By Buck Davidson
Here is what absolutely qualifies as one of the oddest critters on the planet - two eyes, but with a twist - both on the same side of its head. The flounder is almost immediately recognizable to most folks, usually as a "flatfish" or some similar name. Much of the U.S. coastal waters are inhabited by a similar species to our Gulf and Southern flounders. It's sometimes difficult to tell the difference, but both share a similar characteristic - they are fabulous table fare, probably the mildest tasting fish in the sea.
Flounders are born looking like most any other fish, including normally positioned eyes. As they develop, however, the right eye begins to shift toward the left, culminating in the customary close positioning found in adult fish. Once out of the adolescent stage, flounders take up their position in life - namely, half buried in the sand, eyes looking upward, waiting for food to pass them by. Their coloration is almost a perfect match for the sandy bottom, and they are nearly invisible - except when lunch swims within reach. Flounders sport a formidable set of choppers, and any gobble up shrimp and crustaceans given the chance.
Oddly enough, most flounder are caught "by accident" - that is, folks are fishing for something else, and a flounder appears on the end of the line. They can be targeted by fishing a live sardine over sand or mud bottom in this way: cast out, then s-l-o-w-l-y retrieve the bait. When your bait passes over Mr. Flounder's resting spot - snap! They put up a dogged fight, using their flat bodies to provide resistance to your upward pull. They don't get too big around here - a couple, maybe 3-4 pounds, but as I mentioned before, a delicious and mild fish.
A popular way of taking flounder among the old timers is the practice of gigging. Here's the ingredients: dark night, very shallow draft boat with a high-intensity light on the bow, wooden stick about 10 feet long with a multi-pronged spear on the end (gig), and intense concentration. The driver idles the boat along the shallows as the spearman stands ready in the bow. When the spearman spots a flounder, he/she jabs/hurls the gig at the now-fleeing critter. Definitely not an easy way to find supper, believe me.
One last note about cleaning a flounder: have someone show you how to do it before you try it yourself. It's a tricky program, and requires some practice before you're good at it - remember, you're cleaning a one-sided fish. It involves a slice along the backbone, then a separate filleting of two halves - trust me, get some instruction. They are worth the trouble, though, and lend themselves well to pan-frying and broiling. These critters are not good for grilling (fall apart easily), and watch that you don't over-cook them. Definitely a nice treat when prepared well, and good fish to feed your "I hate fish if it's fishy-tasting" dinner guests.