One of my favorite marine species is one that I target specifically for the table. Not the hardest fighter, in fact most of the time their strike is subtle, almost undetectable and their fight is concentrated, straight up and down and not terribly powerful. Kind of like pulling a great big suction cup off the bottom. Fans like myself already know what it is, the left handed “toothy faced” summer flounder or fluke. Its scientific or Latin name, Paralicthys dentatus translated the “para” means abnormal or faulty, the “icthys” is simply fish, and “dentatus” refers to their mouth full of sharp, canine like dentition or teeth. Maybe, the”paral” refers to the fact their two eyes are on the same side of their head.
An abnormal looking fish for sure, though the double eyes are a trait of all the species found in our waters and to the south. Interesting note is as fry they start off swimming upright with their eyes on opposite sides, with the typical bilateral symmetry of most members of the animal kingdom and all but the “flatfishes” in the world below the waters surface.
As their common name “summer flounder” which we call fluke (which means flat or flattened) indicates they like it warm, a mid to southern Atlantic species by nature that feeds its way north following favorable water temperature climes and food sources, usually they show up within a boat ride from and even off the shores of New York, north to southern Maine during the summer.
Compared to fishing the reefs and deep waters anglers fish for generally larger harder fighting, lure striking stripers and bluefish, fluke slide silently, seldom seen and often present for days to a week or so before anglers begin targeting and catching them from beaches, from the surf line to a couple hundred feet of water. Personally I prefer to use lighter tackle and drift for fluke in shallower waters ranging up to sixty maybe eighty feet before the required weight and heavier tackle makes catching them less fun for me, despite the fact that often the larger “doormat” fluke tend to hold in deeper, cooler, and harder to reach waters throughout the region.
Like many species, their favorite prey is squid, so the most popular and successful lures and baits look like or literally are squid. Jigs (which to a fishes pea sized brain), especially when baited with a strip of squid or fish of some sort, is perceived to be a squid to a predatory fish and even other squid that either try to mate with or eat their own kind when on a hook. I’ve seen it dozens of times.
Those very light pulling bites one gets that don’t produce a fish are often squid latching on then letting go of the bait as its jerked to set the hook or reeled up to be freshened and or replaced.
The classic fluke rig I first used as a kid fishing was a sinker, heavy enough to reach bottom and drift gently in the current, up a foot or so to a three way swivel and another line back to a baited hook. Still a popular rig used to day. However, over the years between fishing with a guy I used to call “The Fluke Meister”, German for fluke master, the most skilled and consistent big fluke catchier I’ve had the pleasure to share a boat with, used a different rig that I modified to suit my style of fishing.
Any fluke fishing enthusiast would love this guy. Soft spoken, smart, very knowledgeable regarding fishing especially for summer flounder, you knew he was serious. Man of few words the tattoo on his arm said it all. There was a picture of a fluke, with the words “fluking beautiful” underneath. I had a photo of it, which he was proud of, but it was one of a couple thousand slides that were destroyed when Hurricane Sandy caused a roof leak that soaked a few of my photo albums.
His way was to tie his leader, which was heavier than the line spooled on his reel that I think was connected using a barrel swivel, to a heavy jig of one maybe two ounces to the bottom, then make a loop and attach a jig approximately half the weight of the bottom jig on that. Bait both with squid that he’d catch the night before by scooping them around the docks and pilings near where he kept his boat.
A deadly combination that he fished on a single rod that required both hands to work effectively. He would lift the jig which ideally would be almost straight up and down from the boat, off the bottom, jiggle the rod tip and lower it back down until he felt the bottom. All done by dropping and lifting the rod tip like a fulcrum.
Very effective, but too labor intensive for me who considers and wants my fluke fishing to be a lazy man’s, laid back slow drift with light rods in relatively shallow water. I didn’t catch the eight to eleven pounders he caught every summer, but caught plenty of legal fluke ranging up to six or seven pounds from the waters of Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island whose borders I might travel across in a single day of fishing in my favorite spots from Misquamicut Beach to the south side of Fishers Island and westward into the Sound, from Stonington to the Mystic River. Where we fished was dependent on the wind direction and speed, because I’ve always owned small relatively light, but sea worthy, durable Lund aluminum boats. Wet and bumpy they advertised they were unsinkable. Never tried that but floatation under the seats in the form of aluminum boxes containing chunks of Styrofoam did the job.
Once I took my 14 footer to a beach on a lake with my kids to try to sink it and give it a scrubbing with sand inside where it was dirty from shoes, worm dirt, mustard from hot dogs taken out on evening runs, etc. After a week of this stuff it needed a bath. We filled it with water; it would not go down but floated with water to the gunnels, even with the kids, wearing life vests sitting on the seats. In order to get back to our rental cottage, I had to pull the plug and inch it up the beach until the water drained enough to add the plug and row home.
Another friend who specialized in catching big fluke, on big baits in deep water, would snag menhaden before a trip and use fillets off these greasy, oily bait fish, as an attractant that worked like a charm.
H. Bruce Franklin wrote a very informative book called “The Most Important Fish in the Sea”, by Shearwater Press in 2007. The book is a history of the menhaden fishery in the U.S. from colonial times to the present, minus about ten years. I actually contributed a few syllables and first hand experiences to this book which should be a summer read for every saltwater angler and anyone interested in the historical aspects of our native fisheries resources. He speculates and I believe rightfully so that when colonists arrived in America and marveled at the rich fisheries resources, one early colonial scientist noting that the “salmon” they didn’t have menhaden in Europe were so abundant they stretched in huge schools splashing on the surface as far as the eye could see. Menhaden were abundant enough in those times to literally be seen for miles in continuous schools.
Before I met “The Fluke Meister” I’d come up with a two hook rig that suited my shallow water “fluking techniques” I called a “double fluke sandwich rig” that incorporated the best elements of my own learning with the two experts noted above.
It consists of a jig, the lightest required getting the rig with bait to the bottom and just skimming with the drift. This jig, white, chartreuse or yellow has a soft plastic teaser to add action, topped with a strip of squid, if possible a live mummichog or if not a live minnow, strips of menhaden, fresh caught or bought from the bait shop and filleted as needed on the water.
About ten inches to a foot up from the jig, using a fairly heavy mono leader, tie the jig to a three way swivel, then five or six feet back to a large single hook or fly, that can be as simple as deer hair wrapped onto the hook to add bulk and flash. This is baited the same way as the jig.
What I’ve noticed and the reason for the long dropper hook is the fact that over the years when fishing a single jig, I’d get “fluke bit” a term that simply means you feel a tap or strike, the fluke takes the bait just behind the hook and is not caught or in some cases simply misses the entire thing.
Then a few seconds later, the frustrated fluke has a second tempting bait, come floating by and bam, if it’s still hungry and not full of plastic and bait from the jig, it smacks this second rig.
An important tip is the fact that fluke always seem to “tap, tap” when they strike, so with that drop back a few feet of line, let the drift take the slack, feel for the weight of the fish, if its there set the hook. If not continue the drift and do the same if that fish or another “tap-tap’s” the dropper. Kind of like a hard left jab and right cross in boxing, a K.O. combination.
Have a “fluking good” summer.