Not really knowing what we were doing, my brother and I were fishing for bass in the Intracoastal Canal just to the west of Lake Catherine. We were pitching Texas-rigged tequila sunrise worms to little cuts and pockets along the bank.
It wasn't very long before I had our first bite. I set the hook and figured out right away that this probably wasn't a bass. I slung the fish over the side of my old Bass Tracker boat, and nearly screamed at the sight of that fish flopping on the carpet. I knew what a flounder was, but I had never been so close to one.
After arguing about which one of us was going to touch it, we finally tag-teamed the fish into the livewell and slammed the lid shut not really sure what we were going to do with this fish that looked more like something that had swum all the way from Chernobyl to Slidell.
We were fighting over who would touch another one just a few feet down the canal, then another and another. We managed to get several flounder in the livewell. I took a peek under the lid to see how many we had, and I would have sworn that we didn't have but one because that was all I could see. One thing I knew for sure, though, was that I wasn't going to stick my hand down there to count them.
Being two backwoods boys from Washington Parish, we weren't too sure what we were going to do with all these flat fish. Squirrel we could handle - flounder we had no idea.
We wound up calling Frank Green, a local Pearl River rat from Enon, and asked him what to do with them. He instructed us to rub a spoon all over their backs to get the scales off - I couldn't even tell they had scales - then to cut their heads off and gut them. At that point, he told us they were ready to be butterflied and stuffed with crabmeat dressing.
Needless to say, what came out of the oven that night made us want to go back for some more. We eventually got the hang of catching, landing, cleaning and cooking flounder, but my eventual move to North Louisiana put a damper on our flounder fishing for several years.
I recently got to renew my love affair with these beautiful bottom beasts when Capt. Cade Thomas, an old National Guard buddy and Venice guide, invited me to fish with him a few days this past summer.
I was trying to think of an excuse to not make the 2 1/2-hour drive from my house to Venice. Thomas told me he was catching a ton of reds and a few specks. Yawn. Then he told me he had caught 30 flounder just that day. I was in Venice the next morning.
We loaded up on flounder up to 5 pounds by fishing jigs tipped with shrimp at the first and second spillways. We finished a four-man limit before the sun could get high enough to send us seeking the comfort of an air-conditioned camp.
I'm still eating on those fish today, and that trip got me to thinking about other places in the state where I could go do some doormat damage this fall when I knew the bite would be best.
My search took me back where my flounder fascination first began - Lake Pontchartrain, or at least the general vicinity. I called Capt. Greg Schlumbrecht with To Fish Charters to see if he had any insights about catching flounder during the fall.
"We get a good migration of flounder during the spring and the fall," he said. "I'd say that the fall run is a little bit better than the spring run. They can be caught all over the lake and out in Lake Catherine and the surrounding area, but they get so thick in two spots that I don't ever worry about fishing anyplace else."
Schlumbrecht was referring to the section of the train bridge between the north shore and the north draw that lets the boats go under and the I-10 hump. Both areas offer an excellent flounder bite while remaining relatively protected from the north wind.
"These two areas have shell bottoms, and flounder will stack up and eat anything that comes by," Schlumbrecht said. "The water around the train bridge goes from shallow near the shore to deeper at the draw. I find flounder mainly about 7 to 8 feet from the second firebreak from the north shore to the draw. I usually stick with the west side of the train bridge and both sides of the I-10 hump."
Schlumbrecht passed along a little key he's found to locating more flounder on the bridges. He said dragging baits some 20 to 30 feet off the pilings would usually result in more bites because that's where the shell piles are found.
"I fish for them almost exactly like I do for trout," he said. "About the only differences are that I will switch from a blue moon Dudley to an avocado, and I'll drag it across the bottom rather than bouncing it."
Schlumbrecht said 2-pound fish are about the norm, but he will run into a good 5- or 6-pounder every now and then. And unlike the dainty speck bite at Pontchartrain, anglers don't have to worry about detecting a flounder bite.
After doing a little research, I found out it would be difficult to talk about catching fall flounder along Louisiana's coast without mentioning Calcasieu Lake. Therefore, I called on the expertise of Capts. Jeff and Mary Poe to get the scoop.
Like Lake Pontchartrain, Calcasieu gets a spring and a fall flounder run. However, there's a big difference between the size of the fish that show up in the spring and those that appear in the fall. Jeff Poe said they typically catch the largest flounder of the year from October through November.
"I used to watch them when they ran nets, and they would pull in 7- and 8-pound flounder with amazing regularity," Jeff Poe said. "I heard at one time that almost half the flounder landings came from here because it's basically like a funnel where everything north has to move through the ship channel to get to the Gulf."
Poe pointed to all the little cuts and bayous along the edges of the main lake, especially in areas like Grand and Lambert bayous and in West Cove. Any little cut or opening going back into the marsh that has a little water movement is subject to be stacked with flounder.
While these little areas are productive when the fish are spread throughout the lake, Poe said the Ship Channel really turns on when the fish start migrating back to the Gulf.
"That's probably one of the most famous flounder holes in the state," he said. "You can catch some good fish in there, but the big thing is the number of flounder you can catch along the edge of that thing. They get on the ledge all up and down the channel, and you can catch them almost like you're pitching for bass."
Areas north and south of the ferry, around the Pogie Plant and across from it along with both sides of Monkey Island are especially productive areas in the channel. Poe said almost every little tiny cut or cove down the bank of the channel would hold some flounder during the fall.
"You could go down through there fishing with a cane pole and load the boat," he said. "We mainly catch our flounder fishing the same jigs we throw for trout or redfish. However, it does seem you can do a little better by tipping your jig with a piece of shrimp. A live cocaho will also work well."
The key to fishing the cuts and bayous out in the main lake is to sit just out from the cut and toss a jig into the current so that it sweeps it along the edges and down through the middle.
Louisiana Sportsman readers already know that Susan Gros recently had a little fun catching those "Flat-Bottom Girls" out of the Mississippi River at Venice. That trip wasn't a big surprise for Gros, though, because she's fished up and down the river enough to know what bites best when, and she knows that flounder top the charts during October and November.
"This has been an unusual year, though," Gros said. "The flounder that generally don't show up until the fall have been here since July. Of course, I'd have to suggest anglers try the cuts and drains off Pass A Loutre and the first and second spillways in Southwest Pass down the river.
"Moving north, I'd recommend fishing Bay Five around Myrtle Grove and the oyster beds where the drain comes into the Myrtle Grove canal."
The time-tested technique that works best on Mississippi River flounder in deep water is fishing a 1/2-ounce jighead with a plastic bait tipped with a piece of fresh market shrimp around the spillways. Gros did suggest switching to a lighter 1/4-ounce jighead in the area around Myrtle Grove because the water isn't as deep there.
Capt. Shawn Lanier with Fish-On Guide Service doesn't get the chance to guide for flounder very much, but he doesn't mind reeling one in when given the chance. He agreed with Gros that the Venice area is as good a place as an angler could find for catching fall flounder.
"Any of the big passes off the river where you can find deep water next to shallow water is likely to hold some flounder," he said. "It can be a little slow until you figure out what's going on, then it can get really exciting pretty quick."
Capt. Papa Joe Bush has "accidentally" caught enough flounder from his favorite stomping grounds that he knows the Lafitte and Barataria area can hold enough flat fish to make for some exciting days on the water.
"One of the best areas is the old Bay Dispute area," Bush said. "You can find it on any map just east of Coup Abel and just west of Four Bayou Pass. That area has a lot of sand, and it can hold some good flounder.
"Another area to try is a place called the Windmill. It's at the very bottom of Little Lake. There's a little peninsula sticking out there that separated Bay L'ours from Little Lake. It's kind of shallow and sandy, and it's a good flounder hole."
Bush said the flounder in this area couldn't really be considered giants, but they range from very small to a half-doormat in size. While he usually catches them accidentally on plastics while fishing for redfish up against the shore, Bush said one rig to use to specifically target flounder is a lightweight Carolina rig with a cocaho minnow.
Losing the weight altogether wouldn't be a bad idea as Bush said it often works best with just a swivel, leader, hook and minnow.
"You just throw that rig out onto the sand and kind of ease it back to the boat nice and slow," he said. "They bite best for me on an incoming tide because it pushes them up against the bank where I target the redfish. It will also put them as shallow as they can get on top of a sand flat.
"I saw some flounder recently spraying minnows across the top of the water over a sand flat. Those fish were really in a feeding frenzy, and we caught them easily."
While all these areas offer some excellent fall flounder fishing, by no means are they the only places where flat fish can be caught. Capt. Gerald Ellender with Light Tackle Charters said the key to finding flounder no matter where you're fishing is to look for sandy flats or shallow flats with a drop off to deep water.
"When the tide is falling and moving from the shallow to the deep side of the drop off, those flounder will sit right there at the edge of that drop and wait for something to eat," he said. "I would advise anglers to concentrate on any drop-offs and target where the current starts to break. Fish the beginning of the break because that's where they're going to be hanging out."
Contact Capt. Greg Schlumbrecht at (985) 960-1709, Susan Gros of Reel Louisiana Adventures at (504) 329-REEL, Capt. Shawn Lanier at (225) 205-5353, Capt. Papa Joe Bush at (504) 392-4409 and Capt. Gerald Ellender at (985) 688-1715.