In this flounder fish guide, we seek to answer the question: what kind of fish is flounder?
There are multiple types of flounder found across the globe. We often get asked, what does flounder look like? If you look through the flounder species images below, a commonality of these flatfish is that they’re bottom-dwelling and have compressed bodies with both of their eyes on one side of the head.
The common names of flounder are actually used for several distantly related flatfish species, but all of them belong to the suborder Pleuronectoide. Here are some common species of this flatfish you should be aware of:
Types of Flounders
Gulf Flounder Facts
Identification – The gulf flounder is olive-brown in color, and it has three spots that form a triangle over its eye side. It has numerous white spots across the body and fins, and it can change color to match the bottom.
Distribution – This flat fish can be found from Cape Lookout, North Carolina, to Texas as well as southern Florida and the Bahamas.
Size and age – The gulf flounder can grow up to 15 inches long and can live for 3 years.
Habitat – Inhabits sand and coral rubble and seagrass that lie near the shore. Some can also venture into tidal reefs.
Spawning season – Winter offshore.
Food – Crustaceans and small fish
Identification – The southern flounder is light to dark olive in color, and has dark splotches and spots which disappear in larger fish. It has fewer fill rakers compared to the southern flatfish.
Distribution – Can be found from North Carolina to northern Mexico.
Size and age – Mature adults can grow up to be about 36 inches long and can live up to 20 years.
Habitat – Can be found in inshore channels, estuaries, bay mouths, and even freshwater. It can also be found in waters that have high salinity.
Spawning season – Southern flounder spawn in offshore waters by moving out of bays and estuaries in the fall when the temperature drops.
Food – Shrimp, small crustaceans, and small fish such as mullet and anchovies.
Identification – Can be both left and right-eyed. It has a pointed head and a smallmouth with a square caudal fin. Like most flatfish, it is olive to dark brown in color.
Distribution – Ranges from
Size – Can grow to about 12 to 14 inches in length, but some can also grow 3 feet long and weigh about 20 pounds.
Habitat – This firm white fish can be found near shore over mud, gravel, and sandy bottoms. It often enters fresh or brackish water and can also be found 900 feet deep.
Spawning season – Spawn in later winter and early spring in the waters of California.
Food – Crabs, clams, shrimp, sand dollars.
Identification – This flatfish has a wide and flattened body that is rimmed with long dorsal and anal fins. It has a large mouth filled with teeth. The teeth are more developed on the right side of the jaw.
Distribution – Can be found in the western Atlantic from Maine to South Carolina. It can be found in large numbers on Cape Cod.
Size – Can grow to about 5 pounds in weight and 23 inches in length.
Habitat – Prefers sandy and muddy bottoms and is common in harbors, estuaries, creeks, canals, and shorelines. It prefers the shallows during the summer month and moves offshore in winter to deeper and cooler water.
Spawning season – Spawning occurs during the fall when the fish moves offshore
Food – Shrimp, crabs, anchovies, silversides, weakfish, hake, and even other flounder.
Identification – This flounder is round in shape with a pale white blind side. It has several dark brown spots across its body and fins.
Distribution – Can be found along the northwest Atlantic continental shelf to northern Florida.
Size – Can grow up to 18 inches in length.
Habitat – Fish for this flatfish in about 150 feet of water or deeper.
Spawning season – Spawning occurs from late spring to autumn, but it peaks in July and August on Georges Bank.
Food – shrimp and seaworms
Identification – Has an oval and flat body, and its color range from reddish-brown to dark brown. Some have small, black spots on their body.
Size – Most grow to be about one or one and a half pounds and rarely grow more than a foot in length. At most, the flounder can grow to about 2 feet and weigh 8 pounds.
Habitat – Is usually located inshore in coastal areas from the Chesapeake Bay to the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Spawning season – As is apparent from the name, it migrates to spawn in the winter. Adults move into estuaries in the fall before spawning and also migrate in spring and summer to cooler parts of estuaries.
Food – Feeds on small crustaceans, marine worms, clams, snails, and other shelled invertebrates.
How to Catch Flounder
Flounders can be quick to flee when they feel threatened, so use the lightest tackle you can get and a fluorocarbon leader that is about 20 pounds. The fluorocarbon line that is attached to the leader should be able to withstand 10 to 12 pounds as well, and the rod should be light enough to sense slight bites.
My friend Nick Heid, who runs Surf Fishing SoCal SD, put together a fantastic guide for the best surf fishing rods, which I highly recommend you check out before heading out. That’s because flounder rarely swallow bait whole, and the first bite will feel like a small tap which can be easily missed by anglers who use the wrong setup.
However, wait a few seconds before setting the hook. This flatfish will flee at the first signs of a threat and will burrow in the sand. If you are fishing for flounder under mangrove branches or docks, use a spinning tackle so that you can use the drag system to tire out the fish.
How to Clean Flounder
Cleaning a flounder doesn’t have to be difficult. Check out this guide for cleaning flounder the easy way!
Flounder do have scales, but they can be removed easily, which makes it a kosher fish.
Flounder has a sweet taste and delicate texture which makes it perfect for people who want to try fish for the first time.
Juvenile flounders have two eyes on either side of the head, but as it grows, one eye migrates to the other side. This happens so that the fish can camouflage itself on the bottom of the ocean floor and thus remain safe from predators.
Did these flounder facts excite you? Use these tips and information as guides to catch your first flatfish, and share your experiences in the comments below.
In fact, if you already have some stories to share about fishing for this fish, we would love to hear them here and do share this guide if you liked it.