The Teign is justly famous for its large flounder. Not so well advertised, but very highly regarded locally is the Fowey, the Exe, area’s around Kingsbridge and lately the Plym estuary which is just a mile or so from where I live. These estuaries will see several of these four pounds plus fish caught over the next month or two. Those heavyweights are the fish that are the once or twice in a lifetime specimens that drive the flounder devotees to fish through the crunchy cold mornings and sleet blown days of the flounder season.
When I asked several of my Floundering friends for their best advice on catching specimen flounder the reply was short and to the point. "Simple" they said "just find the fish and work out the best conditions for catching them….every river is different and you will have to put the time in to suss them out! There are no shortcuts".
So where do you start??? Do you consult your tide table, work out when high water is likely to occur, plan the journey to arrive three hours before high water, find somewhere to park your car with a convenient railing to rest your rod against, lob out a fifty pence crab and honestly expect to catch fish???
Some will laugh and say that sod’s law of fishing dictates that such an angler will inevitably catch the big’un…… and don’t we know it! A truer measure of an anglers skill and knowledge is when he/she sets out with the objective of catching a particular species, then succeeds in catching that species. The ability to do that shows a good level of skill and know how, then eventually refining this skill and knowledge to the point where you consistently catch the bigger fish allows you to wear the invisible "chufti badge" that sets you apart as an expert..
Arriving at an estuary at low water allows the opportunity to recce the channels carved in the mud by the freshwater runoff, so a bait dropped into these channels when the flounder begin to run up with the tide is very likely to find the fish.
As the tide spills over the top of these channels the flounder will begin to spread out, sometimes in just inches of water. It is then that baits dropped into pools which have held water throughout the bottom of the tide will find fish, as the flounder come on the prowl looking for shrimp and crab which have taken refuge in the pools as the tide has ebbed.
Often, hot spots such as this, productive bends and fish holding holes in the channels are marked by a small pile of stones, a washing up bottle moored by a stone or even a cane with a rag tied to the top. But if you decide to venture onto the mud to mark a spot to drop your bait into, take great care and don’t go alone.
If you are on the mud, bait digging, marking a spot or just having a look, watch out for the flounder tracks. Daft though it might seem, flounder seem to be creatures of habit and will often seem to follow a pre-determined route into an estuary or over a mud bank. You cannot mistake the tracks, they are like a frilled pattern in the mud. One angler who re-discovered the Fowey this year described some flounder tracks that he found "as wide as a tractor tyre"……… now that is a big fish.
Choice of bait can make a vital difference. For instance the Exe and the Teign are well known as Crab rivers. Fishing with whites and harbour rag will catch the occasional fish, especially in the upper reaches, but crab is the best bait. The further west you go, the less important it is to fish exclusively with crab. On the Yealm, Plym, Camel and the Fowey, crab is still a bait I would choose as a preference, but there are occasions when it can be outfished by a substantial worm bait especially whites and harbour rag(maddies).
Use a good quality size 1 Aberdeen to a 10lb leader and thoroughly peel the crab, lashing half of it to the hook with very fine stretchy bait elastic. Peel a couple of legs and thread them onto the hook to hold the barb of the hook clear. Some anglers like to use a very, very small strip of squid to hold the barb clear, but there are always crab legs available, so I use them. If the crabs are still a bait robbing menace, flounder baits can often be held just off the bottom by the use of polystyrene "flounder floats". These are threaded onto the leader just above the baited hook and have enough buoyancy to lift the bait that few inches off the bottom where the flounder can still reach the bait but the crabs can’t. It is also widely believed that these floats also act as a visual attractor to the ever curious flounder(and plaice).
Tackle is not a problem. I have seen everything from 7 foot spinning rods through to the meanest of 14 foot beachcasting rods used, and seen them all catch fish. There are specialist rods such as the "Flatty Fanatic" but truthfully a more universal and all round useful rod is the "Bass rod" which is a scaled down beach rod casting up to three, maybe four ounces. The favourite rod locally is the Diawa ST-X S115 light weight Bass Fishing Special which although meant to be used with a small multiplier also works very well with a mid size fixed spool reel.
An Abu 6500 loaded with 12lb line is the breaking strain monofilament that many of us use for Bass and Flounder fishing, often with a 25 foot shock leader of 30lb monofilament to absorb the stresses and strains of casting. It is true to say that most flounder fishing is done with less than a fifty yard cast so, although the use of a shock leader is good practice and should be used for safety reasons, if you are only flipping a two ounce sinker thirty yards into a channel then maybe it is not so necessary as when casting a three ounce sinker to the other side of the estuary. It is a matter of common sense and judgement on the day whether you use a shockleader or not.
End tackle is simple, at least mine is!! There seems to be something of a fetish amongst some anglers for overcomplicated rigs replete with plastic and bent wire bits and bobs. I am sure those anglers get some satisfaction from making these rigs up and catching fish on them, but I am inclined to ask if they are really necessary sometimes. My flounder rig is a simple running leger or a simple paternoster using the superb Verivas three way swivels that can be obtained from Veals Mail Order at 10 for £2.50. The floating beads that you can also get from Veals make excellent flounder floats, get the large ones at £1.50 for ten.
Rig with a short leader about 2 feet in length to a fine wire size 1 or 1/0 long shank Aberdeen. Many anglers like to use several highly coloured plastic beads just in front of the bait as an added attraction. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t, they are always worth a try if it is a slow day.
For the past couple of seasons I have been experimenting with Circle hooks and have caught a number of flounder using these hooks. Nine out of ten fish are hooked in the front of their mouth making their release very quick and simple. Baiting up with circles is presents a problem if you are used to using Aberdeen’s, but use gossamer elastic and some imagination and you will be surprised how efficient these hooks are at catching flounder.
These small fish exert a fascination totally unrelated to their size. Perhaps it is a combination of the surroundings, the sense of achievement in catching a three pound fish which surprisingly few anglers have done. The camaraderie so often shared in the winter months, when bacon butties and flounder fishing are inextricably linked. Whatever the reason for this fascination, its all fishing and that’s what it is all about.