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On the Water: Fluke Prove Evasive

Thu, 07/20/2023 - 10:04
Brandon Sausele caught and released this 51-pound striped bass in June to capture first place in the Montauk SurfMasters striped bass tournament.

Last Thursday morning, I climbed aboard the Rock Water for an extended day of fishing. It had been about three weeks since my last outing, too long without holding a rod and reel.

Given that the bay water temperatures have now climbed above 75 degrees in the Sag Harbor area where I’m berthed, I decided to seek out some cooler seas on the east side of Gardiner’s Island. Hopefully the fluke and sea bass would cooperate.

As in many recent days and weeks, the weather was rather dank that morning, the air thick with tropical humidity. A slight wind out of the southwest did not provide much cooling relief off the 68-degree water in Block Island Sound when we arrived at our destination. The dog days of summer are clearly here.

We were also the only boat out there. Over the past 10 years or so, the fishing for fluke has continued to deteriorate in that once popular area where dozens of boats used to drift their baited hooks on a daily basis in summer. Looking at my log book on the ride out, I noted that I had made two trips last summer and we failed to land a keeper. Not good.

It’s been so poor that the charter boats that set sail from Orient Point to the west now regularly make the long trek to various deep-water spots well south of Montauk. A long ride by any means. For some reason, the inshore fluke fishery has fallen apart.

So, how did the three of us aboard do that day? Well, let’s just say that we are blessed to have many fine fish markets here on the East End. While we did retain three sea bass, we were once again skunked on fluke. We did catch and release a few sea robins, porgies, and smooth dogfish as an added bycatch. It was very disappointing, but not that surprising.

I may try it again in the next week or so, but my expectations will be low. However, I will take along an extra-heavy rod for striped bass and bluefish if the fluke remain elusive. The action for those two has been consistently good at the Race, about a 20-minute ride farther to the northeast.

Turning to the surfside scene, it’s a clear case of déjà vu all over again as Brandon Sausele of Lake Grove took first place in the Montauk SurfMasters spring striped bass tournament. For Sausele, it marks the seventh time he has taken the top prize in either the spring or fall event (including in the last five tournaments). He also won the Montauk Surf Fishing Classic back in October. And he is only 26.

Sausele is hard core when it comes to casting a lure in the ocean suds. He spends countless hours in the dark of night in and around Montauk as his heavy work schedule allows. His 70-mile drive each way is reason enough to earn him accolades for patience and perseverance. It’s great to see such passion.

The 51-pound striper that he caught and released back in June proved to be the winning fish. Coming in second was John Bruno with a 48-pound linesider, with Paul Coppola close behind. Both also put in their fair share of time on the beach.

“It was a really wonderful tournament this spring with many more people signed up and fishing,” said Sausele. “The leaderboard kept on changing. It was a great competition.”

Sausele also specifically wanted to acknowledge all of the hard work Paul Apostolides, the owner of Paulie’s Tackle Shop in downtown Montauk, puts in on behalf of the tournament. “Paulie always does a great job handling and organizing the event,” he said. “I know it’s a lot of work, but we truly appreciate what he does for us.”

Farther off the beach, much farther, the fishing for tuna — bluefin, yellowfin, and bigeye — has been solid when the weather allows. And for those who don’t mind reeling in tilefish from upward of 600 feet of water near the continental shelf, that too has been very productive of late.

A good friend, Anthony Caputo of Miller Place, took advantage of both species on a recent trip aboard the Viking Five Star. “It was a total crush job on tuna and tilefish,” he said. “We caught 36 yellowfin on the troll or on diamond jigs, plus a bigeye and bluefin.”

Caputo added that the 12 anglers aboard also caught cusk, hake, and a few rose fish. His 33-pound golden tilefish was the largest tile taken on the two-day trip.

On Saturday, Caputo stayed closer to home and sailed with Capt. Paul Bruno on the Elizabeth II in the pursuit of fluke and sea bass. The boat returned to the Montauk Marine Basin with a nice catch of both species, he said.

Back to the west, Ken Morse at Tight Lines Tackle in Sag Harbor reported that small bluefish can be had at Jessup’s Neck on diamond jigs and that the weakfish bite has been “hit or miss” in Noyac Bay.

“Porgies are around but smaller in size,” he added. “Bluefish and bass are at Plum Gut, but the better fishing is still happening out at Montauk.”

On a side note, blue-claw crabs continue to crawl about in many of the creeks, coves, and harbors. Checking my two traps every few days has resulted in consistent catches of large crabs. Crab cakes have been a regular dinner meal of late. Get ’em while you can.


Fishing tips, observations, and photographs can be sent to [email protected].


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