Of all the fishing we do in springtime, the pursuit of “keeper” fluke over 21 inches in length has to be the most complicated. When you sail on a fluke trip or look at articles in fishing magazines you see a dazzling array of rigs, teasers and baits in all sizes and colors. If you are a novice at the game you may be so overwhelmed that you wonder if you should study a video before embarking on the trip!
But fear not. The summer flounder is the same critter it always was, and there are more of them now than ever before, at least in the memories of present-day anglers. The trick is culling the legal whoppers out of the mix of lesser fish if you want a bunch of steaks or fillets to take home. And, as always, larger specimens of any species tend to be opportunists; although they are often beaten to the bait or lure by smaller fish, they’re curious about presentations they find appealing. Often they’ll bully the little guys away or swoop in out of nowhere when the smaller fish have dispersed.
Getting down to basics, there are a couple of really simple ways to approach this game (believe it or not!). First, remember that big fish like big baits and like baits that stand out from a school of other baits, provided of course, what you’re giving them is not too weird and passes in a convenient location (off the bottom, but not too far off, for example). Second, big fish are not nearly as aggressive as their smaller brethren and tend to feed less often. Still, they can be teased into attacking a pest or a challenger when aroused. Third, you’ll probably do better by sticking with a few basic rigs through the day rather than constantly second-guessing yourself and changing them all day long. In other words, your rig should be in the water when every drift begins and, except for hauling fish, in the zone until the drift ends.
Finally, the hardest rule is that luck still plays a role. Don’t be discouraged when the little kid with the outrageous rig or the guy who snoozes amidships while his bait drags along the bottom wind up pool winners. This happens just often enough to make you believe the old German proverb: “The dumbest peasants [grow] the fattest potatoes.”
Sharpies always tell us that big fluke love fresh baits. It’s true! When you can’t snag live bait (squid in the springtime, snapper in the fall), the next best thing is a strip of freshly filleted sea robin, dogfish, or bluefish. Sure, you can add fluke to this list, but darned if I’m going to sacrifice my first handsome keeper for strips!
The strip ought to be at least nine inches long and thin enough so that it won’t spin like crazy on your drift. You might want to use a double hook rig here, with a small spearing or mummichog (“killie”) on the front hook over the strip. The strip should ride on suitable hooks (4/0 or 5/0 forward, 3/0 or 2/0 behind) and a stiff leader up to four feet in length positioned about a foot above a suitable sinker. The sinker, by the way, sits at the very bottom of a stiff five-foot strand of fluorocarbon leader, attached to your main line or to a shock leader extender from the main line.
If the leader with the bait keeps twisting onto the fluorocarbon, cut it back to a foot or less. Two feet above the rigged bait, you can tie a teaser fly (maybe 3/0) with a little strip of squid directly to a loop on the five-foot strand. This really is a variation of the old “high-low” rig. Even simpler is another rig on which the sinker at the bottom is replaced by a big bucktail or a chrome ball (“silver bullet”) tipped with a four- to six-inch strip. The teaser fly with its smaller strip remains at least two feet above the bucktail. Try to pick a basic bucktail color (e.g., white or white/chartreuse) and stay with it unless a wise mate advises otherwise.
Incidentally, most folks who fish the strip/bait rig limit their action to occasional slow lifts and drops while those who jig bucktails or bullets keep up a constant, short twitch-and-drop rhythm. If a “bite” comes as a hard smash, sharpies usually hold for a moment to feel “weight” before reeling steadily. If the bite seems like heavy weight, the usual response is a gradually lowered rod before holding and reeling. It’s risky to strike in a conventional rat-a-tat fashion because any slack can produce a dropped fish.
One last thing: try to pay attention to your own affairs and not get distracted by other fish coming over the rail at intervals. Your turn will come!