How to catch deep-water flounder

March 6, 2021

We have looked at catching flounder in the shallow water of the Inland Bays, the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal and the near-shore waters of the Delaware Bay. Now, we will try to give you some tips on catching flounder in deeper waters of the Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

First, let’s look at the tackle you will need in these deep waters. While you can get by with one or two ounces of weight or no weight at all in shallow water, you will need at least three and often as much as eight ounces of lead to maintain contact with the bottom in deep water. This calls for a conventional reel mounted on a rod that can handle that much weight. In the past, you would have used a heavy rod and reel, but today you can find much lighter-weight tackle that will do the job. I use a Tsunami Hybrid reel on a Tsunami Classic 761H rod. The reel carries 40-pound Stren braid with a six-foot shot of 40-pound Fluorocarbon leader tied to the braid with an Albright knot.

Braided line is a must-have when fishing in deep water. It is thinner than mono and has very little stretch, so it transmits the slightest tap on the bottom to the angler. This not only lets you know when a fish has picked up your bait, but also what type of bottom you are over. The latter is very important when fishing reef sites and wrecks, so you can adjust your depth quickly to stay out of the snags.

When it comes to rigs, I have used a Captain Mitchel’s Delaware Bay Green Machine for many years. At times, I will replace the sinker with a Tsunami Ball Jig, but only if I am fishing over a reasonably smooth bottom. Reefs and wrecks eat ball jigs like my cat eats treats.

As for baits, I don’t go flounder fishing without Gulp! Some people will fish with Gulp! and a piece of bait. I just use the Gulp!. As for color, I like new penny, chartreuse and nuclear chicken. The swimming mullet, shrimp, saltwater mud minnow and peeler crab have all produced good results.

There was a time when you could fish flounder over rough bottom close to shore, but that has all changed. Between the commercial clamming and conch operations, and the construction of Delaware’s artificial reefs, the best fishing is now concentrated over hard structure. The only exception to this is the rough bottom at the Old Grounds, where flounder may still be found.

Finding an artificial reef is easy. The state publishes a book with the latitude and longitude of every reef and the structure in the reefs. If you have a boat and GPS, you certainly can find the reefs.

Fishing the reefs is another story. I see many people run out to a reef, cut the motor and start drifting. They bait up their rigs, drop them over, put the rods in a holder and wonder why they don’t catch anything or why they are always getting snagged.

What you should do is run to a reef and pick a starting point that will allow your boat to cover as much structure as possible considering the direction of the wind and current. You may have to adjust your position to cover a piece of structure that you would have missed if the boat had been allowed to just drift along. You must also pay attention to your rig. Is it in contact with the bottom?  Is it dragging along? Is it riding too high? You should be able to move the rig up and down an inch or two with the line as close to 90 degrees to the water as possible and still hit bottom on every lift. If not, adjust the weight until you can.

Not every piece of structure holds fish. When you catch a flounder, hit the MOB button on your GPS and go back over that location until you are satisfied there are no more fish there.

Deep water is best fished when current and wind are moderate. New and full moons produce the strongest currents. Any wind over 10 knots will be a problem.

Fishing report

The only fishing report I had last week came from Newton Pond, where the state stocked trout. They scheduled youth day Feb. 28, and at least one angler did very well, catching three trout including a beautiful brown. Peter Didden, 12, was with his dad Jason when he caught his fish in a spinner. I had a few other reports from folks who did not do that well. The pond will be restocked March 8 and 15.


  • Eric Burnley is a Delaware native who has fished and hunted the state from an early age. Since 1978 he has written countless articles about hunting and fishing in Delaware and elsewhere along the Atlantic Coast. He has been the regional editor for several publications and was the founding editor of the Mid-Atlantic Fisherman magazine. Eric is the author of three books: Surf Fishing the Atlantic Coast, The Ultimate Guide to Striped Bass Fishing and Fishing Saltwater Baits. He and his wife Barbara live near Milton, Delaware. Eric can be reached at

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