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September 21, 2007

Doormat Deadeyes

The migration of big fluke is on, and these three experts have the keys to finding and catching them.

Squid for Starters
For Thom Pelletier, it's all about the squid. Pelletier is a fluke addict who loves chasing these vicious and delicious flatfish off his home state of Rhode Island. He even makes and sells his own line of killer fluke rigs called ThomCats, which feature a soft-plastic squid imitation.

Pelletier will tell you that squid are primary prey for fluke throughout the season, but are particularly important during the spring run.

"We get a good slug of big fish early on," says Pelletier. "And when you find them, they're usually hungry."

Pelletier is never without either fresh squid or his plastic imitation.

Pelletier's terminal rig is a three-way setup. Coming off one eye of the three-way swivel is a short dropper with a heavy bucktail jig on the end. Jig weight depends on depth and current, but two to three ounces is the norm. The hook of the jig is adorned with a whole squid. Attached to a second eye of the swivel is a three-foot leader of 40-pound Berkley Big Game mono with a ThomCat rig on the end. This rig consists of a plastic squid, one or two spinner blades, colored beads and a large Kahle hook, which Pelletier rigs with the mantle of a fresh squid.

So, where can you find these big spring-run fluke? According to Pelletier, they can be almost anywhere, from offshore in 50 to 60 feet of water to right along to the beach or inside the harbors in five to ten feet of water. It all depends on the whereabouts of the squid. It pays to keep a close eye out for the presence of squid trawlers as well.

Fluke Down Deep
Vito Arcabascio is a big-fluke specialist from New York's Staten Island, and his favorite fluking grounds are nearby Ambrose and Sandy Hook Channels. Arcabascio generally begins targeting fluke in early to mid-June.

Arcabascio turns his full attention to the deep channels. The channels serve as conveyor belts that shuttle food to the waiting flatfish, particularly on the dropping tide.

Like Pelletier, Arcabascio is meticulous when it comes to bait presentation.

"If the bait gets a little speck of weed on it, the fluke won't touch it," he says. "Also, you've got to try different baits and colors until you find the one the fish want. Constantly changing baits is a big deal."

Tirone tips his entire fluke-fishing arsenal with his own brand of squid-strip imitations.

Arcabascio fishes a three-way rig with a six-inch dropper to the bank sinker and a four-foot leader of ten- to 12-pound-test fluorocarbon tied to a 6/0 Gamakatsu Kahle hook. For bait he likes live killifish (a.k.a., "mummies") or dead sand eels with a fluke-belly strip on top. The sinker size depends on drift speed and depth, but should be heavy enough to keep the lines as vertical as possible.

"Fluke-belly strips are key," says Arcabascio. "I like ten-inch strips, and I split the tail about two inches so it flutters nicely in the current." Arcabascio also rigs the strip above the hook eye, so it doesn't interfere with the action of the live bait. Sometimes he adds a colored skirt ahead of the bait unless he gets into bluefish.

Super Mario
Connecticut's Mario Tirone is another fluke nut who fishes for flatfish from Provincetown, Massachusetts, to Long Island Sound. In fact, his love of fluking led to the development of a line of soft-plastic strip baits called Mario's Squid Strips. During summer, when inshore temperatures soar, Tirone employs two very different strategies for finding trophy fluke. One is to fish in very deep water - anywhere from 60 to 80 feet. These depths demand the use of thin, super-braid line, which allows the angler to fish deep without forming a large belly in the line.

To help him zero in on fluke-holding bottom structure, Tirone keeps an eye out for concentrations of lobster pots in the deep water. "One time I found a bunch of pots in a horseshoe pattern some 31/2 miles offshore," he recalls.

"I know that lobstermen set their pots around prominent bottom structure, so I decided to fish it. Well, that spot was loaded with big fluke up to nine pounds."

Such areas of rocky or "ledgey" bottom are magnets for big fluke. "It's what I call striper territory, but these spots also hold big fluke," Tirone explains. "If you don't mind losing some tackle every once in a while, you can catch them in among the rocks."

While deep water often pays big dividends with summer fluke, Tirone points out that some very large fish can be taken surprisingly close to shore when schools of peanut bunker begin to exit the salt water ponds in mid- to late August. "Get out there on a full tide in the early morning and fish around those schools," Tirone says. "You'll find big fish in the trough along the beach."