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With the fall flounder run in full swing, a flounder article seemed in order. After lots of years of catching flounder, buying flounder for the market and cleaning way too many flounder, I thought I knew enough to do a flounder article without references.

Because I'm so often wrong, though, a few e-mails were sent, the Web was searched and a reference book was consulted so as to be sure of the facts before I put them out there. Darn good thing because as is the norm, I had some of it wrong and some of it incomplete.

As usual, the first e-mail went to Dr. Maia McGuire over at Sea Grant, and as usual she sent me in the right direction. The right direction led to J. B. Miller at Faver Dykes State Park who was kind enough to offer some clarification as to the actual local facts.

His prompt reply was enlightening. Did you know there were five distinct species of flounder that might end up struggling around on your hook when that mud minnow did his job?

Sure, the chances of actually catching a fourspot flounder or a broad flounder are rather slim, but did any of us know they were even around? Most of us know about the occasional gulf flounder and that the vast majority of flounder we catch in this area are southern flounder.

When you clean lots of fish, you tend to notice the subtle differences in flesh, markings and shape that can clue one in to the fact that there is more than one species involved in that pile of very similar looking fish. The meat of the gulf flounder and the southern flounder look different, and the fish have slightly different shapes. A number of us at the market have a preference for the gulf flounder as an eating fish.

When Miller, buttressed by the literature, pointed out that there were two flounder species I'd never heard of in our local waters and that contrary to what most of us may think, that the summer flounder of Carolina and Virginia fame occasionally found its way into our local waters, it was a real eye opener.

We buy and clean lots of summer flounder from the Carolinas but have never noted their presence in the local catch.

All five species of flounder that occur locally are left-eyed flounder of the family Paralichthys and have very similar feeding habits even though they do tend to prefer different habitats. Even though they are called left-eyed, they do occasionally end up laying the other way around just as they will occasionally have pigment on their bottom side. The southern flounder, by far the most prevalent, is very tolerant of low salinities and is the flounder species you will find down the St. Johns in places you'd expect to catch only bass and catfish.

We've caught them as far south as Lake George and Crescent Lake while bass fishing. Gulf flounder are far less adaptable to fresh water and will usually be found close to the ocean. The greatest number of gulf flounder we've seen have come from divers working offshore.

What we call the fall flounder run is actually the migration of mature fish, usually those two years old and older, out of the estuaries and into the Atlantic where spawning will take place.

So how do you know which species you've got in your cooler? The easiest way to distinguish the species is to look for the spots or in the case of the southern flounder the lack of well defined spots. The gulf flounder will have three spots, one on the lateral line near the tail and one each above and below the lateral line closer to the head. The summer flounder will have five spots arranged two above, one on and two below the lateral line. Our most prevalent species the southern will have blotches and diffuse dark areas but will not have a regular spot pattern.

Of course, none of this will help you catch more flounder.
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