An Irish Anglers World

Floundering Around in Co. Wexford

When the leaves start to fall from the trees and the nights close in shore anglers thoughts tend to stray towards winter species. Codling and Coalfish come to mind but commercial overfishing has seriously reduced the prospects, both in terms of quantity and size, of connecting with a reasonable specimen of either of these prized fish. That said however, if the angler is prepared to scale down, there is no better late autumn and early winter pursuit then to target estuary Flounder. Still available in good numbers, and as flatfish go reaching a respectable size, knocking four pounds if one is lucky, with the average fish touching a pound. Presently the Irish specimen weight is 2.5lbs, which is a very realistic target especially in the south eastern estuaries of Co. Wexford.

David Gray with Flounder

Flounder, Platichthys flesus, or Fluke as it is commonly called in Ireland, is a right sided flatfish that is the eyes and colouring are on the right hand (top) side of the fish, with the left hand (under) side a creamy white. Olive green with mottled brown or black markings, Flounder sometimes sport pale orange spots, similar, but not as vivid as its cousin the Plaice. A distinguishing feature is the rough feel of the skin on the Flounders back if one runs a finger along the lateral line from the tail towards the head.  On a Plaice this would feel smooth.

Flounder as a species are widespread, occurring from the northernmost parts of Norway and Sweden, throughout the Baltic, around the coasts of the United Kingdom and Ireland, all the way south to the Mediterranean and Black Sea. Frequently caught off storm beaches and in the gutter along steep to shingle banks, they are tolerant of fresh water, and are commonly found inhabiting the brackish water of harbours, estuaries, and creeks.

Flounder spawn in the open sea between February and May. They start to move out of the estuaries and off the beaches with the first signs of frost in late November or early December, appearing again spent in late April or May. Packing on weight through the summer Flounder are in tip top condition by late September, which is a prime time to start targeting the species. From then until early November is the key period, with the fish at their fattest and keen to take a bait prior to their journey to the spawning grounds.

Abbey, Wellingtonbridge, Co. Wexford

Co. Wexford in south east Ireland is a Flounder anglers Mecca. Kaats Strand and Ardcavan within Wexford Harbour are synonymous with match fishing for the species, while the estuaries and creeks in the vicinity of Ballyteigue Bay to the south are a specimen hunter’s paradise. The Irish record Flounder weighing 4.91 lbs, caught by Brian Russell on the 2nd October 1993, came from this area, and whether that fish will ever be beaten, there are still Flounder available capable of running that weight mighty close. With the ceiling for a Flounder pushing 6.5lbs and the maximum length reaching 51cms, there is no doubt that the south Wexford estuaries have the ability to produce a new record fish.

Flounder have a varied diet with marine worms, shellfish, crab, prawns, shrimp, and small fish all fair game. For the angler peeler crab is the number one bait, with lugworm a close second. Heading into the colder months lugworm depending on the venue could predominate, however a rough rule of thumb could read; May to October (peeler crab), November onwards (lugworm).

An inquisitive species Flounder like nothing better then a moving bait. To facilitate this trait traces should be flowing, with long snoods ideally festooned with bright beads and sequins. Weight should be plain and shaped so that the trace can move around with the tide, wave action, or estuary current. Two or three hook paternosters are perfect, as is a running ledger paternoster. Hooks should be fine wire and contrary to popular belief do not need to be small, size 1/0 being perfectly adequate. Flounder can extend their mouths and have no problem engulfing a golf ball sized lump of crab on a 4/0 hook intended for Bass. Fine wire aids unhooking and the larger hook reduces the chance of a small fish taking the bait.

Ballyteigue Flounder

Standard surf casting kit comprising 6500 size multiplier or medium fixed spool reel combined with a light beach caster or even a Pike rod is more than adequate. mainline to a shock leader completes the set up. Given the size of the quarry, their not so renowned fighting abilities, and the fact that a lob will often place the bait near the fish, why use a shock leader? No reason other than safety due to certain locations requiring a reasonable cast to stay in contact with the fish.

The south Wexford estuaries of Cullenstown and Bannow that open into Ballyteigue Bay fish well throughout the summer months. Bass and recently Gilthead Bream featuring in the catches along with Flounder, especially when crab baits are used. Records show, as previously stated that September to mid November are the key months and anglers should plan accordingly. The September crab moult gets the Flounder feeding in earnest, moving up and down the estuary channels with the tide, and after a summers feeding in prime condition.

Relative to the estuary taking times for Flounder can vary, however the start of the ebb and flood tides are two periods well worth aiming at. Fishing the south Wexford estuaries commence fishing around an hour before low water, the channels are exposed and features such as sandbars which create slacks and divert current can be noted. Flounder will gravitate to these spots as food items are washed towards them. The deeper water on the outside of bends will be another area to concentrate on. Using plain leads cast crab, lugworm, lugworm tipped with mackerel, or combinations of all three towards a suitable lie and await developments.

Estuary channel Flounder fishing.

This is the fun part of Flounder fishing and what makes the species so attractive to target. Resting low in the tripod with the rod top angled towards the trace by the current, suddenly a sharp rattle of the tip occurs. This could be repeated before the rod tip slowly leans forward before jumping back as the fish moves up channel and a belly of mainline develops. As the bite develops the angler will sit on his/her hands before lifting the rod in conjunction with the mainline going slack. A few turns of the reel handle connecting angler to fish.

Flounder tend to glide towards shore and only put in a spurt of ducking and diving right at the waters edge. No matter, the sight of a large flatfish or two or even three is a thrill for any shore angler. For that is the beauty of Flounder fishing in Co. Wexford. So often what looks like the bite of one fish results in a multiple hook up. Occasionally no bite registers but when the rod is lifted a fish identifies its presence by increased drag at the end of the line. An angler’s trick that can induce a Flounder bite is to move the trace a foot or two then leave it to rest. This causes the baits and decorated snoods to flutter, appealing to the Flounders inquisitive nature whence they swim over to investigate.

The initial push of the tide will get the Flounder moving. This taking period could last an hour or be over in fifteen minutes, it just depends on how long the fish hang around before swimming on. Likewise the turn of the tide at high water can be equally as effective. Regarding the middle sections of the tides cycle, the best bit of advice would be to move periodically and fish various marks within the estuary so building up a picture.

John "Ringo" Ring with a Bannow Bay double header.

Estuary Flounder are fun to catch they grow to a large size and always produce a smile when they surface at the end of a line. When open sea beaches are unfishable due to onshore gales sheltered estuaries can give superlative sport with Flounder. Maybe low barometric pressure triggers the species to feed. With once common winter fish such as Codling now scarce the Flounder provides a worthwhile quarry which inhabits interesting surroundings at a time of year when the sea angling season is winding down. South Wexford in early winter as the migratory birds make their annual visit to the slobs and estuaries is the place to be. Why not join them and cast a bait towards that most inquisitive but welcome of winter species, and thrill when that double rattle signals the possibility of a seasonal specimen flapping at the edge of the tide.

Further Information: Gale Force Wexford Flounder.

Further Information: Estuary Fun in Co. Wexford.

Further Information: Flounder on the Drop.

Ashley Hayden © April 2010