How to Catch Gulf Bayou Deep Flounder

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Even though fall is considered prime time for plaice, these fish can be found during the heat of summer in the deeper bayous along the northern Gulf Coast.
Tim Simo

The bayous that wind along the coasts of Texas and Louisiana teem with life in the summer. From abundant alligators to rose-tinged spoonbills, these bayous and the surrounding estuaries that feed them delight wildlife lovers.

Many local anglers target these areas for redfish, and for good reason. These slow-moving bodies of water are home to thriving populations of blue crab – a mainstay of a rockfish’s diet.

Some bayous, however, also offer very good flounder fishing opportunities. Generally considered a fish of the fall and, to a lesser extent, of the spring, the flounder still bites in the summer. They simply look for areas with easy access to deep water.

Many bayous hold water 8 to 15 feet deep, which is the sweet spot for plaice when temperatures soar. Learning to catch these blandishments just takes a slightly unorthodox approach.

Advice from a legend

Captain Skip James is a plaice fishing legend. Having guided thousands of plaice-loving customers and appeared on numerous TV fishing shows, his name is synonymous with flatfish in Texas and Louisiana. James died of natural causes last spring. Being his friend for 25 years, I had the privilege of sharing his latest conversations about plaice.

S-turn where the flounder hides
S-shaped bends like this one at Old River Bayou on the Upper Texas Coast are often loaded with plaice during the summer months.
Chester Moore

In one, he revealed some specific secrets for fishing deep bayous. “Large bayous with deeper waters are home to large flounder during the summer. Look for the first big ‘S-Turn’ in the bayou. The tighter the turn, the better,” he told me. “These are usually the deepest spots, and their odd shape helps create whirlpools that trap baitfish and attract flounder.”

These bayous can include those that drain into bay systems like Lake Calcasieu and East Galveston Bay as well as those up to five miles north of bays in river systems. James told me he would catch either a 4 inch two-tailed beetle, shiny in color, or a 4 inch curly-tailed maggot, both with a small piece of shrimp bait and mounted on a head weighted 1/4 oz.

“Set it up on a medium-heavy fishing rod and fish it with a braided line. Slowly crawl it on the bottom. When the flounder hits the jig, count to two and set the hook,” he said.

James also told me something he said he rarely shared with the public during his guiding days – the value of shallow ponds in bayous. “You’ll have a lot of little shallow ponds in the bayous feeding them. At low tide they might only have 6 inches of water and only about two feet of water at high tide. But when those tides are high, there’s a lot of flounder in there.

“Fishing the first two hours of an ebb tide as it empties can be amazing. Plaice spend most of their time in the deeper waters of the main bayou, but swim up into the smaller ponds to feed on the The fishing can be epic when the plaice start coming out of there.

Big Flounder on Sabine Lake
Marcus Heflin goes silly with a big flounder caught in the mouth of Willow Bayou on Sabine Lake.
Chester Moore

Live bait and bait

Captain Derek York fishes the huge Galveston Bay complex and said the deeper bayous in the eastern part of this system can be strong for plaice on the most brutal days of summer. “Live bait is where it’s at,” he says.

The classic live mud minnow caught on a Carolina rig (an egg weight set over a swivel attached to a leader and hook) is hard to beat, he says. “I like to use a hook with a wide mouth, so the fish gets hooked in the corner of the mouth instead of swallowing it. People used to use sharp hooks in the past, but we have to do a better job of taking care of the plies, so the wide style hook is best.

York prefers outgoing tides, in general, but the best tidal flow for each particular bayou depends on many factors.

Live shrimp can also be extremely effective. A few years ago I saw a man fishing near my house catch five dabs against mine using large live shrimp on a modified free line. I was using a 2 inch Sassy Shad on a 1/8 ounce jig head, which usually works great for me. It had a widemouth hook with a 1/8 ounce split shot mounted above it, and it dove into the current to a point, allowing the current to push the bait into the key bite area. The fluke hammered him.

The key to this seems to be the platform. Flounder doesn’t seem to want the shrimp on a Carolina heavy rig, but couldn’t resist the free-swimming action of this guy’s setup.

Although not commonly practiced, the cohabitation of these locations can be effective. This is especially true for anglers in flat-bottomed aluminum boats without trolling motors. Siting along the mouth of the bayou, around bends, bridge, pilings or other structures provides great party favor opportunities.

A rucksack tied to the back of the boat with cut menhaden, prawns, or even a can of horse mackerel with holes in it can bring you flounder. If you start bringing in gafftops, stop ruminating. These slimy catfish, which are common in the summer months, will also come after you and will steal your precious bait.

Track Menhaden’s movements

The main forage species of deep bayou plaice is menhaden (shad). Sometimes they can be all over bayou systems, but they can also migrate up to two miles in a single day, and flounder follow them.

“We catch them like crazy one day in the Sabine River bayous north of Sabine Lake and then they’re gone. It’s all about the shad movement. If you find shad in the bayous, you can find flounder,” says dedicated angler Frank Moore.

If you hit the S-bends and mouth of the bayou but can’t find any shad, head up the bayou until you start to see active schools. “Look for nervous shad jumping along the surface and large schools swimming in the channel. Look for the tide switches to trigger the stings. Falling tides typically bring shad back to the front of the bayou, while days with very long incoming tides can see them migrate farther inland,” says Moore.

End of season flounder
The first push of plaice occurs when the first cool fronts push fish from behind deep bayous into the mouths of the bayou. This occurs between late August and mid-September. After that, there is usually a lull in action for up to a month. The author caught this monster while fishing with Gross Savanne Lodge on Lake Calcasieu during this time in 2015.
Chester Moore

Early flounder migration

Flounder migrations do not happen instantaneously. They occur in stages. The main plaice migration to the Gulf of Mexico that occurs in early November has its onset from late August to mid-September.

When the first cold fronts blow and bring the teal into the marsh, this signals the start of the plaice migration. In my experience, plaice in the far reaches of the bayous begin to move up towards the main channels that intersect with the bay.

With every small front come more fish, and if you play your cards right, it’s a great time to score on the big ones. This sting lasts a week or two, then there is a lull in plaice activity until the first arctic explosion blows through the area.

Read next: Fall and Winter Flounder on Micro Jigs

State of the flounder fishery

Plaice may seem plentiful off the coasts of Texas and Louisiana, but trouble is brewing. Plaice numbers are far lower than Texas Parks and Wildlife and Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries officials would like to see, and both states have taken steps to create limited seasonal closures .

Conservative anglers only catch what they can eat that day and always release the big fish (20 inches or more) to fight another day. It’s good fisheries stewardship that will help ensure plaice for generations to come.

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