Other names: Blackbacks, Flounder, Sole, Lemon Sole
Winter flounder's name derives from its tendency to move during the winter months to shallower inshore waters. It ranges from Maine to the waters of Virginia and is most abundant from Barnegat Bay north to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It is frequently called "blackback" because it takes on the color of the bottom around it and particularly likes black mud bottoms. Like all flat fish, the winter flounder has both eyes on one side of the head. A newly hatched flat fish larva has one eye in each side of its head but within months it changes to a bottom dwelling lifestyle, by which time one eye has moved to the other side of the head. Unlike most other bottom dwelling fish that rest by lying on their bellies, a flat fish rests on its side. Having both eyes on one side of its head enables the flat fish to rest on the ocean's floor while directing both eyes upward. The winter flounder is referred to as a right handed flounder because the eyes are located on its upper surface when the fish is pointing to the right.
NJ Fishing Season
Winter Flounder are currently heavily Regulated cutting down drastically the ability to catch these fish.
NJ Season Regulations March 1 - December 31 2 Fish per person of at least 12 inches.
Winter Flounder Sizes
IGFA World Record
7 lbs. 0 oz
Fire Island, New York
May 8, 1986
Dr. Einar Grell
NJ State Record
5 lbs. 11 oz.
Off Barnegat Light
May 11, 1993
Winter Flounder are generally much smaller than their cousin, the Fluke. Most fish caught in NJ range between 10 - 18 inches though some have been caught on wrecks in the Ocean up to 6 lbs. A 12" winter flounder is about 2 to 3 years old, a 20" winter flounder is about 9 to 10 years old. Female winter flounder grow faster than males and attain larger maximum sizes to about 8 pounds with a length of 25 inches and may live up to 15 years.
Larval and juvenile winter flounder feed on the egg, larval and adult stages of various invertebrates. Adults feed on a great variety of organisms including shrimp, clams, worms, fish fry and mussels. Winter flounder feed mainly during daylight hours and are more active during flooding or ebbing tides than during slack water periods.
Anglers pursue this species from docks, jetties, party and private boats. Areas with mud and patches of eelgrass providers anglers with the greatest opportunity for success. Winter flounder provide the most enjoyable action when caught on light tackle. Most anglers use 10 to 15 pound test monofilament line on a 6 1/2 foot medium action spinning rod or a small boat rod. Flounder hooks attached with snells or leaders can be fastened to the end of a wire spreader with a sinker attached to its center, or tied directly to the line 12 to 18 inches below a sinker.
Seaworms are considered the best bait for winter flounder. The key is to use very little bait; an inch of worm will work best. Winter flounder can quickly and quietly sneak in and take baits; thus, unattended rods lose fish. The rod should be raised often to check for fish as well as to attract them. It is absolutely necessary to chum heavily to put together a good catch of winter flounder. Clam and Mussel chum along with rice, corn, cracked mussels, cat food, and a myriad of other things are used by determined fisherman. It is unclear why, but Flounder seem to prefer the color yellow. Small yellow beads used on hooks and sinkers painted yellow are a couple of strategies to put more fish in the box.
Both male and female winter flounder normally reach sexual maturity at 3 years of age. The fecundity increases with body size, with smaller females producing about 500,000 and larger females around 1,500,00 eggs per year. In New Jersey, reproduction occurs in estuaries from January to May with peak activity during February and March when the water temperatures are the coldest of the year, ranging from 32 to 39 degrees F. Evidence suggests that specific individuals return for many years to the same site to spawn. Unlike the floating eggs of all other local flatfish, eggs of the winter flounder clump together in masses on the bottom. Eggs, usually laid on clean sand, hatch 15 to 18 days after being released.
Winter flounder are one of the most stationary of fishes, displaying a limited seasonal migration. Fish stay overwinter in inshore areas. As summer approaches, the shallow inland waters become warm, and the larger fish move offshore to deeper waters. Although a given population usually remains fairly stationary, there is evidence of wide scale movement of some individuals perhaps in search of food.
Winter flounder should be iced immediately after capture.
No fish lends itself to more imaginative dishes as does the winter flounder. Its texture and delicate flavor are well suited to sauces, spices, fruits, vegetables and other seafoods. Few species can be mixed with so many things and still stand out. Winter flounder can be fried, steamed, baked, microwaved, or broiled and can be substituted for other species in most fish recipes.