PITY THE poor flounder. His very name is used as a verb to describe something in serious trouble, or at least acting ineffectually.
He spends most of his life on the bottom, looking up. Askance.
He's blind on one side and cockeyed on the other.
One of his eyes looks like it crawled over from the other side, maybe to get away from what it had been seeing there. In fact, that's exactly what happened, according to Bill Wisner in his book, "How to Catch Salt-Water Fish." For the first few months of life, flounders look just like any other small fish. They swim upright and have one eye on each side of the head. Then one eye migrates to the other side, while head and body twist and flatten out horizontally. One side turns white, while the other acquires pigmentation that changes to match the color and shadings of the bottom where he dwells.
This is true of both the northern, or winter, flounder and the southern, or summer, flounder, also known as fluke.
These two types of flounder are caught in much the same areas, but usually in different seasons. The winter flounder is usually caught in the spring and fall, while the summer flounder is caught in, you guessed it, the summer months, but starting as early as April and lasting through September.
It's the summer flounder we'll be concerned with here. He's bigger and more aggressive than his winter cousin. You can almost always tell the two apart by the way they face and by the size of their mouths.
When placed in front of you on its bottom side and with its eyes on top, the summer flounder will be facing your left side, the winter flounder your right side. The summer flounder has a larger mouth and bigger teeth than the winter flounder.
Winter flounder are usually in the one-e eight- are not unusual.
The Maryland record for summer flounder in the Chesapeake Bay is 15 pounds, caught in 1978 near Buoy 50 off the mouth of the Potomac. The ocean-side record for Maryland is 17 pounds (Assateague Island, 1974).
The Virginia record is 171/2, caught at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel in 1971.
So, besides those three places listed above, where do you catch flounder?
Any of the inlets, bays, coves or harbors on the ocean side of the Eastern Shore of Maryland or Virginia, in the Chesapeake Bay and in the lower, saltier portions of the rivers, according to Jack Travelstead, chief of the Fisheries Management Division of the Virginia Department of Marine Resources.
One of the more popular and best- known places is the Wachapreague Inlet, Travelstead says. And the flounder fishing there is pretty good now, according to Bob Fate, manager of the Wachapreague Marina.
"We're not catching them in great numbers now, but most of them are 'keepers,' " Fate says. (In Virginia, a flounder must be at least 12 inches long to be legal. As of July 1, that became a possession limit for the state, meaning that you can't catch a smaller one somewhere else -- in North Carolina, for example -- and bring it into Virginia. Maryland also has a 12-inch minimum.)
Fate recommends using a monofilament high-low rig to drift-fish along the bottom. The high-low rig has a sinker at the bottom, with a swivel about 10 inches up attached to a two-foot monofilament leader with a hook at the end. An additional eight inches up are another swivel, leader and hook.
The size of the hook will vary with the size of the fish being caught, but Fate recommends using a Scotchline No. 2 hook.
Bait the hooks with any natural bait, such as crab, minnows or squid.
As for tackle, any medium spinning or castAs for tackle, any medium spinning or casting rod and reel will do. Light tackle is okay too, but you may have quite a battle on your hands if you hook a large one.
Although a large flounder is often referred to as a "doormat," it's not for wiping your feet on. Despite its appearance, it is a welcome treat even to many folks who don't like the taste of other fish. WHAT'S THE CATCH?
WASHINGTON AND VICINITY
Catfishing has fallen off considerably in this stretch of the river, according to Joe Fletcher of Fletcher's Boat House. Fletcher thinks the catfish have moved upriver where the water is moving better. The river here is low and sluggish now, and Fletcher recommends calling the boat house for a report. The number is 202/244-0461.
"It's too hot now for catfish. They are inactive. With a rain upriver, fishing would improve dramatically," Fletcher said.
On the plus side, Fletcher says some anglers are catching large rockfish near Chain Bridge. For bait, they're using live little white perch that they catch first.
"One fisherman, Dickie Tehaan, had about 15 rockfish weighing from 5 to 7 pounds each," Fletcher says. And a few are being caught using deep-diving lures and twisters, Fletcher says.
A few largemouth bass are being caught on worms and minnows in the early morning or late evening hours when it is cool, Fletcher says. And some walleyes are also being hooked on deep-diving lures.
"Three walleyes were brought in yesterday, all weighing around three pounds. We're starting to benefit from a stocking they did upstream several years ago," Fletcher says. As we reported last week, some walleyes are also being taken north of the Wilson Bridge on the Maryland side.
UPPER POTOMAC -- "All I'm getting is complaints," says Rob Gilford of the Rod Rack in Frederick, Md. "Nobody did anything last weekend as far as largemouth or smallmouth bass were concerned. These were some pretty solid fishermen reporting back and only one of them caught a bass, and it was undersize.
"Some of them started fishing for catfish in the Potomac after they started biting on hellgrammites, and they caught quite a few," Gilford says.
EASTERN SHORE -- Evening fishing for largemouth bass is very productive in all of the rivers and farm ponds on the Eastern Shore, according to Charlie Ebersberger of Angler's in Annapolis. The bass are hitting on surface baits such as Hula Poppers, jitterbugs and buzzbaits, Ebersberger says.
The Choptank River also is a good spot for bass, says Gilford of The Rod Rack in Frederick. Several fishermen from Frederick participated in a bass tournament there sponsored by the Hard Times Bass League last weekend. Gilford reports everyone in the club caught some bass and that the winner had two bass totaling 13 pounds.
Fishing on the Nanticoke River was somewhat slower and spotty, according to Dave Watson of Dave's Sport Shop in Quantico, Md. Some flounder and small snapper blues are available, but the trout just haven't shown up yet, Watson says. White perch from 1/2 to 3/4 pound are plentiful, he says.
RESERVOIRS -- Fishing has been tough at the Triadelphia and Rocky Gorge reservoirs, with one recent exception. An 8-pound, 12- ounce northern pike was taken last weekend by Paul Heldenbrand of Silver Spring. He said that he was trolling with a Bagley Diving B-1 crankbait.
LAKE ANNA -- Heat, wind and water skiers make fishing Lake Anna in the daytime difficult, according to parttime guide Jerry Liverman of Frederick. But the bass are biting at night, he says.
ANNAPOLIS -- "Tons of bluefish" up to 2 pounds and "a few magnum fours" are being caught in the upper Bay, according to Ebersberger at Angler's. The best blues baits for now are the thin-diameter noodle hose and numbers 15 and 17 Tony Aceta trolling spoons, he ays.
Plenty of white perch are available, especially on the eastern side of the Bay, he says.
CAPE CHARLES -- The flounder fishing is pretty good right now around the sunken concrete ships that form the breakwater at Kiptopeake, according to Emmett Bailey of Bailey's Tackle Shop. But fishing fell of last week, Bailey says, because strong northeast winds churned up the water and prevented many people from going out. Catches were mostly sea trout, a few croakers and some whiting, Bailey says.
DEALE -- It had been slim pickings in the middle Bay -- until a week ago, when two- four-pound bluefish arrived "by the coolerful," says Nancy Broderick, captain of the "Babalu" charter boat. Green eels, small spoons and eight-ounce weights are working best for trolling, and the best fishing spot is "right in front of the radar towers," just south of Chesapeake Beach, she says.
Broderick also says black drum have "started to appear."
POINT LOOKOUT -- Surfcasters on the causeway are catching bluefish ranging up to 17 pounds, according to Pat Raley of Sister's Place. They also are catching some flounder, she says.
Norman Bishop of "The Lucky Lady" reports that the headboats are again chumming for bluefish, which they prefer to trolling, and are having pretty good catches.
Bishop says some croaker had been reported in the area and that by this weekend they should know whether there are enough around to warrant adding a weekday boat to bottom-fish for trout and croaker. (If you're having trouble locating "The Lucky Lady" since she moved from Point Lookout State Park, call 301/872-5815.)
WACHAPREAGUE -- The offshore tuna fishing has been excellent, according to Bill Fate at the Wachapreague Marina. "They are going like crazy," Fate says.