The state's fanatical pursuit of speckled trout and increasing notice of redfish have rendered the tastiest of the "Cajun Grand Slam" almost an afterthought on a given fishing day.
The above-mentioned species deserve their ranking with their aesthetics, numbers and high marks on the table.
That said, a flounder's appearance at boat side is almost universal: A surprised remark by the first person to identify it followed by a quick scramble for the landing net, an order to forego any notion of "flipping" it into the boat and a tense moment should the fish dive beneath the surface before being led into the net.
Securing the fish in the vessel is followed by another amazingly predictable declaration of the fish's role in the night's dinner plans.
The mysterious nature of the flounder goes a long way in securing its place in the unofficial state hierarchy. Many people wouldn't mind catching more flounder but don't know how.
Though they can be caught across the coastline, two areas in the southeastern part of the state stand out when it comes to numbers that at least compete with trout and redfish and potential for fish of truly elite size.
In recent years, the downriver area of Venice and the eastern part of Lake Pontchartrain have established themselves as astoundingly productive fisheries for trophy speckled trout.
At the same time, the flounder fishing in early fall in these locales has taken on a cult status, and the best angling often occurs as the trout make their transition-period disappearing act in many other parts of the state.
Jeff Fuscia of Delta Dawn Guide Service in Venice counts early autumn as one of his favorite times to fish the sprawling Mississippi River delta.
Though he dearly loves tying into the big specks as they make their way inside, he holds a special place in his heart for the tremendous numbers of flounder inundating delta waters.
"I get more excited going after flounder than I do for trout or reds," said Fuscia, "especially when they move inside (when the river falls). It's a big part of my game plan."
Fuscia says the popularity of trout and redfish in the area largely leaves the flounder population to a select few who hold the fish in similar regard. In the age of sight fishing for shallow-water redfish and working soft plastics for trout, there's less emphasis on doing what is necessary to catch a mess of flounder.
"Especially in the fall, everybody's got their minds on trout," said Fuscia. "Even in late summer, when the river gets low, it opens up a lot of water to trout fishermen."
The low river also opens up Fuscia's flounder fishing holes located on the inside. Passes and cuts off of Pass A Loutre, not to mention the super productive first spillway and wing dams in the Mississippi River itself come alive as the river reaches late-season low levels.
Also, Fuscia says, flounder fishing is not for everyone. Though an ice chest full of succulent fish is the reward, the steps in putting them in the box can be a somewhat tedious chore for those used to the frenetic action associated with speckled trout or redfish fishing.
"You've got to go through some hardheads and stingrays to get to the flounder, and it's not a real exciting type of fishing," said Fuscia. "The thing you've got to remember is if you're catching stingrays, you're fishing for flounder the right way."
The right way entails getting the bait — Fuscia favors a shrimp-tipped soft plastic such as an H&H baby bull minnow or a Norton Sand Eel Jr. in chartreuse or white — on the bottom and keeping it there.
Though flounder will dart up a good ways to pick off a bait, they're typically lazy fish and true ambush feeders who need a bait to be fairly close to draw a strike. In addition to bumping the bottom with a soft plastic and shrimp, Fuscia also uses a deep cork rig with either a live or dead shrimp to tempt fish.
"If you're fishing an area that's 3 feet deep, rig your cork at 4 feet with a split shot above a treble hook, and let the current ease the bait along. That shrimp will just trickle along the bottom."
The delta's fairly turbid water in the passes — even in low-water conditions — necessitates techniques such as the one described above in almost putting the bait in the fish's face. Repeated casts into a likely area are often required to find the fish.
"It's not often something where you can go to a spot, make five casts and determine that the fish are or aren't there," said Fuscia. "I've often worked a spot for 10 minutes trying different things before we found out where they were holding and what was the best way to fish for them. Figuring that out can mean putting 10 or 15 in the boat."
Ledges associated with the numerous passes in the delta are the type of structure Fuscia looks for when targeting flounder. An adjacent flat provides a couple of options for the fish to relate to in accordance to the whims of the current.
"The fish will be holding wherever the current washes the baitfish over them," he said. "Sometimes it's pushing baitfish from the deeper water up the ledge and onto the flat, and at other times it's pushing them from the flat down the ledge, where the flounder can pick them off."
Fuscia says that though the pattern sounds easy, he always carefully examines each technique on both the flat and the dropoff in order to find out where the fish are holding.
"It's not something I've ever been able to pattern. I know that once you find out what they're relating to, you can just repeat the process and do really well," said Fuscia.
One of the easier ways for beginners to fish for flounder in the delta is to work the innumerable wing dams along both banks of the Mississippi River below Head of Passes. With the structure clearly evident, there's no need for finding underwater structure. It can be as simple as pulling up on the backside of the structure and fishing straight down.
"You can catch blue catfish and redfish in addition to flounder. Just drop a jig with a piece of shrimp down to the bottom, and jig it in place," said Fuscia.
Dams with a section missing are also ideal habitat for flounder. Positioning one's boat downstream from the "cut" and throwing a jig — with enough weight to get it to the bottom — into the gap is also a good way of taking advantage of the ambush-feeding traits of the flounder.
"The bait is being swept through the gap, and the flounder will hold there and wait for them," said Fuscia.
Perhaps no one in the state is associated with big speckled trout more than Capt. Dudley Vandenborre. But the flounder that invade Lake Pontchartrain's bridges — especially the train trestle — are enough to pull him off his beloved trout, at least for a little while.
Like fishing the wing dams in Venice, there's not much to finding the structure that consistently holds the biggest numbers of flounder in the lake. The trestles are the westernmost of the three bridges connecting Slidell and the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain.
Casting soft plastics such as Deadly Dudley Terror Tail Jrs. next to the pilings and working them with the current is a sure way to put a mess in the ice chest. Just be sure to get there early.
"When they get there, it usually doesn't take long for word to get out," said Vandenborre. "They usually get worked over pretty good in the morning by fishermen. It's not a big challenge to catch them and they get caught by the fishermen pretty early. A new group of them will move up onto the bridge by the next day, but if you get there late, they might have all been caught."
Vandenborre says the fish generally show up in big numbers around the end of September when a few cold fronts have pushed through. The fish will stay there until the water temperature reaches 56 or 57 degrees. The biggest fish — like in Venice, Pontchartrain fish reach up to 8 pounds — show up in mid October and into November.
"You'll get plenty of 5- to 6-pounders, and every once in a while we'll get one of those real big ones," said Vandenborre. "I think the bigger ones migrate in from offshore because we catch the smaller fish pretty much throughout the summer. It's not the numbers we catch in the fall, but there's still a good number out there."
Vandenborre related a story late in the summer regarding the numbers of smaller fish — 2 to 3 pounds — in the lake. Running crab traps in the Goose Point area, Vandenborre's son reported catching around 20 to 30 flounder in the traps per day.
A marked difference in targeting flounder is the way Vandenborre works his bait. Not surprisingly, Vandenborre favors his brand of baits — avocado is his go-to color for flatfish, while blue moon with a chartreuse tail gets the nod should he hope for a few trout — when working the bridge, but says dragging the bait across the bottom instead of "popping" the bait is preferred when flounder are the target.
Also, tipping the jig with a pinch of shrimp can go a long way in drawing strikes.
"Flounder are very scent-oriented. Shrimp will not only get more strikes, but the fish will hang on to the bait a little longer."
And that's an important step in converting strikes into meat in the box. A flounder's bony jaws often prevent them from being hooked well enough to make it to the boat.
"I think a lot of times they don't even get hooked. They just hold onto it, and when they see the boat, they just let go," said Vandenborre. "Letting them eat on the bait for a little bit can get the hook a little farther back in its mouth. That's where you want it.
"When I was fishing some bass tournaments in the past, I would go flounder fishing to get ready for them. You want to let them eat (the bait) a little bit, and you want to set the hook hard. I always tell my charter customers to set the hook again when they're hooked up."
Fortunately for anglers, a lost fish can sometimes be hooked again. Both Vandenborre and Fuscia related stories about lost fish that were almost immediately caught again by placing a bait right back where the fish was lost. Flounder, when lost, will settle right back to the bottom.
While casting along the bridges, Vandenborre also likes dragging a live baitfish — a croaker, "shiner," finger mullet or even a cocaho — behind the boat to pick off any fish that might be hanging off the structure.
Capt. Greg Schlumbrecht is another fishing guide who looks forward to the annual fall run of flounder along the bridges, and has some tips for anglers looking to cash in on the prime-time period.
"The west side of the north end of the train trestle has a hard bottom, which the fish seem to like," he said.
The veteran fishing guide went on to explain that an incoming tide — though he says he's never been able to predict when it takes place — is always best for flounder in this and any other spot.
The rising tide, of course, presents the ideal conditions for working the bait with the current on the preferred western side.
"When it gets good, the fish will just be carpeted along this bridge," said Schlumbrecht, adding that he's also caught some very nice trout while dredging up flatfish.
Capt. Jeff Fuscia can be reached at 504-382-5488 or 225-686-1937. Capt Dudley Vandenborre can be reached at 985-847-1924. Capt. Greg Schlumbrecht can be reached at 985-960-1709.