On The Road: The Quest For Doormats - The Fisherman

On The Road: The Quest For Doormats

Tony Guarino
Tony Guarino with an 11-pound doormat from the East Grounds off of Block Island.

With three regional editions – New England, Long Island, Metro New York and our New Jersey, Delaware Bay edition of The Fisherman, subscribers have a pretty vast network in terms of following the best bite from the Northeast down into the Mid-Atlantic region.  That said, for those looking to fill slots on the 2022 Dream Boat Fishing Challenge leaderboard and ultimately get a shot at that grand prize of a Steiger 23 Miami, you may have to take your tournament show on the road this season; at least that’s what all of our most recent winners have advised.

“You’ve got to do your research, you have to see when the seasons are best in different places,” noted Henry Piacentino, our 2021 Dream Boat Champion from out of Long Island.  “The tournament is throughout all different states so you might as well travel,” Piacentino advised, adding “You do have to spend a little bit of money, but obviously it pays off in the end.”

If you’re curious as to whether the grass is truly greener across the border, he’s the skinny on fat fluking options throughout The Fisherman Magazine’s readership area.

New England, Land Of Giants

By Dave Anderson

Up here in the ‘north country’ fluke fishing has definitely not been quite what it used to be. But the old adage about the best fishing being found in the most remote locations is proven up here because, despite the downturn in overall fluke production, we have a couple strongholds where Dream Boat dinosaurs are still found with regularity. Because fluke is a species I rarely target, I called in some experts to help you hone in on a doormat.

No matter what inshore species you chase, odds are you’ve heard that Block Island and the sprawling reefs, ledges and wrecks that surround it, hold some of the biggest in the area. Block Island is the number one producer of monster stripers during the summer months and presents your best shot at busting 50 or larger on a nightly basis in June, July and August. The East Grounds might be the best place in New England for 5-plus pound sea bass as well, so it should come as no surprise that ‘The Block’ also attracts some titanic fluke.

“The bite can be weird out there,” Andrew Nichols, owner of Fishin’ Factory 3 in Middletown, CT told me, “sometimes it seems like the best bite is in a different place every day. But last year, the best action for big fluke was consistently on the East Grounds.” The East Grounds is a rocky high spot, just about 5 nautical miles due east of Old Harbor Point, it is known to produce big sea bass, hubcap porgies and, of course, monster fluke. Andrew went on to say that most guys fish bucktails with an assortment of trailers – from Gulp to bluefish bellies. “But if you really want to target a big one,” he added, “try three-waying a larger dead bait like a tinker mackerel. That’s been my go-to method for hooking up with big fluke for a long time.”

AMBROSE-FLUKE
One of the biggest reported doormats of the 2021 season came on August 6 from just south of Ambrose Channel on Raritan Bay, as Marc Blazek brought this 33-1/2-inch fluke to True World Tackle in Bayonne for weigh-in, where it tipped the scales to the 15.8-pound mark. Caught on Gulp Sand Eel.

Of course, if there ever was a Mecca for monster fluke, it would have to be Nantucket Shoals. It seems like every trip that runs out there results in at least one fish over 10 pounds; while that might be a slight exaggeration, the fact remains, if your Holy Grail is a double-digit doormat, you should head for the Shoals.

Nantucket Shoals is a massive system of sandbars situated off the southeast corner of Nantucket Island. If you’ve never seen it on a chart, the bottom contours here will astound you; with depths ranging between 3 and more than 100 feet, the Shoals read like a sandy mountain range on the edge of the cold, deep ocean. Something that needs to be said up front is that this is not the place to go in your 18-footer, it’s a long ride and the seas can turn nasty in a blink; several of the peaks feature standing waves and heavy breakers even with moderate seas, when it gets rough, you don’t want to be there. But if you have the boat and the weather for it, there’s no better place to connect with a monstah.

I called upon Capt. John from Fish Chatham Charters to shed some light on fluking the shoals. “It fishes best early in the season, I’m booking most of my charters for early and mid-June this year.”  The shoals cover an area roughly the size of Rhode Island so there’s a lot of water to cover. “The bite tends to move as the season progresses,” John told me, “It starts out at Banana Shoal and moves north and east from there. A good second spot to try is Rose and Crown.”

When I asked him what made fishing there different than other areas he said, “You’re fishing deep water, 80-plus feet, so not everyone can develop a feel for it quickly. We’re three-waying bucktails with 8-plus ounces of lead and a flasher, it’s a big, heavy rig. These areas are also really far out there and it can get extremely rough, even on the best day you’re not going there in anything under 25 feet. Be very careful in Muskegut Channel and, because it’s best early in the season, always be on the lookout for fog.”

WORLD-RECORD
The benchmark for doormat greatness remains the Charlie Nappi world record catch of 1975, a 22-pound, 7-ounce monster of a fluke caught off of Montauk, NY

Montauk, East End Monsters

By Matt Broderick

We hear stories all the time of an angler catching a giant fluke in a location where they’re not usually found or where the average fish in that spot tends to be short or barely a keeper. While this does happen, the odds are not great. If you have large fluke on your mind and would like to catch them with more consistency, my word of advice would be to head to waters known for having a greater number of larger fluke. If targeting large out of a New York port is your plan, head to none other than the waters off of Montauk, where all fish species tend to be supersized. Here you will find fluke with a higher average size—the perfect location for competing in The Fisherman Magazine’s Dreamboat Challenge.

Quite the opposite of the bays on Long Island, the number of fluke to be caught on a given tide in Montauk isn’t as high as what you may experience fishing a bay back to the west. I started fluke fishing in the bays, where it’s usually possible to find a few keeper fish on any given outing. As much as I love quantity, I still yearned for quality. That’s where Montauk came into my fluke fishing regimen. I’ll warn you now, the hits you do get will be hard and you better make them count because you just might be setting the hook on a fish over 10 pounds at any time.

I’ve learned from fishing the Mecca for fluke that the feeding window is shortened compared to a typical bay on Long Island. While you might experience fluke feeding for the entirety of a tide in a shallow bay, the fluke in Montauk are more tide-sensitive and at times, the hot and heavy feeding window may only last 30 minutes. And what I’ve also learned is that the key to getting into this feeding timeframe is to fish the entire tide. I’ve witnessed many times multiple boats doing the same drifts as the vessel I’m on for only an hour or two. After some lackluster activity, these boats usually move on to chase a different fish or pack it in for the day. The next hour or two after those boats leave, the bites start coming, proving that Montauk fluke fishing comes down to a matter of patience. What turns these fish on is still mysterious to be. It can be random at times as we’ve caught at both the slowest and fastest portions of the tide. I think it’s a matter of bait passing by at the right time, triggering the fish to feed.

MONTAUK
Long Island Managing Editor Matt Broderick with Capt. Savio Mizzi with a pair of Montauk fluke at West Lake Marina.

Being that Montauk is quite the vast area, just telling someone to fish Montauk for fluke can be overwhelming, to say the least. The big fish bite usually boils down to a few spots for fluke hunters in Montauk. Stick to Cartwright, Frisbees, the radio tower or the windmills over at Block Island. Cartwright and Frisbees are located to the south and southeast of the point. Frisbees is a shallower location (80 to 90 feet of water) and slightly closer to the point while Cartwright ranges between inner and outer Cartwright (100 to 140 feet of water). Both areas can be equally as productive but again, patience is critical to actually getting the bites.

The radio tower (40 to 60 feet of water) is a couple of miles off the shore and is located right to the southeast of the point. For those running to Block, fishing around the windmills can be productive at times, and fluke over 10 pounds is not uncommon. Usually, this spot is hit as a side mission while sea bass fishing the Block Island grounds.

Potential is high in Montauk but a diligent effort is key. Stay committed to the task at hand (catching large fluke) and the Montauk grounds will yield dividends for the devoted fluke fisherman.

CHRISTOPHER-CASH-NANTUCKET
The new Nantucket sleigh-ride may be worth the road trip to New England waters this summer.

NJ & Delaware Bay, Playing The Slots

By Jim Hutchinson, Jr.

In 2022, New Jersey became the very first state along the Atlantic Coast to implement a “slot” option on summer flounder – fluke of course wherever you may travel north of Atlantic City!  An ongoing effort by the New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife (NJDFW) to provide for an improved keeper-to-throwback ratio in the back bays, while reducing the bycatch mortality rate, conserve larger breeding females, while increasing the number of fishing days resulted in a highly charged new regulation which comprises of a three fish bag limit, two from 17 to 17.99 inches, and one at 18 inches and over.

Special management zones are in place at Island Beach State Park (two at 16 inches) and on Delaware Bay west of the COLREGS (three at 17 inches) in an attempt to stay close to Delaware’s four fish at 16-inch size limit.  Now, just because you have two fish in the bag for most of the Jersey Shore than can hardly be considered doormat fish, those looking for trophy class rugs can still find locations to score.

Honestly, the subtle controversy over the “slot” fluke in New Jersey represents a civil strife of sorts between back bay summer flounder pounders in the southern half the state, and the ocean going bottom bouncers to the north who typically find bigger fish.  Boats sailing out of ports from Manasquan, Shark River and inside Raritan Bay typically hit the bigger double-digit fluke on the artificial reef site much of the time, but natural rocky bottom structure like the Shrewsbury Rocks and Rattlesnake off Monmouth County produce some of the best trophy class fluke action of the summer.

meat
While sea robin may be the fish of the month in The Fisherman’s Dream Boat Fishing Challenge, a nice strip of bird may also be what it takes to score a good sized fluke for tournament weigh-in as well. Photo by John DeBona.

While solid fish can be found in the skinny waters of Ocean, Atlantic and Cape May counties throughout the month of June, once the local rivers and bays warm up in July many of those bigger fish will move into deeper haunts, with some of the best action to be found at the reef sites.  Since 1984, NJDFW has been building and maintaining a series of artificial reefs along the Jersey Shore, with 17 permitted artificial reef sites encompassing over 25 square miles of sea floor.

Constructed using old ships and barges, concrete and steel demolition debris and dredge rock, these reefs are strategically located along the coast so that at least one site is within easy boat range of all 12 New Jersey ocean inlets. There’s also a reef shared by New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland known as DELJERSEYLAND reef where the Coast Guard ship Tamaroa, made famous in the Perfect Storm, has been laid to rest.

Throughout the summer months, fluke fishermen from Sandy Hook to Cape May and Lewes will find some of the best big fish options at these artificial reef sites, although a loss of tackle is pretty much standard operating procedure.  Bucktails on braid with a trailer of Fight Club by Fishbites or Gulp is typically the top producer, through whenever squid are around (often evidenced by hooked fluke spitting up calamari on the cockpit floor), I’ll adjust my teaser accordingly, a Savage Salt Swim Squid or larger squid strips soaked in FinEssence shrimp or shedder oil.

At the risk of choosing favorites, the best bet for a jumbo doormat at the Jersey Shore comes later in the summer months when the deepwaters of Raritan Bay typically produce the season’s top fluke.  Working the edges of the shipping lanes in and out of the New York City metro in locations like the Reach, Chapel Hill and Ambrose Channel has historically resulted in some of the best catches of the season.  The last few years have seen tougher fishing in this area, but when it’s on it’s on big!

My prediction?  Biggest reported fluke of the 2022 season will come from the area known as the Rattlesnake, with Ambrose Channel a close second.  Go ahead, lock it in.

The “slot” aside, the May 2 to September fluke opening in New Jersey is the longest season that Garden State anglers have seen in many years, and with no closed season at all in Delaware (four fish at 16 inches) when working on those nearshore reef sites, it’s easy to understand why summer flounder is effectively the “straw that stirs the drink” in this region of the northern Mid-Atlantic.

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