I can still count the number of “doormat fluke” (10-plus-pounders) I’ve caught on one hand, but I’ve had the benefit of fishing with, and picking the brains of, captains whose double-digits number in the dozens each season. All of them shared insights into what it takes to fool a big summer flounder, and, better yet, many weren’t shy about telling me what I was doing wrong. Through that helpful instruction—and with some heart-wrenching “one-that-got-away” experiences—I’ve compiled this list of reasons why an angler might not have put that doormat notch in his fishing belt just yet.
Your Baits are Too Small
A double-digit doormat fluke has a cavernous mouth and has no problem sinking its jagged teeth into baitfish as large as full-size bunker or keeper porgies. That 5-inch squid pennant and 4-inch spearing isn’t likely to grab a doormat’s attention on its own, which is why fishermen dress up their fluke rigs with beads, spinner blades, squid squirts, and even giant spoons. All this is designed to make the bait appear larger while adding some fluke-attracting elements like vibration, bright colors, and flash.
If you have access to it, however, large strip baits are tough to beat. An undulating foot-long strip of bluefish, dogfish, or fluke belly (staying within your state’s regulations, of course) on a simple three-way rig with minimal accouterments has probably won more party-boat pools than all the other rigs and jigs combined. All that’s needed is a sinker, a long leader, a squid skirt or bucktail rivet teaser to streamline the bait and keep it from spinning, and a hook…
Your Hooks are Too Small/You Overload Them
… but not just any hook. Skip the kahle hooks that were your grandfather’s favorites and use something more heavy duty. Fishermen targeting big fluke in big-fluke waters use hooks large enough to make striper fishermen blush.
A 7/0 or 8/0 octopus-style or baitholder hook will present a large bait or 6- to 8-inch Berkley Gulp Grub with enough of the gap exposed to grab a good hookset on a hungry 10-pounder.
You must also resist the temptation to overload the hooks. I’ve been guilty of sending fluke rigs to the bottom with a full Caesar’s Palace buffet on the hook—a pennant of squid, a pair of spearing, a strip of mackerel, a dash of Gulp—but the resulting monstrosities cover so much of the hook that a good hookset is nearly impossible. And, in my experience, the most likely creature to scarf down that smorgasbord is a line-tangling dogfish.
You’re Fishing Too Shallow
My friend Steve Parasmo has caught two 10-pound fluke from shore in Ocean City, New Jersey. Legendary surfcaster Shell E. Caris has plucked multiple double-digit flatfish while casting into Barnegat Inlet from the south side of Island Beach State Park. It is absolutely possible to catch doormat fluke from shore … but it’s highly unlikely.
Most big fluke are caught in deeper water, 80 feet or more, whether you’re fishing Cape May, New Jersey, or Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Favorite fluke foods, like sand eels and squid, live at these depths in greater numbers.
There’s also less fishing pressure at deeper fishing grounds. While keeper fluke face a gantlet of rigs and jigs in backwaters and nearshore reefs, fewer boaters are willing or able to go further offshore. It’s been the recipe for success for headboat captains Joe Huckemeyer of the Helen H and Jamie Quaresimo of the Miss Montauk II. Both found that by running longer trips and fishing distant waters, their fares encountered a greater number of double-digit fluke.
You aren’t Losing Rigs
Whether you’re drifting your favorite inlet or a deepwater reef or wreck, you can still show your rig to fluke that other anglers miss by getting up close and personal with the structure. Think of the Days of Thunder quote that my coworker Anthony DeiCicchi is fond of reciting after he casts a $100 largemouth bass lure into an overhanging tree branch, “Rubbing is racing.”
If you aren’t snagging bottom occasionally, you aren’t close enough to the structure to catch the biggest fluke on it. The largest doormat usually secures the best feeding position, and that’s usually right in the thick of the structure.
When fishing structure, if you merely let your rig drag bottom, the snags will be more than occasional. Keep the rig moving, tap-dancing it across the structure, feeling for bottom and reacting quickly to take in line or let it out as the depth changes. This has the added benefit of giving motion to your bait that’s more likely to draw a doormat from its lair.
You aren’t Straight Up and Down
A scoped-out fluke rig is a less effective fluke rig. Not only is it more likely to drag and snag, it gets less action from your lifting and dropping of the rod tip, as less of the rod motion is transmitted to the rig. Hooksets are also less effective on a rig that is scoped far out with a big belly in the line.
How well you can keep your rig vertical depends on the weight of your sinker and the diameter of your line. Use as little weight as possible—it will benefit your presentation and the ability to land hooked fish. The thinner your line, the less weight you can get away with because there will be less water resistance. While this won’t be a factor in shallower inlets or back bays, in the 80- to 100-foot depths where doormats lurk, line diameter has a noticeable impact on how much weight you must use to hold bottom.
How low you can go with the line depends on your own intestinal fortitude. When I fished with Captain Jimmy Koutalakis of On Time Sportfishing, he was using 15-pound-test braided line, but that was on the sandy, snag-free shoals south of Nantucket. I’ve settled on 20-pound braid (though once upon a time, I spooled my bottom-fishing reels with 50!) and don’t see any need to use heavier than 30, even in the craggiest structure.
Your Hookset is Too Aggressive
I’ll admit, it’s satisfying to drive the hook home with a big Bassmaster Classic-style hookset, but what works for the bass pros doesn’t work for fluke fishermen. Fluke have relatively tender mouths, and hooksets that tear too big a hole are asking for heartbreak halfway to the surface.
To hook a biting fluke, after you’ve given it enough time to scarf down your super-sized strip bait, lift the rod and let it load before giving a little punch at the end to plant the barb.
Your Rod is Too Fast
The aforementioned hookset works best with a moderate-action rod that bends halfway through the blank. A fast-action rod might be more sensitive, especially in deeper water, but it’s less forgiving and will leave you empty handed when a fluke employs its signature rapid-fire headshake.
A softer rod keeps the bend and absorbs those headshakes without creating slack or tearing the hook free.
You Pump and Reel
Slack is your greatest enemy when fighting a fluke. You must keep steady pressure on the fish, maintaining a bend in the rod and storing line on the reel. Avoid the temptation to “pump and reel” or lift the rod and then reel down to pick up line. This action, combined with the rising and falling of the sinker, works a larger hole into a fluke’s lip, making it more likely to throw the hook before it hits the net.
When you have a big fluke on the line, keep the rod still and fight the fish with steady turns of the reel handle.
You’re Fighting Fluke too Fast/Slow
The largest fluke I ever hooked got away because I was reeling too slowly. I was so worried about pulling the hook that I extended the fight time too much and the fish was still able to escape. Since we were filming a video for On The Water that day, I’ve had the chance to review that fight many times and see exactly how it went wrong.
Just as you shouldn’t horse a fluke to the boat, don’t baby it either. Find a moderate pace that keeps the fish moving toward you and focus on keeping the line tight during headshakes.
And, make sure your net man is ready when you bring that fish to the surface. If he’s not, leave the fish a few feet down, where it will remain calmer and be less likely to throw the hook. A fluke brought right to the surface will thrash and splash, then swim backwards, often ridding themselves of your rig.
You aren’t Letting Some Go
In talking about tog, Captain BJ Silvia of Flippin’ Out Charters is fond of saying, “You won’t have any ten-pounders if you keep all the eights and nines.” The same applies to fluke. While keeping summer flounder for the table will always be an essential part of the game, consider a stay of execution for those fish just shy of doormat status so they can be a future season’s trophy.
Stack the Doormat Deck
One of the best ways to help hook that big fluke is to fish with the captains who have built a reputation for duping doormats.
Captain Joe Huckemeyer
Helen H Deep Sea Fishing
Captain Jeff Viamari
Bad Influence Sportfishing
Captain BJ Silvia
Flippin Out Charters
Captain Jamie Quaresimo
Miss Montauk II
Captain Tyler Quaresimo
Simple Life Charters
Captain Jerry Postorino
Fish Monger Charters
Captain Bob Bogan
Gambler Deep Sea Fishing
Before booking, a word of advice: Don’t let the successful capture of a 10-pound fluke be the sole determinant of how much you enjoyed your trip. Even booking the best captain, in the best location, at the best time is far from a guarantee. If it were, fish such as doormat fluke or cow stripers wouldn’t be so coveted. The best anglers come away from every outing more knowledgeable and better prepared to catch that fish of a lifetime on the following trip.
The post 10 Reasons You Haven’t Caught a 10-Pound Doormat Fluke first appeared on On The Water.
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