KING OF THE FLATS
Captain John is no stranger to the waters of Shinnecock Bay. He racks up 28 years of commercial, charter and open boat fishing experience in the local waters. Ten years ago, Capt. John had the desire to purchase an open boat tough enough to take on challenging seas in quest of giant fluke yet agile enough to hunt the back bays and flats in as little as 3 feet of water in search of big fluke with bad attitudes. Low and behold and one year later the 47 foot Shinnecock Star was born. In the last nine years, John has seen the ups and downs of the fishery, but one thing stood consistent year after year, the return of big fluke and lots of them. ďI wanted a boat that I could adjust the keel and draw only two and a half feet of water,Ē Capt. John explained. ďThere are just too many big fish piled in the skinny water. I couldnít run an open boat business knowing darn well the fish were there and I couldnít get to them,Ē he added. Indeed when the ocean bite is on and seas are comfortable enough for enjoyment, you will find the Shinnecock Star honed in on the action looking for those double-digit flatties. However, when the reverse is true, itís time to break out with the thin sticks and bucktails as itís off to the shallows for the Star.
AN EARLY START
Regardless of when the season opens, fluke enter Shinnecock Bay by mid-April sunning themselves from the chilly water and feasting on the early arrivals of sand eels and spearing. According to Capt. John, the reason for such an early bite is due to the warmer waters of Peconic Bay flushing through the Shinnecock Canal and into the Shinnecock Bay. When this occurs, (which is twice in a 24-hour span) the bay temperature rises between 2 and 4 degrees, which is enough to get the feed bag going. John added that in mid-April water temps are in the mid 40ís, which normally is a bit too cold for a fluke bite in most places, but that slight boost in temperature in from the Peconics is drastic enough to have a fluke bite as if it were the height of the season. Therefore, Capt. John believes that the fluke may not be as sensitive to water temps as we may think. According to the Captain, the influx of fish depends on the ocean conditions. Years with a mild April and calm seas will see a good showing of fish sneaking into the bay. On the flip side, adverse weather and rough seas will keep the fluke offshore, delaying their visit. For the past several years we have been fortunate to see an early start. During the season, the flats become replenished with flatties as large bodies of fish will move in chasing around a myriad of baitfish. The fish will stick around until the early part of fall and then itís bon voyage to the Continental Shelf until next season.
SEEK AND YOU SHALL FIND
Generally all shallow water fluke fishing is done by drifting. On days where there is hardly a breeze or slack tide, Captain John will power drift to keep things moving and hopefully the action coming. It is imperative to have a steady drift of about a knot and a half to really have things happening. Once the fluke are located, Capt. John will make short and productive drifts over a spot until the action peters out, and then itís off to greener pastures. The edges of eel grass beds are one of Johnís favorite to work. Here fluke will move onto the beds ambushing and attacking baitfish that spawn upon the eel grass. Some of the biggest fluke that are landed on the Star come from this habitat. Other favorite locations include edges and drop-offs as well as a sudden change in depths. Probably the most promising key to locating fluke is finding the balls of bait. Quite often the terns, gull and egrets are honed in on the schools of baitfish and in all probability so will the fluke. If for some reason the birds are not around then a contingency plan takes effect in the way of the bottom recorder. Plain and simple; find the bait and youíll find the fluke.
FUZZY, BUCKY AND JANE
Itís a fact that when fluke are hungry they arenít picky eaters, and when it comes down to rigging and baiting, everyone has a favorite. For newbies and himself, Captain John favors Lindyís 3/8 Fuzz-E-Grubs in pink or chartreuse. Fluke eat these soft plastics like candy and the best part is these lures donít have to be worked hard to dupe fluke. Unlike most jigs, the Fuzz-E-Grub acts more like a darter, meaning with a lift of the rod, the jig will move in different directions. This lure is ideal for the newbie that is looking to have some light tackle fun, or for the advanced angler just looking for a good effective artificial. Capt. John likes to place a bucktail teaser approximately 18 inches above the jig, which catches just as well if not better than the jig at times.
Most anglers including yours truly never leave home without our trusty and reliable bucktails. I prefer Sproís 3/8 and Ĺ-ounce Prime Bucktail in either pink or chartreuse, but to be perfectly honest, all the colors of the Prime Bucktails work real well. When you are looking to match the hatch, Sproís got the unique jig head and the colors figured out. I also include a bucktail teaser 18 inches above the bucktail, preferring green or white. Whether you use the Fuzz-E-Grub or the bucktail rig, the jigs will produce a lot more effectively if you sweeten the hook with a spearing, sand eel or a strip of squid.
Speaking of natural bait, Captain John tells me that the old reliable Plain Jane consisting simply of nothing more than a spearing on a 2/0 or 3/0 Gamakatsu Octopus hook and a 2-ounce sinker is a smart way to go for a limit and will often fish as well as all else in the shallows. If you would like to substitute for the spearing, sand eels, killies and peanut bunker all make for a fine alternative.
When it comes to rods and reels, Capt. John prefers a medium class baitcaster outfit in the 10 to 17-pound class. John agrees itís slightly beefy for such shallow water, but the rods are great for a fast no nonsense hook-up. To add, these skinny water fluke cop a real bad attitude and are a much different beast compared to the ones caught in deep water. Therefore, we need the muscle and the agility in the rod to deal with these bad boys, exclaimed John. One of Johnís favorites is the 7-foot MB843 Graphite rod built by Capt. Neil Faulkner of Captain Neilís Custom Fishing Rods. The rod is rated in the 10 to 17-pound class with a fast taper action and is part of Capt. Neilís classicís, The Long Islander Series. Designed by Captain Neil, the MB843 is ideal to work bucktails from ľ to ĺ ounce on the flats, and solid enough to fish 3-ounce chrome balls in the 40 to 60-foot depth outside the inlet. Incidentally, all of the rods that are supplied by the Shinnecock Star are all Capt. Neilís Custom Fishing Rods, so you know you can fish them with trust and confidence. For those who prefer to bring their own outfits, it would be wise to follow suit with baitcasters in the 12 to 20-pound class.
TIPS FROM A PRO
Probably the biggest mistake Capt. John sees an angler make is pulling the bait away from the fluke after the first bite. Captain Johnís cardinal rule is thou shall not take away bait from an interested fluke. These fish like to maim their meal before going in for the kill and too often anglers reel in after feeling a strike to see if they have any bait left. This is a no-no. Youíll need to be a little suave and let them play with the bait for at least a half a minute. Be patient, and nine out of ten times youíll have that fish hooked. In addition, pay attention to your surroundings. Watch what the boat regulars are doing as they are up to snuff with the action. Always welcome the advice of the captain and crew and never ever make fun out of something being employed out of the ordinary. According to Capt. John, the angler with the first laugh is often the one with the last as many times those funky looking gismos take the pool money and high hook honors.
If you lack the experience of shallow water fluke fishing but always wanted to give it a whirl, or looking to do it the right way, then seek no further. Captain John and the crew will whip you into shape in no time. If tackle is a concern, fret not as Fuzzy, Bucky and Jane are always on board and are included in the fare as are Captain Neilís Custom Rods. Now blend these elements together and before long youíll be jigging like a star.