Deep­wa­ter Door­mats


Saltwater Sportsman - - Table Of Contents / Features - By Nick Honachef­sky


While most an­glers think of fluke fish­ing as a shal­low-water af­fair, fluke over the 10-pound mark hun­ker down in the dark, deep reaches of ship­ping chan­nels, off­shore reefs and sub­ma­rine holes. Strate­gies used by door­mat hounds dif­fer from the tra­di­tional fluke tac­tics in or­der to match wits with flat­fish big enough to crack rods and snap lines. It all starts by go­ing deep.


Like most North­east and mid-at­lantic salt­wa­ter species, sum­mer floun­der (aka fluke) mi­grate, but they do it a lit­tle dif­fer­ently. Fluke spend win­ter along the con­ti­nen­tal shelf off the North­east coast, then start mov­ing back in­shore in early spring, later stack­ing up in the bays and nearshore wa­ters through­out the sum­mer be­fore re­turn­ing once again to their off­shore win­ter­ing grounds some­time in Oc­to­ber.


Capt. Austin Per­illi on Buck­tail out of Brook­lyn, New York, tar­gets deep­wa­ter fluke in Sandy Hook Chan­nel, Rar­i­tan Reach and Am­brose Chan­nel off the New Jer­sey-new York Bight, where depths reach 60 to 100 feet. “Our deep­wa­ter fluk­ing usu­ally starts in July and lasts through Septem­ber, when the fish hun­ker down to beat the sum­mer heat.” You can’t al­ways count on find­ing fluke where they have been his­tor­i­cally, so the key to catch­ing large ones in deep water is un­der­stand­ing what lo­ca­tions ap­peal most to the fish. In 2017, fluke fish­ing off New Jer­sey and New York was tough. Nearshore ac­tion was a far cry from what it should have been, but Per­illi be­lieves he fig­ured out where the fish were then: deep water, and not just in the chan­nels along the coast. “A com­mer­cial fish­er­man I know stated that, last spring, the big fluke stayed in 80 to 100 feet of water around wrecks and rock piles in the Mud Hole, some 10 to 20 miles off­shore. Schools of sand eels and squid pro­vided am­ple for­age, keep­ing the fish out there all sum­mer.”

Capt. Matt Sel­lito of He­len-h out of Hyan­nis, Mas­sachusetts, plies the wa­ters of Nan­tucket Shoals, a 25- to 35-mile ride, fish­ing depths down to 130 feet to haul in door­mats. “Our grounds are mostly shift­ing sandy-bot­tom shoals, but we do have mus­sel beds that act as struc­ture piles where fluke hang around. Gen­er­ally, we start out in deep water in May, when the fish are fol­low­ing the squid run as they move in.” Off Nan­tucket, fluke root down in the deep cuts and holes to feed on squid and sand eels through the sum­mer months.


Per­illi’s deep­wa­ter door­mat­fluke rig starts and ends with a buck­tail. He ties a 75-pound Spro bar­rel swivel to one end of an 18-inch sec­tion of 25-pound Seaguar fluoro­car­bon, then ties a 50-pound TA clip on the other end, fixed with a pink, char­treuse or white 1- to 4-ounce buck­tail tipped with ei­ther a 6-inch Berkley Gulp! Grub or a strip of sea robin or blue­fish. Then he at­taches a 3⁄ -ounce

8 white round-head buck­tail to a 6-inch piece of the same fluoro­car­bon leader, ties it off the bot­tom eye of the swivel, and tips it with a 5-inch Berkley Gulp! Swim­min’ Mul­let to com­plete the killer tan­dem-buck­tail rig.

Per­illi doesn’t just grav­i­tate to­ward deep water, he also looks for clues that’ll point him to spots that hold fish. “Find hard struc­ture and ob­struc­tions such as wrecks, rock piles, and the bal­last of buoy mark­ers in the deep chan­nels,” says Per­illi. “Any­where you find a lit­tle piece of struc­ture in deep water is a good place to start. But pick a struc­ture pile and fish right on top to avoid ex­tended drifts over bar­ren bot­tom.” Fluke hang close to struc­ture, and they use it to hide and am­bush prey, as well as feed off its ecosys­tem, which in­cludes such for­age as crabs, mus­sels and var­i­ous bait­fish. “Ev­ery fluke over 10 pounds I’ve caught had struc­ture­ori­ented crea­tures in its gul­let — crabs, man­tis shrimp, bergall, por­gies, sea bass — prov­ing the big fish are feed­ing in and around deep­wa­ter struc­ture,” adds the fish­ing guide.

“Buck­tail­ing for fluke is not about get­ting out at sunup or sun­down but about fig­ur­ing out when slack tide is,” says Per­illi. “You want to hit it when the water is at a dead stop or mov­ing at its slow­est, so the peak ac­tion usu­ally hap­pens from two hours be­fore slack tide un­til two hours af­ter. The key is to bang out mini drifts, or to power-drift and fan-cast the buck­tails to re­ally pick apart a spot. Buck­tails should al­ways main­tain con­tact with the seafloor, so im­part a slight bounc­ing mo­tion and keep tap­ping the bot­tom. If the cur­rent starts to push hard and you start to drag

the buck­tail, it’s time to power-drift or find an­other spot where the tide has yet to catch up.”


“The ma­jor­ity of 10-plus-pounders we get are caught drag­ging big bait strips,” states Capt. Sel­lito. “Suc­cess­ful an­glers are drag­ging long strips of belly bait, such as lit­tle tunny or Peru­vian smelt, cut 10 to 14 inches long.” Sel­lito states the stan­dard rig for tro­phy fluke aboard He­len-h is a No. 1 three-way swivel with a sinker snap, a 10- to 24-ounce bank sinker, and a leader com­ing off the sec­ond swivel eye with a tan­dem of 6/0 to 7/0 Ga­makatsu Oc­to­pus hooks on the end. Fast drifts re­quire a 48-inch piece of 30-pound fluoro­car­bon leader; for slow drifts, a 24-inch sec­tion will do.

“To hook deep­wa­ter fluke on the drift with strip baits, it’s es­sen­tial to let ’em eat,” ex­plains Sel­lito. “When you feel the weight of a floun­der on the line, it has mouthed the bait and is sit­ting on it. So drop it back in free-spool, give it a stand­ing five count, then set the hook. Lift the rod slowly to feel for the weight of the fish hang­ing on the bait. If you don’t feel any weight, send the bait back down and feed it to him.” One of Sel­lito’s top-se­cret tac­tics is to catch live squid with a squid jig off the bot­tom at Nan­tucket Shoals, then live-line the squid on the de­scribed two-hook tan­dem rig.

To bat­tle cur­rents down in the deep, vet­eran big-fluke hun­ters aboard He­len-h also use the chicken rig, bet­ter known as a vari­ant of the high-low rig. Start with a 100-pound bar­rel swivel tied to a 36-inch piece of 30-pound fluoro­car­bon, make a drop­per loop 12 inches down and at­tach a 9/0 Baitholder hook tipped with a 6-inch Berkley Gulp! Grub. About 18 inches down from the first drop­per loop, make a sec­ond one and add an­other 9/0 hook to it with a small slide-on buck­tail teaser and a Gulp! Grub. Fin­ish the rig with a dou­ble over­hand knot 6 inches down, form­ing a loop to con­nect a bank sinker.

Ac­tion with tro­phy flatties off Nan­tucket has been le­gendary the past five years and shows no sign of slow­ing. For a good gauge on the qual­ity of deep­wa­ter fluke there, Sel­lito says: “When we see a 4- to 5-pound fluke come up, we don’t even reach for the net. We’re here for the 6- to 14-pounders; no sense in wast­ing time with the lit­tle ones.”

XL FLUKE: Go­ing deep yields spec­i­mens of ex­tra-large pro­por­tions, op­po­site.

JIG-TRICKED: Fluke can’t pass up buck­tail jigs bounced in front of their faces.

4-ounce buck­tail jig 75-pound bar­rel swivel 6 inches of flu­oro leader 3⁄8- ounce buck­tail jig 18 inches of 25-pound flu­oro leader 5-inch Gulp! Swim­min’ Mul­let 50-pound TA clip 6-inch Gulp! Grub

36 inches of 100-pound flu­oro leader 100-pound bar­rel swivel 6-inch drop­per loop 9/0 Baitholder hook 6-inch drop­per loop, 18 inches be­low up­per drop­per 9/0 Baitholder hook Slide-on buck­tail teaser Bank sinker 6 inches be­low drop­per 6-inch Gulp! Grub

GRIP AND GRIN: A happy North­east an­gler gets his hands on a husky deep­wa­ter fluke. MAS­SACHUSETTS NEW YORK CON­NECTI­CUT RHODE IS­LAND North At­lantic Ocean NEW JER­SEY RI ƕ CT NAN­TUCKET SHOALS NY AM­BROSE CHAN­NELS RAR­I­TAN REACH SANDY HOOK CHAN­NEL New York /...

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