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 Shinnecock Doormats
Volume 16 Number 6  -  May 11, 2005

By Captain Neil Faulkner

Big fluke like this one boated on the Shinnecock Star are often
a possibility outside of Shinnecock Inlet during May and June.

Today, any fluke over 10 pounds is considered a doormat. If you have never seen the size of a 10-pound plus fluke, it is approximately the size of a mat you place in front of a door. If you have never caught a doormat fluke, would you like to? I know that I would! I have netted and filleted doormats to just over 12 pounds. The largest fluke I have caught was 8.4 pounds a couple of springs ago off the Greenlawns on the west side of Shelter Island. It was caught on a high teaser, blue back with a white belly tipped with a spearing. Isn't it amazing I remember all of that and most times I can't remember what I did yesterday?

It is generally accepted that when fluke leave our waters in the fall, they migrate all the way to North Carolina, near the edge of the Continental Shelf. After spending the winter there, they begin to head north again as the sun is in the sky longer each day and the water temperatures increase.

      These jelly squids are slid over baited hooks.

The forefront of the spring migration arrives off the South Shore of Long Island near the third week of April. The big fluke arrive first. They make land fall between Shinnecock Inlet and Montauk Point. Some of these fluke have been caught just south of the Shinnecock Canal during the last week of April. Yes, they are a bit sluggish on the bite, but as the waters warm they become more aggressive.

I recently had a conversation with Bill Reed, a Shinnecock commercial fisherman, concerning the early run of fluke. I learned many interesting things. Around March 21, the first day of spring, is when the ocean water temperature bottoms out and begins to warm. Whether the water temperature is the warmest or the coldest, it always lags the season. In the spring, scientists, with the help of commercial fishermen, have learned that schools of migratory fish are swimming fast in order to reach warmer water quickly.

They are on a mission. In the fall when the fish leave, they are in a meandering mode. The fluke arrive around the 3rd week of April, as stated. However, the squid don't arrive till about the 1st week of May. By the 3rd week of May the fluke and squid are in sync off Shinnecock, and other places. Then, all heck breaks loose. Find the squid and you find the fluke!

The water off Shinnecock is one of the first places to catch early season large fluke. In 2004, regulations delayed the start of the fluke season to May 15. The pool fluke on the party boat Shinnecock Star on the first trip of the season weighed just over 10 pounds. As you're reading this, the 2005 season is open, and big fluke are in position off Long Island's South Fork.

     Twisty jelly tails and fish bait jellies make excellent
     fluke attractors.

We have WHAT and WHEN but we have to know WHERE? Shinnecock Star's Capt John prefers outgoing water as the inlet acts like a big chum pot. He will start the drift in about 25' of water, and he feels that the warmer water coming out of the bay wakes the fish up and they become more active, which translates to feeding. At the start of incoming water, he will start the drift in 55'-60' of water and drift towards the inlet.

I stopped in at East End Bait and Tackle to speak with Don White, the proprietor. Don likes to start around mid May out by the Shinnecock Reef in about 50' of water. His main priority is that the water is moving.

So the fish are in place, the boat is ready, but we have to decide upon which rod and reel to bring. On a party/charter boat it is easy, as they supply the equipment and bait. The rest of us have our own ideas, and most work. The ideal would be a rod with a sensitive tip to feel the bite, and the mid to bottom part of the rod having enough backbone to bring the fish to the boat.

Some of us use fiberglass rods, others use graphite or composite (fiberglas/graphite material) rods. The reel most used is a conventional type with the ability to handle 15- or 20-pound-test line. Make sure the reel is operating properly, the drag is set for 25-33% of the line strength, and it has new line installed.

Either mono or braided line is fine. Braided (synthetic line) has almost no stretch and extremely thin diameter. This increases the feel/sensitivity of the outfit. A short lift of the tip causes an instant hook set and allows you to use lighter sinkers/lures. I suggest using a composite rod when using braided line. Composite rods will flex where as a graphite rod has very little flex. There has to be some give in the setup or else you might pull the hook out of the fish's mouth or possibly break the rod if you get snagged on the bottom.

Some anglers use a mono shock leader to help prevent sthese things from happening. Capt John has several custom-built lighter weight rods he likes with monofilament line on his reels. Don White prefers a 7-foot graphite rod with a fast tip and Power Pro braided line spooled on his reel. Rich Mansfield of All Points Marine Supplies in Hampton Bays uses an Altenkirch custom rod with a Calcutta 250.

     These teasers are attached to a dropper loop about 12
     to 15 inches above the weight. The high teaser tends
     to catch bigger fluke. A teaser can also be attached
     to a silver bullet with about 8 inches of leader
     material. Fluorocarbon works extremely well.

Proper selection of terminal tackle is critical. We have to get the weight and hook to the bottom where the fluke are. Whether you use a sinker, silver ball, or lures, use only enough weight to keep the bait near the bottom. Extra unneeded weight will make it more difficult to feel a light bite or tap. Don uses a silver bullet with a Dropper Loop 6 to 8 inches above the ball to attach the leader/rig. John uses mono, and attaches the leader 6 inches above the sinker and a 3/0 hook.

Now we come to an extremely important item, BAIT! You have to have several different types on board. What the fish wanted yesterday might not be what they want today.

Your bait can be fresh, frozen, or whatever, BUT it has to be in good shape. Would you eat a dinner that was left out in the hot sun for hours? Who would eat a meal that is mushy, slimy and stinks? I wouldn't. Guess what? The fish usually ignore bait like that!

Capt John says bait will outfish lures. His favorite fluke bait is a strip of fluke belly/fluke skin just a bit longer than a long spearing.

Don likes to use a 4- to 6-inch whole squid and a big spearing. Most anglers use tandem hook rigs with whole squid. Don says he has caught many big fluke using big killies. By the way, his store has excellent fresh bait and often has big killies. Don will also use a green and white Spro FM lure.

Rich prefers using an AQUA CLEAR fluke/weakfish lure that he sells and anglers come from all over to buy. The lure has 2 teasers attached to the line using clear plastic tube standoffs.

The lower teaser is 6 inches above the sinker. The high teaser is about 19 inches above the lower teaser. The teasers are 20 inches off the main line. He stocks the rig in six or seven different colors. A silver bullet can be used with this rig.

This last item is probably the most important!!! You can skimp on most of the things written above, BUT if you skimp on this last item, you may very well lose your fish of a lifetime. Buy the BIGGEST, yes, I said BIGGEST, net you can find. It cannot be too BIG!!! Many DOORMAT fluke have been lost because the net was TOOOOOOOOO SMALL!!! The doormats are out there now go get yours!