Updated: Feb 14, 2022
On a summer day out on the shifting shoals Southeast of Monomoy, my brother tied into a nice fish. His medium heavy, fast action rod had a nice parabolic bend in it with the tip dipping into the water at times and he was reeling and cranking slowly with purpose and intent. With the net in my hands, I finally caught a glimpse of a large, brown speckled oval, mouth open, head shaking and thrashing backwards. I swung with the net twice I recall, and the fish narrowly escaped. On the third try, the fluke scampered across the water surface getting its head out of the water and I heard a sharp ‘tink’ sound. In my mind, I knew the fluke had thrashed its head so hard the leader line had snapped. (Always keep a fluke in the water prior to netting) My brother said something to the effect of ‘don’t tell me.’
Time slows down in those moments. I think two people and a fluke said a prayer that day. Two of the prayers were answered. I muttered that the fish was ‘in the net.’ I had somehow managed to get the net under the fish enough in that moment where it snapped the line and the fluke fell downward before it got a chance to glide away horizontally. That fish measured at just under ten pounds and I think it is still a personal best for my brother and a best for my boat to date. We make all efforts to better it and a ten pounder has become Mark’s obsession as we trek through the shoals. I’m more a ‘placemat’ fisherman and my cousin Bruno and Mark are the ‘Doormat’ anglers, but having been the student that I am, I have tried very hard to study these fish in hopes I can someday get into double digits which is the standard for a ‘trophy’ in the fishery.
Fluke fishing has become synonymous for summertime, warm weather, and warm water fishing. After getting to the spot, we cut the engine and slowly drift along, swapping jokes and stories as we move our baits up and down along the uneven bottom. It’s anything but boring and if you have never tried targeting these fish, I hope the following gives people some encouragement and incentive to target these crafty bottom dwellers.
I find when speaking to people about fluke there is a perception that they are sedentary, ‘local’ and docile fish in our waters. They are anything but that. Fluke are constantly moving from area to area. They are predators and as such have all the instincts and habits of predators. They have stealth, surprise, and precision striking ability on their side. All you have to do is study the jaws of one. They have teeth like a bear trap. They will attack a larger bait relative to their own size. They are really curious fish and will trail a bait for several seconds and yards before striking.
Another perception is that they live and stay on the bottom. While the living part is accurate, they quite readily, when it suits them, come up off the bottom to explore or to strike at their prey. Fluke have been caught trolling or on mid column lures often enough to make me believe that they are quite comfortable off the bottom.
They are difficult to hook due to the angle of their mouths and they require a great deal of patience and finesse to hook. A hard hookset isn’t necessary. In fact, I would argue that you need to tease them into taking the hook and hooking themselves. The more aggressive ones will come up off the bottom and inhale your bait offering, but most of the time, it’s a subtle tap, tap, tap on the end of the bait.
Rigs and Experimenting with Presentation
Fluke fishing more than other types of fishing has with it a spirit of tinkering and experimenting. I’ve seen all sorts of rigs with ‘fashion jewelry’, bling, blades and bead combinations. There are all sorts of teasers, rattling jigs, and so on that are deployed. The only thing rivaling the quantity of rigs might be the range of colors. I prefer to pare down or simplify the rig and my choice of rig usually depends on the drift and the bottom structure.
I have tried to boil down the rigs into two main groups. There’s a three way version that results in a more ‘trailer’ style of rig that I use when the drift is quick and the bottom more uniform. The trailer style rig seems to entice the fluke into following. What is important to note about the trailer style rig is that with the fish chasing the lure, they are nipping or snapping at the rear of the bait offering. It’s quite a good strategy in these situations to be in a position to swing the rod back towards the fish or allow line out to drop back to the fish. During that drop back to the fish, the strike may occur.
Trailer Style Rigs
Three Way Spoon Style Grub Teaser
The second is more of a high low version that I try to present vertically and this seems to succeed more where there are greater changes in depth or when the drift is slower. This style of rig seems to promote an ambush type of strike where the fluke is laying against the structure and getting ready to pounce. These types of rigs need to actively be bounced along, up and over and the strikes generally happen on the lift of the rod. The fluke may get a sense of urgency and come up off the bottom and strike at the rig.
Structure/Vertical or High Low Rigs
Structure Rig High Low Popcorn Rig High Low Spoon Rig
I have found there aren’t necessarily hard lines on these choices. I will usually start with one and switch to the other. Again, don’t be afraid to experiment. What worked yesterday may not work today. The conditions often dictate the choice.
I find a drift between .8 and 1.5 to be a reasonable speed for a drift. Less than .8 and the presentation gets difficult and I feel as though we are simply not covering enough water. On those slow drift, I have to go and fish a rip formation to get the boat moving with the water or I need to engage the boat and power drift along. For those familiar with the Monomoy Rip article, similar techniques can be employed. As illustrated below. Power drifting is a fairly common practice with fluke fishing.
On the days when the drift is quicker, we deploy a drift anchor to try to slow us down. We often have to experiment with larger weights on the rigs, because you have to be able to old the bottom.
When studying maps and charts for spots to target fluke, it’s not necessarily the case that you look for a specific type of bottom structure. They can be targeted in sandy areas or rocky structure equally I feel. What I tend to look for are depth changes and moving water. I am looking for areas where there are opportunities for bait to congregate, for bait to be moving through like channels, and for places for the fluke to ambush them. For this reason, I find the moving water of shoals and rips to be prime opportunities. These elements exist in bodies of water other than shoals and rips, but shoals offer an exaggerated set of conditions where the ‘tea leaves’ offer more clues to me and more to look for.
In each of the sonar shots below, we drifted over a change in structure and a change in depth that held bait and fish. Passing over each, there was a strike on the backside and sometimes for a certain length beyond. Often times fluke congregate in pockets or bowls and you can choose to come back over a spot quickly without doing long drifts and hook up multiple times.
On different tides or on subsequent days, the fish may be there or may not, but the clues to target them are there. For those who are thinking that there are similarities to other species like Striped Bass or Bluefish and its very true. Fluke may be a bottom fish, but the targeting and thinking of how and where to look for them can be similar to other predatory fish.
Hooks and Baits
I typically use a larger hook and this is to try to cull out some of the smaller fish. The other reason for the larger hook is that the fluke typically have zero issue taking it. Again, inspecting the mouth on one of these fluke and you’ll soon realize that even a sub-legal fish can easily take a 5/0 or 6/0 hook. I prefer extended shank hooks and I find myself using tubing or chafe gear to protect the knots and connections to my hooks. A large fluke inhaling a hook can easily bite off or damage your line enough to thrash its head and break you off.
Very often on trailer style rigs, I see people adding an assist hook immediately BEHIND the main hook and effectively fishing a long bait with two hooks. The second hook is effective against fluke swimming behind a bait in chase and short striking a bait tearing away at it.
For bait, squid and spearing combinations are perhaps the most common offerings, rivaled by the scented artificial baits like GULP. Live bait can also work. Mummichogs fished live produce large strikes. Some folks swear the best bait for a fluke is a snapper blue presented on a gliding weight or a three way. Bluefish and mackerel make great cut baits for fluke. Fluke bellies also make great baits and the bluefish/fluke bellies are more durable as baits surviving the short strikes of a fluke.