Cannon's seafood store in Washington didn't have any flounder when I called, which is odd since it's getting to be high flounder season. If there had been any available, the woman said, it would have sold for $2.10 a pound, $5.75 a pound for filets.

That's a lot of green, but folks will pay it because flounder is widely regarded as among the best, if not the best, table fish there is.

Going to the store is too easy. Real flatfish fans would rather acquire their flounder on their own. On a good day at Wachapreague or Chincoteague on Virginia's Eastern Shore it's not unusual to fill a large cooler with flounders. It's also one of pleasanter ways to spend a spring day.

"Outboards," said Bob Pohlmeyer, who runs Capt. Bob's boat rentals in Chincoteague, "that's what made flounder the most popular fish around here. Twenty years ago hardly anybody fished for them. They had big inboard boats then and drifting these shallows wasn't easy. Now with a little outboard skiff anybody can get to where the fish are."

And catch them. Flounder started biting in Wachapreague, south of Chincoteague, a couple of weeks ago. Chincoteague is usually about two weeks behind on the spring run, which means the fishing should heat up there this weekend, and two weeks or so after that it should turn on up the coast in Ocean City, Maryland.

How many flounder can a good fisherman expect to catch when it gets right?

"I'm glad you asked that," said Capt. Bob, a beefy; red-faced fellow with a lined face that bespeaks a lifetime on and around the water.

"Good fishermen who really know what they're doing and know where to fish, why they think nothing of going out and catching a hundred flounders to a boat on a good day. Someone who's just out there fooling around, maybe using the wrong gear or what-have-you, he'll probably catch more like 15 or 18."

Of one thing Capt. bob is certain. Local folks don't know beans about catching flounders. "No sir," he said, "it takes a fellow from Baltimore or Washington or Delaware or anywhere in Pennsylvania to catch 'em. These local boys go out and fish for 15 minutes and if they don't have one by then they head ashore. You take a Pennsylvanian, he'll stay out there all day and when he comes in he'll have a boatload."

Flounders have been good to Capt. Bob. He has 90 late-model skiffs with outboards for rent this year and a brand new shed to do the renting from. Kind of a fancy shed by Chincoteague standards: "You'll get a good laugh this year," said a hanger-on at the shed this month while last-minute touch-up work was under way. "I bet you've never seen a man dressed in a tuxedo selling minnows."

There are a number of smaller boat-rental concessions elsewhere in Cincoteague. Wachapreague down the road calls itself "the flounder captial," but there's a problem. There's only one place in Wachapreague to rent small skiffs -- The Fisherman's Inn. Joe Vodvarka, who runs it, only has about six boats available this year.

So while the two towns vie for honors as the best flounder spots in reach of Washington, Chincoteague gets the nod hands-down for boat availablity. Ocean City also has a big fleet of rental boats.

There are 24 charter boats available at Wachapreague, but that runs the expenses up.

Anyway, half the point of floundering is that you can do it yourself, which makes it all the more interesting and satisfying.

Flounder come in from the sea in spring and nestle in shallow saltwater bays like the ones at Wachapreague and Chincoteague, where they ravage small baitfish. They are bottom dwellers. They feed when the tide runs strongly, washing bait along the inshore channels.

The way to catch them is to catch the tide and rift across the edge of such a channel, bouncing a sinker on the bottom with minnows or squid strips attached to two hooks just above the sinker.

Some anglers double up, putting a squid strip and a minnow on each hook. This bait is called an "Eastern Shore sandwich."

High sport anglers refer to such fishing disparagingly. They call it "sinker bouncing." Come a fine spring day and I say they don't know what they're missing.

They'll find out, next time they visit the fish market.