Time for Boston Blackbacks!

For fast, easy fishing, it’s hard to beat Boston Harbor’s amazing winter flounder fishery, which hits high gear from May through June. You don’t need a big boat or fancy gear to catch so-called “blackbacks,” and you don’t need to run long distances or get up early. What’s not to like?

A few years back, my friend Pete Santini of Fishing Finatics Bait & Tackle in Everett, Massachusetts, showed me just how fun and easy it is to catch blackbacks on a mid-June trip. We left East Boston’s Shipyard Marina at 6:00 a.m. and headed to the Deer Island flats, adjacent to the Deer Island sewage-treatment facility.

The flats here are well known for holding large numbers of flounder in late spring, and the place didn’t disappoint. Once we zeroed in on the right depth zone, we caught dozens of fish in just a few hours, including a 21-incher. That’s a pretty big winter flounder!


Prime Conditions

As Santini explained, blackbacks like a mud bottom and moving water. Also, a warm, sunny day will get the fish feeding better than one with cool, overcast conditions.

Aside from the Deer Island flats, other productive flounder spots in Boston Harbor include Portuguese Cove off Peddocks Island, Hospital Shoal, the mud bottom on the north side of Georges Island, and the mud flats of Dorchester and Quincy bays. Ideally, you’re looking for mud bottom in 10’ to 25’ of water, with perhaps a slight depression, or “hole” for the flounder to lie in. Since flounder will feed in different depths depending on water conditions, try to set up a drift that takes you from deep to shallow, or vice versa.

Blackbacks are sight-feeders, and sunlight helps them home in on the bait. That’s one reason why Santini’s special “Zobo” flounder rigs feature a yellow bead ahead of the hook, which imitates the feeding tube of a “piss” clam—one of the flounder’s favorite foods. Indeed, when cleaning a flounder, you will often find its belly packed with the little yellow tubes.


Top Bottom Rig

Speaking of the Zobo rig, it’s a 2-hook setup that Santini designed with his late partner, Johnny Dicato. The rig features a sliding sinker and a pair of red Virginia-style flounder hooks. After fishing with Santini several times, I can vouch for their effectiveness.

Learn How To Make Your Own Zobo Rig!

If you’re serious about winter flounder fishing, buy at least one flat of seaworms per 6-hour trip. If the flounder are biting, you’ll be glad you brought plenty. To rig the seaworm, pinch it by the head and thread it onto the hook, starting at the point. Push the worm up the shank until you get to the eye of the hook. Do this for the other hook on the Zobo rig and you are good to go.

As for weight, you generally don’t need anything heavier than a 2- to 3-ounce bank sinker, unless the current is ripping or the wind is pushing the boat too fast over the flats. If wind is an issue, deploy a sea anchor or a 5-gallon bucket to slow the drift. The ideal drift speed is 1 to 2 knots, which lets you cover ground slowly while keeping the line fairly vertical.


Blackback Tackle

When it comes to flounder tackle, you can use pretty much any kind of light spinning or conventional gear. Freshwater outfits work just fine. The rod should be at least 6’ long and have a springy, limber tip to detect the flounder’s subtle bites. You can use monofilament line, but the real flounder sharpies prefer braid, as it’s more sensitive and less affected by current.

Once you’ve set up a drift, lower your rig to the bottom and wait for a hit. Winter flounder tend to eat slowly, so don’t try to set the hook at the fist sign of a nibble. Instead, be patient and wait for the fish to “climb on” the hook before gently raising the rod tip. Some flounder pros like to lower the rod tip when they feel a tap, which puts a slight amount of slack in the line and gives the fish more time to eat. If you don’t feel the fish’s weight as you lift the rod, immediately drop the rig back to the bottom in case the fish is still following the bait.

So there you have it: A basic guide to catching Boston Harbor winter flounder. Give this amazing fishery a try and it may become a spring tradition.

Watch a video on how to catch Boston Harbor winter flounder: