Creek has a dock that produced one flounder for us on an electric-chicken jig. Like almost all the docks, this is a floating dock with pilings that allow the floating portion to rise and fall with the tide.
• No. 5: Brickhill River (N 30o 51.17 W 81o 28.02)
Follow the river as it runs in just north of Flood Island back to a private dock. Again, the pilings provide a home for a floating dock. Fish the pilings, not the floating dock.
• No. 6: Mumsford Creek (N 30o 52.42 W 81o 28.02)
Moving farther into the Brickhill River, Mumsford Creek takes off to the east and leads to another isolated dock with pilings.
• No. 7: Malkintooh Creek (N 30o 52.42 W 81o 26.37)
Malkintooh Creek is the next creek to the right past Mumsford off Brickhill River. Several bends back into the creek lead you to another isolated dock with more pilings.
• No. 8: Hawkins Creek (N 30o 54.13 W 81o 26.49)
This creek is on the right just before the north fork of Brickhill River joins back with the Cumberland River. This is a rather small creek compared to the others, but the pilings on this dock, which can be seen as you turn into the creek are ideal for holding flounder on an outgoing tide.
The creeks we have listed for you can all hold fish at any one point in time. It is important to remember that none of these docks will hold more than one or two flounder, and some of them may not have any flounder on a given day. That’s why we have arranged them in an order that can easily be fished.
Start at St Marys around the launch ramp, and plan to work your way north as the tide runs out. This is the type of fishing where timing is everything. Plan your trip to begin right at high tide, and fish the outgoing tide down to low. Be careful entering these creeks as the tide recedes. They will be shallow but will still be capable of holding fish.
As a word of advice, be kind to the dock owners. Those docks are their personal property, and they own the boats tied to them. Make sure you aren’t bouncing leadhead jigs off the sides of any boats that may be tied to the dock. Courtesy goes a long way!
This flounder method, while somewhat specialized, has a couple of advantages over other methods. First, you can almost rest assured that you will be the only boat in the area you are fishing. Second, you can expect to catch more than just flounder. We caught redfish and sheepshead in addi- tion to the flounder we found. All in all, it was a very successful trip that brought home some very nice flounder fillets.
Flounder will be available all summer long — give this method of fishing the dock piers a try on your next trip.