Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Competitive Fluke Fishing

Fishing for Fun (and maybe profit?)

In eastern Long Island, NY, on the south shore, there is a little waterfront community where my family does most of our boating and fishing. Every year in July in that community, they hold a small one-day fishing tournament with prizes for the largest Fluke, which is the main target species for many of us at that time of year. We have participated since the first tournament, four years ago. We haven't won yet, but we always have a fish in the top few at weigh-in. 

Fluke can get to be pretty big, but there are lots of small fish around, too. Regulations are adjusted each year, but by NY State regulations in 2018 a “keeper” is a minimum of 19” long. Typical keeper-sized catches are in the 1.5 to 2 lb range, great catches can reach over 5 lbs. Very rarely, a 10 pounder might be caught in our area. Fish that win our little local tournament are most often between 3 and 5 lbs. Most of the fish caught day to day, though, are less than the legal limit and get thrown back.

To prepare for the tournament I did some scouting the previous weekend, fishing a few likely spots in the ocean and in the bay. The Fluke fishing has been very slow this summer with fewer and smaller fish being the story on most trips. On my scouting trip, I learned that some of the usual good spots, including the reef 3 miles offshore, were not producing Fluke. Instead, plenty of bait-stealing Sea Bass and Sea Robins were around.

This year, about 15 captains put up the $50 entry fee to compete on July 21st for the prize. All but $50 of the entry fees go to the fisherman who catches the largest Fluke by weight. $50 was set aside for the largest Sea Robin, a nuisance fish. Sea Robins are everywhere and they steal bait. Most people don't eat them (they are hard to clean), but they do put up a good fight and there are lots of them. Our tournament this year put up a $50 prize (get your entry fee back!) for the biggest Sea Robin, as kind of a joke. We decided we were in for Fluke, in for Sea Robins, and we'll plan to eat what we catch whether we win or not.

As it happens, this year our little community tournament was being held on the same day as a larger Fluke tournament sponsored by Molnar’s Landing, a local marina and tackle shop. Their tournament had about 50 boats competing. How do I know that? As we headed out to fish in the morning with our radio tuned to public channel 68, we heard all the participating boats checking in with the judges on the "Committee Boat" so we knew there would be lots of competition, with lots of people seriously fishing for the biggest Fluke they could find.

We headed out that morning with three of us on board: Myself, my son Rich, and his cousin Bill. As we headed out for some early fishing at the offshore reef, we saw the day was a little windy and rough, with lots of bouncing on the waves and lots of spray. The young men rode up in the bow of my my boat and were good sports about getting wet on the ride out to the fishing grounds about 3 miles offshore. In fact, it seemed like they were purposely not avoiding the spray and getting soaked up in the bow. (Later, on the ride back in, they stayed dry back behind the console!)

As I expected, there was not much of a bite that morning in the ocean. We saw just two short Fluke caught by nearby boats while out there for an hour, and the Sea Bass were stealing our baits. We decided to cut our losses and headed in to fish in the back of the inlet for a while where I knew we’d have a shot at Fluke as well as a shot at a big Sea Robin. We did catch a pretty good sized Sea Robin there and decided to keep it for the tournament and two others as part of dinner for our crowd. 

With a few Sea Robins but no Fluke yet in the box, we headed back to our dock for an early lunch and to pick up another fisherman. My son Mike had just arrived so we regrouped and headed back out at around noon.

Weigh in would be 3pm so we wanted to be back at the dock at 2:40pm at latest with our fish. We fished a few likely spots and tossed one short Fluke back, then fished a reliable spot close to home to end our day. 

At that final spot, late in the day, Mike hooked into something that looked promising. The rod was bent over and the movement looked to my eye like a Fluke rather than a Sea Robin or anything else. He had trouble at first bringing it in as the drag was set a little too loose. Fish get lost when a fisherman hesitates or doesn't keep steady pressure, so I advised him on how to fight it without stopping to change the drag. Lift the rod tip, I told him, and then quickly reel up line while lowering the tip, never letting the line go slack. Mike's a good fisherman, and he fought the fish just as he needed to. Once it got to the surface we saw it was a good fish. I got it into the landing net and onto the boat. High fives all around -- we'd have a fish at the weigh in.

Mike's Fluke measured between 21.25" and 21.5". Not a record breaker, but on a slow day maybe a contender. For the second year in a row Mike caught us a good fish late in the day that we'd take to the weigh-in.

We fished for just a little longer and then on a nearby boat saw some friends who had moved out of the neighborhood a few years ago. We pulled up alongside and they told us that they had a 25” fish in the box (probably over 5 lbs), caught in one of the spots we had fished at earlier that day. As we pulled away, Mike told me he was really glad to see our old friends, and happy that they had landed such a nice fish, but glad they weren’t competing against us this year! 

It was getting late so we headed back to the dock and then quickly got the two fish we planned to take to weigh-in into one of our larger buckets. Mike and a friend drove over, and the rest of us walked or biked over.

As we got there close to 3pm, lots of people were milling around, but not too many had fish to weigh in. At 3:05pm we began to line up to weigh fish. As I said, fishing had been slow and there were maybe only 6 fish in contention. All were good looking fish, and the scales would tell the final story.

Mike with a nice tournament Fluke
The first fish weighed in at 3 lbs and we figured we had been beat. Our fish, and several others were just over 2.5 lb. Then a young fisherman who is always competitive in the tournament weighed in a beauty at about 4 lb. Looked like a winner!

Things seemed to be settled at that point. It was a friendly atmosphere with congratulations for the young winner and people chatting and eating snacks and drinking sodas provided by the tournament. 

To the surprise of all, at about 3:20pm, someone showed up with another fish and asked to be weighed in. It was another 4 lb fish! Many of us, though, pointed out that he hadn’t been there on time and that the young man with the 4 lb fish was the rightful winner. This caused some fireworks and some colorful language on the part of the late-arriving fisherman and his buddy. Tempers flared and lots of us laughed nervously, but cool heads prevailed and we crowned the young winner and then all headed home, saying we'd see each other next year. Some of us were lucky enough to be heading home with some very fresh fish to clean and cook for dinner.

We enjoyed our catch and our story, sharing our Fluke and Sea Robins with the little crowd at our house that weekend. Once again, we were in the hunt if not in the money, and vowed to be back next year for our local fishing tournament.

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