Page 67 - Discover South Mississippi - Spring, 2023
P. 67

  More Than One Flat Species
Roams Mississippi Waters story and photo by John N. Felsher
For amazing flounder, things almost always “look up!” However, these biological marvels don’t begin life with both eyes on one side of their heads.
After hatching, tiny flounder swim upright like most other fish. They feed on zooplankton for their first 30 to 60 days before the metamorphosis begins. Then, one eye “migrates” through its head, popping out on the other side. In addition, its jaws twist to accommodate the new flat profile. Flounder stay in that one-sided configuration the rest of their lives.
More than their eyes migrate. Flounder move in and out of Mississippi coastal waters twice each year, although some remain in places like Bay St. Louis,
the Back Bay of Biloxi and the lower Pascagoula Delta all year long.
“Starting around late November or early December, flounder numbers decrease dramatically in inshore waters, but they don’t disappear completely,” reports Jonathan Barr, a fishery scientist for the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources. “Around late
March or April, they start to reappear in inshore waters. They thrive in
our estuaries from April through November.”
Southern flounder, the splotchy species most familiar to recreational anglers, can exceed 20 pounds. The Mississippi record weighed 10 pounds, 4.66 ounces. Female southern flounder grow much larger than males and usually make up about 75 percent of all flatfish in inshore waters. Few males grow longer than
12 to 13 inches and they generally stay farther offshore, typically in 30 to 60 feet of water.
Despite looking like toasted pancakes, southern flounder can become surprisingly aggressive and agile. These toothy predators frequently slash into baitfish schools along weedy shorelines or even jump completely out of the
water. Most often, though, they prefer to ambush prey. Using their incredible camouflage, flounder commonly bury their bodies in sand or silt with only their eyes protruding from the muck. When an enticing morsel passes too close, flounder explode from the bottom in a cloud of silt to snatch it.
Another species with three ocellated black spots forming a triangle, gulf flounder don’t grow as large as southerns. The Mississippi record weighed 1 pound, 11.52 ounces, but the species can exceed seven pounds. Gulf flounder favor deeper, saltier waters and normally stay farther offshore, perhaps deeper than 300 feet.
A third species, broad flounder
also love deep water. Rarely caught
by recreational anglers, this species occasionally ventures into waters less than 25 feet deep, but most stay between 300 and 700 feet deep. They can grow to about 18 inches long.
Flounder exist in all brackish to
salty waters on the Mississippi coast. They even enter fresh water, regularly swimming far up tidal rivers where
bass fishermen catch them on various lures. Wherever found, these odd fish offer excellent sporting opportunities for anglers of all ages. They hit a variety of natural or artificial baits. They also taste great, especially when stuffed with crab meat.
These peculiar fish become most active during the night. For a fun family adventure, walk through shallow waters on a warm, calm evening carrying lanterns. Look for flounder on the bottom and “gig” them with spears.
Youngsters greatly enjoy this activity because they regularly see many other creatures besides flounder including crabs, shrimp, various fish, large stingrays and other organisms. No telling what someone might spot along a Mississippi beach after dark.

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