Fishing for Flatfish in the UK can be one of the most rewarding types of fishing. On a clear day, you may well be casting directly onto the fish that see gliding over the seabed, and watching as they take your lure or bait. Flatfish put up a good fight, not so much because they are the most energetic species but because their flat bodies create a lot of water resistance. When fishing in currents, flat fish seem to use their large surface area against you, and it’s a cracking fight when they do. If you are inclined to eat your catch, flat fish are pretty darn tasty, too.
Plaice (Pleuronectes platessa)
Plaice are are a prized fish with magnificent orange spots, delicious flesh and a lot of power when they are hugging the bottom. They glibe around over sandy or stoney ground, and are easiest to catch from a boat over sand banks since that allows you to cover the most ground and seek them out. Compared to other flat fish such as Flounder and Dab, Plaice are less partial to muddy ground.
Where to Catch Plaice
Plaice prefer sandy ground and shingle, and are very common over deep water sand banks, drop offs and gullies.
When to Catch Plaice
Plaice are best targeted between February and September and they often come closer in to shore in the colder months.
How to Catch Plaice
Squid, ragworm or lugworm rigged on a classic meps spinner, or else with beads holding a spinner further up the line to make it more visible. Plaice are caught directly on the seabed, but it’s good to lift your lure or bait a few feet every now and then or allow it to drift over a sand bank in order to make it easier for the fish to locate. Plaice are very inquisitive fish and will come to inspect lures, even if they don’t usually immediately engulf them.
Flounder (Platichthys flesus)
The Flounder is one of a few savours of British winter fishing, because they will hunt even when most fish have given up and slowed down their metabolisms in a kind of semi-hibernation!
Where to Catch Flounder
Flounder are caught over sandy grounds and are very common in estuaries, where they tolerate brackish water well and glide over mud banks and sandy gullies.
How to Catch Flounder
These fish are far more predatory than most anglers realise, and just like the American fresh water flounder, they can be targeted effectively with lures. Mepp’s spinners fished over the bottom with a ragworm attached are a common approach, or else a custom rig composed of beads, a spinner to grab their attention and a small size 8 baited hook works well. They are however tentative feeders and you should never strike when you receive a bite, but instead wait for the fish to nibble for a while and gently lift to see if the hook is set before retrieving. If the fish doesn’t hook up, you do nothing with your lure and wait for the fish to regain confidence and return. This style of fishing is a cross between bait fishing a lure fishing with a deadstick approach.
Best Bait for Flounder
The best flounder bait is whatever local worms they are feeding on, be it lug worm or rag worm, or else peeler crab
Dab (Pleuronectes limanda)
The dab is the most reliable catch in many estuaries throughout the UK, though not always the most welcome one, given their small size. A very large dab is 1lb in weight, and they will eat whatever morsels they can fit in their tiny little mouths, including any baits you intended for something else.
How to Avoid Catching Dab!
You will catch dab on sandy beaches and over mudflats in estuaries with all kinds of baits, so long as they are fished on the bottom. The best way to avoid catching dab is to increase the size of your hooks to filter them out, and ensure your baits are properly tied to stop them from being pulled away from the hook.
How to Catch Dab on Light Game Gear
Dab are a lot of fun to catch if your tackle is appropriately light weight. With an LRF rod, jig head and worm imitation like Marukyu Isome or a Gulp bait, these fish can be targeted effectively.
Turbot (Scopthalmus maximus)
You will know it if you snag one of these fish from under the surf where they hunt on disoriented fish and whatever the morsels the sea throws up. They chase lures like the true predators they are and when they’re feeding in the surf, don’t bother with any of the tentative politeness of other flatfish species.
Turbot are muscular flat fish that are more rounded than Plaice or Flounder and very similar to Brill, with which they share their mottled, sandy appearance. Turbot hunt in the surf and over sandy banks. They grow to an impressive 30lb, and like other flat fish and rays, getting them away from the bottom is challenging and epic on light gear.
Best Bait for Turbot & Brill
The best bait for Turbot is sandeel or mackerel and they can also be caught with lures bounced across the bottom over sand banks or drifted over sandy ground from a boat.
Turbot Fishing Season
Turbot can be caught from May through till late October.
Topknot (Zeugopterus punctatus)
Topknot are a prized catch for species hunters deploying LRF tactics, and are occassionally caught as bicatch by bait anglers fishing on the bottom over rough ground.
The fish are a perfect oval shape, with dark mottled appearance that makes them indistinguishable from the rock pools and crevices they inhabit. This is a shallow water species found in depths of no more than 40m, and is sometimes seen at low tide in rock pools – but only when it’s moving – they are invisible when still.
Topknot are best caught by fishing with Marukyu Isome on a very small, fresh water style hook or a size 10 jig head. They are caught directly on the sides of weed-coated harbour walls, especially when the weeds are brown in colour.
Dover Sole (Solea solea)
This small, tasty fish isn’t often caught by anglers that favour larger baits, because its small mouth makes most anglers rigs ineffectual for them. Recently, sole caught in Cornwall have been officially rebranded ‘Cornish Sole’. Who knew that fish were so concerned with their regional identity!
Dover sole have a rough texture compared to the Lemon sole with which they can easily be confused. This skin is removed before eating, and the fish has been a favourite for a long time, unlike some other delicious species which have only become popular recently, such as Gurnard.
The Sole fishing season runs from April through to the end of summer, but they are most active when the water is at its warmest, and they move into deeper waters as the sea cools.
The best bait for Dover Sole is lugworm or ragworm rigged on a small hook, like a size 8. The fish are tentative feeders, so striking is a bad idea – these fish need about as much time to finish their meal as the aristocrats that used to eat them.