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Pursuing Flounder of Yore

Mon, 05/06/2019 - 15:34
On Sunday, The Star’s fishing columnist, Jon M. Diat, caught his first winter flounder in 15 years.

Ah, memories. Growing up out here as a kid, one of my favorite fish to catch was winter flounder. Not only were they plentiful in the spring, but there was a fall run of the flatfish that was just as good. It was solid, consistent fishing. 

Chum was never necessary and you could literally catch as many as you desired, from just about any location. For me, all I needed to do was to launch my 12-foot Sears aluminum boat from our beach and row out into the bay a few hundred feet. Drop a baited hook with muddy bank mussels or steamer clam, and dinner was always secured. It was that simple.

But that all started to change in the early 1980s as the population of flounder stocks drastically declined. It was a mystery as to why the fishery fell apart so quickly, but I’m sure overfishing did not help. Soon, a catch of one or two fish was considered a good day. Sadly, the fishery has not rebounded since. I sorely miss it.

Looking at my logbook last week, I discovered that the last time I fished for flounder was on April 22, 2004. It was also the final time that Ken Morse, the owner of Tight Lines Tackle in Sag Harbor, held his annual flounder derby. That was a long time ago.

Ironically, I landed the largest flounder that day. I can no longer remember what I won, but I was sad to recall that I have not wetted a line for flounder since then. Frankly, I even have a hard time remembering the last time I saw anybody fish for flounder. It’s been that long.

I’m not sure what it was, but on one of the warm windless days last week, I was overcome by a feeling of nostalgia and convinced myself it was time to break my 15 years of flounder inactivity. I needed to find my old flounder rigs and revive some distant, pleasant memories.

“I admire your enthusiasm,” said Morse from behind the counter of his establishment in Sag Harbor on Friday morning, as I purchased two frozen logs of clam chum, along with two packages of skimmer clams. “I had a customer before you buy some worms. I would love to see a flounder in my shop. It has been years since I’ve seen one.”

Eager to oblige, I found some of my long-lost flounder hooks and tackle in my basement and sauntered down to my boat on Sunday morning. While there was a brisk chill in the air, the winds were rather light from the southwest 

when I untied my dock lines. But where to try?

I still had the location on my GPS where I caught my last flounder 15 years ago. It was as good a spot as any, I figured. Anchoring up in about 20 feet of water northwest of Barcelona Neck on the edge of Northwest Harbor, I had a good feeling about the morning and what was to come. 

With hooks baited with fresh mussels and a chum pot full of ground clams lowered to the bottom below, the first 45 minutes produced exactly nothing, except for a lone spider crab that found my offering to its liking. 

Contemplating a move to a different location, I suddenly felt a solid tug on my line and sprang to my feet. My first fish of the season was a feisty sea robin. Not my intended species, but it was at least action. Another sea robin inhaled my hook a few minutes later. Rebaiting with a brightly colored yellow mussel, I lowered my rig once again. A few minutes later, another fish was on and I automatically assumed I had achieved my hat trick of sea robin. 

But no. Coming up slowly in my view was the telltale dark brown outline of a winter flounder. I was elated. Gently lifting my rod, I reached for the leader and brought the fish aboard my stern deck. I stood motionless for a few seconds as I admired its shape and color. Fumbling for the camera, I quickly took a few pictures for the record book. Mission accomplished. 

No more flounder were captured that morning, but we did land a few early season porgies and a lone sea bass, all gently released. I’m not sure if I will try for flounder again this spring (the season ends at the end of May), but at least for one day, I was transported back in time to relive some wonderful memories of a fish we took so much for granted decades ago. It felt great.

As for the other, more populous flatfish, summer flounder, the season opens on Saturday. Early signs look promising for a good start. Anglers can retain four fish over 19 inches per day. The season for another crowd-pleaser, porgy, commenced yesterday with a bag limit of 30 fish over nine inches. 

“Seems like an explosion of fish around here,” remarked Harvey Bennett of the Tackle Shop in Amagansett. “Lots of bass are around both in the ocean and inside in the bays. More keepers are showing up every day, too.” 

Bennett said that Napeague has been the hot spot of late. 

“Big bluefish have also shown up, and I have to think that porgy and fluke fishing should be great when the season opens, as the pound trap guys have been catching them,” he added. “The water temperatures are warmer than last year at this time. Looks like an early start.”

Sebastian Gorgone at Mrs. Sam’s Bait and Tackle in East Hampton, was equally enthused about the prospects for fluke and porgy season. “It should be a good, early start for both species,” he said. “Bass fishing is improving on a daily basis, too. And don’t forget the freshwater fishing. Action has been really good on a number of species.”

Looking to help a great cause and enjoy a beautiful walk? Then head over on Saturday morning to the parking lot of the Montauk Lighthouse, where the Montauk Surfcasters Association will hold its annual Montauk State Park beach cleanup.

“We’ve done this for about the past 30 years and we get a great turnout,” said Bill Jakob, president of the club. “Anybody can come down and help.” The cleanup starts at 9 a.m. and goes till noon. 

At the conclusion, all are welcome to enjoy live music, food, and refreshments at George’s Lighthouse Cafe, the concession at Montauk Point. 

“It should be a great, fun day for all,” added Jakob. “The area around the Montauk Lighthouse is one that everyone should all treasure. And we want to keep it clean.”

True that.



We welcome your fishing tips, observations, and photographs at [email protected]. You can find the 

“On the Water” column on Twitter at @ehstarfishing.


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