The end of May and the beginning of June offer an incredible array of options for the active fisherperson.
There is trout and landlocked salmon fishing all over the northern three New England states. Here in Massachusetts there is trout and bass fishing for the freshwater folks, as well as shad, striper and groundfishing for those that love the ocean.
However, right now marks some of the best fishing of the year for one of the ocean's tastiest fish: the winter flounder.
Every winter these flat fish migrate in from the deeper ocean to spawn in the inshore waters along the Gulf of Maine and mid-Atlantic regions. Like many other migrating fish, they tend to return to the same area from which they were spawned to lay their eggs. They spawn at night in cool water in the 32 to 39 degree range.
The eggs need the right salinity and water temperature to hatch out. The larvae hatch out in 15 to 18 days after being spawned and live off the yolk for up to two weeks.
These young fish stay in their birth area for as much as a year while the adult fish migrate back out into deep water. These juveniles become another food source for just about every fish in the sea. They do not move about very much and are content to stay in one very small area until they are ready to migrate for the first time. The largest flounder generally migrate out to the deepest part of Georges Bank while the smaller ones stay in more shallow waters.
The adult flounder has a very small mouth and as a result feeds on small worms, invertebrates, shrimp, etc. This is why when you are fishing for them you need to use small but strong hooks. This is one of the few ocean creatures that feeds only during the day, making them favorites for recreational fishermen. They do this because they are primarily sight feeders. At night they simply disappear into the bottom by squiggling down into the sand or muddy bottom until just their eyes are showing. They then retract their eye turrets and go to sleep.
Because they do not feed at night, when the light comes in the morning they are hungry. That is why the best flounder fishing occurs just at daylight. They tend to feed most on a moving tide. They do so because they do not move a lot and are content to let the ocean currents bring them their food rather than go out to look for it.
To feed they will raise their heads off the bottom and let the back half of their bodies rest against the ocean floor, sort of arched up a bit. Their eyes are built so they can move independently of one another. They can literally look in two different directions at the same time. They lie in wait for the current to bring them something to eat. When it shows up and comes in close, they launch themselves, grab and then swallow their breakfast. If they are not in the right position to feed they may move a couple of yards or so, but these are not fish that wander all around the bay looking for a meal.
If left alone, a flounder can live as long as 20 years. They can grow to be as long as 25 inches with the largest caught in the 8-pound range. However, the average is much less than that due to the intense commercial and recreational fishing pressure.
Flounder are feeders of opportunity and therefore are not that fussy. The key here is bait size, hook size and fishing location. Sea worms, clams, snails and squid works really well. The hooks have to be very small, but strong. The bait itself should not be too large as the flounder will have a hard time biting it. They are a fish that will attack with some vigor once you get the bait in close enough. They will move a bit to come to the bait but not a lot. That is why you have to keep moving until you find them. Obviously you have to fish near the bottom.
There are a number of good flounder hook set-ups available at your local bait store, but a simple sinker and a couple of hooks a few inches up the line will work well.
So, head out to your favorite spot (hint: all along the eastern and western shores of Gloucester Harbor out to the breakwater), drop a line and bring in dinner. Its a great way to spend an early morning.