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By Ron Powers
Like clockwork, Danny Gaudet’s mental alarm would awake him hours before the preset clock ever chimed. A Sunday morning ritual that took priority over nearly everything – Danny and his buddy George were going fluke fishing. Long before the rest of his neighbors began to stir in his sleepy hometown just northwest of Boston, Danny and his friend were rolling south along Rte. 128, Bass Tracker in tow, topped of with petro for the outboard and coffee shop Joe for the captain and first mate. It was a haul to get to Duxbury, at least an hour, but where else were you going to find fluke? Sure the resident winter flounder were fun, but come on…once you looked into the tooth lined mouth of a fluke, your standard of flatfish was never going to be the same. Although the trek was no big deal, they couldn’t help but wish that there were a fluke fishery a little closer to home. Danny and George must have snagged a genie’s lantern during one of their Duxbury Beach journeys, because during the summer of 2002, fluke invaded Boston harbor like a stampede.
Although there have been remnant fluke populations in Boston Harbor for as long as I can remember, the numbers were never great enough to support a bonafide fishery. Fish that were encountered were caught strictly by accident usually while drifting a seaworm in the current or bumping a bucktail along a sandbar for stripers. I distinctly remember the first time that I caught a summer flounder, while freelining mummies for snapper blues in the Lynn Marsh. I hadn’t the foggiest idea what I had on, although I certainly knew that it was no little blue. When I finally got a good look at what appeared to be a very large winter flounder with huge tooth-filled jaws, I considered giving the EPA a call – the flounder were becoming mutants!
The year 2000 was the first year that the local fluke stocks began to increase in numbers dramatically. At first it was a well kept secret, northshore fishers began hooking up to fluke in earnest while trolling for stripers from the mudflats of the Lynn Harbor to as far away as the bridge pilings of the Merrimack River. But nevertheless it was conducted like a covert activity, information had to be pried from the participants. Then along came 2002 and the lid was blown clean off. This is when our friends Danny and George realized that there was a healthy dose of homespun fluke fishing available practically in their backyard. Word is that they got the goods thanks to the weekly fishing report from On The Water’s website.
Suddenly everyone was hooking up to fluke. Most of these folks had no idea what they were doing, but they still caught fluke. It was lean times for anyone looking for a “How to catch Fluke” book on the shelves of bait shops in Greater Boston or perhaps a landing net – they were plumb sold out! Many longtime fishers couldn’t believe their newfound fortune – the fishing was that good. Bag limits were routinely filled and most of the fish caught were well above the minimum size. And the irony is that compared to many noted fluke grounds that beantown anglers would travel many miles to reach, the ratio of keepers to throwbacks was much higher. With fluke stocks continuing to rebound, look for a repeat in the summer of 2003!
And if you are used to the typically light colored fluke that you encounter on the sandy bottoms of say, the Vineyard, then you are in for quite a surprise the first time that you lay eyes on one of these babies. The dark muddy bottom that so distinguishes the north shore flats, causes the fluke to turn chocolate brown in color with huge white spots flanking their backs. They are undeniably beautiful fish.
Heads and shoulders above the rest of the Greater Boston fluke haunts are Lynn Harbor and Lynn Marsh. At dead low tide, the fluke will congregate along the deeper water by the channels and the edges of the nearby mudflats. Some anglers have targeted them successfully there by drifting by the seawall between the Black Marsh Channel and Western Channel. Surf casters last year caught fluke by casting into these same waters from Gaslight Park, which is just off the Lynnway (Rte. 1A). Although fishermen caught plenty of fluke here last year not a single angler that I spoke to did so on purpose. Every hook up was by accident as guys chunked squid or pogies on the bottom, hoping for linesiders. Considering the fluke’s predisposition for ambushing a moving target, I can only imagine the luck anglers would have had if they had intentionally fished for them.
As the tide begins to flood, the fluke move in earnest along the Western Channel, which flows between the Point of Pines in Revere and the Lynn Pier. During this time anglers are able to intercept the fluke from both of these points. Although all of these areas have potential, things really start cooking once the fish move west of the General Edwards Bridge. This area marks the beginning of the Lynn Marsh estuary and is where the highest concentration of fluke are found. Fishers trolling and drifting from here to the merger with the Pines River will find big schools of fluke. Fertile water can be fished past the railroad bridge (Dizzy Bridge) up to the Lynn Marsh Road Bridge (Rte 107).
Being wetbacks that knew of only blackbacks when the subject turned to flounder, the learning curve on how to catch these critters was as steep as Pike’s Peek. Thankfully the stocks were so large, our gaffes were overlooked. However it didn’t take long for us to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Some anglers such as our lead characters, Danny and George, caught plenty of fluke by simply drifting shiners. Others still had great success trolling or drifting Peter Santini’s Chincoteague rig. This tandem hook set up was originally designed for cod and winter flounder, yet proved just as lethal for fluke. Featuring bright, gaudy spinners and high visibility teasers, the Chincoteague when spiced with squid strips caught loads of fluke. The flashy coloration helps draw the fluke’s attention in the turbid waters of the estuary and the heavy cannon ball sinker when bounced along the muddy bottom stirs things up to pique the interest of any nearby fluke.
Another technique more in line with what fluke fans of more southern shores employ was the use of a three-way swivel with a Spin-N-Glo dropper and a bucktail jig substituted for the sinker (after all who ever hooked a fish with a sinker?) Since the current of this estuary often moves with alacrity, pill shaped jigs proved to be the best type. Their narrow profile helps deflect the current and keeps the jig solidly on the bottom, increasing the chances of a fluke seeing it. The SeaWolfe Lead Head Bean Jigs are an especially good example of this type of jig and they can be made even more enticing by ordering them with twin tail grubs called Moochies. This jig when used in unison with the SeaWolfe Spin-N-Glo with its soft plastic squid teaser, almost gives the angler an unfair advantage. The only alteration that I would make is to top off the teaser with a live mummichog or perhaps a squid strip. Drop the bucktail down from the three- way swivel with a 12-inch strand of mono or fluorocarbon and attach the teaser with a 30-inch leader. Take along different size jigs from 1 to 3 ounces. The addition of a stinger or second hook to the bucktail will increase your hook up percentage, especially with the larger models. The reason for this is that the heavier jigs are bulkier with a larger hook that is fine for stripers but more than a mouthful for the fluke. The stinger hook will turn the short strikes into solid hooksets.
Access to this area is easy, both by boat and by hoof. There are a couple of easy launch facilities within a few minutes of Lynn Marsh. A public, free launch is located at the beginning of the Nahant Causeway, just off the Lynnway. Look for the MDC bathhouse and you will find the ramp directly across the street. Gas Light Park on the Lynnway has a free boat launch as well. Another convenient place to launch a boat is the Saugus Public Boat Ramp on Ballard St., which is just off Rte. 107 (Lynn Marsh Rd.) A permit is required, which can be purchased at nearby Tom’s Bait shop, which is on the same street.
A cartop launch can be accomplished directly from the Lynn Marsh Rd. by the second bridge. From this port you can begin a fluke drift immediately, since many of these fish are positioned between here and the railroad bridge. This is a good area to shove off from a kayak or pontoon boat.
In addition to the previously mentioned Gas Light Park, shoreline sport for fluke is available from the Lynn Pier, which is just north of the General Edwards Bridge on the Lynnway. If you would like to really stack the fluke deck in your favor and you don’t mind a little walking then hike out towards the Lynn Marsh itself. From Oak Island in Revere, you will have to walk along the shoulder of a set of railroad tracks (be careful these tracks are still in use!) until you get to Dizzy Bridge. The water all around this bridge teems with fluke especially on the flooding tide. Just as the tide begins to set up you will notice a rip that forms just before a mudflat. The fluke will lie just under the rip and ambush passing baitfish. Although some anglers catch fish off the bridge itself, I don’t recommend it since it is an active rail. Instead stand just off to the side of the bridge and cast towards the exposed mudflats during the beginning stages of the incoming. I have had fluke action by drifting in the current a Spin-N-Glo with either a seaworm or squid strip. Attach a small rubber core sinker to keep the rig in the lower part of the water column. As the current picks up, a bucktail should be substituted to keep the bait down. If you’re really adventurous bring along a minnow bucket and catch your own mummies in the mosquito creeks of the marsh; the place is loaded with mummichogs and in my opinion there is no better bait. As the tide increases in volume the fluke move out along the banks of the marsh and can be reached by casting from the eelgrass.
A wildcard that I can’t wait to try this year is the jetty at the southern end of Revere Beach. Years ago, long before fluke made the local headlines, I met a couple folks that were casting spinnerbaits off the breaker. Thinking this peculiar that guys would be pitching a largemouth bass lure in the middle of the surf, my enquiring mind just had to ask “how’s the bass fishing guys?” When they told me how they had been bagging fluke with these spinnerbaits, I was floored. This is an ideal habitat for fluke with a healthy mixture of a sandy bottom interspersed with structure, moving water and plenty of forage. I can’t help but wonder that if the fluke bite here was this solid during the lean years, what is it like now? I fully intend on finding out first hand.
The current fluke regulations are generous at a 7 fish limit, with a minimum size of 16.5”. The only downer to the fishery last year was that nearly everyone who caught these fish boasted about reaching their limit as if it were a litmus test. The Lynn Marsh is not what you would consider “big water” and certainly the stocks that take up residency here are finite. Think conservatively and only harvest what you can realistically use. This unique fishery in darn good, let’s make it great.