Virginia’s small seaside town of Wachapreague has a well-deserved reputation as a flounder or “fluke” hot spot.
Wachapreague, on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, is 75 miles south of Ocean City, Maryland. Virginia’s Eastern Shore is a long, narrow strip of land with the Atlantic Ocean to the east and Chesapeake Bay to the west. When a boat is launched in Wachapreague, it’s not in the ocean, but in a channel that leads to additional channels and Burtons Bay to the north and east, and Bradford Bay and then Swash Bay to the south. Traveling in a generally eastward direction through the channels and bays will eventually lead to the inlet and the Atlantic Ocean. The channels and bays between the town of Wachapreague and the inlet/ocean offer fine flounder fishing opportunities.
In the early season, flounder move from their offshore wintering grounds to the coast and arrive in the channels at Wachapreague as early as mid-March. The fishing is so good, anglers from throughout Virginia, and also Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania, travel to Wachapreague to get in on the action. For many Mid-Atlantic fishermen, their first fishing excursion of the entire season is a trip in April to Wachapreague for flounder.
By mid-May, many anglers shift their fishing focus, and begin targeting striped bass and other popular species at numerous locations along the Atlantic coast and in Chesapeake Bay. Yet flounder remain abundant at Wachapreague throughout the spring and summer and even into the early fall.
The major difference between spring and summer fishing is water temperature. In the spring, the water coming into the channels from the ocean is cold, and baitfish and flounder seek out the warmest water they can find, which is away from the ocean in shallow water up in the channels and bays, not far from the public boat ramp in Wachapreague. In the summer, when the water is very warm, fishing is consistently better in the cooler water closer to the inlet, and in the inlet itself.
In the spring, high tide and the first of an outgoing tide often feature the best fishing. In the summer, an incoming tide bringing in cooler water from the ocean is usually most productive.
In the spring, there’s usually better fishing during high tide and the first of an outgoing tide. An incoming tide brings in cold water from the ocean, but in the shallow channels the water is warmed by the sun. Then, as the tide starts to fall, small crabs and baitfish are flushed from the shallows in the warmest water of the day, putting flounder on the feed. It’s a different story in the summer, when the water in the channels is very warm. The bite will often come on strong during an incoming tide, which brings cooler water from the ocean into the inlet and portions of the channels nearest the inlet.
Throughout the season, flounder are usually caught in the middle of the channels, where the water is deepest. Depending on the stage of the tide, current, and direction of the wind, staying in the middle of the channel can require some effort as the boat is often pushed toward one side or the other, out of deeper water and into more shallow and less productive water.
There is a “power drifting” technique that can be used to help maintain proper boat positioning. After arriving at the location where the drift will begin, leave the motor running and put it in neutral. As everyone on board lowers their rigs and baits to the bottom, allow the drift to begin as the boat moves with the current and/or wind. Sooner or later, often sooner rather than later, the boat will move away from the center of the channel. Nudge the running motor into reverse and quickly move back to the middle. Then put the motor in neutral and resume drifting. The boat operator can fish their rod in a rod holder to keep their hands free for frequent boat maneuvering.
It is usually possible to keep the lines in the water while re-positioning the boat since there is only a short distance to travel, but if necessary, all lines should be reeled in – allow nothing to interfere with maintaining boat position in the middle of the channel.
The boat is re-positioned in reverse with the stern into the wind because it’s easier to control the boat with the wind pushing against the wide, flat stern. Attempting to re-position in forward often results in the wind pushing against one side of the bow or the other, causing the boat to turn or spin.
In addition to power drifting, trolling provides improved boat control and bait presentation. Flounder are not spooked by a boat motoring overhead, even in the relatively shallow water of the channels. In fact, many flounder experts troll with their rigs and baits just beyond the prop wash. It’s often possible to see long bait strips as they’re pulled closely behind the boat. When a bait is suddenly no longer visible, that usually means a flounder has just grabbed it!
Whether power drifting or trolling, use a heavy sinker. Fish rigs near the boat, as straight up and down as possible. When power drifting, use 4- to 8-ounce sinkers, even in water as shallow as 3- to 4 feet. When trolling, beefy 8- to 20-ounce sinkers are recommended.
A two-hook top-bottom rig (also known as a “high-low rig) is used when power drifting, while a three-way swivel rig is the choice when trolling. A 40-pound fluorocarbon leader is used to make the rigs. Tie two dropper loops in the leader. The bottom loop on a drifting rig is used to attach an 18-inch leader with a green or chartreuse fluke killer baited with a squid strip or minnow. A small bucktail is slipped directly onto the shorter top loop. In clear water, use a bucktail with white hair, while in dingy water the choice is a yellow or chartreuse bucktail. The bucktail is baited with one or two frozen silversides or smelt, which are hooked through the eyes.
A productive flounder trolling rig features a three-way swivel tied to the end of braided line from the reel, with a heavy sinker attached via the snap. A 24- to 30-inch fluorocarbon leader is tied to the third eye of the swivel. The hook at the end is adorned with a plastic squid body or hair skirt. Use long, narrow strip baits or Gulp! Baits when trolling to maximize flutter and reduce spinning.
Making The Trip
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