Montauk Southside: Doing Cartwheels At Cartwright - The Fisherman

Montauk Southside: Doing Cartwheels At Cartwright

Cartwright is a renowned big fluke location in the Northeast.

A fluke spot that should be on any serious fluke fisherman’s hit list.

As sure as paying taxes, you can also be sure that fluke with hefty shoulders will be settling into the deep water east and south of Montauk. It’s a given that from July through autumn, fluke to well over 10 pounds settle among the rocky lairs that is widely spread along Long Island’s East End. And one area that gets much play throughout the summer is none other than the Cartwright Grounds which sits just a few miles south of Montauk Point and where open, charter and private vessels frequent these waters throughout the short-lived season.

Welcome To Fluke Paradise

In all actuality, the Cartwright Grounds (N 40.58.580 W 71.47.03944) is a radius of rocks, sand and rockpiles that extends 7 miles, which is only 6-miles south of Montauk Point, water depth varies between 80 and 100 feet deep.  Back in the 1960s and 70s there was a very good codfish fishery that most of the Montauk and nearby fishing fleets relied on for cod throughout the prime winter months. In addition, big scup, sea bass, ling and blackfish were also available throughout their seasons. And though codfish have become a faded memory, the Cartwright Grounds still host blackfish during October through December, scup and sea bass from August through November and fluke from July through September. Many of the double-digit fluke that hit the scales at the Montauk marinas are taken from Cartwright and the nearby Frisbee Grounds which is just a couple of blocks north of Cartwright. Speaking of the Frisbee Grounds, there are several other stopovers beyond the Cartwright Grounds where big fluke lurk and situate themselves offshore.

Regardless where you fish, the key is to locate 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 it’s usually best to concentrate your efforts between 65 and 100 feet of water when it concerns ocean fluke. Rocky Hill, the Radar Tower and the North Grounds just east of Montauk Point and right along the Windmills are some of the countless areas that are stopovers for big fluke from mid-summer and early fall. As you motor along steaming to your fluke spot and you suddenly 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 July.

The Ideal Drift

Speaking of drifting, it is paramount to do so. Some anglers prefer to anchor to avoid losing rigs. Unfortunately, some rigs do succumb to the rocky terrain but that comes with the hunt for big fluke. Quite frankly there are many sandy fringes among the rocks in the seven mile stretch of Cartwright. The sandy fringes is where you want to fish, since those are the areas where fluke camouflage and bury themselves waiting to ambush a juvenile porgy, bergall or any sort of juvenile fish that wanders off the rocky refuge and into the mouth of a carnivorous fluke. To find such areas, your bottom recorder will be your best guide to keep you in the zone and away from large clusters of rocks where you most definitely will snag up those costly bucktails, fluke bullets and all those fancy fluke gizmos that many articles will convince you of their effectiveness.

In any area of deep water such as Cartwright a drift of 1 to 1 ½ knots is ideal since this speed will keep the fluke aggressively chasing down your offerings while minimizing the activities of undesirables such as skates. A drift slower than a half knot often results in a burdensome pick of skates which can make for a frustrating time. Unfortunately when it comes to drift speed and drift patterns, we are at the mercy of Mother Nature where wind and the speed of the current are beyond our control. Fortunately on days when mama isn’t so cooperative, we do have a few moves that will dupe her and keep us in the zone. Therefore when the drift is nonexistent, throttling the engine in and out of gear and keeping the boat at a knot, knot and a half will help ease the skate burden and catch the attention of insatiable fluke. On the other hand when the drift is much over 2 knots, it is often too fast for proper line control and will require heavy sinkers to hold the bottom. In addition, a speedy drift will often produce many short strikes. Should that be the case, a sea anchor to fit the size of your boat is the best solution to the issue at hand, drift allowing the resistance of the current to ease off enough to win back the control of the rig and give those fluke a shot at the offering. This holds especially true for the larger fluke since they tend to be lazier and will not bother with fast moving bait.

While artificials work well at Cartwright, sometimes all they want is real meal (belly strips).

Know Before You Go

Fluke fishing around areas of obstruction such as the Cartwright Ground is in a category of its own and to understand the layout of the bottom contour before heading off would be in your best interest. GPS and bottom recorders are of vital importance when you are on the fishing grounds but call me old school since I always found studying a United States NOAA approved paper nautical chart prior to sailing an area that I don’t have clearly marked in my GPS to be beneficial. I normally study the chart a day or two before heading for my destination looking for areas that are strong fluke holding potentials that are not so cluttered with rocks to keep snags at a minimum. Then when I am on the scene and familiarize myself with the area, I will mark and fish any area that shows strong potential or when we hook up with fluke and sea bass save these marks for future references.

Concentrate in areas with break lines, drop-offs and sandy fringes next to clusters of rocks. Incidentally, if you like big potbellied ling which are a true delicacy, bring along some clam bait as there are many areas that hold pods of big ling at Cartwright throughout the summer into the winter and into early spring. Keep in mind that big fluke tend to wander off as much as a quarter mile from rock clustered areas so do not feel obligated to constantly fish near or on the rocks which most definitely will result in loss of expensive terminal tackle.

Middleweight Champs

I wish I could tell you light spinning gear would be ideal for the task at hand, but quite honestly, it just won’t cut it here at Cartwright or any of the other deep water hot spots located along the East End. Conventional outfits in the 20 to 30-pound class would be ideal to maneuver around the rocks and to handle large sinkers and lures during forceful currents. Rods should be designed and built with fast tapered tips capable of handling weights to 10 ounces without putting much stress and flexing to the tip of the rod. You will appreciate the backbone and sensitivity when it comes down to feeling the slightest taps and driving the hook home, especially from the deeper depths.

Conventional reels should also be of good quality with a smooth flowing drag which should never be set tight. You don’t want them to lose either. Set it to allow an outsize fish to run with a drag set with moderate resistance. Too tight of a resistance will cause the fluke to shake its head profusely and often shakes free before coming to the surface. A tight drag has seen many monster fluke break free once they see the net and makes that one final lunge towards the bottom for its freedom and more often than not, the angler is defeated as their prize trophy swims away. A loose drag will only prolong the battle giving the flattie ample time to shake a hole where the hook is big enough to where it will slide out of their mouths unless it’s a circle hook.

As for filling the reel with line, 20 to 30-pound test of braided synthetic would be ideal for its super sensitivity at the tip of the rod, particularly when the bite is subtle. It allows for better hook penetration and the ability to employ lighter weights and jigs due to the braids thin diameter. The only drawback with braid is it’s visible in water and since big fluke are quite crafty, they may shy away from a rig or jig. That is where fluorocarbon leaders come to the rescue. I would suggest attaching an 8-foot length of 30-pound fluorocarbon leader tied to the braid via an Albright knot. One word of caution with fluorocarbon; although the line nearly vanishes when it hits the water, it also looks like a string of Christmas lights when they become nicked and scratched from fishing and drifting among the rocks. Fluorocarbon along the sandy fringes suits just fine; however, you may want to reconsider where rough bottom is an issue. Should that be the case, replace the fluorocarbon with a length of 30-pound test mono leader. Either way, frequently check the leader for abrasion and replacing it as needed.

Captain Savio Mizzi and managing editor Matt Broderick show off a pair of Cartwright beauties at West Lake.

Plain Jane And Bucktails

Fluke rigs can be built just as you wish, or purchased in so many different styles and colors it’s absolutely insane as most bait shops design and sell their own creation during those dreary rainy days and business is slow or during the winter months. Do they all work? I don’t know. I assume some are grand slams, while others are strikeouts. I have often found that standard Plain Jane rigs usually catch big fish and are a safe bet as are plain hi-lo rigs. Quite frankly the less hardware the better. However if you are into the bells and whistles, bucktails, ball jigs and teasers can be concocted several ways that will dupe small fluke. I do, however, love using bucktails with the smaller ones nailing the bigger fluke. When conditions suit, I like to fish a 2-ounce Spro Prime Bucktail (depending on the speed of the drift) tied via an Improved Clinch Knot at the end of the leader, then tie a Dropper Loop about one foot above the bucktail and slip on a plain super sharp Gamakatsu 5/0-Sea hook. At times I will change the bucktail for a Tsunami Ball Jig or I’ll substitute the Sea hook for a 3/8-ounce Spro Prime Bucktail. As for colors of the Spros, white, glow, pink and spearing blue are all fluke killers.

As for baiting up, Berkley Gulp Swimming Mullets or Fishbites Dirty Boxer Curly Tails typically do the work. Apply them to the bucktails, ball jigs and a plain 5/0-octopus hook and watch them go to work. Fluke love both these products in a variety of colors especially New Penny, Nuclear Chicken and Glow colors. Actually I would say the scent is more relevant than the colors as I do well with just about all their colors. As for the size of the sinkers for the rigs, and the size of the bucktail and fluke bullets will depend on the drift. Try using the lightest weights possible as you will feel the lightest taps of the fluke and you won’t become fatigued as quickly from bouncing the jigs all day long.

Keep Your Cool, Dude

If you are adamant, like a couple of my buddies about using natural baits, 4 to 6-inch strips of squid, fluke belly, mackerel, and especially fresh sea robin strips all catch the attention of the jumbo fluke. If available, you can add fresh bluefish belly strips to the menu as well. Local and Canadian spearing are fine; however, if at all possible, use the freshest strip baits that is available as these doormats much prefer fresh red meat.

Keep your cool if you want to nail a bruiser or two. Keep in mind that large fluke are not aggressive as they’ve been around the block many times and get lazy and weary with age. If you know that a mammoth fluke is toying with your offering and suddenly, he stops and you feel nothing, do not reel up to check the bait. Many times a fluke will follow a bait before committing to it.  This is especially true with the big boys. I’ll say it again, it is relevant not to take the bait away prematurely. The largest mistake many anglers make is taking hard swings, and then reeling 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. Most times when they commit to the offering, they are much more aggressive on a second look as they go into attack mode so be ready to strike and hold on tight.

If you are serious about trying to catch a double-digit fluke this summer then the Cartwright Grounds is a must. You can take the easy way of easy on easy off on one of the several open boats from Montauk Harbor. Be sure to take a full day trip as the half day boats do not have time to make the run and will fish locally. Good luck and I’m looking forward to seeing your picture on The Fisherman Trophy Page.


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