The
Southern Flounder
in Texas
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

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The southern flounder, Paralichtys lethostigma, is the largest of more than 25 species of flatfish found in Texas coastal waters. It is highly prized as both a food and game fish and accounts for over 95 percent of the flounder harvest in the state.  Southern flounder occur from North Carolina to the mouth of the Rio Grande and southward into Mexico. They are most numerous west of the Mississippi River.

All flatfish, including the southern flounder, are compressed laterally and spend most of their life lying or swimming along the on their side.  In the case of the southern flounder, the left side is always the "up" side; in other species, the opposite is true.

The flounder is wonderfully adapted for its way of life.   Both eyes  in adults are located on the "up" side of the head and the pigmentation of the upper body side of the body can be varied to match the surrounding environment.. A small body cavity and the absence of an air bladder aid the flounder in maintaining its position on the bottom.

LIFE HISTORY
Adult southern flounder leave the bays during the fall for spawning in the Gulf of Mexico at depths of 50 to 100 feet. They spawn for the first time when two years old. The eggs are buoyant.

After hatching, the larval fish swim in an upright position and the eyes are located on opposite sides of the head. As the young fish grows, the right eye begins to "migrate" to the left side of the head. When body length is about one-half inch has been attained, the eye migration is complete and the fish assumes its left-side-up position for life.

The young fish enters the bays during late winter and early spring. At this time they are about one-half inch in length and seek shallow grassy areas near the Gulf passes. With increasing growth, some will move farther into bays. Some will enter coastal rivers and bayous.

Small flounder grow rapidly and may reach 12 inches in length by the end of their year. Males seldom exceed 12 inches, but females grow faster than males and often reach a length of 25 inches. Most flounders taken by fishermen are females between 12 and 16 inches long, weighing from 1 to 1 1/2 pounds. These fish are in their second year of life. The record southern flounder in Texas 13.0 pounds, was taken in February 1976 from Sabine Lake.

Juvenile flounder feed mainly on crustaceans, but as they grow fish become more important in their diet. Adult flounder enter shallow water at night where they lie, often partially buried, in wait for prey. Empty depressions where flounder have lain are called "beds".

Although most of the adults leave the bays and enter the Gulf for spawning during the winter, some remain behind and spend the winter in bays. Those in the Gulf will reenter the bays in the spring. The spring influx is gradual and does not occur with large concentrations that characterize the fall emigration.

HOW TO CATCH
Flounder are taken by rod and reel or by gig. When fishing with rod and reel, light tackle offers both the greatest sport and the best chance for catching flounder. Both artificial lures and natural baits can be used. Over barren bottoms, leaded plastic worms (worm jigs) are often very effective. In heavily vegetated areas, shallow-running spoons are best.

Flounder show  a decided preference for live bait over dead bait. Live shrimp retrieved slowly along the bottom often produce excellent results. Several species of killifish, referred to locally as mud minnows, fished in a similar fashion are good bait. These often can be taken in large numbers with a cast net or minnow seine.

Although many are taken by rod and reel, "floundering" or gigging offers the best challenge for this species. The flounder's habit of entering the shallows at night to feed makes it vulnerable to this technique. Both the skills of the fisherman and the hunter are called for here. (See Captain Rick Karpiuk at www.fishing-boating.com/fishtex for more information)

Lanterns are used in searching for flounder and gigs ranging from single-pronged to modified hay forks are used to spear the fish. The fishermen wade quietly along the shallows looking for flounder. Once the flounder is within the light from the lantern, normally it will not move, affording the fisherman a chance to "gig" the fish. Although this sounds like a sure-fire method, many fish are missed because they go undetected until they swim away or because of inaccurate gigging by an overanxious fisherman.

The more sophisticated flounder fisherman may mount his lantern on the front of a flat-bottomed skiff. The skiff then is poled through the water in search of fish. Floundering from a boat is much easier than wading, allows the fishermen to cover more area and allows searching of bottoms too soft for wading.

WHEN AND WHERE TO CATCH
Although flounder can be taken by rod and reel in almost any portion of the bay, it often is more productive to fish around jetties or oyster reefs that extend into the bay from shore. Flounder do not swim continuously and they tend to accumulate in such places in their search for food. During the fall when flounder are moving to the Gulf for spawning, the best catches are made  in the channels and passes leading to the Gulf. During the spring, wade fishermen work the edges of channels, such as the Intracoastal Waterway, as the fish are moving back into the bays.

Floundering is best during the Gulfward migration from October through December. Hundreds of lanterns can be seen in and around the pass areas during this period, as the floundermen wade through the shallows in search of fish.

During the spring and summer the best gig catches are made in the back bays. Areas with cord grass along the shoreline are good producers, and a bottom that is slightly silty or muddy generally is better than a hard sand bottom. The mouths of small bayous and sloughs often yield flounder.

Since water clarity is very important to the success of any floundering trip, floundering should be done on calm nights. If you do go on windy nights, try to work small protected bays and shorelines.

The best catches are made during the incoming tides and on dark nights as opposed to moonlit nights. However, do not hesitate to  flounder on and outgoing tide. During a falling tide it often is more productive to try  farther offshore in water from one to two feet deep or around offshore sandbars. Avoid nights when the tides are abnormally high.

Stingrays also frequent the shallows at night. They are flat and sometimes can be mistaken for a flounder or stepped on by the unwary. The inexperienced flounderman should make certain of what he has gigged before picking it up. If in doubt, simply hold the creature on the bottom with the gig and wait for the water to settle before attempting to retrieve your catch. A multi-pronged gig is helpful in such cases, since it is usually possible to lift your catch from the bottom unassisted with such a gig.

PREPARATION
The flounder's reputation as table fare is unsurpassed in Texas. Remember that the quality of any seafood largely is dependent on how it is handled between capture and preparation. Remove the viscera and gills from the flounder and place the flounder on ice as soon as possible. Cleaning beyond this point depends on how the fish will be cooked.

Flounder can be prepared in a number of ways. Broiling the fish with butter, lemon juice and favorite seasoning is popular. They also may be baked or fried. The gourmet likes his flounder stuffed with crabmeat.

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