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Northeast Fishing

Fluke, the nine-to-five fish

Fluke, the nine-to-five fish

These midday nibblers are among the summer’s most popular catch

No work-world commute today — instead your attention is on loading the boat with good company, good food, cold drinks and enough bait and tackle for a sunny, calm weekend of fluke fishing. It’s one of those times when it’s great to be alive and on the water.

Unlike striped bass and other game fish, one doesn’t have to arise before dawn to catch a fluke or two for the next cookout. Fluke bite readily during the heat of the day, obliging both novice and advanced anglers, and are great on the table — reasons why they are one of, if not the most popular, summer fish.

If you find you’re slated to be captain for the day for a group of youngsters or relatives and aren’t sure about the ins and outs of this fishery, help is as close as your local tackle shop. They sell ready-made fluke rigs along with sinkers to keep the rig and bait on the bottom. The standard, tried and true way to fool these critters is with strips of squid cut from whole squid bought in frozen packages. It’s wise to shop before the weekend crunch as this often lets the person behind the counter offer advice on how to cut the bait as well as the best fishing locations. Often a fluke fleet is assembled; sometimes numerous boats of all sizes, from the very small to palatial yachts are on the grounds, their owners seeking relaxation and a tasty fish dinner.

If you have some extra money in the fish budget add a package of frozen shiners or perhaps a bucket of live killies or mummies, as they are nicknamed in various shoreline sections, along with enough packages of frozen squid for a day’s fishing. If you don’t use it all, refreeze it for next time after keeping frozen bait out of the sun when not in use, preferably on ice in a cooler. The idea is to put a strip of squid on the hook then add a shiner or other piece of bait creating what’s known as a fluke sandwich.

Most fluke are caught drifting along, aided by a gentle breeze or current. You want just enough weight to hold bottom as the boat moves along, covering the area, looking for places where fluke are holed up, usually lying flat, eyes scanning overhead, looking for a meal to come by. If your guests that day are newcomers, bring two or three rods and place each in a holder after baiting and lowering to bottom.

Hits are sometimes a telltale bounce of the rod tip but often when fluke grab hold of the bait, the feel is as if the rig is stuck. The best procedure is usually to put the reel in free spool a bit, allowing the fish to get the bait firmly in its mouth before setting the hook with a quick jab of the rod tip.

When the fish is hooked, pass the rod off to a willing angler and ready the long-handled, wide-mouth net needed for all fluke fishing. When the fish is at boatside tell the angler to lead it into the net headfirst, then lift when its whole body is inside the mesh. Fluke grow over 10 pounds, trophies that often have a way of finding the bait controlled by a wee little one, sometimes humorously avoiding the bait of adults in the process. Fish that size might make one last surge just before landing so tell people to stay calm and be ready. It helps if the skipper sets the example for all to follow if the biggest fluke brought into the yacht club in 10 seasons comes into view from below.

The fluke fleet will probably be spread over a wide area. Your job as skipper will be to find what part of this area holds fish, concentrating on that section, avoiding the fishless parts. You do this by immediately noting the GPS numbers where bites start. Press the right “save” button on your equipment, or note the numbers on a pad or right on the console. As soon as the bites stop, crank up the boat and head back past the place the bites started. Note a second GPS number where you begin the very next drift. Watch closely as you drift beyond the first number and don’t waste time when the bites trail off. Drift where fish are, not where they are not. This simple rule puts a couple more fluke in your cooler, as opposed to others who return with a handful for a full day.

If you’re not comfortable with electronics, a most simple marking system is to have an empty plastic jug handy with enough line tied around it to reach the bottom and heavy sinker to keep it in place. When you hook the first fish of the day have someone in the party, perhaps a little person, toss it over the side. The line will unravel and the jug stop, marking a spot you can easily drift back across.

While many fluke are caught on flat bottom, many more set up housekeeping around some type of structure, maybe a few rocks or just a slight rise, no more than three feet from the surrounding bottom. Don’t be surprised if you get first bites about the same time you note on your fish finder the slight hill you just drifted across. Get the numbers for it and repeat the drift. A plotter will aid greatly in showing the boat’s track, time and again, upping your score by hitting the fish-holding structure until the bites cease and you resume the hunt for another concentration of fish.

No day on the water is complete without some type of simple camera aboard. That little girl with the big round sunglasses makes prize-winning material when she holds up a fluke, or even better, the largest fish of the day. If you really want to score points, send an enlargement, either by e-mail or as an 8-by-10 from the photo shop. Her parents might be your friends forever, such a simple occasion gracing their family scrapbook until their daughter heads a Fortune 500 firm.

Don’t laugh; the little fluke catcher of yesterday just may command seven figures tomorrow. Pictures of the before and after provoke thoughts, maybe a tear or two, all because you offered to take people out in your boat for some fluke fishing on a bright Saturday many years prior.

Tim Coleman has been fishing New England waters for 30 years. He was managing editor of The Fisherman magazine’s New England edition until 2001, and is now a freelance writer based in Rhode Island.