FLOUN­DER ON THE RUN

HIT THE FALL MI­GRA­TION ALONG THE GULF COAST FOR THE FASTEST AC­TION OF THE YEAR

Saltwater Sportsman - - Flounder On The Run - BY ROBERT SLOAN

On the south end of Sabine Lake, on the Texas-louisiana bor­der, the mouth of a bayou cre­ates a con­veyor for floun­der where it emp­ties into the lake. They ride the in­com­ing tide into the bayou and feed on shrimp, mullet and shad. Then, as the tide turns and be­gins to move out, Capt. Jerry Norris is more than likely go­ing to be sit­ting at the mouth of this drain. “When the fall mi­gra­tion of floun­der be­gins, this is one place that I can hit day in and day out and fully ex­pect to reel in sev­eral of these tasty fish,” he says. “It’s ad­ja­cent to Blue Buck Point, where lots of floun­der stage be­fore leav­ing the bay and head­ing to the pass and into the Gulf of Mex­ico.”

Norris has been work­ing as a guide on Sabine Lake for over 30 years. He es­pe­cially likes to tar­get floun­der on the fall run.

“A lot of peo­ple think the floun­der is a mys­te­ri­ous fish and dif­fi­cult to find and catch,” he says. “Noth­ing could be fur­ther from the truth. You just need to know where they will feed on any given day. Through­out most of the sum­mer, they feed at the mouths of the drains on just about any bay. They will also hold along shal­low flats. They are ba­si­cally shal­lowwa­ter feed­ers. And like most other game fish, they feed best on mov­ing tides. It’s that sim­ple.”

As far as lures go, Norris says that in most sit­u­a­tions he opts

for a soft-plas­tic jig worked along bot­tom. He es­pe­cially likes swim­baits in red shad, glow char­treuse, and redand-white. The Yum Money Min­now is per­fect.

“A swim­bait with some sort of pad­dle tail puts out a lot of vi­bra­tion,” Norris says. “You can scoot it along bot­tom on a steady re­trieve, and floun­der will eat it all day long. I’ll usu­ally fish

1 them on a ⁄ 8- ounce Shad As­sas­sin screw-lock jig head. That al­lows for a slower drop.”

On nearby Cal­casieu Lake, about 20 miles east of Sabine Lake in Louisiana, Buddy Oaks with Hack­berry Rod and Gun Club says they have one of the best floun­der fish­eries on the Gulf Coast.

“The fall run can be ab­so­lutely spec­tac­u­lar,” he says. “We’ll use live shrimp and fin­ger mullet dur­ing the mi­gra­tion from the bay to the Gulf. But soft plas­tics, like a Hack­berry Hus­tler, can be tough to beat. Whether you’re us­ing live baits or ar­ti­fi­cials, the trick is to be where the floun­der lay up. That’s usu­ally some­where along the In­tra­coastal Wa­ter­way where the shal­low flats load up with floun­der.”

Oaks says that one of the best live bait rigs you can use to catch floun­der on the ICW flats is a Carolina rig — the same thing that bass fish­er­men have used for years. It starts with a ⁄ 4- to ⁄ 2- ounce

1 1 egg sinker. Thread the line through the weight and tie it to a 20-pound-test bar­rel swivel. Tie 18 to 24 inches of fluoro­car­bon leader to the swivel and tie a 4/0 Kahle hook at the busi­ness end.

It’s a sim­ple rig but a proven win­ner for floun­der. This rig al­lows a floun­der to pick up the bait with­out feel­ing the weight, which causes it to blow the bait out. The trick is to use just enough weight to get the bait to the bot­tom in a cur­rent.

Bill Panto, one of the bet­ter floun­der fish­er­men along the Texas coast, spe­cial­izes in fishing the passes, which hold floun­der just about any time of year, but par­tic­u­larly dur­ing the fall run.

“I have a pretty sim­ple plan to catch­ing num­bers of floun­der,” he says. “I like to cover a lot of wa­ter. This al­lows me to fish more spots that floun­der will hold in. "I al­most al­ways use a Carolina rig. The trick is to use just enough weight to keep the bait on bot­tom yet al­low it to roll with the cur­rent. It’s al­most like free-lin­ing a shrimp, ex­cept you al­low the bait to drift along the bot­tom. When the line tight­ens up, I set the hook. It’s fun fishing that keeps me busy. I’m not just sit­ting on one spot wait­ing for fish to come to me. In­stead, I’m cov­er­ing lots of wa­ter and box some of the tasti­est fish in the Gulf.”

An­other ef­fec­tive way to fish live baits, like mullet and shrimp, is with a slider rig, a small float, and a 2-foot leader with a split shot and hook.

Fishing this rig is sim­ple. Slide the float slowly across the sur­face, then stop and let the bait set­tle to the bot­tom. You don’t need to jerk the float; that spooks floun­der.

Just ease it along. One of the most pop­u­lar places to catch the fall run of floun­der is Sabine Pass, on the lower end of Sabine Lake. Sabine Lake flows into the pass, then through the jet­ties, into the Gulf.

“I’ve been floun­der fishing Sabine Pass for decades,” Norris says. “The shal­low flats, points, bulk­heads, pil­ings and barges are all floun­der mag­nets. Py­lons in 5 feet of wa­ter run­ning par­al­lel to the shore­line are par­tic­u­larly good. The floun­der hold down-cur­rent of the pil­ings. "If I had to pick one best type of struc­ture in the pass, it would be a long bulk­head, where floun­der stack up. I'll fish

soft plas­tics and even 1 ⁄ 8- ounce Road Run­ner spin­ner­baits along the bulk­heads. Floun­der will hold right up against them. That’s how I’ve con­sis­tently caught big floun­der, in the 3- to 5-pound class.

“If I had to de­pend on one area to find floun­der on any given day and night, it would be along the In­tra­coastal Wa­ter­way. The flats along the deep drop of the ICW are big­time stag­ing ar­eas for floun­der. The back­wa­ter es­tu­ary bay­ous and marsh ar­eas are good too.”

The bay­ous on Sabine Lake and Cal­casieu Lake of­fer miles upon miles of shore­line struc­ture. Some of it is tall cane, and some is just marsh grass. Re­gard­less of what type of shore­line veg­e­ta­tion you have, there is one proven tac­tic for catch­ing lots of floun­der. It in­volves pitch­ing soft-plas­tic jigs tipped with a dime-size piece of fresh dead shrimp. Pitch the jig into pock­ets along the shore­line, where floun­der wait to am­bush mud min­nows, fin­ger mullet, shad and shrimp.

The best soft plas­tic for this fishing is a curly-tail jig, such as a 5-inch fat grub made by

1 Big Bite Baits on a ⁄ 4- ounce jig head. The pump­kin with a char­treuse curly tail is deadly in stained wa­ter on places like East Galve­ston Bay, Sabine Lake and Cal­casieu Pass.

The fall floun­der run starts with just a trickle of move­ment to the Gulf. Dur­ing Septem­ber and Oc­to­ber, it re­ally perks up. That’s when you want to fish the lower ends of bays that fun­nel into a pass. Dur­ing Oc­to­ber, it’s usu­ally best to fish the passes. As the mi­gra­tion slows to­ward the end of Oc­to­ber, shift at­ten­tion to the rigs from 1 to 5 miles off the coast in 15 to 25 feet of wa­ter. That’s where floun­der stack up and can be caught while bump­ing jigs along bot­tom.

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