Four Tips and Techniques for Winter Flounder Success

Four Tips and Techniques for Winter Flounder Success

The Puget Sound flounder fishery is an often under-utilized treasure. Most fishermen braving the harsh Northwestern waves and winds in the winter months search for larger game such as juvenile Chinook salmon (often known as blackmouths). Others spend countless hours lined up along piers jigging for those delicious market squid. But, for those looking to help beginners get hooked on fishing or take the kids out for a tasty and plentiful fish, there is no better fishery than flatfish.

There are two commonly caught flounder in this area: rock sole and sand dabs. An easy way to distinguish the two is to lay them on their sides with the gill plate facing down. Rock sole are a right-eyed fish, and sand dabs are a left-eyed fish. The larger starry flounder, a less common catch, can be either right or left eyed, however, and can be distinguished by their striking orange fin stripes. All three are excellent table fare, delicate and flaky. They are well suited for the frying pan or the oven, filleted or whole. Children and novice fishermen can easily catch these smaller fish; most top the scales at around nine to fourteen inches. Heavy tackle isn't required; in fact, light tackle is a blast to catch these scrappy fish on! Even the most hardened salmon fishermen will delight in pulling up dozens of these plentiful critters. Winter brings an extra challenge, as these fish tend to migrate a little deeper in the colder weather. You can catch them by casting into faraway holes at piers or dropping your line between 60-120 feet deep on a boat. Follow these tips and tricks and you are sure to bring home a limit of tasty flounder for the frying pan!

These are some of my favorite fish to catch any time of year, however, make sure to check your local fishing rules and regulations before heading out!


Raw, medium size shrimp is my go-to flatfish bait for winter. It stays on the hook well and disperses a powerful scent. My favorite trick is to brine your shrimp in Pro Cure for a little extra flavor that the flounder just won't be able to resist. Flounder are bottom feeders, and shrimp are a natural food for them. Not only flounder, but also dogfish, pacific staghorn sculpin, and perch love this bait. Make sure you cut the shrimp into bite-sized pieces for the flounders' small mouths. Herring and Squid Brine your herring in chartreuse Pautzke Fire Cure to firm them just a bit and make them stay on the hook longer. Be careful though, dogfish sharks love herring, and they fight considerably harder than flounder! Squid is also a good bait, and stays on the hook like no other. You can add a strip to any artificial lure for a bit of scent and action. Again, make sure either bait you use is cut small to fit in these fishes' small mouths.

Artificial Lures

While I tend to prefer cut bait for flounder, these little guys will nibble on just about anything you drop in front of their faces. You can deploy a vast array of rooster tails, spinners, spoons, and even grubs if you do not have access to fresh bait during these winter months. Berkeley Gulp! Sandworms entered the market recently as a favorite for surf perch out on the Washington coast, but they work equally well for flounder. As a bonus, these are reusable and can be placed back in the bag when done fishing for the day. I recommend the three inch long sandworms in camo color. They come in a pack of twenty-four, so they are quite a value. I have also heard of success with Berkeley Gulp! Swimming Mullets in white or red.

Setup and Gear

For flounder, I typically run a 4-5 foot long drop shot or high low rig with size 4 baitholder hooks. If you don't want to spend time tying your own rig, you can also use crappie rigs sold at most tackle shops, with pre-snelled hooks. I use a 3 ounce pyramid sinker for most situations, although you may switch to a bank or coin sinker if your structure is rocky and you wish to avoid the dreaded snags! I use a 15 pound test fluorocarbon leader, with 30 pound test braid for my mainline. Fluorocarbon is certainly not a requirement; monofilament is cheaper and works well, but I find that fluorocarbon's unique invisibility in the water brings more hookups. Being a Northwesterner, I commonly use a 8-10 foot salmon-steelhead rod, with a 4000 size saltwater rated reel. In case I hook onto the odd dogfish shark or lingcod, I tend to use heavier tackle than needed for these fish. However, flounder are small fish, and just about any setup will work for them. Light, inexpensive tackle can be a blast! The best part about flounder fishing is that it doesn't require specialized gear. You can get away with using ultralight crappie and trout rods, or even children's' beginner setups. These are a plentiful species, and have no intimidating teeth or spines, so they are extremely easy to handle for beginners. Anyone can catch these fish, as long as you can get your bait on the bottom. If you want to take beginner fishermen or kids out to fish, there is no better fishery than our Puget Sound flounder.

Hannah Pennebaker recently graduated with a degree in Environmental Science from Pacific Lutheran University. She enjoys fishing both freshwater and saltwater fishing adventures in the Puget Sound with her fishing group, the Straw Hat Fishermen.

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