Five on Fluke
July 23, 2019
These experts have the recipe for summer success with fluke on Long Island Sound. Text & Photos By Capt. Tom Migdalski
When it comes to fluke hot spots, Long Island Sound has it all. Fluke inhabit several different bottom types, but their prime holding areas include river mouths, channel edges, sand and gravel shoals, and drop-offs, usually in depths ranging from 15 to 60 feet. Later in the season, stretches of bottom in 80 to over 100 feet of water also serve as staging areas for fluke. Add strong current and abundant forage to the mix, and you can see why the Sound is such a productive place for summer flounder.
The biggest fluke are typically scattered and temperamental, so making the right presentation is important to success. And one way to prompt a finicky flattie into biting is the stop-and-drop technique.
Unlike winter flounder, fluke are aggressive predators that will sometimes follow a bait all the way to the surface. Therefore, be sure to bring in your bait slowly when checking it, as this may tempt a pursuing fish into striking. “Never reel in as fast as possible,” says fluke pro Capt. Jim Kaczynski. “Use a slow, steady pace, and stop several times on the way up. You might also try dropping the bait back a few feet, which will sometimes prompt an aggressive strike. The combination of drift speed and slow reeling will make it look like the bait is trying to escape.”
Let ‘Em Eat
A variation of this stop-and-drop technique is a slow and constant raising and lowering of your rod tip as you drift. This makes the bait look like a squid or a wounded baitfish struggling along the bottom.
Here’s another trick that’s harder to master, but deadly on fish that are only moderately interested in feeding: When you miss a strike, immediately free-spool your rig back for about 10 seconds as you drift away. This gives a lazy fluke the impression that it has injured or killed the prey.
“Be aware that some fish won’t run with the bait immediately after eating it,” adds Kaczynski. “Instead, they just sit on the bottom.” In other words, if you start to feel solid resistance as your line tightens, set the hook! There could be a fish on the end.
Catching the Drift
Knowledgeable fluke fishermen realize that success is not simply based on how and where they fish, but when they fish. “Knowing the tides is key,” says Capt. Mike Stepski, who specializes in bottom fishing out of Niantic aboard the Tartan II. “When fishing for fluke, the beginning of the tide always seems to produce the best bite, but I also rely on current to set up a good drift. You have to know your boat and how it behaves in the prevailing conditions.
“The Tartan II, for example, is a heavy, slow-drifting boat. Smaller boats, on the other hand, are influenced more by the wind than the current. It’s important to know how your boat is affected by both elements. You won’t catch fluke if you don’t have a steady drift, even when the bite is on.”
Playing Wind & Tide
Before heading out, consult the wind forecast and a tide table, and plan to fish when the wind and current direction are aligned. For example, if the forecast calls for westerlies at 10 knots, you should be on your spot and ready to fish at the first of the ebb tide, which flows west to east in Long Island Sound.
When tide and wind oppose each other, your boat may not move at all, making it hard to target fluke. Slack tide can also present a problem. Unless you have a favorable breeze, no current usually means no fluke action, because your bait is simply sitting motionless on the bottom, inviting spider crabs to lunch.
If you want to keep fishing through slack water, try “bump-trolling” a squid/minnow combination behind a chrome spinner blade or Spin-n- Glow fluke rig. Be aware that you may need to increase the sinker weight to 8 to 12 ounces to maintain contact with the bottom when using this method in some deeper parts of the Sound.
Put the engine in idle and free-spool enough line to reach bottom then put the reel in gear and set the rod in a holder. Now “bump” the motor in and out of gear to create slow forward progress and keep the sinker bouncing along the bottom. Meanwhile, watch the rod tip closely. When you see it dip over hard, indicating a strike, take the engine out of gear and drop the rod to let the fish “climb on” the bait. If you feel solid resistance once the line comes tight, set the hook. The bump-trolling technique can produce fluke during what would otherwise be considered down time. You’ll also frequently be rewarded with some large sea bass to round out the day’s bag, as they respond well to fluke rigs.
Too much wind can also make it challenging to target fluke. For example, stiff afternoon southwesterlies often make it hard to properly tend bottom, even in sheltered areas like New Haven Harbor and Niantic Bay, because the drift is too fast
One solution is to deploy a length of heavy chain tied to a rope and drag it on the bottom to slow the drift. Just be mindful of the rode when you’re fighting a fish. Another way to slow the drift is to deploy a drift sock or a simple five-gallon bucket, tied to a midships cleat.
Ask five different fluke anglers to describe their favorite rig, and you will likely get five different responses. The truth is that all fluke rigs, whether homemade or commercially manufactured, will produce when the fish are numerous and the bite is on.
“The real trick,” says Connecticut’s Capt. Jim Maturo, “is making the fluke bite when they’re picky. I like to use a standard three-way rig with a Mylar fluke fly dressed with a squid strip and spearing on the top hook. For the bottom weight I use a two- to six-ounce Fluke Bomb or bucktail jig dressed with fresh bait. We change rig colors often until we find the one that’s producing that day, but we normally start with white or chartreuse. I recommend using the lightest weight possible to hold bottom.”
Sharpies like Maturo often experiment with combinations of rig color, shape, bait, weight and leader length until they find the right formula. “But remember,” he cautions, “what worked last week may not work this week.” In other words, don’t be shy about changing things up if you aren’t getting strikes.
Flashy Vs. Plain
Some fluke anglers like to adorn their rigs with as many attractors as possible, while others favor a “no frills” approach. Flash or no flash, two ingredients are common to most fluke rigs fished in the Sound. The first is some kind of bucktail material—either real or synthetic—tied over the hook. The second is natural bait, which can include mummichogs, silversides, squid strips or fish-belly strips. The look, feel and smell of fresh bait can’t be topped by any artificial lure, especially during slow drifts. Although bait increases the chance of attracting sand sharks, this nuisance species is not nearly as prevalent in Long Island Sound as it is in other areas, such as Block Island.
An excellent rig used by Capt. Kerry Douton, captain of the charter boat Dot-E-Dee out of Waterford, features a three- to six-ounce Blue Shad SPRO bucktail jig as the main weight. Douton runs about 12 inches of 30-pound fluorocarbon or Perlon leader material (see below) from the jig to a three- way swivel. To a second eye of the swivel he ties roughly three feet of 30-pound fluoro or Perlon, ending in a large, blue-and-white Deceiver-style fly. “I tip both the fly and the jig with squid strips,” says Douton. The third eye of the three-way swivel is attached to main line.
The Right Gear
The right rod is critical for consistently hooking and landing big fluke. Fluke can inhale a bait gently, making it hard to detect the strike if the rod is too heavy. When you add the fluke’s paper-thin mouth and vigorous head shakes to the equation, it’s easy to see why so many trophy fish are lost boatside due to an unforgiving rod. Most pros recommend a seven-foot, medium- action rod with a limber tip and a stiff backbone, matched with a conventional reel spooled with 14- to 25-pound-test braided line.
Braid is ideal for fluking because of its narrow diameter, which reduces drag when fishing in deep water and strong current. This, combined with its lack of stretch, makes it easier to detect strikes and set the hook.
The Perlon Advantage
Although fluorocarbon is all the rage these days, a little-known leader material called Perlon is gaining popularity among the fluke crowd. Perlon is a stiff nylon material boasting high consistency, linear strength, loop strength, knot strength, abrasion resistance, elasticity, wear resistance and no coil memory. It’s currently available in pre-cut, 50-inch lengths in select tackle stores, making it a bit less convenient than a spool of mono or fluorocarbon leader material. However, the lack of memory makes Perlon ideal for building bottom rigs where a straight leader is preferred to prevent spinning.
“Perlon fills a certain niche for a lot of bottom fishing guys,” says Capt. Q. Kresser, manager at River’s End, which sells Perlon. “The leader has a slightly milky color, but down on the bottom, the fish don’t really care. Remember, fluke attack from behind a lure or bait, so I don’t think the leader’s cloudiness matters. Because of its stiffness, Perlon is excellent for tying three-way bottom rigs. It also helps to reduce tangles. The 40-pound-test is ideal for fluke, sea