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Flatties in the Surf

Flatties in the Surf
By Joe Malat

Being able to consistently catch flounder from the surf is not complicated, but anglers who pay attention to details and work with a plan will succeed. Let's have a quick look at the tackle and some of the techniques that will fool flounders in the surf.
Flounder tend to stay in the same general location. Their feeding habits are very different from bluefish or Spanish mackerel, two species that are always on the move, in a hurry to get somewhere.
Flounder also prefer a fairly flat, calm and clear surf. They might be found in the deep water in the middle of a narrow slough, or in the shallow, breaking water at the edges of these deep holes. They are ambush feeders, and will use their flat shape and coloration to blend with the sandy bottom.
Use light tackle, either spinning or conventional rods in the six to seven foot range, mated with reels holding eight to twelve pound test line. The light rods will allow you to effortlessly make several casts while trying to find the flatties, and also feel their tentative bites. I have caught flounder on bucktail lures and leadhead jigs in the surf, but natural baits will catch most of the flatfish. Simplicity is the key to the most productive rigs. Some anglers prefer standard two-hook bottom rigs, set up with small, pre-snelled spinner blade hooks.

Others like the off-the-shelf "flounder rigs" with a large silver spinner blade, and a few beads just in front of the hook at the end of a long leader, coming off a triple swivel. I often use a homemade rig: a small Kahle hook at then end of 18 inches of 20 pound test monofilament leader, tied to a one ounce in-line sinker. Whatever the choice of terminal tackle, a round or flat sinker allows the rig to be cast out, and glide easily across the sandy bottom as it is being retrieved in deliberate, broad sweeps. Sharp-cornered weights, such as pyramids, should be avoided since the corners dig in and bounce across the bottom.

Strips of squid or mullet, cut in pieces from 2 to 4 inches long, or small whole finger mullet and minnows are top baits. The white belly part is excellent. If some big flounders are around, don't be bashful with your baits. A two-pound flatfish will easily inhale a five-inch strip of bait. Cut the strip baits in the form of exaggerated triangles, a half inch wide at one end, tapering to a point at the other, and hook them once through the wide end. When retrieved slowly, the strip should "swim" enticingly, or flutter in the current, and resemble a small swimming mullet or minnow. Keep baits fresh and neat looking. Small fish or crabs might gnaw at the fluttering end, and ragged pieces should be trimmed frequently with a pair of scissors or sharp knife, or replaced when the bait looks worn and washed out.

Flounder will often take a bait very lightly; in fact the rig might stop suddenly during the retrieve. Resist the urge to immediately set the hook. Pause just a second or two, and give Mr. Flatfish a chance to get all of the bait in his mouth, and when he pulls away, set the hook.

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