Flounder occur in more than a few distinct strains, distinguished mainly by range and coloration. All live in ocean waters and spend the majority of their lives on the bottom. From Newfoundland south to Maryland the Winter Flounder, most common of all, is highly regarded for its tasty white meat. Summer Flounder inhabit areas of strong current between North Carolina and Massachusetts. Southern Flounder thrive near shallow depressions where currents make baitfish more vulnerable, along the American coast, primarily south of the Carolinas to northern Florida; and the Gulf Flounder resides along coastal regions of the Gulf of Mexico. Japanese Flounder are native to the northwestern Pacific Ocean.
All flounders have both eyes on one side of their heads, but only the Fluke (Southern Flounder) is not born this way and undergoes a metamorphosis during early development to become so. These fish are also sometimes referred to as “left-eye” or “right-eye” flounders, depending on which eye faces upward. They are flat fish and pale on bottom, about half as wide as their length, with a wide fan tail and two small pectoral fins. Rays like spikes line each side, from ‘top’ eye to base of tail fin and again from ‘lower’ pectoral fin to base of tail fin. Winter Flounder are predominantly a pale gray color, with black edges. Japanese Flounder regularly exhibit a thorough brown tone with random white spots, and large teeth. Southern Flounder are usually brown or olive overall, marked with random dark blotches and white spots. Gulf Flounder are similar in color to their Southern cousins, with the addition of three prominent, usually black, eye-like spots – which the Southern lacks. Summer Flounder will have a darker brown or olive tone, and are heavily marked with spots of various colors. This is the largest of all species, reaching more than 20 pounds. Flounder size usually varies from five to fifteen inches, though some grow as large as three feet in length. The world record is a Summer Flounder that weighed 22 pounds, seven ounces.
Flounder are ambush predators, most often gaining meals by burying themselves in soft mud and sandy bottoms, near bridge piles, docks, and other bottom structures, then lying in wait for unsuspecting snacks to swim by. Nor do they refuse the sport of catching a meal, quite often taking baitfish or attacking lures on the surface. Some species are able to change color in order to better blend into their environment. Juveniles feed mainly on larvae of shrimp and other small marine mammals, while adults feed on shrimp and baitfish such as mud minnows, pinfish, and finger mullet.
All flounders give good sport with some varying abilities and strategies. For instance, the Southern Flounder is known to go on some decent runs once hooked, while the Gulf Flounder will fight a bit more during moderate runs. Summer Flounders tend to be stronger, pulling and flopping during tight runs. Diners and anglers everywhere love Flounder for not only their delicious taste, but also their relative abundance.