For fast, easy fishing the whole family can enjoy, you can’t top Boston Harbor’s amazing winter flounder fishery. You don’t need a big boat or fancy gear to catch “blackbacks”, and you don’t need to run long distances or get up early. What’s not to like? The icing on the cake is catching fish—fish you can eat—in the shadow of a large East Coast city that has made incredible strides in cleaning up its coastal waters.

Boston Harbor Chart

Pete Santini of Fishing Finatics Bait and Tackle in Everett, Massachusetts, showed us just how fun and easy it is to catch these great-tasting fish on a mid-June trip aboard Vince Vetlese’s 26-foot Hydra Sports center console. 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

SAT map of flats.

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 monster 21-incher!

This 21" flounder is huge by most standards, but they catch 'em even bigger in Boston Harbor. Photo by Tom Richardson

As Santini explained, blackbacks like a mud bottom and moving water, so don’t time your fishing around a slack tide. Also, a warm, sunny day will get the fish feeding better than one with cool, overcast conditions.

Blackbacks are sight-feeders, and the light 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 he says imitates the color of a juvenile mussel—one of the flounder’s favorite foods.

The Zobo rig features a yellow bead ahead of the hook that the flounder home in on. Photo by Tom Richardson

Speaking of the Zobo, it’s a 2-hook rig that Santini designed with his late partner, Johnny Dicato. The rig features a snap for the sinker and a pair of red Virginia-style flounder hooks. After fishing with Santini twice for flounder, I can say that these rigs outproduce standard flounder rigs.

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.

Use a whole seaworm on each hook and change the bait every 10 minutes. Photo by Tom Richardson

As for sinkers, you generally don’t need anything more 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 drift slowly over the flat and keep the line vertical.

Flounder gear is pretty straightforward. Photo by Tom Richardson

Ideal water depth is 12’ to 20’ during the spring fishery, which runs from mid-May through early July. Once the water warms up, the fish move into deeper areas along the outer edges of the harbor. In mid-fall, they begin to move back to the shallows.

Once you’ve got the drift set up, 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, wait for the fish to “climb on” the hook before gently raising the rod tip. If you don’t feel the fish’s weight, drop the rig back down.

A great day's catch in the cooler. Photo by Tom Richardson

If you’re worried about having the right tackle for winter flounder, don’t! You can use pretty much any kind of light spinning or conventional gear, and freshwater outfits work just fine. The rod should be at least 6’ long and have a springy, limber tip to detect the flounder’s bite. You can use mono line, but the true flounder sharpies prefer braid, as it’s more sensitive and less affected by current.

Other than that, all you need is a cooler of ice to keep your catch cold, a Massachusetts saltwater fishing license, and some basic flounder-filleting skills (see video), and you’ll be well on your way toward experiencing a true Boston Harbor success story.

For current winter flounder regulations:

Massachusetts Regulations

To order a saltwater fishing permit online:

Recreational Fishing Permits: MassFishHunt

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