Doormat Desire
(Originally published in Nor'east Saltwater Magazine)

With fluke populations surging (though you’d never know it by the contracting
limits on recreational fishermen) many folks are contemplating pursuing the
doormats. Generally, most people define a doormat as a fluke that weighs in
excess of the 10 pound mark. If you live or fish on the east end of Long Island,
the Eastern portion of CT or in RI, you have a pretty good chance of making that
doormat dream come true.

Your best chance of catching a trophy sized fluke comes in the springtime.
Depending on water temperatures, the big fish will move into our area sometime
in May. They usually follow the inshore migration of squid, which at this time of
year makes up a major portion of their diet. The first fish will usually arrive off
Montauk sometime very early in the month sometimes even toward the end of
April.  Later in the month, the fish will push around the point and into the
Peconics. Also the fish will make their appearance around Martha’s  Vineyard  
toward the middle of the month. For those not fishing around Montauk, Mother’s
day is usually considered the start of the doormat season.

There are several areas that you want to concentrate on if you’re after a trophy-
sized fluke. Going from west to east, they are the “Geenlawns,” Montauk’s south
side, between Pt. Judith’s Harbor of Refuge and Block Island,  Lucas Shoal in
Vineyard sound and the shore of Noman’s Island near Martha’s Vineyard.

The Greenlawns is located in Peconic bay, in the area between Shelter Island
and the north fork. This is a very narrow strip of water and it can and does get
very crowded at times. You can often score good sized fish in the deeper water
at the mouth of the channel, if the boat traffic is making you uncomfortable in the
tight space. Also don’t overlook the bay itself right off Greenport, there are
usually plenty of squid there and when you find the squid the fluke are sure to
follow. Finally, if things are really crowded or it’s too early for the fish to have
arrived at Shelter Island yet, try the end of the sand spit on the north side of
Gardiner’s Island. The fish move through the area in the deep water between the
sand spit and an island usually referred to as the ruins.

In Montauk the area to fish for the big boys is along the south shore. While the
fish will move into the rips between Block Island and Montauk and stay there all
summer, the first arrivals, which are the bigger fish, usually position themselves
on the hard bottom along the ocean front. The fish might be anywhere from the
old radar tower west to the area offshore of Hither Hills State park. Around the
point itself and the radar tower you will usually find lots of lobster gear in 40-50
feet of water. The place to start your exploration is just outside of this gear.
Sometimes the fish will be further out in 60-70 feet of water and other times they
will be right in among the pots. If it’s the later you’ll have to keep a sharp watch
to make sure you don’t ruin you day by getting stuck in the gear.

Off of Rhode Island the bigger fish usually make a stop on the hard bottom
between Pt. Judith’s harbor of Refuge and Block Island. This area is located
almost due south of the Center wall of the Harbor of Refuge in about 70 feet of
water. If you look for the day mark on the center wall the area is just slightly to
the east of due south.

The last areas that consistently produce doormats are located around Martha’s
Vineyard. There are really two areas here. One is the shoreline around Noman’s
Island. This area is really exposed to the weather and is probably best fished by
the bigger boats. If you have a smaller boat you would be well advised to keep a
sharp eye on the weather if you decide to go to Noman’s. In the more sheltered
water, Lucas Shoal in Vineyard Sound often produces some bragging sized
fluke. In particular, a spot just to the southwest of the shoal itself, in the deeper
water regularly produces doormats at the right time of year.

While conventional wisdom calls for using big baits for big fish, you should also
remember that elephants eat peanuts. For a pair of anglers I like to fish two rods
with big baits and two rods with slightly smaller baits. Since the fish are following
the squid migration the first choice of bait is obvious, a whole squid. When using
a whole squid you must remember to tow the bait from the tail end. This is the
way squid naturally swim, though they can and do dart in all directions. If you don’
t drag the bait by the tail, it will bunch up around the hook. The easiest way to rig
a squid is with a two hook rig that you can either tie yourself or buy pre-made.
The distance between the hooks should be equal to the length of the squid’s
body. The hook closest to the line goes into the squid’s tail section, this is the
hook that will drag the bait. The second hook is placed in the squid around the
tentacles, nine our of ten times this is the hook that will hook the fish. Another
squid rig that I like is similar to what the tuna guys use when they troll daisy
chains. This rig is made with light wire. Put a loop in one end with a haywire twist
and haywire the hook to the other end. I like to use about twenty four to thirty
inches of wire. To put the squid on push the loop up into the body, or use a
rigging hook pushed in from the tail end to grab the loop and  pull the wire right
up through the squid so that the hook rests right in tight to the tentacles. Then
take some rigging floss and a rigging needle and sew the tail end of the squid to
the wire. You doe this by passing the floss once through each side of the tail and
then take the two ends and tie a series of overhand knots (at least ten) tightly to
the wire, then go back through the squid’s tail once more and repeat the
overhand knots on the wire. Trim off the excess floss and you’re ready to go.

For the other two rods I like to use smelt, anchovies, or virtually any silver
colored smaller sized fish. I like my baits to be in the four to six inch range. For
these baits I prefer a double hook rig tied so that one hook can go through the
eye socket of the baitfish to put the pressure on the forward end of  the fish. The
second hook goes somewhere in the aft end of the fish. Either of these hooks
may be the one that actually hooks the fish. With these baits I also like to add an
octopus skirt, in various colors, to add some “flash” to the baits.

Regardless of which rig I use, I secure the end of the leader to a three way
swivel. I attach a sinker loop, made out of light line, to one of the eyes of the
three way and the main line to the last eye. Using light line on the sinker loop will
help avoid loosing the whole rig if the sinker hangs up on the bottom. I like to use
a foot or more of four or six pound test for the sinker.  

Another option for those who would rather not use bait, is the bucktail. A
bucktail, like the smiling bill, lima bean, or virtually any other style, dressed with a
long strip of squid will often produce some really nice sized fish. The only
problem with the bucktail is getting it down to the bottom in the deep water and
fast currents that you are likely to encounter. There are two potential solutions to
this dilemma. One is to use a trolling drail between the main line and the leader.
These are streamlined lead weights, usually with a snap on both ends, to make it
easy to attach between the line and leader.  Another option is to use three way
swivel, like you would with a bait rig, but tie on the bucktail leader in place of the
bait hooks. Either way you can vary the amount of weight to find the magic
number that will keep the bucktail near the bottom. Remember that you are
fishing for big fish, so big bucktails , like 3 ounces or better, should be used.

In all of these areas, except for the Greenlawns, you will be fishing in relatively
deep water of 40-70 feet, and in areas where the current can really rip. So
choose a rod that can handle up to eight ounces of lead. Though it can be done,
I would just as soon go do something else if the tide is strong enough to require
more than eight ounces to hold bottom. Besides, when fishing with the new,
skinny, braided lines it’s rarely necessary to use more than eight ounces.
Conventional reels get the nod over the spinners, with the possible exception of
when you are bucktailing, without using much weight to get the bucktail down.

Usually using two rods per angler means that one of the rods will be fished as a
“deadstick”, i.e. the rod will be stuck into a rod holder and left there until a fish is
hooked. With fluke “deadsticking” can be very effective, if it’s done right. Let’s
stop and think for a minute about how fluke make their living. They are ambush
predators, that lay on the bottom and wait for prey to either swim by or get swept
by with the current. Obviously most  of the prey will not be swimming right on the
bottom, so it is necessary for the fluke to rise off the bottom and pursue the
prey. Once the fluke has its prey then it will return to the bottom. So to make a
“deadstick” efficient, we have to take advantage of this feeding pattern to make
the fish hook itself. The key here is to use a longer sinker loop, so that the bait is
presented a couple of feet off the bottom. Another alternative is to take a couple
of cranks on the reel after the sinker finds the bottom. Either way, the bait will be
a couple of feet off the bottom and when the fish takes the bait and attempts to
get back down to the bottom, the hook should do its job.

Finally, a few words about the end game, when the fish is almost at the boat. It is
imperative to use a landing net, especially with these big fish. When bringing the
fish to the boat do not lift the fish’s head out of the water. If you lift the head out
of the water the fish will go bonkers, and often throw the hook. One of the
favorite end game tactics of the true doormats, is to literally swim backwards at
the last second when they are at the surface. When they do this and then
suddenly shift into fast forward, many anglers will be caught unaware and the
fish will put enough slack in the line to allow it to throw the hook. As you bring the
fish within range of the net, slow and steady is the best way to get things done
and be ready for sudden lunges in any direction, including backwards.  

Hopefully this advice will put you on the opposite end of the line from a doormat
sometime this spring. You should also keep in mind that there is a second run of
big fluke, in the exact same spots off Montauk, that precedes the fall migration.
The fish bunch up on the same grounds that they visited in the spring just before
they make their journey back out to the 50 fathom line. This run usually starts
around the last week in August and depending on water temps can last well into
September. Good Luck!