July 16, 2010
Fluke (summer flounder) are one of my favorite fish to catch—and eat. In my humble and not very refined opinion, few things are tastier than a golden-brown piece of lightly breaded fluke served with fries and tartar sauce, and maybe a side of slaw. But that’s just one reason I get psyched when fluke season rolls around.
Fluke are the perfect midseason species. When inshore fishing for stripers, seabass and tautog gets tough during the dog days of summer, fluke fill the void. Even better, you can catch fluke throughout the day, when your schedule allows.
Where They Lurk
Finding fluke is not as hard as many people think. It helps to remember that fluke are predators, every bit as aggressive as stripers or bluefish, and all 3 species gravitate to the same areas for the same reasons. In other words, look for fluke in places with good current flow, good bottom structure and where bait is prevalent. Put these 3 elements together and you are bound to find some flounder.
Sandy shoals are great places to find fluke, as the uneven bottom creates a rip where small baitfish get tumbled in the fast current, leaving them vulnerable to attacks from fish holding on the bottom. I usually find fluke stacked up along the leading, or upcurrent, slope of a shoal and on the peak of the shoal. However, it’s always worth fishing the backside of the shoal as well. Shoals are popular spots and see a lot of fishing pressure, mostly because they claim fewer bottom rigs, but you can bet that fluke also hold over hard-bottom rip areas too. More on that later.
The inlets of estuaries, canals, creeks and rivers are great places to find fluke, especially on an outgoing tide when baitfish are being flushed out to sea. In this situation, expect the fluke to hold along the sloping channel edges and behind any sort of bottom aberration or piece of structure, such as a piling or boulder. The only tricky part about fishing an inlet, especially a big one, is the amount of boat traffic you’re likely to encounter in such spots.
The sloping bottom that extends from a point of land is a good spots to find fluke. These areas are similar to rips in that they create a zone of fast, turbulent water where baitfish are more vulnerable to attack.
The troughs between sandbars along an ocean beach can hold surprisingly large numbers of fluke if enough bait is present. It is harder to fish these spots, however, especially if a swell is running. In this case you may have to anchor in deeper water and cast your bait into the bars, then wait for a bite.
Rocky areas and wrecks are usually ignored by fluke anglers, mostly because they hold fewer fish and result in more lost rigs, but the fluke you catch in these spots will usually be bigger than the ones you catch over sandy bottom. Look for the fish to hold in sandy holes or pockets among the structure or on the sand- or mud-bottom edges of the rocks or wreck.
Fluke Gear and Rigs
Fluke tackle need not be expensive. A 6 – to 7-foot rod rated for 12- to 15-pound line and a light conventional or spinning reel will do just fine. For line, I prefer 30-pound-test braid, as it’s very sensitive and lets you set the hook quickly and solidly in deep water. It’s also less vulnerable to current than mono of the same breaking strength.
When fishing over sand bottom, I usually use a tandem-jig rig. That is, I tie a heavy jig (3 to 4 ounces) on the end of the leader, then add a smaller, lighter jig some 8 inches above that off a 6-inch dropper loop. If fishing in deeper water or in very strong current, I may switch to a heavier sinker to keep the rig on the bottom.
Another effective fluke setup is a “3-way rig” that uses a large jig for weight and a live bait, small jig, soft-plastic lure, belly strip, spinner blade or some kind of bait/lure combo fished off a 3- to 4-foot leader coming off a 3-way swivel. There are many variations of this rig, and the bait or lure you choose should be based on the type of baitfish in the area.
I usually use small strips of squid on my jig hooks, but fresh bluefish belly strips, fluke belly strips, and dead sand eels also work.
In rocky areas or when fishing around wrecks, try the following 3-way rig: Start with a 2- to 4-ounce bank sinker tied to a 6-inch piece of 10-pound mono attached to one eye of the 3-way swivel. Next tie a 4- to 5-foot section of 40-pound mono to a second eye of the swivel. On the end of the heavy mono, tie a 5/0 to 7/0 kahle or circle hook. For bait, use a live “tinker” bluefish, live killifish, live cunner or long (10”) strip bait. If using circle hooks, let the fish “climb on” by feeding line for several seconds when you feel the first hit, then engage the drag and reel slowly until you feel the fish’s weight. Do not try to set up when using circle hooks.
I prefer to drift when fishing for fluke, as I feel that the bait or lure looks more natural to the waiting fish. I start my drift well upcurrent of the area I want to fish, then let out line until I feel the jig or sinker touch bottom. With conventional reels, I keep thumb pressure on the spool and lightly hop the jig over the bottom, making sure I tap bottom every time I lower the rod. If I don’t feel bottom, I let out more line by easing up on the thumb pressure.
You can easily fish two or more rods for fluke by placing them in holders while you drift, even if using jigs. The action of the waves rocking the boat is often all it takes to give the lures action and produce strikes.
If using large natural baits for big fluke, give the fish some time to eat the bait before setting the hook or engaging the drag. Sometimes it takes several seconds for the fish to work its way up to the hook, so be ready to free-spool line and be patient when you feel the first tap.
Fluke are not schooling fish, but they tend to gang up in certain spots based on the amount of prey and the desired conditions. Therefore, when you hook one fluke, be sure to mark the spot on your plotter so you can repeat the drift.
Although fluke will sometimes hit a plain jig or lure (I’ve caught them on trolled swimming plugs and diamond jigs), there’s no doubt that a piece of natural bait can make a big difference. I usually use small strips of squid on my jig hooks, but fresh bluefish belly strips, fluke belly strips, and dead sand eels also work. If you can’t get natural bait, keep some Berkley Gulp! Strip Baits or Sand Eels on hand, or some 6-inch pork rind strips to add to your jig hook.
When targeting monster fluke, most pros swear by live bait. Live tinker blues, cunners (choggies), and mummichogs all work well. Large, long strip baits made from bluefish or searobin fillets can also tempt trophies, as will whole squid, although these baits often attract dreaded skates and dogfish.