On the Water: Finding Fluke by Firelight

Dragger
The sight of draggers working close to shore tell the tale. Fluke, summer flounder, have returned once again. Russell Drumm

    Driving the rolling Hither Hills to or from Montauk these days and gazing south, the sight of the great Atlantic’s horizon broken nearshore by two, three, five small draggers spells fluke.
    Tom Jordan of the Gone Fishing Marina on East Lake Drive in Montauk, where pinhookers (commercial rod-and-reel fishermen) tie up side by side with sports, confirmed that fluke, summer flounder, were gliding along the bottom, and while anglers were catching them with fair regularity in recent days, “the water’s still too cold,” meaning the main body of the summer migration has not arrived yet.
    Everything else is here, he said, “porgies, striped bass, bluefish,” and, as Tom Cusimano, the captain of the Sea Wife IV, said from the deck of his charter boat on Sunday afternoon, “Cod!”
    “We had a good day, fish up to 30 pounds.” The cod were still around in numbers that had him willing to wait for the fluke to arrive in larger numbers. Nor was he happy about New York’s share of the coastwide quota.
    The new three-fish-over-20.5-inches-per-day bag and minimum size limit was an improvement over last season’s two-at-21-inch travesty, but a slap in the face, he said, when you figure that New Jersey’s state allotment is eight fluke per day with an even smaller minimum size of 18 inches. Rhode Island anglers have been given seven fish per day at 18.5 inches. “They’re the same fish we’re catching,” Cusimano complained.
    He and Montauk’s charter and party boat fishermen are of one mind that the regulatory disparity drives suburban anglers to bordering states with more liberal limits.
    Fluke have rounded Montauk Point and invaded Gardiner’s Bay. Harvey Bennett of the Tackle Shop in Amagansett said the first reports have come from “firelighters,” those who participate in that early spring tradition known as firelighting, wherein a small boat, a car-battery-powered light, a couple of spears, as many six-packs, and a small boat drifting in shallow water can result in fun lasting into the early morning hours.
    A bayman was seen bailing bunker, menhaden, from the net box of his pound trap on Sunday. Not worth much to the trapper, so he was returning them to Gardiner’s Bay. From there, the oily fish once rendered at Promised Land into oil and meal by the megaton will do their part to draw the larger striped bass to within casting range.
    Speaking of firelighting, squid, the other bass and bluefish attraction, have made their annual showing in Fort Pond Bay. Lights at night, a pail, light rod, and a squid jig add up to inky fun and calamari fra diavolo.
    Bluefish and small stripers have been found in the Accabonac Harbor mouth, and if casters are finding them there, the Napeague Harbor’s west channel would be a safe bet as well as Three Mile Harbor’s many coastal contours.