Flounder Fun Heats Up With Summer
As the summer wears on, fishing for these flatfish just gets better.
Chris Cockerham and Ryan Hall are fishing buds. There isn’t a much better way to describe it. They live about 2 1/2 hours from each other and still find a way to fish together almost every weekend. Ryan lives in Hawkinsville, while Chris lives in Hilliard, Fla.
When they met 3 1/2 years ago, they discovered they shared a passion for fishing, specifically estuary fishing, and even more specifically, flounder fishing. Chris had started a jig company, Reel Habit Jigs, about six months before the two met, and Ryan and his wife came down to buy some jigs from him. They got to talking and planned to go fishing together. Shortly after that, Chris asked Ryan to join him as a partner in the jig business. Over the last three years, the jig business has grown.
In addition, Chris and Ryan are a team to be dealt with on the regional flounder tournament circuit. They won a major tournament in the area, “The Flounder Pounder,” in 2017 and are consistently high finishers in many of the events. I had the opportunity to fish with the pair in the middle of May.
“The action will really start to heat up in June, but we should be able to land a few early fish,” said Chris. “There is plenty of bait in the river, and the flounder will be gorging on them.”
We launched the boat at Holly Point boat ramp in Nassau County, Fla. and headed out to the Amelia River, where we’d work out way toward Georgia waters. The tide was high and would soon start to fall.
“As the tide nears its high point, the flounder will move up on flats and follow baitfish right into the edge of the grass,” said Ryan. “When the tide starts out, both bait and flounder begin to come out of the grass and onto the flats. Small creek mouths and the edges of grasslines are great targets early in the falling tide.”
We worked several grass-lined flats and caught a couple of flounder, but the fish weren’t stacked up in large numbers that the guys would expect a little later in the season.
“The tide is moving pretty good now, so we need to try some deeper water,” said Chris.
He cranked up the big outboard and headed out to the main river and into the St. Mary’s Sound.
“With the tide moving like this, we will try some deeper water around dock pilings,” said Chris.
We hit several locations on both the north and south side of the sound, and the action picked up significantly. Every place we stopped we could see small glass minnows scampering on the surface. Ryan told me that was a sure sign flounder were in the area. After boating more than 20 keeper-sized flounder, some over 18 inches, we stopped for lunch.
“The tide is running too fast now to fish properly,” said Chris. “We might as well head in and get some lunch and wait for the current to slow down.”
The Technique: I think the best way to describe the technique Chris and Ryan employ is finesse fishing. We were using light tackle, light line and small jigs to tempt these fish. I thought it was interesting that we only caught flounder. There was one trout and one ladyfish that hit our baits, but the team was clearly targeting flounder and were very effective.
Jigs: We only used two jigs the entire day. Both were created by Ryan and Chris. The first was the Reel Habit Flounder Jig with a football head jig and a 3/0 kahle hook.
“The big kahle hook is perfect for flounder fishing,” said Chris. “The wide gap of the hook places the hook point deep in the flounder’s mouth and makes for deep hooksets. We almost never lose a fish on this jig.”
On our trip, we caught virtually every fish on the Flounder Jig. This jig is made in 1/4- and 3/8-oz. sizes. You want to use as light a jig as possible while staying in contact with the bottom in the current. We tipped these jigs with live mud minnows by simply hooking them through the lower jaw and out the upper jaw. These two like to leave the dock with 4-dozen mud minnows for a day of fishing. You can purchase them a local bait shops.
Another jig that catches flounder is the Reel Habit Eye Jig. It has eyes painted on the side of the jig head and is designed to be used with soft plastic bodies. Ryan and Chris said two good artificials for this jig head is the 3 3/4-inch Smackshad made by Unfair Lures or the Berkley Gulp! Shrimp.
For tipping the jigs, mud minnows and small artificial baits are best early in the season. As the bigger fish start to move in later in the summer, move up the size of your baits accordingly.
As far as colors are concerned, white and chartreuse are by far the most popular and productive, both in the jig heads and the bodies. Red can produce as well, but the team almost never uses other colors, particularly in the jig heads.
Gear: Light tackle was definitely the weapon of choice. The team uses Cajun Rods, which are handmade in Jacksonville, Fla., for both spinning and casting applications. For the spinning outfits, we used Cajun ATLED rods in the 7-3 length and medium action. These were mounted with Shimano 2500 Ci4s spooled with 15-lb. braid and tipped with a 20-lb. test fluorocarbon leader.
The casting outfit was a little heavier using a Cajun Revenant with a 7-6 length and medium-fast action. The rod was coupled with a medium-sized Shimano casting reel spooled with 50-lb. braid and also tipped with a 20-lb. fluorocarbon leader.
“Braided line is a real advantage for a couple of reasons. It is small in diameter and has virtually no memory, but more importantly, you can feel every piece of structure and movement of the jig on the bottom, as well as the subtle bite of the flounder,” said Ryan.
You will want to have a 20-inch or even a 24-inch leader. Hang ups are frequent in the structure, and you will break off and re-tie a lot, so leave yourself some length to work with.
Approach: Cast the jig to the grass or other structure, and let it sink to the bottom. Then just drag the jig along the bottom slowly.
“It is more of a lift-and-drop action rather than a hopping action,” said Chris.
The bite is very subtle. Sometimes it just feels heavy, and you don’t want to set the hook right away. Let the fish eat the bait for a few seconds, and then make a hookset. Fish have different activity levels based on the presence of bait. If there is plenty of bait, the fish won’t move around much. When the fish aren’t active, slow down your retrieve even more. I was fishing too fast at first. The other guys were catching fish, and I wasn’t. I slowed the retrieve down significantly and started getting hits.
In deeper water, flounder will hang close to dock pilings and along ledges. Often there is an eddy near docks and seawalls. Flounder will stack up there looking for bait. In these areas, there will often be a mudline, and bait will hang just on the edge of it not wanting to go into the cloudy water. Flounder will be on the clear side of the line looking for that bait.
“We always look for three things when we are trying to locate flounder: structure, tidal flow and the presence of bait,” said Ryan.
The fish will move in and out of the deep water with the tide. Current needs to be moving but not so fast that the jig won’t stay on the bottom.
The first and last part of the outgoing and incoming tides are best. The action is usually not good at flood tide, dead low or when the tide is moving heavily in either direction.
Glass minnows are a favorite of flounder, and you will see them on the surface being spooked when the flounder makes a run at them. White bait (fingerling mullet, small pogies, etc.) will move into the inlets and marshes as the season advances, and the bigger fish will follow.
One of the great things about a large fishery like this one is that you can move around and take advantage of the tidal conditions at multiple locations. If the tide is moving too fast where you are, you can likely find a spot where the current is moving more slowly because the tide level is different there.
These fish move around. Don’t be afraid to stay on the move if you aren’t getting bites.
Locations: Ryan and Chris cover a lot of water from St. Marys and Crooked River and down to St. Augustine, Fla. They usually start at the south end of the fishery and move north as the water warms and the fish move up.
“Once we get into June, the waters around the St. Marys inlet should really be hopping,” said Chris. “Our favorite spots in that area include Back River, Crooked River, all along the back side of Cumberland Island and Crab Island. All of these areas have great grass flats with oyster beds, deep-water docks, pilings and drop-offs that will hold fish.”
The Fish Get Bigger: The boundary waters between south Georgia and north Florida make up a fantastic inshore fishery, and the flounder population is really strong. From now through the end of summer the conditions and action are just going to improve, and you will likely have some amazing days on the water.
Pay attention to the tides, and spend your time between shallow flats and deep structure, depending on what the tides are doing. Flounder can be found in depths from almost nothing to 8 or 10 feet. Get yourself some jigs, and get out there.
The techniques outlined here are effective, and if you follow Chris and Ryan’s advice, you are likely to catch a nice mess of delicious flounder. They tell me that three days before and three days after the full moon are a good time to try. The flounder will increase in size through the summer, and by August, fish of 8 to 10 pounds are not uncommon. Use the same tactics, but just size up the bait for the bigger fish.
You can buy Reel Habit Jigs online at Shopify by going to their Facebook page, www.facebook.com/ReelHabitJigs, and seeing what they offer.
The jigs are also available in several tackle shops in southeast Georgia and northeast Florida, including Coastal Outdoors Hunting & Fishing in Brunswick, Strike Zone Fishing in Jacksonville, Callie Kay’s General Store in Hilliard and Ponte Vedra Outdoors in Ponte Vedra Beach.
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