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Winter Flounder Fishing Riddle

By Kastking | 22 January 2018 | 0 Comments

Winter flounder no longer fill the pails of inshore anglers, here’s a look at why.



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Winter flounder were a prized inshore catch for decades


Winter flounder are probably the first saltwater fish many old time anglers in the Northeast ever caught.  This little scrapper of a fish was once very abundant in the bays and creeks between New Jersey to Massachusetts.   Winter flounder (Pseudopleuronectes americanus, a.k.a. lemon sole in US waters) were extremely fun to catch, and in my opinion, the tastiest of all inshore species of fish.  St. Patrick’s Day was the traditional opening day. It was then that eager anglers would flock to local waterways in order to dangle a couple of bottom rigged hooks baited with blood or sand worms. Usually, it wouldn’t be long before a pail began filling with frisky flounder.


Sadly, much of this great inshore flounder action is gone, and most likely it’s gone forever. That being said, there are still some locales, such as Boston Harbor, where a decent bite of hefty winter flounder develops for anglers.  Some blame environmental factors such as climate change, and run off from lawn fertilizers near flounder nursery grounds.  Others point the finger at predation from striped bass, seals, or cormorants.  In reality, it’s probably a little bit of “all of the above.”  However, I’m pretty confident though, that over fishing has had nothing to do with this persistent decline.  Simply put, fishing pressure on winter flounder has been almost nil for 20-years or more, and even with this break, flounder show no evidence of rebounding. In fact, fishing pressure has been so low that the NYS DEC is considering expanding its winter flounder season length with this rational:


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Pseudopleuronectes americanus, a.k.a. lemon sole in US waters, or more commonly winter flounder



“These regulations are necessary for New York to maximize winter flounder fishing opportunities for its marine recreational anglers while remaining in compliance with the Interstate Fishery Management Plan (FMP) adopted by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC). The proposed rule will extend the current 60-day open season (April 1 – May 30) to 306 days (March 1 – December 31) without altering the current 12- inch minimum size limit or the 2 fish possession limit. This regulatory change will provide New York marine recreational anglers with similar access to winter flounder as anglers in NY’s neighboring states of Rhode Island, Connecticut and New Jersey.”


Typically, some ardent conservationists are aghast at such a thought of expanding the winter flounder season.  I say, open it up because an extended season is not going to make any difference on the inshore stock at all. Now, please let me expand on my thinking path a bit before labeling me a “for hire fish killer.”


Over the years some extensive tagging studies have been done on winter flounder in an attempt to figure out just what the problem is.  These studies have shed some light on flounder movements, but unfortunately, no solution to their decline has been discovered. Apparently, inshore flounder spawn in the bays and creeks during winter months.  Flounder then stay inshore and feed heavily after spawning well into the spring months.  Once water temperatures become too high for the winter flounder they head out of the bays, and will then habitat in the ocean for the summer months, only to return back to the bays during the fall months when water temperatures are cooler.


winter, flounder, biomass, winterflounder

Steady decline of winter flounder biomass over the years


Scientists have also discovered that there is an offshore segment of the winter flounder species that live their entire lives in deep water, and prefer to habitat around harder bottom such as rock ledges, wrecks, and offshore clam and scallop beds.  These offshore flounder never come inshore. This population seems to be in healthy shape because offshore draggers routinely catch the same amount in tons of quota every season.


Many anglers like to fish offshore (120 to140-ft depth) on hard bottom areas in the summertime with intentions of catching cod, ling, and whiting.  Recently it has been discovered that on many of these trips anglers catch quite a few large winter flounder as by-catch.  Because of the present regulations that shut the season down on May 30th, all of these beautiful, delicious flounder must be returned to the water.   In fact, these encounters have become so common on the offshore grounds that some anglers began trying to catch them with smaller hooks baited with clam strips placed right on the bottom.  The results? Often these clam strips were eagerly devoured by big offshore winter flounder.


Bottom line, a bag limit of  two winter flounder per person will not and cannot destroy the stock any further than it is right now.  So, why not let these offshore anglers keep a couple of flounder on their trips?  In addition, if an inshore angler is extremely lucky enough to catch a couple of flounder while fishing in the bay, let them keep their catch also.   If by a miracle the flounder seem like they are rebounding then new regulations can easily be implemented to help them along. However, right now, by expanding the length of the season to 306-days it’s not going to affect the current state of the winter flounder fishery one iota.


– By Capt. Tom Mikoleski


Captain Tom Mikoleski is the successful fishing charter captain of the Grand Slam who sails out of Montauk, NY for trophy striped bass, doormat fluke, jumbo porgies, humpback sea bass, and monster sharks. Capt. Tom is the author of Bass Buff — A Striper Fishing Obsession Guide.



About Eposeidon:


eposeidon, fishing, tackle, logoEposeidon (www.eposeidon.com  Eposeidon Outdoor Adventure, Inc.)  brings a fresh, innovative approach to anglers by offering quality fishing tackle products at the best prices and no cost, or low cost shipping. Eposeidon’s goal is to exceed expectations through outstanding customer service and superior product value to their customers. Eposeidon is continually expanding its product lines, which include KastKing(r) fishing line, fishing reels, and fishing rods, MadBite fishing lures, Ecooda reels, and other fishing tackle products, to meet individual fishing equipment needs. Eposeidon is headquartered in Garden City, NY, USA and sells fishing tackle products globally. Eposeidon is the sole North American Distributor for Ecooda fishing reels #winterflounder

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