January 15, 2020
Fishing for summer flounder in and around Narragansett Bay is easy, fun fishing for anglers of all ages. Here’s how to score throughout the season. By Capt. Dave Monti
Mention flounder fishing, and the average person will picture an angler dangling seaworms for a sluggish, pouty-lipped bottom dweller. However, when the flatfish in question is fluke, it’s a different game—and game fish—altogether!
Fluke are every bit the aggressive inshore predator as bluefish—and have the teeth to back it up! They are also as delicious as striped bass, perhaps more so. I’ve fished for fluke all my life, and have since passed the tradition on to my son, nieces, nephews, friends and, more recently, the charter customers I take fishing. There’s nothing like catching several fluke then treating family and friends to a fresh, delicious fish dinner. It’s the type of fishing that creates lifelong memories, and you don’t have to be on the water at 5:00 a.m. to be successful.
Fluke on the Move
Here in Rhode Island, Narragansett Bay offers some excellent fluke fishing. The fish move into the middle portions of the bay in June, after arriving from their offshore wintering grounds. At this time, squid, silversides and larger baits like herring and menhaden have also invaded the bay, providing the fluke with an ample source of food. Further, water temperatures are in the high 50s and lower 60s—right in the fish’s comfort zone. Similar to striped bass, fluke gravitate towards places that feature a combination of bait, current and bottom structure. The “structure” can be a sandy shoal, wreck, bridge abutment, rock pile, drop-off, channel edge, mussel bed or even an eelgrass bed. Choke points, or places where water flows swiftly through a confined space, also attract fluke.
For example, the flats and channel edges off Warwick Neck, on the western side of the bay, can produce great fluke fishing in the spring. Good spots include the channel and bank between Warwick Neck and Patience Island, areas to the northeast of Warwick Neck, and the flats and sloping bottom southwest and northwest of the lighthouse, inside Greenwich Bay. In these areas, I often find fish in 15 to 20 feet of water.
As water temperatures in the bay rise in late June and July, the fluke move to deeper zones, in 40 to 80 feet of water. However, the same rules apply to finding them. Seek out concentrations of bait, and fish the edges, humps and choke points where the current is strongest.
In the West Passage, the channel edges north and south of the Jamestown Bridge are good places to find fluke in July. On the northeast side of the bridge, fish the edge of Great Ledge, where the bottom slopes from 35 to 45 feet on either side to 67 feet. On the southwest side of the bridge, work the 28-foot-deep “finger” surrounded by 16 feet of water.
The drop-off along the west side of Dutch Island is productive, as are the flats off the University of Rhode Island’s Bay Campus. I have caught several large fluke in the underwater “valley” just south of Dutch Island, as well as in the deep trench off Austin Hollow, on the west side of Beavertail Neck. The latter features depths of 70 feet, surrounded by 40 to 45 feet of water. It’s an ideal spot to target midsummer and early-fall fluke.
In the East Passage, fishing directly under and around the Newport Bridge can yield excellent results starting in late June and running through July. The northwest and southwest sides of the bridge, between Jamestown Harbor and the Newport Bridge, are very productive fluke spots, as is the edge of the channel between Rose Island and the bridge. The water on the west side of Rose Island drops rapidly from 40 feet to 90 feet to 135 feet, and this sloping bottom holds some large fluke.
As the water continues to warm in late July and August, the best fluke fishing shifts to the outer edges of the lower bay. The depth breaks off Hull Cove and Mackerel Cove in Jamestown are very good midsummer spots, as well.
Top Rigs & Baits
No matter what the water depth or time of year, I prefer to use a three-way rig. This consists of a three-way swivel, with a three-foot leader tied to one eye of the swivel and a short dropper line tied to a second eye (the main line is tied to the third eye). The dropper line is used to attach a bank sinker or jig. I slide the leader through a spinner blade, followed by some colored beads and a six-inch rubber squid then tie on a large, wide-gap kahle hook. I have found that fluorescent-white and fluorescent-green squid work best. The squid has a float inside the hollow body, which allows it to hover just above the bottom. Attracting attention is important, because to catch fluke you have to be right on the bottom, where it’s often dark.
I spice the artificial squid with what I call a “Captain Dave’s Fluke Cocktail.” First, I place a freshwater shiner minnow or silverside (ideally the length of a finger) on the hook, sometimes horizontally. On some days, this simple change in bait position has dramatically improved my keeper-to-throwback ratio.
Next, I place a three- to five-inch squid strip (ideally, fresh, native squid) on the hook, followed by a three- to four-inch strip of fluke belly (the white skin or ribbed edges of the belly fillet)
I often use other natural baits that I happen catch while fluke fishing. This includes scup, sea robin, bluefish and even striped bass. I cut long strips from the underside of the fish and use them instead of the fluke belly. Whatever the fish seem to be eating on any given day is the best bait to use!
When fishing this rig, it’s important to give the fluke enough time to eat the bait before raising the rod tip. If you jerk back on the rod to set the hook, you may pull the bait out of the fish’s mouth. Instead, drop the rod tip when you feel a bite, wait a second or two then slowly lift the rod. Once you feel the weight of the fish, reel slowly and steadily, keeping tension on the line at all times.
If there is little or no current or wind, I often switch to a fixed-hook bucktail jig ranging from four to six ounces, depending on depth and current. I find that jigs work best at slack tide, because you can create movement with the jig by bouncing it off the bottom rather than relying on current to move the boat along. To complete the rig, I attach a small bucktail “stinger” about a foot above the main jig, tied to a two- to three-foot leader off a dropper loop. I tip the bucktail stinger with a piece of squid to add scent.
I always pack a large arsenal of jigs in different colors and weights, along with a variety of natural baits. That’s because conditions are always changing, and because I never know what the fluke will be hungry for on any given day.
Having the right baits and lures is important, but you also have to know how to fish them properly. For example, wind and tide should always be moving in the same direction, so your bait will be presented in front of the fluke, which always face into the current. Ideally, you want a gentle drift, say one or two knots, which allows you to hold bottom with minimal weight. If the wind is pushing the boat too fast, you’ll have to use heavier sinkers or jigs to hold bottom, or slow your drift with a drift sock or five-gallon bucket.
On the other hand, if faced with a slack tide or very little wind, you may have to resort to power-drifting by bumping the engine in and out of gear to cover ground and give your bait action. A good power-drift tactic is to turn the boat in a circle. This slows the bait movement and allows you to cover a productive area repeatedly. Speaking of which, when you get a bite, mark the spot and repeat the exact drift and depth, because there are probably more fluke below.
Fluke Tips from the Pros
“Always fish with the wind and tide moving in the same direction; otherwise, stem the tide using the boat’s power. You’ll find bigger fish on the sharper edges, meaning that a steeper drop-off will hold the bigger fish. And don’t forget to fish in the vicinity of wrecks. Live bait works best, especially snapper blues.” — CAPT. ROBB ROACH, KETTLEBOTTOM OUTFITTERS, JAMESTOWN, RI
“I always try to use the lightest weight that will still hold bottom. Much of our fishing effort takes place around Block Island, and just about any piece of shoreline will hold fluke. We always drift, usually picking the side of the island with the strongest tide or wind. When we start catching, I record the depth and make note of specific depths where the bigger fish may be congregating.” — CAPT. RICK BELLAVANCE, PRIORITY TOO CHARTERS, PT. JUDITH
“For bait, I primarily use squid strips paired with a sand eel or live minnow. I split the trailing edge of the squid to give it more action as it moves through the water. I often use fluke belly, especially if there are bothersome species hitting the bait. Fluke belly is more durable, so you’ll get more bottom time with it. When I’m fishing deeper water—60 to 75 feet—I’ll use a whole squid. It’s a sure recipe for catching jumbos.” — CAPT. GEORGE CIOE, PATRICIA ANNE, PT. JUDITH
“Don’t react with a quick hook-set when you first feel a bite. Instead, let the fluke eat the bait while you lower your rod tip. Once the fish has ‘climbed on,’ raise your rod slowly and reel slow and steady.” — GEORGE POVEROMO, SALTWATER SPORTSMAN MAGAZINE
“We’ve started using bigger baits, and sometimes a stinger hook with very large baits. When the mate fillets a bluefish, he saves a long strip of the belly to use as bait. Whole squid work well, too, or larger squid strips, instead of the traditional three-inch strip of squid.” — CAPT. JOHN RAINONE, LI’L TOOT CHARTERS, PT. JUDITH