On the water lesson: fluke finding 101


A basic sounder, pre-packaged rigs and the right bait will equip the family boat for summer flounder

Here he comes again, the fellow in the sleek, all-out fishing machine, backing into his slip, ready to pop the top on his cooler and show off another catch of tasty fluke. The last time you took the family cruiser out, dependable, able hull it may be, you came home with something less. Matter of fact you had nary a bite. How do rectify this situation, or do you need another boat to be a better angler?

No, the family boat will do just fine to catch summer flounder, another name for fluke. Your first step though might be to take stock of your electronics. You don’t need the $15,000 worth your neighbor has, but you will need a dependable fishfinder to show you the bottom and GPS to record positions. Both can be purchased for relatively modest dollars, units that will nevertheless serve you for several seasons.

Step two is getting some rigs, bait and advice, which is available no farther than your local tackle shop. Or maybe your marina has one in it with its ship’s store. Arrive at the counter on a weekday, not a busy Saturday morning when a chance for conversation is nil. On a quiet Tuesday (maybe after the morning push for bait is over) the fellow will have a chance to give some pointers on the rigs and bait you need.

Most pre-packed fluke rigs are made up around a three-way swivel. On one eye of the swivel you’ll find a clip that holds sinkers of various weights. Make sure you get a couple, for as the tide flow increases you will need to replace a lighter sinker with a heavier one to stay on the bottom where most fluke do their dining. On the other eye of the swivel you’ll notice a long leader with hook at the end. The third eye of the swivel is where you tie the line from the rod.

For bait, buy a couple of packages of frozen squid along with a package of shiners of some kind. The shopkeeper can show you how to cut the squid into pennant-shaped pieces, tapering to a fine point at one end. Cut several strips with a good sharp knife and store the rest out of the sun. Next, take a shiner and put that on the hook as well as the squid. This is called a fluke sandwich, a great beginner’s bait. In time you’ll move up to other more sophisticated setups but this will do for now.

One note: if you become serious about increasing your fluking skills, concentrate on fluke and fluke only in the time you have available. I’ll bet by the fourth trip, maybe the last for the summer, you’ll be doing better than on numero uno.

After storing tackle, lunch and bait, you and your guests might find yourselves out of Suntan Beach, drifting around with the rest of the fluke fleet, noting that many of the boats are family affairs just like yours. Drifting along with light winds also lends itself to conversation with friends, enjoying a bite or drink as you go. The latest business downturn is forgotten, or maybe baby boomers talk about their grandkids and prospects for the market.

Try to note what boats in the fleet are netting fish and try to pick up their drift. Don’t power right up to them but get in line a respectable distance up current and wind. Always have a pencil and pad to note the GPS numbers of where you start so you can return to the spot if your boat lacks a plotter.

Drop the bait to the bottom and begin the search. When you get a hit — sometimes fluke hits are nothing more than the line tightening, feeling like a slight snag on the bottom — let out a little line from the reel, letting the fish get the bait firmly in its mouth. When the line tightens, set the hook with a short jab of the rod, not a Mickey Mantle swing at the record book. If you can, or if someone else hooks up, note the GPS numbers of the spot by hitting a save button or just jotting down the last three numbers of the readout, both top and bottom. One of the secrets to catching more fluke is to make the second drift of the day shorter, covering water where you know fish are about, eliminating spots they aren’t.

If you’re not sure about getting GPS numbers on a moment’s notice, have a marker buoy ready. Just securely screw the top onto a plastic jug, wrap enough line around it to reach bottom and enough sinkers tied on a loop at the end of the line to hold the jug in place after you toss it over the side when someone hooks a fish. Have the mono line wrapped around the jug and in a handy spot in the boat. The next drift, cover the fishy water, not the barren water.

Another secret to catching more fluke is to watch your fishfinder as you drift along. Don’t be surprised if your hits occur as you drift over some type of bottom structure. While many fluke are caught along a flat, sandy beach, others, including the bigger variety, hang around a slight rise in the bottom or small pile of rocks that show up on your fish finder as a slight bump. A 2 to 3-foot rise is all that’s needed in an otherwise featureless terrain to hold a body of fish. Once again you want to shorten your drifts, covering the structure, then starting your engine and running back, maximizing your time, not landing one or two fish then drifting another half-mile, getting nothing.

The GPS numbers for such places should be written down or entered as a waypoint. In time you will accumulate a store of such places, increasing chances instead of the fellow who drifts aimlessly with the breeze, landing a fish now and then. Head to where they keep the money, in the bank, concentrate on structure or areas off Suntan Shores that are holding fluke that day, not the whole beachfront.

As you lead your prize to the boat, have a net ready and lead it in head-first, never the other end; a recipe for disaster if an 8-pounder bolts for freedom at the sight of the boat. Big fluke will do that, something you’ll experience if you stay at the game. Once it’s on board keep the fish in a cooler with ice, in prime condition for filleting back at the dock.

Maybe by the second trip you won’t be high on the scoreboard like Captain Fishes Everyday, but with patience you’ll begin to improve. Heck, four keepers that second trip is a lot better than zero keepers the first outing. Your fluke score just increased — by a bunch. 

Tim Coleman has been fishing New England waters for more than 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.