They often cross paths on a sunny summer Saturday: the striper angler, up with the owls to get live bait, is returning to the ramp or marina at midmorning, his day over. The fluke angler, on the other hand, slept in, enjoyed a good breakfast and is on his way out, savoring one of the benefits of chasing the summer flounder: they bite well during the middle of a sunny day.
From New Jersey to the south end of Massachusetts Bay - maybe the northern reaches of fluke distribution - boaters enjoy the fun of finding, catching and eating the tasty flattie that often reaches weights of 8 to 10 pounds and higher. A whole industry has sprung up from terminal tackle to light conventional rods and small super reels with buttermilk drags linked to highly sensitive, super-thin braided lines that allow one to feel the hits as a fluke rises up from its position on the bottom to pounce on a moving bait.
Some of today's anglers use the time-tested bottom rig with long leader, sinker and a strip of squid along with a spearing, often called a fluke sandwich. Many more, though, graduated to double rigs that consist of a bucktail with a small hooked rigged in the back, often fitted with a whole squid. The bucktail, however, is only one part of the arrangement. It's tied onto a three-way swivel, one end going to the main line, one to the bucktail, the other to a short leader with all manner of teasers like a small plastic shad or feather teaser, often dressed with a piece of squid to give it smell. The bucktail/teaser rig is lowered to the bottom and jigged slowly up and down as the boat drifts along.
Good fluking usually requires a moving tide, moving with the wind; wind working against the current is usually a recipe for poor fishing. If, however, the tide is moving too fast, many small boaters turn their stern to the sea and run their engines slowly in reverse, compensating for the speed of the tide, keeping lines straight up and down. They often pop the engine in and out of gear like this, people in other boats not catching as well, not realizing what is going on. Of course, this maneuver is dependent on a calm sea.
With minimum fluke sizes rising, many inshore fluke grounds don't hold the number of keeper fish that anglers seek, wanting a catch big enough to take home and enjoy a great seafood dinner - the kind of cookout often visited by all in the neighborhood. Because of this fact, many dedicated flukers moved out into deeper and deeper water looking for those bigger fish.
Before he retired from fishing, master angler Sherwood Lincoln of East Lyme, Conn., located a nice pile of larger fluke on the deepwater humps in eastern Long Island Sound off Niantic, Conn. These were spots in the past where we dropped a diamond jig for blues, but they also harbor some very nice fluke, in waters down to 140 feet deep.
That depth for many years wasn't associated with fluke drifting, but anglers are an adaptive lot, learning more about the habits of larger fluke. In his case, Sherwood used whole squid on his rigs, dropped down with sinkers as heavy as 10 ounces, often targeting the top and sides of these hills during the last two hours of the outgoing tide.
He would at first run the engine in reverse to keep his line straight up and down but, as the tide eased, the super-thin braided line kept his sinker and bait in the strike zone. Thirty-pound super braid has the diameter of 8-pound mono, a big help in reducing the drag of the water on the line.
Sherwood would often follow that section of the tide around, sometimes starting in the morning and then not going out until around 4 p.m. or later, daylight savings giving him plenty of light if he wanted to make a trip almost to sunset. Other fluke anglers do the same, while most just go fishing when work and family schedules allow them time on the boat.
Because fluke bite during the day, they are ideal for taking spouses, kids or elderly people out for a day on the bay or ocean. In this case, you bait up with two or more rods. One rod has the traditional fluke rig with whole squid (often sold prepackaged in tackle shops with two hooks to hold the squid on the hooks in a straight, natural fashion); they put that one in the rod holder, the other with a bucktail and whole squid is dropped down and worked by maybe a youngster who needs some activity to hold his or her interest.
The drifted rod will often go down on its own, the rod holder doing a good job of hooking the fish. The bites on the bucktail are often swift, the fish attacking prey just like any other game fish. The angler needs only to jab the rod to set the hook, the no-stretch braid doing a good job of sticking the hook.
Encourage newcomers not to rush the fish to the boat. An 8-pounder puts up a determined battle on a light conventional fluke rod, and trying to rush the fish to the boat often results in tearing out the hook. A steady process of dropping the tip (no slack line) pumping the fish up and then taking in line is the way to get the prize.
When the fish comes in view, have a net already in the water, all the way down. Have the angler lead the fish into the net and have a second person lift it up out of the water. Small fish can be lifted aboard, but most keepers are netted with the net, sometimes saving the day with a lightly hooked one.
Some anglers have switched from traditional cloth mesh nets to a rubber mesh that often saves other hooks on the rig from becoming entangled in the cloth. This also saves time, expletives and the captain's disposition.
Anglers out by themselves - often a great stress breaker in the afternoon when sneaking a day away from the demands of running a small business, looking for fluke on a calm afternoon, maybe heading home to cook your prize - often use the above two-rod technique. One of the rods stays in the holder, rigged up a traditional bottom rig, the other with a bucktail that is held, jigging it along the bottom while drifting over suspected fluke territory.
Fluke like structures, often holding around the edges of rocks or wrecks, those spots given away when you hook a sea bass on the rig. That might be a good time to mark the spot on your plotter, or perhaps throw a marker jug if you're old-fashioned, then come back to look around. You might have drifted close to some type of fish-holding condo that will serve you well for seasons to come.
Fluke will also locate under a cloud of bait like spring squid off the famed fluke grounds of Misquamicut, R.I. Marking those clouds on your plotter and using the same coordinates to drift over the same area is often the route to keeper No. 2 through a limit for the trip.
Fish, though, have tails and may not have subscriptions to the wisdom of printed fish writers. While many keeper fluke/doormats are out in water from 50- to 100-plus feet deep, sometimes they follow bait inshore, maybe in 20 to 30 feet right outside the breakers. Sometimes they are in there at first light (for those fishermen that are up with the bass anglers), chasing bait around like bass or blues.
Many, though, forsake this timetable for a few more hours of sack time, enjoying sleeping in and not battling the turnpike/parkway quagmire. They awaken looking forward later to a day on the water - at a more "civilized" hour.
This article originally appeared in the New England and Connecticut and New York Home Waters sections of the August 2010 issue.
Tim Coleman died May 3, in Weekapaug, R.I., doing what he loved to do best at that time of year: scouting the salt ponds and outer beaches for spring striped bass. He was an exceptional saltwater angler and a prolific writer. Thousands of readers lost an advocate and authentic storyteller for fishing in the Northeast, and anyone fortunate to have known Tim lost a good friend.