Monster Montauk Fluke

Bounce bucktails off The End for the biggest flatfish of your life.

Montauk is home to some of the finest sport angling found anywhere in the Northeast. Each season, these fabled waters offer tremendous angling opportunities for a number of gamefish. Not the least of these is the fluke, and the waters surrounding Montauk attract some of the largest specimens. Over the years, I have logged many drifts in many locations while searching for doormat-sized fluke, and I have learned from that Montauk is a hard place to beat when it comes to tangling with eye-popping flatfish.

To tempt these outsized fluke, many Montauk captains drift big baits such as whole squid, live snapper bluefish, Peruvian spearing, and smelt. I used to buy into the big bait/big fluke theory, but I always found the big baits to be problematic. First off, my hook-up ratio was abysmal because timing when the set the hook following the initial bite was always a challenge. Secondly, small fluke are gluttons and will readily attack big baits, so often times while waiting for the right moment to set the hook in what you hope is a big fish, you end up gut-hooking a small fluke.

Joe Rennison, an experienced East End fluke fisherman, holds a 9-pound slab taken on a bucktail.
Joe Rennison, an experienced East End fluke fisherman, holds a 9-pound slab taken on a bucktail.

I have enjoyed bucktailing fluke for many years, but my results were never overly impressive in Montauk waters. Mind you, I caught fish, and even I managed to wrestle some large “chunkers” off the bottom, but too often they would wiggle off the hook before I could land them. Much of this changed, however, as tackle evolved to allow fishermen to fish deep with the small-profile jigs that drive large fluke crazy.

The development of braided line played the most important role in how I adjusted my fluking techniques. Braided lines are extremely thin, which allows them to slice through the water column with minimal resistance. This allows fishermen to find bottom with smaller bucktails. Also, the no-stretch quality of braided line makes it much more sensitive than monofilament. The braids are so sensitive that I swear I can feel the precise moment when the teeth of a fluke are biting down on my hook. The lack of stretch is also a welcome feature when setting the hook in deep water.

The other advancement in tackle that furthered my fluke bucktailing has been the use of thin-wire hooks in bucktails. These hooks find purchase in the relatively small mouth of a fluke more easily than heavy-duty hooks and they are less likely to tear out.

Laura Gallego holds an 11-pound doormat nabbed off of Frisbees on one of the author’s homemade bucktail and teaser rigs.
Laura Gallego holds an 11-pound doormat nabbed off of Frisbees on one of the author’s homemade bucktail and teaser rigs.

A proper rod-and-reel outfit for jigging fluke should be looked at as a tool, and whenever you have the proper tool for the job, your goal is much easier to accomplish. I firmly believe that conventional rod-and-reel combos are the way to go when jigging for fluke. This is because as you drift over changes in depth, you can send your jig deeper without ever losing contact with the lure. Also, reels with a push-button freespool make finding bottom much easier. One of my all-time favorite reels for bucktailing fluke is the Abu Garcia Ambassador 6500. Another model I have used recently with success is the Tica Striper LE 200.

My preferred rod has enough backbone to work a 6-ounce jig smartly in deep water. Now, many rods will work the jig properly, but if you go with a rod that is too “mushy,” you’ll never be able to detect when the jig touches bottom. It has been my experience that composite graphite rods rated at 20 to 25 pounds are usually just the ticket. My pet fluke jigging stick is a custom rod built from Lamiglas blank model number CGBT841L, and it has been one awesome performer.

When it comes time to spool up your reel, I suggest 20-pound-test braided line. I have tried most brands out there, and you can’t go wrong with PowerPro, Berkley, or Stren. Now truthfully, I would love to use even a lighter line, but when working Montauk waters, you’ll often encounter medium-sized bluefish. On 20-pound test, you can usually wrestle the feisty blues to the boat, but with anything lighter, you are going to lose quite a few jigs, and this gets expensive quickly.

The author with a 10.5-pound fluke caught off of Gurney’s Inn in 40 feet of water.
The author with a 10.5-pound fluke caught off of Gurney’s Inn in 40 feet of water.

My favorite bucktails for Montauk fluke are Spro jigs. I carry a selection of jigs from 2 to 6 ounces in white, yellow, glow and chartreuse. I recommend starting your day with any color bucktail you want—as long as that color is white. Experiment from there. It has been my experience that bucktails produce best when the drift is moving along at 1 to 2½ knots. At this speed, a 2- to 4-ounce jig will usually get the job done. If the drift is slower than 1 knot, then you’ll probably be mobbed by skates. When this is the case, you have two choices: either you can move to another area where there is a better drift or, if you are pretty certain there are big fluke swimming below, try power drifting with your engine to increase the speed of your drift.

Jigs alone will catch, but I have found they produce better when you add a teaser above the jig. There is something about this double profile that simply drives fluke nuts. There are many beautiful, exquisite teasers on the market that work great, but they are a little expensive. As mentioned, blues will be a nuisance, and if you are fishing in the right areas, you will be working some craggy bottom, and this means you are going to lose some tackle.

The teaser rigs I make are cheap, but effective. They start out with about 30 inches of 50-pound-test fluorocarbon leader. To one end of this line, tie a small barrel swivel, and to the terminal end, attach a medium-sized snap swivel. The purpose of the snap is twofold. Firstly, I can quickly change bucktail sizes and colors, and secondly, after netting a fluke, the jig and rig will almost always end up tangling in the net. When this occurs, simply slip the jig from the snap and the whole mess will be rectified very quickly. To complete the rig, tie in a large dropper loop about halfway between the snap and the barrel swivel. Onto this loop, slide on a white, yellow, or chartreuse riveted bucktail teaser. Move the rivet right up to the dropper knot, and then attach your hook by passing the dropper loop through the eye of the hook, and then push the hook through the loop, and snug it up tightly. I don’t want to catch small fluke so for my teaser hooks, I use 8/0 Mustad Big Gun Live Bait Hooks, #10829BLN.

mikoleskis_fluke

In regards to leader selection, I will downsize my leader to 40- or even 30-pound-test when the current is strong and I’m having a difficult time feeling bottom. By doing this, I decrease the water resistance against my jig right down on the bottom where it counts.

Your jigs and teasers should always be tipped with bait. Many anglers like to tip their jigs with strips cut from fluke belly or squid. Other options include strips cut from bluefish or sea robin belly. Now all these strips will catch, but I have a little issue with strip baits when jigging. Often as I hop my jigs along the bottom, the strip baits will wrap around the hook point, clogging the business end of my rig. Now whenever I am fluking off Montauk, I like to believe that the next bite will come from a world record – and if “fluke-zilla” comes calling when my hook point is clogged, that would be most unfortunate because there is no way I’m going to be able to set my hook.

To counteract this problem, I began tipping my hooks with two large Canadian spearing. With spearing, you will go through a lot of bait because they can easily be snatched off the hook, but I have caught more big fluke – including several over 10 pounds – with this modest offering than I ever have with strip baits. So the choice is yours, but if you insist on using strip baits, try shortening them to lessen the likelihood of wrapping the hook point.

My jigging technique is simple. Once I feel my jig hit bottom, I immediately engage the spool and begin working my rig with short lifts of the rod. The cadence I keep is one jig per second, and I firmly believe this rhythmic action really spikes the hunting instincts of big fluke. It’s key to constantly feel your jig hit bottom. When you can no longer feel bottom, let out additional line. If you are drifting up a slope, reel in line as the bottom rises in order to keep your presentation as close to vertical as possible.

If I get a jarring hit while jigging, and the fluke basically hooks itself, I don’t usually get that excited, because this is usually a smaller fluke swimming off the bottom and attacking my teaser. But if I get a hit that is a little more tentative and feels like a sharp thump, this gets my juices flowing. Hits like that are usually indicative of a doormat fluke inhaling the jig. When this occurs, I’ll stop jigging for a few seconds, and if I still feel a heavy weight, I’ll set the hook hard. If I timed it right, great, but if I missed the bite, I’ll immediately free spool the jig, touch the bottom and start jigging again. Many times this jigging turns the fluke on and I’ll get a shot at redemption.

Never let a big fluke break the surface! They will usually switch into reverse and swim backwards in an attempt to throw the hook. More big fluke are lost at this point than at any other time during the fight.
Never let a big fluke break the surface! They will usually switch into reverse and swim backwards in an attempt to throw the hook. More big fluke are lost at this point than at any other time during the fight.

When you stick a decent fluke, your rod tip will soon begin to pound with authority as the fluke shakes its whole body. If a little drag slips from your reel, it is a good sign that you’re hooked up to a trophy flatfish. Your best tactic once you’ve hooked a good fluke is to reel nice and slow, doing your best not to startle your adversary any further. When that beautiful, big brown mass materializes from below, you’ll know for sure it’s a doormat.

Don’t panic when you get your first glimpse of the fish, just continue to keep tension between you and big momma. At this point it is crucial to not let the fluke break the surface, so stop winding, and keep the fluke a few feet under the surface until a net can be positioned properly in order to seal the deal. If the fluke does break the surface, the fluke will usually switch into reverse, and swim backwards in an attempt to throw the hook. More big fluke are lost at this point than at any other time during the fight.

Good fluking off Montauk is available throughout the season, but if I had to pick one month to pursue flatfish of the doormat variety, it would be August. At this time of the year, the whole south side from the Point and west towards Amagansett comes alive with young-of-the-year porgies, snappers, spearing and sand eels. This living buffet calls in big fluke from far and wide. Great action can occur at anytime along this entire stretch of water, and hot depths to key on are usually in the 45- to 60-foot range. Be sure to use your fishfinder to spot schools of bait, because wherever there is bait, there will be fluke. Once you start hooking up with quality fluke, mark the spot on your chartplotter and narrow down the length of your drifts to hammer the most productive zones.

fluking_montauk

An area that is a consistent doormat producer for me is Frisbees, which is a rocky plateau that lies in about 70 feet of water due south of the trailer park. Now I don’t like to fish here if the drift is really humming, but on calm days with a moderate drift, I have done very well here with some impressive slabs. Other hotspots include the waters off Gurneys Inn and Hither Hills. While drifting off these landmarks, I usually concentrate my efforts in shallower water, and the fishy zone seems to lie between 35 and 45 feet.

Montauk is truly a magnificent place for fluke hounds to spend some time pursuing their passion. So come on out and hopefully you’ll encounter your very own “Montauk Monster.” Monster fluke, that is!

5 on “Monster Montauk Fluke

  1. Mike C

    Great article I wish I had more time to fish but with the handyman home we have , time is a rare event. I love the salt water fishing and thought when I retired I would have plenty of time to enjoy my favorite pastime, but it didn’t work out that way.

    Tight Lines
    Mike

  2. John N

    Just got back from Vac. At Montauk, had a fun time throwing poppers on the beaches. Did some nice blues in the 8-10 lb range. Threw a kastmaster with a buck tail and actually landed a small fluke. Will miss the clean water and beaches till next year..

  3. Steve

    Man I wish I had my boat I love fishing for fluke. I love it so much that my email address is flukerman2@.

  4. Marvin Caulk

    Peruvian spearing is a really silly name for smelt, especially since Peru is landlocked.

  5. Mike

    I really enjoyed this article Capt Tom. Do you run a charter? I am a lifelong long Islander but recently was lucky enough to have access to a house out in Springs.
    I have a visual disability so I am mostly confined to shore, jetty fishing but would love to go out with someone like you. My eyesight is a little prohibitive as far as rigging things up but I do my best.
    If you do run a charter let me know your schedule, maybe can go out this weekend as long as the hurricane is not making things too rough.

    In appreciation
    Mike Knaub

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