The fish typically move onto the flats in 10 to 20 feet of water by late May. As the water starts to warm in late June, they begin dropping toward the deeper channel edges in 30 to 35 feet. By mid-July, the action inside the harbor is largely over.
Ideal conditions consist of a sunny day (flounder become more active as the sun warms the dark bottom) with a light breeze and current moving in the same direction. If the wind is pushing you along too quickly to keep your bait on the bottom, a sea anchor or a five-gallon bucket can be deployed. Or you can drop anchor and kick back once you find the fish. If the action is slow, send down a chum bag filled with corn niblets, crushed mussels or clams to draw in the fish.
Relaxed, Old-School Fishin’
Terminal rigs range from the standard two-hook spreader setup to the more sophisticated ZoBo Rig (see SF Insight and illustration above), which features a pair of red No. 7 Chesterton hooks. A small bank sinker (1 to 2 ounces) on a nylon fish finder allows movement of the leader for a more natural presentation. Yellow beads are placed just ahead of the hooks to add a bit of color, intended to imitate a mussel or clam.
As for bait, nothing beats sea worms, and you should bring at least one flat to last two or three anglers through the tide. Santini rigs the worms as he would a soft-plastic bait, inserting the hook point in the tip of the worm’s head and threading the shank through the body.
Rods and reels need not be expensive or fancy. Indeed, Santini’s favorite combo — nicknamed “Old Betsy” — is a 1960s-era, wood-handled, 5-foot, solid-fiberglass boat rod paired with a small Penn 9 baitcaster. The best flounder rods, however, sport super-sensitive tips for detecting subtle bites. Assisting in this department is no-stretch braided line; anywhere from 20- to 30-pound-test is a good choice. “Go as light as you can,” Santini advises.
Knowing when and how to set the hook on a flounder takes a bit of finesse. The key is to let the flounder “climb on” the hook by dropping the tip slightly once you feel a light tap on the bait or slight resistance. Count one or two seconds, then lift the rod slowly and evenly until you feel the weight of the fish. If you miss the fish, immediately lower the rig back to the bottom.
One of the very best things about this fishery is its accessibility. The Boston Harbor Islands — now a National Recreation Area, with camping available on several islands — provides a magnificent setting with protection from the wind and seas, and there are numerous access points from which to launch a boat.
Best of all, there’s nothing quite like fishing in the shadow of a major metropolitan city, with planes roaring overhead and container ships gliding past. Combine that with some of the best-eating fish on Earth, and you’ve got the makings of a memorable trip.
All this is a testament, of course, to sound fishery management with an emphasis on water quality. The good ol’ days are back again in the famous Boston Harbor.
About the Author
Tom Richardson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the publisher and editor of boatinglocal.com, a New England-based online boating and fishing magazine. He also edits New England Boating magazine, and contributes stories and photos to many national marine publications, including Sport Fishing.