For you spring breakers who’ve made Gulf Shores your beach of choice you might be wondering what kind of fishing there is around here this time of year. In this season, you have access to a boat, there are Cobia, Spanish mackerel and maybe some early King mackerel. You can also fish from the beach or State pier or in the creeks and bayous for various bottom species. Red snapper season is currently closed – sorry.
Species come and go with the seasons but one species group that’s around all year are the flounders. Here on the Gulf we eat them stuffed, deep-fried, as “fingers” and filets but what do you really know about flounders?
The three primary species of flounders along the Gulf Coast are from the family Bothidae. Members of this family are all “left-eyed” flounders. You can tell a left from a right-eyed flounder by looking at it with the tail towards you with the white side down. As you are looking at a left-eyed flounder in that position it will have the gill opening on the left side of the fish’s head. In a right-eyed flounder it will be on the other side (right). Right-eyed flounders are not found in the Gulf of Mexico but live in the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific oceans. In the Gulf recreational anglers primarily catch the southern, gulf and fringed flounders. There are over 24 other species of flounders in the Gulf but these small and are usually seen only in shrimp trawls. Flounders have strong mouths with very sharp pointed teeth. Flounder larvae and juveniles have the shape of any other typical fish up to a certain point in their development when the right eye begins to move. It migrates to their left side over a period of a few weeks and after that their body develops a flat presentation. This allows them to retain binocular vision, which for a predator is standard equipment – look in the mirror if you do not believe me.
How to fish
You can catch flounders in a number of ways that including gigging. You can buy yourself a Colman fueled lantern with a reflector on the back, a gig, some wading shoes and a strong length of line to haul your catch around. Check the papers for a low tide night and find a length of shallow shoreline that you can get to easily. Wade along the shoreline about knee deep or shallower and look for the shape of a flounder in the sand. With the gig underwater, slowly bring it within a few inches of the flounder’s gills and stab it. If you like to use a rod and reel try a slip sinker setup with a small gold hook and live bait. Live shrimp is always good but you might have better luck with some saltwater minnows if the bait dealers have them.
The smallest of the three common flounders is the fringed flounder (Etropus crossotus). It rarely gets longer than four inches, has a very small mouth and an almost straight lateral line. Anglers seldom catch this flounder though it is common in the by-catch of shrimp trawls. There is a rude common name associated with this species and as such it will remain unmentioned. Flounders both primarily feed on various species of shrimp and any fish they can get their mouths around.
The other two look very similar to each other but the gulf flounder (Paralichthys albigutta) usually has three large spots on its back similar to those found on the tails of red drum. The gulf flounder can be found on sandy substrate near and inshore but most often is found on similar habitat in the deeper Gulf waters, which it prefers. It ranges from North Carolina south around the Gulf of Mexico and down to the Panama Canal. They can be longer than 18 inches and weigh more than five pounds. The young gulf flounder stay in the bayous and creeks and migrate to the Gulf as they mature. For some reason unknown reason they are rarely found to the west of Mobile Bay but are abundant to the east.
The southern flounder (Paralichthys lethostigma), the one you’ll most likely catch, has a high arching lateral line and doesn’t have the distinct spots of the gulf flounder. It has the same range as the gulf flounder but prefers muddy substrate and is not limited by Mobile Bay. This fish can get big. It is the largest flat fish in the Gulf of Mexico and can go three feet and weigh greater than ten pounds. If you’re around when cold weather sets in you might find it helpful to know that in the winter it migrates into the Gulf. In Alabama this is down the east side of Mobile Bay and along the Fort Morgan peninsula. You might try working the northern shore of Fort Morgan peninsula one night when the wind is down if you want to go gigging.
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