Flounder gigging offers a fun and easy way to enjoy the outdoors after dark.
By Scott Sommerlatte
Moving slowly and intently along the shoreline, we carefully scanned the illuminated bottom and watched all of the marine life scurrying around. As hundreds of small crabs, shrimp and finfish darted from the spartina grass shoreline, I could not help but be amazed by how much different the bay seemed from inside the glowing bubble created by the kerosene lantern on a dark night.
To me, nothing compares to being out in a Texas bay at night. There is so much happening during this time that usually goes unnoticed because we are sitting in the recliner watching television or tucked in tight in our beds. The sounds of the night are enhanced by the calm winds and lack of boat noise. There is also a lot to be said for not being able to see any farther than the glow of the lantern will allow. It causes you to focus your attention on what is happening right there in front of you, which is an important part of flounder gigging.
It was not long before the first flounder appeared in the light of my lantern. The glimmering eyes and distinctive outline were apparent in mere inches of water. With careful aim and a sharp jab, I pinned the fish’s head to the sandy bottom and immediately placed my foot on top of it to prevent myself from getting any wetter as the flatfish tried to free itself. Moments later, the flounder was strung, and we resumed our search.
After some time had passed, Kershaw and I split up so that we could cover the water more effectively. I chose to stay closer to the shore, while he ventured to the edge of a reef that paralleled the shoreline in slightly deeper water. I had just strung another fish when Kershaw got my attention.
“Sommerlatte, you have to see this,” he shouted. When I approached, he was staring at the edge of the reef. “Check it out!”
Sitting on the edge of the exposed shell, there were two flounder, one on top of the other. The mouths and gills were barely covered by the water and the rest of their bodies were completely out of the water. Apparently they had found a feeding station they liked and the outgoing tide had left them exposed. A few minutes passed while we stared in awe, and then all of a sudden both of the fish began to flop in a violent attempt to reach deeper water, which they eventually did.
Our search for the bottom dwellers resumed, and before long we decided to double-check our count, knowing we were nearing our limits. We had one to go before our night was over. A short distance down the shoreline, Kershaw spotted our last fish. With a decisive stab, his gig found its mark. When it did, the fish arched its spine, and when the silt cleared, a beautiful, mottled fish was revealed.
Flounder, by design, are the ultimate ambush feeders. They lie on the bay bottom, camouflaged, awaiting any tasty critter that may swim by. They accomplish this by first changing colors to match their surroundings and then wriggling into the sand or mud until the silt covers their body. This process leaves only their eyes, which both happen to be on the same side of their body, protruding above the bay bottom. When a critter such as a shrimp, mullet or mud minnow (Gulf killfish) swims over the fish’s eyes — the trap is sprung. This behavior explains why anglers have such great success in gigging flounder. And, because the flounder is so confident in its ability to hide, it does not spook easily. This allows anyone carrying a gig and lantern to quietly walk up on the fish.
As a rule, you rarely see flounder during the daylight hours. It is not because the fish are not there. It’s simply more difficult to focus your gaze on one small area when everything is illuminated. This all changes at night, when viewing the bay bottom within the limited range of a lantern — you are forced to look no more than a couple of feet.
Also, a lantern held close to the water emits a side-light of sorts, which creates shadows and hard edges. These shadows and hard edges are helpful when trying to spot the outline of a flounder that has covered itself in the sand or mud.
Flounder can be found just about anywhere in our coastal waters, including a bay shoreline, the ICW (Intracoastal Waterway), a marsh bayou, a river or a Gulf pass. However, for the gigger, learning to identify the points from which a flounder might choose to ambush its prey in these waters is the key to success.
Flounder typically choose to lie in areas where baitfish are funneled to them, which makes them easy targets for the gig. The most obvious spots to find flounder in our Texas bays are where there are small marsh drains or ditches between the bay and a backcountry lake. Some drains are as long as a football field and others are no more than a cut through a narrow strip of land.
Flounder, by design are the ultimate ambush feeders. They lie on the baybottom, camouflaged, awaiting any tasty critter that may swim by.
On an outgoing tide, start your search at the point where the water dumps into the bay and then move into the cut, working into the current. This allows the current to carry the dirty water caused by walking away from your field of view. Try to cover every inch of the width of a drain, from the shallow edges to the deepest part of the channel (assuming you can see the bottom) because, as the tide falls, the fish will gradually descend from the shallow banks into the depths of the channel. As for the incoming tide, just reverse the process, working toward the bay.
When fishing bigger water such as a river, the ICW or a Gulf pass, flounder are usually found laid up on the shallow edges and drop-offs facing into the current waiting for a meal.
For those who have never experienced walking a bay shoreline with a lantern in hand, I highly recommend giving it a try.
It goes without saying that flounder gigging is one of the easiest, least expensive and most exciting ways to put fish on the table. All that is required is a lantern, a gig, a stringer and a fishing license with a saltwater stamp. There are several areas up and down the Texas coast where a person interested in gigging a flounder can access the water without a boat. However, a boat does allow fishermen to follow tidal movement and search out more productive waters when things are slow.
When walking a shoreline, search for the outline of the fish. Once one is spotted it is time to decide whether or not the fish is of legal size. This is important because there is no catch-and-release in flounder gigging. Once you’re certain that the fish is big enough, move the gig into position a few inches above the fish’s head and make a sharp, deliberate strike. When the flounder is pinned to the bottom, place your foot on the fish to keep it from thrashing. Then, holding the gig and lantern in the same hand, run a stringer through the fish’s mouth.
Be aware that certain inherent dangers go along with flounder gigging. First and foremost is the safe navigation of a boat at night. Make sure you’re familiar with the area before heading out at night. Also, when out gigging, it is very important to be sure that you are about to stick a flounder, and not a stingray. It is not a very common mistake, but it does happen. Lastly, because there are only a handful of boats on the water at night to lend assistance if something goes wrong, it’s wise to let a friend or loved one know where you will be fishing.
To some, gigging is a primitive and archaic way to pursue flounder. For others, such as me, it is one of many ways to enjoy the outdoors amid the solitude of night.