Fishing For Flatfish
Flatfish, known as "flatties" by sea anglers, are a pleasure to catch and a treat to eat. There are three common flatfish that live in the coastal waters of the British Isles: dab, flounder and plaice.
IdentificationEach species of flatfish live, hunt and feed on the seabed. Their flat shape and sandy coloured skin make ideal camouflage for their habitat. "Flatties" have both eyes on the upper side of the body so that when hidden, in sand or mud, they have all round vision. The smallest member of the flatfish family is the dab. The average length is about 15cms. and any fish over 30cms. is considered a specimen.
The flounder is larger than the dab and fish of about 1kg. are common. There are raised spots and orange blotches on the back of the flounder that stretch from head to tail. Largest of all common flatfish is the plaice. However, they do not grow to monster size and a fish of about 1.5kg. is a good catch.
Where To Find "Flatties"Dab and flounder are caught close in shore and most frequently in estuaries and shallow creeks. Occasionally, flounder will swim so far up an estuary that, sometimes, they will be caught by freshwater anglers out for a day's chub and roach fishing! Some wide estuaries will hold plaice but usually this fish is located in open water especially where there are established mussel beds.
TackleFlatfish can be caught from beach, pier and boat and the experienced angler will use specialist equipment to suit each location. For the angler new to sea fishing it is sensible to choose a general-purpose sea rod. These kinds of rods are less than 4 metres long, they will not be too expensive, and can be used from beach, pier or boat.
Some sea anglers use multiplier reels and they are very effective. However, multiplier reels, when used by novices, have a tendency to overrun and the result can be a knotty tangle of line!
Fixed-spool reels are popular because they are easy to use and strong enough to cope with most situations. Fit the reel with line of about 20lbs. breaking strain. This strength of line will easily manage any flatfish but will also deal with snags, such as seaweed and stones, on the seabed.
MethodsFloat fishing from piers, harbour walls and jetties account for good catches of dab and flounder. Use a brightly coloured float so that it can be spotted at distance or in the swell of the tide.
Legering from beaches and boats will take flatfish. Try a bomb type leger weighing about 50-100gms. and this will be big enough to hold bait down but not too heavy for casting.
There is an interesting method used by a few people of catching flatfish without having rod, reel or even bait! Occasionally, in shallow estuaries at low tide, people venture out into the water and walk back and forth holding a large net. Flatfish hiding in the sand and mud are disturbed and are quickly scooped up in the net. This method requires years of practice and is not totally safe so stick with a rod and reel!
BaitThe natural diet of "flatties" consists of worms, small crabs and shellfish such as mussels and cockles. If you have the time, you can collect all the bait you need at low tide and it's free! Use a garden fork to dig in the wet sand near the water's edge for lugworm and ragworm. Check out harbour walls and pier supports for shellfish and crabs. Bait can be bought from tackle shops but it can be expensive especially when it's fresh. Using artificial bait called spoons will also catch flounder and plaice. When the spoon is pulled through the water it resembles a small vulnerable fish and will attract inquisitive predators.