Besting The Regs: Bigger Backwater Flatties - The Fisherman

Besting The Regs: Bigger Backwater Flatties

The author shows off a sizable fluke caught deep inside the Great South Bay on a live juvenile bunker in about 10 feet of water while using a fishfinder rig.

With stricter regulations this year, a few changed can be made to keep keepers coming.

The 2024 recreational fishing regulations for summer flounder in New York have introduced some changes aimed at balancing angler preferences with conservation goals. For summer flounder, often referred to as fluke in my neck of the woods, the season opens on May 4th and continues until October 15th. Anglers are permitted to keep three fish per day, with a minimum length requirement that starts at 19 inches at the beginning of the season and increases to 19-1/2 inches starting August 2nd. These adjustments are part of efforts to reduce the recreational harvest of summer flounder by 28% compared to previous years, reflecting a broader strategy to ensure the sustainability of this fishery. But the question is how will fluke fishermen keep up with these stricter regulations and continue to put these tasty fish in the cooler with the same amount of success as last season?

With some minor adjustments to your tactics, presentations, and bait selections, you should be able to continually draw the interest of larger fluke, resulting in going home with more fish and continuing to enjoy those tasty fillets.

Usually where you find one bigger fluke you will find others, resulting in multiple keeper fish on the deck.

Big Baits For Big Fluke

The longtime idea that bigger baits will attract larger fish stands true again in the case of culling out larger fluke in the back bays of your neck of the woods. Just like you would drift large strip baits for big ocean fluke during certain times of the year, these bigger profiles are the first step in connecting with bigger fluke in the skinny water as well.

Strip Baits

I’ve grown to love using strips baits for fluke and if you can get your hands on some, whether it be fluke belly, sea robin belly, bluefish strips or mackerel strips, these true and tested baits are a solid top choice for seeking the doormats in the bay.

Finding mackerel strips might be a bit tougher but the others should be readily available if you can do some prefishing to your actual fluke fishing. Bluefish have invaded most of the shallow bays by now, and catching one with a tin or popper for bait purposes shouldn’t be an issue. If you happen to catch a keeper fluke, you can always reinvest the white belly side of the fish into what might be a larger fluke in the next couple of drifts. Sea robins are another option and typically come into the mix during a typical fluke trip, so gathering up some of them for bait purposes shouldn’t be the toughest task.

For the strips themselves, I’d stick with something in the 6 to 8-inch range. This size is large enough to attract a larger fluke but not too large that a fluke will short-strike it and miss the hook point. Having a sharp knife (I like Dexter’s 8-inch traditional boning knife) will aid in the process of shaping the strips. Something about 1 inch in width and up to about 8 inches, as I mentioned, will work well. I like to add a point at the end of the strip, which will add a little extra flare and get the attention of any fluke it comes across. You can also incorporate a split tail to spice things up even more.

These baits can be fished on the back of a bucktail, or you can trail them off the back of a 3-way fluke rig in combination with a spearing.

Double digit fluke are possible in the bay as well. This monster was caught in the Fire Island area, inside the bay.

Live Baits

Fluke always have and always will love live baits – big fluke especially. I had a lesson taught to me when I tried to fish a location once with nothing but soft plastics, and the angler fishing near me was using nothing but live bait. From what I observed, his keeper ratio nearly tripled mine. When I went back in armed with a cast net and, in a short time, a large supply of live baits (small bunker in this case), I saw my ratio skyrocket as well. This is not to say that they will always prefer the real thing, but in some cases, live baits will downright catch those bigger fish, hands down.

This selection of baits can include peanut to juvenile bunker (3 to 5 inches), killies, finger mullet, small snapper when they come around (remember you can only keep 3 per person) and even the use of Asian crabs in the summer. You’d be shocked how many crabs I find inside summertime bay fluke.

I’ve had a lot of success using these baits with a Fishfinder rig right along the bottom. A 3-foot section of monofilament ties to a barrel swivel on one end and a 4/0 octopus hook on the other. The egg sinker goes on the mainline above the barrel swivel and allows the fish to take the live bait without feeling a lot of resistance.

Natural but Frozen

If you can’t find any of the live baits mentioned above, your local tackle shops carry several different kinds of larger presentation frozen baits that will dupe bigger fluke as well. Some of my top picks are large local spearing. You can clearly see the difference between some snapper bait spearing and the bigger spearing. Some shops carry Peruvian spearing, which is much larger than your typical spearing size. Smelts are another larger frozen bait that will gain the interest of bigger fluke in your area. Also, if you can get ahold of some whole California squid in the big, know that this bait fished whole on a fluke rig has been known to routinely catch bigger fish. Some shops have also started carrying frozen fluke bellies, and if you’re having trouble getting your own, this might be an easy way to acquire some.

You can three-way these baits on the bottom or even fish them off the back of a bucktail or even a jighead if you choose. Just remember to use a slightly larger hook size than normal to accommodate the larger bait.

Think big with your frozen baits. You don’t always need the live stuff but make sure it’s the right stuff for larger fluke.

Soft Plastic Grubs

Small soft plastic grubs from Berkley, Fishbites, and Z-Man have always found a place in my plan of attack when it comes to fluke fishing. Typically, for action, I use grubs from 3 to 5 inches, but when seeking only the biggest of the bay back fluke, I’ll make the swap for 5 to 6-inch models. I found that anything larger than 6 inches when it comes to a grub and fishing the back bays just becomes awkward.

One of my go-to ways to fish these bigger grubs is on the back of a plain jighead. You can also use a bucktail jig, but I found that a good jighead with a collar that holds soft plastics in place will keep the presentation right and stop the grub from sliding down the shank of the hook. Sometimes, I’ll still use a smaller 3 or 4-inch grub on a teaser hook, about 1-1/2 feet above the jighead, to entice any other fish in the area. And you never know; sometimes doormat fluke do eat those peanuts.

Larger grubs from Fishbites or Gulp will entice the biggest of backbay fluke into taking your offering.

Slow Moving Water

While the entire South Shore bay system of the island has potential to produce a big flattie during the month of June, you will bump up your odds by focusing on the areas close by to major inlets. Some of these spots include:

  • Moriches Bay near Forge River
  • West of Ponquogue Bridge
  • Smith Point Narrows
  • Rips East of the Robert Moses Bridge
  • Bridges near Jones Inlet
  • Backwaters of Jamaica Bay

Similar to striped bass, the majority of my larger fluke, both ocean and bay, have come during periods of time with slower-moving water. This is about an hour before slack tide and an hour after the slack. This period of slow-moving water makes it easier for those big flatties to come out and feed on unsuspecting baitfish and crabs. The slower-moving water period also allows for this larger profile to get down to the bottom of the bay holes and right in front of a hungry fluke. I’ve even fished the slack tides at times and had a lot of success by casting out baits and working them back in along the bottom. Look for drop-offs, ledges, mussel beds, and current breaks for produce spots where larger fluke might lay to conserve energy.

Keep in mind that all areas fish differently, and while a certain tide might be productive in one location, it could be totally dead in another. The only way to figure all of this out is to fish the spots and use trial and error. Time spent on the water with a line in the water is the only true test.



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