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Long Island Sound Summer Flatties�
By Rich Johnson
When summer fluke articles come along, fishermen automatically think of Long Islands South Shore bays & estuaries where fluke pave the bottom and anglers sort through dozens of shorts to pick a limit. While North Fork doormats rate plenty of press in the spring, to the west the rest of the North Shore is overlooked and underutilized when it comes to summer flatties, known by their proper name as fluke. Sure youll hear reports of fluke from May into June, but the attention then turns to striped bass and bluefish as the Huntington Triangle and back bays are full of both predators, as is the Connecticut side of the Sound as well. Whether its due to a lack of anglers targeting fluke or anglers perception there arent the numbers of fluke as on the South Shore, the areas of Long Island Sound from City Island to Port Jefferson has been on fire for those targeting these tasty flat fish. So far this season there have been numerous fluke over 10 pounds caught and 3 to 5 pounds seems to be the average!
So I trailered my new 19-foot center console, The Fishing Line, up to Huntington to film an episode of my television show. Joining me as guest on the show was Capt. Jimmy Schneider of the Capt. James Joseph party boat sailing for fluke from Huntington daily at 7 a.m. I arrived at 5 a.m. and after putting the boat in the water we were on our way. When we cleared the inlet to Huntington Harbor, we turned eastward and headed to the mouth of the Nissiqogue River.
FOLLOW THE BIRDS. Who follows birds for fluke? In my conversation with Capt. James Schneider, he explained the logic behind this trick of the trade. When fluking shallow water of Long Island Sound, either on the CT side or Long Island, you find fluke chasing baitfish right up to the surface and birds respond as they would to a school of hungry blues doing the same. Our first drop occurred just off the Lilco Power plant at Crab Meadow beach. We worked a flat area with a drop-off, in which water depth starts at 5-foot and drops off the shelf to 11 & 15-foot. In this instance, we work the drop-off, while terns screech and dive bomb sand eels pushed to the surface by fluke on the bar. As we drift out over this ledge, fluke wait in ambush on the down side of the slope.
The other instance where we looked for birds, was the west side of the mouth of the Nissiquoge River. Fishing on the flood tide, we drifted in water 4 to 5-foot deep, to a depth of 6 to 8-foot and back again. Again, fluke were pushing sand eels to the surface on this shallow bar and the opportunistic water birds took full advantage of this. There were times on this drift when I could lift my rod and the bait came to the surface the water was so shallow. Many of the big fish on this trip came from this area on shallow edges.
TACKLE. The key to fishing this area is working very shallow water at the mouth of the river. We were fishing in water from 4 to 10-foot in depth with bucktails and very light tackle. We were using Fenwick seven-foot, medium action baitcasting rods with Ambassadeur 5600UC baitcasting reels spooled with 10-pound test Berkley Fireline. The same tackle a freshwater bass angler would use. If you prefer spinning tackle, that works also and a Fenwick Eagle GLC six-foot spinning rod would also handle your bucktailing duties. This rod (blank model ES 60 MH) handles weights of three-eighths to one-ounce, but is capable of heavier workloads. A perfect compliment to this stick is the small Ambassadeur spinning reel with eight to 10-pound test lines. The above outfits performed beautifully in these shallow water applications.
BAITS. As for our bait of choice, I turned Capt. Jim onto the Fluke Bullet, manufactured by West End tackle right here on Long Island. Bucktailing is a deadly technique for fluke in shallow water and while the typical bucktail heads will work, the new Fluke Bullet has been phenomenal in catching quality fluke this season. The Fluke Bullet is actually a chromed, cannonball style head bucktail. Our bucktails were one-half to one-ounce in weight and worked with a short, hopping motion on a good drift. If you do not have a good drift, you have make one yourself and cast around the slow moving boat, slowly crawling the fluke bullet across the bottom back to the boat. We tipped our bucktails with spearing, but squid strips or fluke bellies would also work very well.
While South Shore anglers may opt for longer squid strips on their bucktails, I believe the strip should not exceed the length of the bucktail hair. The bucktail is supposed to look like the main bait as an entity, not a bait with a strip hanging off the back. On the North Shore I like to keep the strip very short and use it as a taste test for fluke. Once a fluke tastes the hair of a bucktail, they spit it out. With squid on, they follow through on the commitment to take the bait. South Shore anglers tend to let fluke chew their way up these long squid strips, decreasing the amount of hook-ups. When you feel the first bump on your bucktail, set the hook immediately. There should be no hesitation on the anglers part when setting the hook while bucktailing.
We finished the day with limits of fluke from 2 to 4 pounds and while there were doormats caught on the trip, the week before and week after double-digit fluke were caught in this same area. Get out and try some shallow water bucktailing in Long Island Sound this summer. For you anglers on the South Shore, you can follow the same techniques and catch fluke where you fish as well. See you on the water.