Ocean fluking during September is undoubtedly the most productive for doormats of the year.
Back in the 70s while I was growing up, I couldn’t wait for the next edition of The Fisherman Magazine to get delivered. I remember vividly all the photos of big doormat fluke that were hanging from the rails that surrounded the upper deck of the Montauk party boats during Montauk’s fall run of fluke which was a daily occurrence highlighting the days catch. Boats such as the Marlin, the Viking fleet, and the original Lazy Bones, which remains owned and operated by the same Vegessi family that started the business. How I wished to be part of the fun back then. Fast forward to the present day and those big fall fluke are again in abundance along the Montauk waters where anglers have a shot of catching their dream trophy if they apply the proper approach.
With the change of seasons, the flatties slowly work their way offshore and eventually settle in the warm waters of the Gulf Stream. In the meantime, however, providing there are no category 4 or 5 hurricanes that hit the Northeast, ocean fluking during September is undoubtedly the most productive for doormats of the year.
The Weather Is Paramount
September can be one of the nicest months of the year to be on the water. Speedy boats and the simplicity of navigational electronics has made day trips possible for anglers who trailer their boats to the ramps at Montauk Harbor at the chance of putting mats in the box. Sharpies rent boat slips at one of the marinas each season just to hunt for monster flatties. Although weather can be calm and mild, it can also be one of the most treacherous and hazardous at the same time due to storm systems that transform into tropical depressions or worse, hurricanes.
With the remnants of any serious storm that begins to work its way up the east coast are often large southeast swells and treacherous conditions at the south shore inlets that make for critical concern for small boat anglers fishing the eastern south shore waters. Therefore, wait for the green light from the marine forecast. Should that be the case, jumping aboard one of the Montauk open or charter boats, where the professional captains will make the proper choice of whether it is safe to sail.
Finding Your Ground
If you are looking for areas to fish that have proved tried and true over time look to the Frisbee Ground (N41.00.86/W71.52.34) which is an area of rocky terrain with water depths ranging from 60 to 75 feet. The name derives from the high area that rises to 55 feet at the center of this location. Both the inner and outer Frisbees are jumbo fluke and sea bass magnets. Your best bet is to fish the area dotted with lobster trap markers along the east end of the grounds.
A little further south is the rocky floor of the Cartwright Grounds (N 40.58.580 W 71.47.03944) located six miles south of Montauk Point. The Cartwright Grounds is a 7-mile radius of rocky bottom resting in 80 to 100 feet of water. This area is strongly relied upon among the Montauks party and charter boat fleet during the summer fluke season for the quantity and quality of fish.
Fluke fishing around areas of obstruction such as the Frisbee and Cartwright Grounds are in a category all to itself, and understanding the layout of the bottom structure would truly be beneficial. While navigation charts and electronic devices will certainly assist in getting to the charted area, they will not tell you how they are structured. Therefore, brain salad with trial and tribulation will go a long way in putting planks in the box. Basic 101 just will not cut it here. Drifting directly over a high piece of big boulders or stones often results in hang-ups and lost terminal tackle. Hence drifting along the sandy fringes located in the nooks and crannies between the big boulders and large rock piles are where 75 percent of the fluke will ambush their meals. Being close to a piece of structure is relevant, being on top is not. Fluke tend to wander within a 1/4-mile radius of the rocks. Therefore, a quality depth recorder is paramount during your search for the big boys. Monitor the screen closely keeping an eye out for bait on or near the bottom. Should you mark an area with a considerable amount of bait, mark the GPS coordinates, then set up a drift pattern to put you over the markings.
Look Beyond The Grounds
Fortunately, there are stopovers beyond the Frisbee and Cartwright Grounds where big fluke will pass on their way offshore. The key is baitfish. Find the baitfish near or on the bottom and there is a good chance of finding fluke. Break lines and drop-offs are often suitable places to find bait at about any depth. On average, however, concentrate your efforts between 65 and 100 feet of water. Rocky Hill, the Radar Tower off Amagansett, and the North Grounds just east of Montauk Point and right along the Windmills. If in your travels you find areas with lobster pot buoys exposed, try drifting around them since lobstermen place their traps in areas of rocky bottom which also draw big fluke during the fall.
Ideal Drift Is Paramount
Drifting is an essential piece of the equation to the success of fluke fishing. A drift of 1 to 1-1/2 knots is ideal in the deep water since this speed will keep the fluke aggressively chasing down your bait while minimizing the activities of undesirables such as skates and dogfish. A drift slower than a 1/2 knot often results in a burdensome pick of skates which can make for a frustrating time. One way to resolve that problem is by power drifting. Kicking the engine in and out of gear and keeping the boat at a knot to knot and a half will help ease the skate activity.
A drift over 2 knots may be too fast, requiring additional weight to hold bottom, and will result in short strikes, particularly in water deeper than 60 feet. A sea anchor is a solution to slowing the drift down, allowing the rig to stay on the bottom and giving the fluke a shot at the bait.
A sea anchor is a triangular type of bag attached to a piece of anchor rope placed overboard where it fills with the water. It acts as a drogue and slows a fast-drifting boat down. To determine what size sea anchor you should use depends on the size of the boat. Quite often when the fish are in water depths of 60 feet or better and a fast drift requires 12 or 16 ounces to touch bottom, a sea anchor can reduce the amount of lead to 4 to 6 ounces. Beneficially this will allow a better feel of a subtle bite and a more spirited battle with the fish.
Tackle The Monter
Baitcasters and conventional outfits in the 20-pound class are best suited for the job. You’ll appreciate a combo light enough not to cause fatigue from working the rig all day, yet strong enough to manage the brutality of those hefty sea planks.
An outfit I rely on is the 7-foot foot Lamiglas TFX7020CT Tri-Flex Series, which is constructed of graphite and fiberglass and gives me the sensitivity and power I need to make even the broadest of fluke fight a fair game of tug of war. I match the rod perfectly with an Abu Garcia Ambassador 7000 conventional reel with the power and speed at a 6 to 1 ratio to get the flatties off the bottom. Spro’s all-new Saltwater Series 20-pound 8X Braid completes the combo as this form of braided synthetic is undoubtedly one of the smoothest, strongest and sensitive. No matter your arsenal, an 8 to 10-foot shock leader, preferably fluorocarbon of 20 or 30 pounds tied to the mainline via an Albright Knot rounds out the line. Spro’s all-new RT Leaders in 20-pound class are fine for the task at hand. The good ole and reliable Improved Clinch Knot will complete the terminal end if you decide to use a jig or a 3-way swivel for Plain Jane rigs.
Choose Your Ammo
What can you say about the choices of fluke rigs, jigs, and baits these days? The options are mind-boggling. The key is to know what is best depending on location and conditions. Fluke rigs can be as simple as a plain hook and sinker, or rigs and jigs with all the bells and whistles.
Not surprisingly, double-digit flatties are taken on just a plain hook and sinker baited with spearing and a strip of squid often. And though we veteran fluke hunters are aware of the fact, there’s something about bucktails jigs that certainly adds zest to the game.
Bucktails from 2 to 8 ounces have brought a good share of big fluke to the net for me over the years.
The Spro Prime Bucktail tipped with a Gulp 6-inch Swimming Mullet has been the hot ticket personally. The scent of the Gulp is more relevant than the color. However, if it is a concern, Nuclear Chicken and Chartreuse are what I would suggest. As for the bucktail colors, glow, white, spearing blue and crazy chartreuse seem to be the most consistent.
If you prefer to use the real meat on the jigs, the old standby of spearing and squid strips will produce. However, with the abundance of chub mackerel and sea robins just about anywhere you float above the fluke grounds, catch and strip them down. Freshly stripped sea robin and mackerel work great on bucktails and Plain Jane rigs If available, you can add fresh bluefish or dogfish strips to the menu as well.
Play It Cool
Cunningness and cautiousness have allowed bruiser fluke to live a long life, and just like us humans, the older they get, the less aggressive they become. Therefore, be patient, and never take the bait away from a fluke if you miss it on the first bite. The biggest mistake anglers make is taking major league swings, and then reel up to see if any bait remains. This is a no-no. Instead, keep the bait down there for at least a minute or two. A big fluke will follow bait a long time before committing to it. Therefore, give them a chance.
Every fluke angler I know dreams of catching that once in a lifetime doormat. If there are no major storms, history will once again repeat itself as it does each September. The window of opportunity is short but rest assured monster flatties are waiting along the waters of Montauk. This run of doormats also gives subscribers a shot at The Fisherman Magazines Dream Boat Challenge top fluke spot which can lead to a brand new Steiger Craft center console. Do I need to say more?