Fresh Catch: Southern Flounder
Try your hand at gigging or reeling in this in-season fish.
Story by Bailey Gilliam
It may not be the prettiest fish, but it’s undoubtedly pretty tasty – and it’s in season! Southern flounder, not to be confused with gulf flounder or summer flounder, are the most abundant flounder in South Carolina. And thanks to tips from Grant Kaple, general manager of The Boathouse, you can try your hand at gigging or reeling in a fresh catch. Keep reading to learn more about this fascinating flat fish and how to cook it up while it’s in abundance here in the Lowcountry.
Disney ruined our expectations for what flounder actually looks like. The major character in Disney’s 1989 animated feature film, The Little Mermaid, looks nothing like a flounder at all, and you’ll probably be a bit disappointed if you see one in real life. Southern flounder are brown with spots and blotches. All flatfish, including the Southern flounder, are compressed laterally and spend most of their life lying and swimming along the bottom on their side. In the case of the Southern flounder, the left side is always the “up” side; in other species, the opposite is true. And yes, their eyes are on one side of their bodies. Small flounder grow rapidly and may reach 12 inches in length by the end of their first year. Males seldom exceed 12 inches, but females grow larger than males and often reach a length of 25 inches.
I lobster, but I flounder!
The Southern flounder is relatively abundant in our local waters. They are most frequently caught in the estuaries, rivers and shallow coastal water with muddy bottom tidal creeks. The near-shore reefs also provide anglers a better chance to catch larger flounder. Flounder are ambush predators that use camouflage to blend into their surroundings. They primarily feed on small fish, such as striped mullet, spot, mummichog and white mullet, but they also consume crustaceans, including grass shrimp and blue crabs. Kaple provided us with plenty of local spots to check out for catching this flat fish. Aside from Beaufort and Hilton Head Island, he suggests:
• Alljoy Landing for the best access to the May River
• Landings at the base of the SC 170 bridges over the Chechessee and Broad rivers
• Sam’s Point Landing on Lady’s Island
• Station Creek Landing on St. Helena Island
Pan-seared flounder with rosemary and garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
4 rosemary sprigs, finely chopped
2 flounder fillets
Salt, pepper and paprika to taste
Directions  Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium to medium-low heat. Add the garlic and rosemary. Cook, stirring, for 3 minutes or until the garlic is lightly browned.  Sprinkle the fish with salt, pepper and paprika. Add the fish to the pan and cook for 3 minutes on each side. Serve with lemon wedges.
Quite a gig
There are two methods for catching flounder: gigging and rod and reel. “Good ole fashioned gigging requires bright lights shining into the clear shallows by poling your boat along the flat,” Kaple said. “You will see the outline of the flounder in the mud, at which point you take a long pole with a gig at the end and stick ‘em.”
Kaple recommends using mud minnows or shrimp for the rod-and-reel method to lure flounder. This method requires a medium-fast taper, 8-15 pound test with your favorite version of Shimano’s 2500 reel. “On a falling tide, the flounder will be located at the mouth of feeder creeks waiting for the mud minnows or shrimp to leave the protection of the spartina grass,” he said. “They are ambush predators, so they wait for the prey to swim by and bam, attack and eat dinner.”
Fire-roasted whole flounder with yellow tomato vinaigrette
2 yellow tomatoes, quartered, seeds removed
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped red onion
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons basil chiffonade
1/2 cup olive oil
Two 2 pound flounder, scaled, gills removed, head on
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Directions  Place tomatoes, onion, garlic, vinegar and basil in a blender and blend until smooth. Slowly add the olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Place in squeeze bottles.  Heat grill. Brush flounder with olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Grill on each side for 4 to 5 minutes or until cooked through. Serve with vinaigrette.
The state record is a 17-pound, 9.6-ounce Southern flounder caught by John Kuczuma of Myrtle Beach. Kuczuma caught the fish in 2003 while fishing off the marina docks at Murrells Inlet. The previous record, considered a tie with the current record, is a 17-pound, 6-ounce Southern flounder caught by L. C. Floyd of Florence, South Carolina. That flounder was captured in South Santee in 1974. South Carolina also recognizes the gulf flounder with a 4-pound, 7-ounce catch and the summer flounder with a 3-pound, 8-ounce record.
Flounder is a low-fat, low-calorie protein source that provides vitamin B12, vitamin D, selenium and omega-3 fatty acids. Eating fish like flounder with adequate protein and low-fat content lowers the risk of chronic diseases and promotes good heart health. Flounder is also great for pregnant women and children because it provides choline, which helps in the growth and development of the spinal cord and iron and zinc, which are needed for a child’s maturing immune system.
Baked flounder with lemon and butter
1 1/2 pounds flounder fillets
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
4 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons finely minced onion
1 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, for serving
4 slices or wedges lemon, for serving
Directions  Grease a shallow baking dish. Heat oven to 325 F. Arrange the fillets in the prepared baking dish and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  In a small bowl, combine the melted butter, lemon juice and minced onion. Pour the lemon-butter mixture over the fish. Sprinkle with paprika.  Bake for 15-25 minutes, or until the fish is cooked through and flakes easily with a fork. Garnish with chopped parsley, lemon wedges and serve with garlic aioli.
Flounder has a sweet taste and a delicate texture, making it the perfect fish for those who are trying seafood for the first time or for those who don’t enjoy the “fishy” taste of many fish. Flounder is exceptionally versatile and can be used in a variety of dishes. Because of its mild flavor, this flaky fish works well in everything from fresh ceviche to fillets baked with cheesy breadcrumbs. Flounder are sold as a whole fish or in thin fillets and are usually skinned, although the skin is edible. The whole flounder is good sautéed, steamed or roasted. Fillets are excellent sautéed with a coating of flour or light breading to crisp the soft flesh and prevent them from falling apart. LL
•Flounder can camouflage by changing colors to match their surrounding habitat and avoid predators.
•The transformation of larvae into juvenile fish begins a couple of days after hatching. The body starts to flatten, dorsal and anal fins become more elongated, and either the left or right eye migrates toward the top of the head. The side of the body where the eyes are located becomes darker colored and represents the top of the fish. The other side starts to fade and becomes the bottom of the fish.
•Flounder are nocturnal.
•Flounder uses their fins to bury themselves in the sand. The eyes are usually the only visible part of the body.