Flounder Gigging - The Complete Guide
Flounder gigging is a unique, action-packed experience, that lets you see all of the marine life that swim the shallows at night. It is similar to fish gigging in the ozarks, but it's done along the coast because flounder are saltwater fish. Many fishermen say gigging for flounder on a slow night is far more entertaining than a slow day of rod and reel fishing. If you haven't tried it - you should!
What is Flounder Gigging?
1a.) How to Tell if Flounder is a Legal Size
Getting Started Flounder Gigging
2a.) Flounder Gig
2b.) Flounder Gigging Lights
2c.) Wading and Flounder Gigging
2d.) Flounder Gigging Boat
- How to Find a Good Flounder Gigging Spot
- Ideas for Preparing Flounder for Dinner
- How to Find Flounder on Different Bay Bottoms
- Flounder Gigging Video
What is Flounder Gigging?
Definition of flounder gigging
Flounder gigging is a method of fishing where an angler uses a fish spear, or flounder gig, to stab flounder laying on the bay floor. Gigging for flounder is typically done at night in the bay. Flounder gigging is most popular in the United States along the Gulf Coast from Texas to Florida, the Atlantic Coast from Florida to the Carolinas, as well as the shore line of Australia and New Zealand.
If you've never gigged for flounder before - you'll want to familiarize yourself with your local flounder gigging regulations first. The next step in flounder gigging is pretty simple. Flounder typically lay flat on the bay floor and most of the time you can walk right up to them and they won't move. On brighter nights such as a full moon, you may have to be a little more aware of where the flounder are because they are more likely to take off before you get close enough to gig them. Regardless, they don't travel far when they move and if you are in a boat you can usually circle around to find where they traveled to pretty quickly.
Some flounder fishermen say they look for red eyes shining on the bay floor to find flounder. Personally, I've never had success with this. We typically have our best luck in finding flounder by looking for the outline of the fish. There have been several instances where the only thing we see on a buried flounder is a tail or even the head. Sometimes we literally just see a dark spot in the general shape of a flounder and we lightly tap it to see if it moves. (It's best to make sure the flounder are of proper length prior to gigging, because their survival rate is not the greatest once gigged). There are other instances where you can clearly see the entire fish.
How to Tell if Flounder is a Legal Size
- Bring a measuring stick or something of legal length to set down next to flounder, they typically won't move. This is good for the new flounder giggers who have never done it before.
- Go with someone experienced in the sport, such as a flounder gigging guide, who can verify the legal size of the flounder until you feel comfortable enough to judge it for yourself.
- If the eyes are at least 2 full inches apart, then the flounder is most likely of legal size and is big enough to get some good fillets off of. This is a general observation we've made after measuring several keeper flounder.
Experienced flounder fishermen are typically able to tell if a flounder is legal to take based on local flounder gigging regulations just by looking at it on the bay floor. If a fish is close in terms of legal size, or you aren't sure - don't gig it. The smaller fish often have less meat on them to fillet and the best method of cooking them is to just cook them whole. The current legal size for where we are (Texas) is 15 inches. We typically won't stab a fish unless it is at least 16-17 inches due to the ability to get better sized fish fillets.
Getting Started Flounder Gigging
To get started flounder gigging, you're going to need the proper gear. Standard flounder gigging equipment includes a flounder gig, flounder lights, and either some good shoes for wading or a boat setup for flounder gigging. Lets go into more detail about flounder gigging lights, gigs and supplies.
A flounder gig is a type of fish spear. It fits on the end of a pole or pipe and has barbed tines, or sometimes called prongs, which give it a trident-like appearance. A well designed flounder gig has sharp points and is made of a strong, corrosion resistant material that can stand the abuse associated with gigging flounder in saltwater while poling a boat along in the flats.
Multi-pronged gigs are the best universal flounder gig that work well for both wading and walking because they have a better chance at not losing a flopping fish. A low quality, single-pronged flounder gig may be an ok option if you are walking and gigging, but will not work if you are gigging from a boat. While low quality flounder gigs may be made from carbon steel or 304 stainless steel, the best flounder gigs are made from corrosion resistant 316 stainless steel or 17-4 stainless steel.
Different counties along the coast have different regulations and requirements for the prongs on a flounder gig. Volusia County in Florida is one of the few counties that has a prong regulation, requiring 3 prongs or fewer to be used for flounder gigging. The vast majority of counties and states do not have prong regulations for flounder gigs, including the entire state of Texas. It is best to check your local regulations prior to heading out gigging. If you'd like to learn more about quality flounder gigs, then you may be interested in reading The Guide to Buying the Best Flounder Gig for Sale.
Flounder Gigging Lights
The best flounder gigging lights are going to do a good job at lighting up flounder laying on the bay floor. Modern flounder light setups are mounted both above water and underwater. Underwater lights do a great job at lighting up flounder laying on the bay floor while above water lights do a great job at illuminating fish further ahead.
A quality flounder light is going to be bright, have the ability to penetrate clear or muddy water, and is small and compact enough to either mount on your flounder gig pole or your boat without adding too much weight. You want to be able to float in as shallow of water as possible, so weight is key to a shallow running flounder gigging boat.
One of the most important features to look for in a good flounder light is the ability to have a light that is most optimal in the water conditions you are experiencing. We have noticed that a warm white (yellowish colored) light works best for muddy water, while a cool white light works best for clear water.
Some of the old style flounder lights that were used back in the day were high pressure sodium street lights and halogen street lights. These are huge, bulky lights, that would be mounted to a boat and required a humongous generator to run. In today's world, these have lost their popularity because the added weight prevents boats from being able to run in shallower waters, the bulbs were fragile and well known for breaking, they required loud generators, and ultimately a 110/120V AC power source does not mix well with highly conductive saltwater.
The most common flounder lights you see today are LED flounder gigging lights. LED flounder lights are able to provide customized color temperatures to match the water conditions you are flounder gigging in. They are typically more efficient in terms of brightness per watt output, and they take up far less space than their halogen and HPS counterparts. Some of the best flounder gigging lights such as the Swamp Eye Submersible, shown in the photo above, are capable of adjusting color tone from a warm white to cool white; which makes it easy to adjust to changing water conditions and increase your visibility to see the bottom. The best part is they are extremely bright, small and compact, corrosion resistant to saltwater, and they can be used for wading and gigging or for gigging from a boat.
Wading and Flounder Gigging
If you're primarily focusing on walking while gigging for flounder, then you will be happier with an LED flounder light. The reason being is that LED flounder lights run on low power output but provides enough brightness to light up the waters in front of you as well as to the side of you. It is not uncommon to see stingrays while wading and gigging, so a bright light is very important for your own safety. There are many different wading flounder light options, but the best ones we have seen require a small 12 volt deer feeder battery (typically 7 mAh battery capacity) to run all night long. You can see an example of a Mini Swamp Eye Submersible lit up in the below photo.
There are also wading lights that run on AA or AAA batteries, but proceed with caution. Our experience is that these lights very rarely provide enough brightness to light up the bay bottom and chances are you're going to miss more flounder that were a couple feet away from you than you would with a brighter light. One of the best wading lights we've seen is the Mini Swamp Eye Submersible; it provides over 6,000 lumens in light output and comes in warm white or cool white color tones. It will run all night on a 7 mAh deer feeder battery, and can be mounted to your flounder gig pole to be used underwater or above water. If you'd like to learn more about handheld setups for wading and flounder gigging, this is a great article to read: Handheld Flounder Gigging Lights for Wading and Walking.
Flounder Gigging Boat
A good flounder gigging boat is one that can run shallow and take the abuse associated with flounder gigging in shallow areas. Flounder come into the shallows at night and are in waters ranging from inches deep to a couple feet deep. Most of the night, your flounder boat will be dragging the bottom and may hit oyster shell, sand, rocks, and other miscellaneous debris that can be damaging to a boat. Due to these circumstances, most flounder boats are made from aluminum because it is more resistant to these methods of abuse than a fiberglass boat is.
That being said, we see plenty of fiberglass boats that are designed for bay fishing but used for flounder gigging and people have had success with it. It's important to just be conscious of your surroundings and the terrain underneath you so you don't end up poking holes in your boat.
If you are building a boat designed specifically for flounder gigging, the easiest method to run shallow is to mount a fan motor on supports above your outboard motor. The flounder gigging boat in the photo above shows a very nice setup commonly used by guides. This individual has Swamp Eye Light Bars mounted above water, Swamp Eye Submersibles on an underwater drop bar, and he has an air motor mounted above his outboard motor for running in the shallows.
Here are some key points about air motors for flounder gigging:
- Air / Fan motors are small, 5-30 hp horizontal shaft motors that have a prop attached to them.
- Some flounder fishermen will attach an alternator to the fan motor, so they can run their lights all night long without having to worry about batteries going dead.
- Mounting a fuel cell alongside your fan motor will increase fuel capacity, allowing you to run on one tank of gas for a longer duration.
- Fan motors allow boats to pass up fish, turn around and find them again because they don't stir up the water like a trolling motor does.
- Fan motors will run shallow very easily.
An alternative to a fan motor is to utilize a trolling motor. The pro's to a trolling motor are as follows:
- They come standard on most boats and are commercially available to easily purchase if needed.
- Trolling motors are much quieter than fan motors, small trolling motors may be more cost effective than an air motor.
- When gigging in deeper waters of at least 2 ft deep, trolling motors offer better boat control.
The con's to using a trolling motor while flounder gigging are as follows:
- Flounder gigging is typically done in very shallow water, which requires constant adjusting of the trolling motor shaft to prevent it from dragging the bottom
- When someone walks from the front of the boat to the back of the boat it may raise the trolling motor of the water and make a bunch of noise which can scare fish off
- Trolling motors draw a significant amount of power which, in combination with flounder lights, can suck the juice out of a deep cycle battery pretty quickly.
- Trolling motors stir up the bottom which causes muddy water in areas you pass while gigging, so if you miss a fish and have to turn around it will be very difficult to find it again.
Based on these criteria, we typically see air motors installed on boats that are designed for flounder gigging. Trolling motors are more common on boats used universally for other forms of fishing in addition to flounder gigging.
When mounting lights to your flounder boat, there are two options: mount above water flounder lights or mount below water flounder lights. Above water lights work well because you don't have to worry about them dragging the bottom or getting caught on oyster shell or miscellaneous debris sticking up as you pass over in your boat. The argument against them though is that they can cast a glare on the water, making it difficult to see the bottom. The Swamp Eye Bowfishing Lights are capable of adjusting from warm white to cool white to eliminate this glare. Cool white in clear water tends to not have a glare, but in muddy water it will light up all the suspended solids in the water column and cause what appears to be a glare.
The sure fire way to get rid of a glare regardless of the conditions is to use underwater flounder lights. Underwater lights do a better job at lighting up the bay floor, but they typically do not shine as far ahead as above water lights do to allow you to see what's coming. Thus, we see most flounder gigging guides and commercial fishermen running a combination of both above water lights and underwater flounder gigging lights on their boat.
If you'd like to see boat setups with both above water and underwater lighting options, please check out these articles: Above Water Flounder Lights, Underwater Flounder Lights 1, Underwater Flounder Lights 2.
How to Find a Good Flounder Gigging Spot
The key to finding a good flounder gigging spot is to understand the feeding habitat of a flounder as well as the 4 variables that cause flounder to move: water temperature, barometric pressure, tide, and water clarity.
A flounder's habitat while feeding is in areas with water flow and they tend to prefer a soft mud bottom over any other terrain. If you're able to combine these two together and find an area with a decent amount of bait fish, then there is bound to be a flounder nearby. Flounder can also be found on oyster beds, grass, and sand, especially if there are areas with a good amount of water flow such as at inlets and estuaries, but they seem to be more consistency abundant on the mud flats.
Our rule of thumb is if you can step out of the boat and instantly sink down past your ankles in mud, then you are probably in a pretty good area that has potential to store some flounder. When flounder lie in these mud flats, they will leave imprints of their body, commonly referred to as "flounder beds". If you come across these imprints, then chances are you just missed them. Don't give up yet though - follow the flounder beds and you may end up finding the flounder.
Generally speaking, the key reason flounder and many other fish move into the shallows at night is due to the drop in temperature from day time to night time. The cooler temperatures bring the bait fish in, and flounder follow. If you're out gigging on a hot night, the flounder may be in a little deeper waters ranging from 1-3 feet deep.
As barometric pressure, or atmospheric pressure, increases, it pushes fish down. As barometric pressure decreases, it pulls fish up into the shallows. This is the general methodology behind why flounder gigging right before a cold front moves in is typically a more successful trip than normal. Cold front are low pressure systems, which help bring the fish into the shallows. The driving force behind the changing barometric pressure is due to the discomfort fish experience in their swim bladder. Now, flounder don't actually have swim bladders so they don't experience this discomfort but their target bait fish do and they follow the bait fish.
Tide is possibly the single most important factor to consider when flounder gigging. A fast falling tide, or the end of a falling tide, can make for the worst flounder gigging conditions possible. This is because flounder are moving into deeper waters on a falling tide and the faster the tide moves, the more quickly the flounder move out. The end of a falling tide is also associated with a stirred up bottom from all the sediment that was washed away as the tide moved out. This can negatively affect the water clarity, making it very difficult to see fish while out gigging. However, the beginning of a falling tide can make for very good flounder gigging because the fish haven't moved out yet. Just be conscious of the tide levels, the water depth and your escape route so you don't get isolated or beached on some mud flats due to a fast falling tide.
Flounder move in on a rising tide, so the beginning of a rising tide may not be the greatest but if you wait an hour or two, flounder gigging may rapidly improve. This is due to the flounder starting to move in. A rising tide also opens up more ground for you to flounder gig when gigging by boat.
A good indicator to determine if flounder are moving in or moving out is by watching the direction the flounder are pointed when you see them. If they are pointed towards the shore, then they are most likely still moving into the shallows. If they are pointed away from the shore, then they are moving out into the deeper waters.
Regardless of the tide level, there are various features in the bay you can look for to find a spot that is optimal for gigging flounder. In order to learn more about these spots, I'd recommend reading The Best Tides for a Successful Flounder Gigging Trip.
The water clarity refers to how far light can travel through the water column. The water clarity can rapidly change from one spot to the next, due to 3 primary reasons: wind, tide, and bottom.
The leading cause to bad water clarity is the wind. If you're gigging on a windy night, make sure you find areas that are protected from the wind such as the back side of an island or an area that has tree protection.
As discussed in the Tide section, a falling tide is commonly associated with stirring up the bottom due to the sediment that is washing away with the tide. This can cause bad water clarity due to the suspended solids in the water column.
The last primary cause of poor water clarity is due to the bay bottom. Flounder are most commonly found in mud flats, and when you set foot in these flats or drag over them with your boat it is bound to stir up a bunch of muddy water. If the water clarity is bad enough, it is best to find an area with a harder sand bottom, oyster shell bottom, or even grass bed that you can flounder gig in. These areas are more likely to have better water clarity and hopefully will store some flatties.
Ideas for Preparing Flounder for Dinner
Flounder makes for one of the best meals, even if it's not cooked to perfection. Some of the most common flounder recipes call for it to be stuffed with a crab or shrimp mixture and then baked in the oven. Whether you are looking to buy flounder fillets in a grocery store or at your local restaurant, it makes a pretty expensive meal. Many flounder fishermen save by investing in quality flounder gigging equipment to get their own flounder and it can easily pay for itself several times over. My personal favorite method of preparing flounder is crab stuffed flounder. Other methods include whole fried flounder, baked flounder, and grilled flounder.
Stuffed Flounder Fillet
Whole Baked Stuffed Flounder
Whole Fried Flounder
Whole Baked Flounder
IF THAT DOESN'T MAKE YOUR MOUTH WATER I DON'T KNOW WHAT WILL!
How to Find Flounder on Different Bay Bottoms
Flounder are found on a variety of bay bottoms and the best way to find flounder is to look for the outlines of their body. Some say you can see their eyes shine, but I have yet to spot a flounder based on eye shine.
In the old days when lighting was not as efficient as today's super bright LED flounder gigging lights, eye shine was the only thing flounder fishermen had to go off of. Today's lighting technology allows fishermen to clearly see the full outline of a flounder laying on the ocean floor, which is more distinguishing than eye shine that could be mistaken for any other marine species. (Shrimp and baitfish eyes are pretty bright under the light!)
Here are some photos of flounder on different bay bottoms for you to get some practice in finding the flounder prior to going out flounder gigging.
Flounder on Mud Flats Bottom
Flounder on Grass Bed Bottom
Flounder on Rock Bottom
Flounder Gigging Video
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