THE KING OF FLOUNDER
As an outdoors writer for almost three decades now, I’ve been exposed to a great deal of what the outdoors has to offer. I’ve learned a little bit from many, many folks that I’ve hunted and fished with through the years and as a result, I know a “little bit” about a pretty big slice of the outdoor pie. One thing that I know very little about is the fine art of gigging flounder. Throughout my life, I have actually been gigging flounder in saltwater bays twice, once when I was a kid with an uncle of mine. We used a gas lantern and a gig that was designed for gigging frogs rather than pinning a strong swimming flounder to the bay’s mud bottom. We managed to gig a few with our makeshift equipment and my uncle turned them into a fine dinner of baked flounder.
But a few years ago, I went on a “sure nuff” flounder gigging expedition with one of the best “giggers” on the Texas coast. I first met Trey Schmidt while on vacation with the family. When I saw Trey’s flounder boat heading to dock, I hailed him down and soon found a new friend. During this vacation, I spent an evening gigging with Trey and learned a little bit about the art of gigging flatfish. The gigging part is not difficult but learning to spot the fish lying on the bottom is an art that is learned through practice.
Trey has a commercial flounder gigging license and he spends three nights each week in pursuit of these tasty saltwater fish that inhabit the bays all along the coast. Trey’s day job carries with it a good bit of inherent stress, I’m sure. I’ve heard him say many times that being out in the bay at night gigging is great therapy.
I’ve learned that tide plays a big part in locating flounder but wind is even more important. When the bay waters are choppy, it’s tough to see flounder hugging the bottom. Last week, Trey described flounder gigging as phenomenal. He located a huge concentration of flounder along a shoreline but was on the windward side of the bay. Wind stirs up and muddies the bay water. After an hour or so of calm, it clears quickly. Each night, the wind didn’t lay until around midnight or 2 in the morning. This is when Trey ventured forth, making it back to dock after a couple hours of gigging. An extremely high tide, called a “Bull Tide” by folks on the coast, can be very helpful because a foot or possibly 1.5 feet of water elevation in the bay allows shallow draft boats to get back into flooded weed beds where large concentrations of flounder move in to feed.
Each night Trey invited me to go, and after seeing his catch the next mornings, I know I missed the flounder gigging experience of a lifetime. As I explained to my buddy, I simply could not stay up all night and then do the “vacation thing” with the family the next day. I am planning a return trip soon, when I can rest the day following an all-night run!
I enjoy eating just about every species of fish but there is something very special about a fine textured snow-white flounder fillet. Grilled flounder are in high demand on the coast and this is the way most restaurants serve it, but flounder can also be fried or blackened. Trey is also a chef and after I related my method of pan cooking with butter, Trey gave his approval. Rather than heating the cast iron skillet to white hot and creating a great amount of smoke, I get the butter hot enough to sizzle. After shaking a generous amount of blackening seasoning on one side of the fillet, place it seasoned side down into the hot butter. While the seasoned half of the fillet is cooking, I dust the topside of the fillet liberally. About 4 minutes on each side works the magic. A platter of flounder fillets cooked in this fashion and served with some seasoned long grain rice is a culinary experience that will have you coming back for more!
The “fall flounder run” begins when the bay waters chill, causing flounder to make their annual run out into the open waters of the Gulf where they spend the cold weather months. During this period the cuts and canals leading from the bay systems to the Gulf become packed with flounder and gigging and fishing with rod and reel is often very good. Flounder begin moving out of the bays and stack up in large numbers in these channels prior to the first really cold spell. When they feel winter’s chill, they head out to the Gulf. I’m told that this mass migration often takes place in a matter of a few days.
Yes, there’s lots to learn about the outdoor lifestyle that so many of us dearly love. Much can be learned about a specialized sport such as flounder gigging during a few hours spent with a pro such as Trey. I am pretty sure I’ll never purchase a flounder boat and gig on my own but it’s nice to have a buddy like Trey that reserves a “trainee” spot on his fully rigged boat!
Listen to “Outdoors with Luke Clayton and Friends” on radio stations from Nebraska to Texas weekends or anytime online at www.catfishradio.org.