Doormat: A fluke (summer flounder) that weighs in excess of 10-pounds.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been enamored with summer flounder. I fished for them from boats, bulkheads, rocks, and bridges, as well as from back-bay pontoon party barges.
Family trips took me to Virginia, the Carolinas, and New England, where I fished for fluke. In college at UNC-Wilmington, I received a degree in education but perhaps a Master’s in flatfish because when not studying or waiting tables, I made time for fishing. Many in the region preferred redfish or speckled trout, but I was chasing summer and southern flounder. It was then that I really began to dedicate myself to the pursuit of flatfish after catching multiple “doormats,” the name reserved for fluke over 10 pounds, and many that just missed the mark.
Happily, life and family brought me back to Jersey, and I settled close to the salt. I’ve chased fluke from Southern New Jersey to New England ever since, and through those travels, compiled this list of locations where anglers have the best odds of finding a 10-pound fluke.
Montauk, New York
As the location of the current world-record catch, perhaps Montauk is the granddaddy of all fluke spots. The waters off the eastern tip of Long Island have structure and baitfish populations that attract huge numbers of 3- to 10-pound fluke, with occasional fish weighing in the teens.
Tyler Quaresimo, who owns and runs Simple Life Charters out of Montauk Marine Basin says, “What makes Montauk fluke fishing so special is we have fish in thirty feet or one hundred-and-thirty feet, in areas with mussel beds, hills, and valleys. You can target smaller fish in the rips, but the bigger ones are on structure.”
Quaresimo, who gained his fluke-fishing education as a mate on his father’s boat, the Miss Montauk, continues, “We have so many different bodies of water converging in the area—water from Long Island Sound, the Atlantic, and water coming down from Rhode Island—and that means a lot of different bait at different times of the season. Almost every week, you have to follow the fluke between deep and shallow water, but they are always somewhere.”
Since I’ve fished with Captain Tyler, I know that he likes rough structure for large fluke. “With big boulders, you can fish the edge; on little rocks, you can fish on top,” Captain Tyler went on to say. “The days we hope for are when fluke feed on heavy structure.” When the flatty feed bag is on coastwide, the skippers targeting nasty snags and structure will be the ones who nail a big kicker fish for the creel or sometimes even multiple big fish.
And, if all that hard bottom isn’t enough, the currents create a shoaling effect since a quick look at Google Earth shows uneven bottom and shoals. Add that to Montauk’s fine resume and this place could give up another record fluke any summer.
Sitting 30 to 40 miles south of Cape Cod, the extreme depth changes, large average fish size, and long run make the Nantucket Shoals a unique fluke fishery. Put on the map by Captain Joe Huckemeyer of the Helen H party boat, these waters offer fishermen their best shots at catching a double-digit fluke.
Over the last five years, I’ve hit the highway in order to fish with Captain Jeff Viamari of Bad Influence Sport Fishing out of Yarmouth, Massachusetts. We’ve experienced really good days, when we filled the box with fluke up to 8 or 9 pounds (most fish between 3 and 6 pounds), and then we’ve had some “Are-you-kidding-me?” days when we landed multiple double-digit fluke, and 6- to 9-pounders rounded out the catch.
The Nantucket Shoals charter fleet took a pile of teen fish in the summer of 2020, and Capt. Viamari had one that topped 16 pounds. The chance at a fish like that is why I sleep overnight in my uncomfortable truck, a camper, a shared room with people I barely know, or a rented suite for my weary-eyed crew. The shoals can rise up from depths over 100 feet to just below the surface. The trenches and ditches have slopes and walls that hold pockets of fluke.
While the shoals may hold the best fluke fishing in the Northeast, if you’re not fishing the right structure – the right “spots within the spot” – it can feel like you’re fishing a fluke desert.
Strategic drifts are a must and drift speed can be key. Super slow or no drift forces captains to relocate or wait out the tide. The ideal drift somewhere between 1 and 1.7 mph.
Sand eels, mackerel, sea robins, krill, plankton, and squid invade the Nantucket Shoals, riding along the nutrient-rich currents and helping set the table for fluke in the late spring. The cold water suits the doormats well, but it also holds swarms of spiny dogfish that can be so thick that captains are forced to change locations.
Another Cape Cod fluke captain with a commercial fishing background mentioned that netters around Nantucket have seen fish to 19 pounds, further reinforcing the record producing potential of the region.
Another offshore fluke spot out of Cape Cod is the area known as Cultivator Shoals. This area can produce whopping fluke but may flip from fluke heaven to dogfish hell. Located nearly 80 miles from Chatham, Massachusetts, Cultivator is a high-risk, high-reward trip. Fishermen have a chance of encountering flatfish in excess of 25 pounds at Cultivator, as Atlantic halibut are an incidental catch in those waters.
Shrewsbury & Nearby Rocks, New Jersey
The Shrewsbury Rocks in New Jersey stretch from near the beach to about three miles offshore of Monmouth County. In the surrounding area, there are patches of rocks along the beach and many miles further offshore from Shark River Inlet to Sandy Hook. The hard, rock bottom is comprised of a type of sandstone known as greensand. The relief can rise from just inches off the bottom, up to several feet off, and to the largest large outcroppings that stand 20 feet off the ocean floor.
Quality sonar and side-scanning sonar will highlight the diverse bottom that exists here. The amount of sea life found among these glacial remains includes juvenile fish, sea anemones, mussel beds, sponges, and sand crabs, to name only a few. Cracks, crevices, fissures, and hiding spots make the rocks an incredible place for fluke to inhabit and pursue food. There’s even sand and clay bottom within the rocky floor that give fluke even greater choices for where to lie, ambush and chase angler presentations.
Recently, I talked to Jim O’Donnell, who works as first mate on the charter boat Lock N Load. “Location, location, location,” O’Donnell professed. “Short drifts over the right spots that we know hold the best fish on the rocks; it’s all about knowing the bottom. Some days the fish are on the high side of the rocks and some days they are on the downside – it’s all based on the current direction.”
The Lock N Load professional went on to talk about Shark River Reef, which is within the rocky zone in the area. This spot gives what O’Donnell refers to as PTSD (Post Traumatic Snag Disorder). But the spot produces, and their clients come ready with tubs of Berkley Gulp! just for the task.
O’Donnell continued, saying that the Lock N Load lands lots of solid fish in the 3- to 6-pound range, but they also frequently nab fish in the 7- to 10-pound range in this primetime fluke zone. Every year, these waters give up plenty of doormats and there are always a handful breaking into the teens, making this an area of record potential.
Block Island, Rhode Island
B.J. Silvia of Flippin’ Out Charters feels very fortunate to have the Block Island fluke grounds on his home turf. “Rocks and ledges are all over the place, from small rocks to huge ones,” Captain Silvia enthusiastically commented.
Silvia likes to work ledges and contour lines from 50 to 60 feet of water with a Minn Kota Terrova trolling motor, especially areas where the sand meets the rocks. He emphasized that areas where flat bottom meets rocks have produced some of the biggest doormats for his crews.
The Minn Kota allows Silvia to dial in on the precise rocks and structure, particularly the flat bottom pushed up against bottom structure. He uses his machine to navigate upstream among boats doing a standard drift because moving up-current can ignite fluke predation when the bite is slow.
Block Island is about 9 miles south of the mainland and 14 miles east of Montauk Point. This location puts it well within the corridor of the Northeast’s fluke runs. “Squid, sand eels, and tinker mackerel key the fluke in,” Silva said. “The tides can rip or completely stop around the island, so sometimes we fish there. However, if the tide is more favorable at nearby Narragansett or Sakonnet Bay, we’ll make a move.”
The best captains always have something up their sleeves when tidal conditions and currents don’t work to their advantage, and Captain Silvia is no different. The trolling motor can either level the playing field or he makes a move.
Ambrose Channel, New Jersey
Ambrose Channel is the primary shipping channel that passes from ocean waters into Raritan Bay and leads up to the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge. Its depths drop to as deep as 90 feet at points and the tides rip through the area at high speeds. Patches of rock structure, mud clumping, some live bottom, and slopes exist on the channel edges. Fluke forage consists of juvenile fish, sand eels, and squid. In 2016, Ambrose fluke fishermen had a banner year thanks to an abundance of squid in Raritan Bay.
The way Ambrose’s deep waters cut through the also-productive Raritan is a big reason it holds doormat fluke. It’s a perfect highway for fish that want to reside where the water is flowing the fastest and with the most oxygen. Any tide can produce, but an hour before and after the top of the tide is best because the water is cleaner, clearer, and easier to drift presentations. What’s more, doormat chasers should consider trying the Verrazano Bridge for enormous summer flounder. While not necessarily a numbers game, fishermen willing to wait out getting few bites will have shots at super-sized fluke.
In recent years, it seems that New York and New Jersey fishermen have been bypassing Ambrose to fish the ocean rocks and reefs. This comes to the delight of dedicated channel diehards who know that a routine Ambrose attack is bound to eventually give them a doormat.
If a fluke wants to swim to the inside waters to feed, it must pass through an inlet when it migrates. Every inlet from Virginia to Long Island has given up huge fluke into the teens, making them great places to seek your doormat. Furthermore, these environments allow every kind of angler to get in on the action. Kayakers, small boaters, and people perched on banks and bridges can all get bait in the right area.
Aside from the narrow-cut action inlets automatically provide, they often have rock jetties, bridges, deep-cut banks, and shifty sand points. Some are urban; some are pristine and protected; no two are the same. In addition, some inlets have dilapidated structure and docks made of concrete and wood, while still more have small wrecks from yesteryear.
As evidence of how high the potential for record-breaking fluke possibilities are within inlets, keep an eye on the weigh-ins over the next couple seasons. You’ll see that many of the biggest summer flounder carried to the scale are, in fact, taken from inlets. Like a percentage of ocean fluke that don’t migrate to the estuaries at all, I believe many large fish don’t migrate farther inshore than the inlet itself.
Fluke State Records
Connecticut: 14-pounds and 13-ounces, Fishers Island, 2019
Massachusetts: 21-pounds and 8 ounces, Nomans Island, 1980
New Jersey: 19 pounds and 12 pounces, Cape May, 1953
New York: 22 pounds and 7 ounces, Montauk, 1975
Rhode Island: 17-pounds and 8 ounces, Narrow River, 1962
Fluke World Record
The world record fluke is 22 pounds, 7 ounces. That number is burned into the minds of summer flounder anglers throughout the Northeast because it’s the weight of the all-tackle fluke record set by Charles Nappi on September 15, 1975. Nappi caught the giant fluke while dragging a live snapper bluefish offshore of Montauk, New York.
The record has held for 45 years with very few serious challenges. The Miss Montauk had a 17.9-pounder in 2019. A shorebound angler nailed a 17.5-pounder in Absecon Inlet, New Jersey, in 2012. And, a fortunate angler nabbed the fish of ten lifetimes in Ambrose Channel with an 18-pound-plus fluke a decade ago.
In 2007, there was a 24.2-pound fluke caught by Monica Oswald off Monmouth County, New Jersey. Some irregularities surrounded the catch, and it ultimately was not certified by the International Game Fish Association as a new world record because she rested the rod on the rail during the fight. However, its mere existence tells us that world-record-breaking fluke still swim in our waters.
It’s impossible to guess when and where the next all-tackle record fluke will be caught, if at all, but fishing areas that have historically produced doormats give fishermen the best opportunities to present bait to a new benchmark fluke.