What is a Fluke?
A fluke is a flatfish often confused with flounder. In fact, another name for fluke is Summer Flounder along with Northern fluke and hirame. If you’re confused, you’re not alone. There are also Southern Fluke and Winter Flounder to muddy the waters even further. The scientific name for fluke is Paralichthys dentatus, which is the best one to use if you’re looking for info on this fish from a site like the USGS, NOAA or the FWS. Unlike common names, the scientific name will always lead you to the same species.
The fluke is a bottom-dwelling fish that likes to bury itself in the sand. Because it lays on its side with its dorsal fin horizontal, it gradually adapts as it ages so that both eyes have migrated to one side of the fish. It’s a bizarre adaptation, but understandable given their lifestyle. Positioned this way, fluke can hang out under cover and keep both eyes open. They grow up to several feet in length and are very flat. To help them hide in the sand, they can even change coloration to match the pebbles and rocks in their environment. When you stop to think about it, fluke are a pretty clever trick of nature. They’re a relatively short-lived fish, only living until the age of 14 or so when left to their own devices. It doesn’t take long for them to get to breeding age – about two years – and when they do, the females can lay millions of eggs. Because they’re such prolific breeders, they’re not in danger of being overfished.
There are a couple of key ways to tell the difference between a fluke and a flounder. Both fish have their eyes on one side of their head, but fluke will look at you with their mouth facing to the left. Flounder, on the other hand, have their eyes on the opposite side of their head so that they face up when their mouth is pointed to the right. Fluke are usually lighter in color than their flounder counterparts, but this can vary depending on where they’re located. Thankfully, a lot of the confusion between the different fluke and flounder is negated by the fact that they don’t all share the same regions. We’ll get more into the different areas these fish inhabit in the next section. For more detail about the difference between fluke and flounder, check out this article from Fishing Booker.
Best Places to Catch Fluke
To reiterate, fluke and summer flounder are the same fish. You can find them on the east coast from Nova Scotia, Canada all the way down to Florida. They’re more frequently found in a subset of this region: Cape Cod, Massachusetts to Cape Fear, North Carolina. They are migratory, spawning just before moving to their winter territory in November. Fluke spawn in the New York coastal area. During the warmer months, you’ll find them closer to shore. When it’s colder, fluke will move to deeper waters. The older fish tend to keep to deeper water as well. They’re a saltwater fish that tolerate low salinity waters. The young fluke seek out oyster beds, tidal creeks, and estuaries as nurseries. The adults can be found just under the surface of sandy to slightly muddy bottoms. If you’re in a boat, looking down through the surface of the water, fluke can be very hard to see, especially since they are masters of camouflage. The easier way to find them is to look for special features in the landscape (or seascape).
Juvenile fluke are hardly worth bothering with, so let’s concentrate on where to find the adults. Look around and try to locate breaks in the current. They can be rocks, reefs, or sandbars. Drop offs, docks, and bridges are also great features that attract fluke. One key thing to remember when trying to catch fluke is that they sit with their mouths facing into the current. They lay in wait until prey drift toward them before they strike. So, a sheltered area with a steady current is a good bet.
Depending on what state you’re in, there are some local hotspots to try. In Rhode Island, try the Jamestown bridge, Dutch Island, Block Island, and the Harbor of Refuge. In Massachusetts, try Vineyard Sound and Cape Cod. In New York, go to Long Island and head for North Fork, South Fork, or East End. In Delaware, head to the artificial reefs created by sunken railcars, especially Reef Sites ten and eleven. In New Jersey, look at Old Grounds, Oyster Creek Channel, and Barnegat Light Reef.
Want to go high-tech with your fish finding? Well, there’s an app for that – more than one, actually. Fishbrain uses crowdsourced data to create location maps. Pro Angler is strictly saltwater fishing and has weather radar. FishAngler has species-specific information as well as info for particular bodies of water. For a deeper look at the northeast’s fishing areas, check out Saltwater Sportsman’s article here.
Best Bait for Fluke
The preferred bait for fluke is squid. You can fish it fresh or frozen, in strips or whole. The larger fish can handle an entire squid and the thick mantle of the bigger squid make them durable enough to survive several strikes before you have to change bait. Some of the other prey fluke go after include menhaden (a.k.a. peanut bunker), sand lance, bluefish, and sand shrimp. When fishing in deeper water, a fluke will also go for herring and mackerel. These can be cut into strips too, preferably meat from the belly. What you’re going for with any of these baits is a long, narrow strip. There are even pork-based baits available that are colored and scented. Fluke will rarely swallow the bait whole and will instead take a few nibbles before committing. For this reason, you’ll want a light rod so you can feel the vibrations before the big bite.
The most common method for catching fluke with bait is drifting. Weigh your line so that you’re sure your bait will drift to the bottom. Then, just drop it in and let it drift down, bounce it up a little bit, and then let it sink again. As your boat slowly heads out to sea, make sure and give your line more slack as the water gets deeper, less slack in the shallows. It’s the simplest and most effective way to get a fluke on the line. Speaking of line, a good choice for yours is a mono rated for 10 to 30 pounds, depending on the size of fish you’re after. Switch to a braided line if you’re fishing in deep water.
You can use a two-hook rig, with one hook in the head of the bait and another in the middle. The hooks should be positioned so that the bait rides in the bends. You don’t want any spin on this bait. To stabilize it, you can add a bead ahead of the forward hook. It’s a good idea to attach a swivel at the top of your rig too. Some anglers use a three-way spinner and a bank sinker. You don’t really need a lot of expensive equipment and can tie a flounder rig yourself. There are plenty of guides for this, including the link below. For a good illustration of a flounder rig, check out this article from On The Water.
Best Lures for Fluke
The great news about fluke lures is that you can get some reliable ones for fairly cheap. The Berkley Gulp! Series tend to be the most popular with competitive anglers, especially the Saltwater Jerk Shad and the 4-inch Swimming Mullets. The two most used colors seem to be chartreuse and pearl white, but they come in a huge variety, so your options aren’t especially limited here. The mullets will run you around seven bucks for a pack of eleven lures and the shad are the same price for a five-pack if you opt for ordering through the company’s website. If you do go with a Gulp! lure, remember to keep it soft when it’s not on the hook. Do not leave them out in the sun or they will shrink and become hard as a rock, imprisoning your hook or jig forever! It’s a good idea to keep them either in a waterproof case with the juice they came in or in the original packaging. Just take the hook out and rinse it before putting your bait away.
As with most fishing, the same lure doesn’t always work in every condition. The type and color of lure should always be matched to what the fluke are eating in the area. With murky water conditions, the brighter colors and glowing lures work better. In warmer waters, especially near muscle beds, try lures that mimic crabs and on sandy bottoms choose a sea robin look-alike. For crab lures, Savage Gear makes the 3D TPE Crab Soft bait lure that’s very lifelike. For sea robins, check out the Zoom Salty Super Fluke in golden bream or houdini colors. You can’t buy directly from Zoom’s site, but seven bucks will get you a pack of ten on Amazon.
Best Recipes for Cooking Fluke
Now that you’ve caught one of these big doormats, what do you do with it? Unless you’re practicing catch and release, the easy answer is, eat it! There are a lot of great recipe options with fluke, including baked, pan-fried, and sautéed in butter. Fluke is one of the few fish you can also eat raw or put into a ceviche dish. In ceviche, the fish is put into the dish raw, but acids in citrus juice (usually lime) cure the meat. Lime and chili are a great traditional flavor combo and you’ll normally find that ceviche has chili peppers in it too. “Hirame” is the Japanese name for sashimi dishes using raw fluke.
If you’re leery of eating raw fish, it’s worth a try, but here are a few dishes more suited to European tastes:
Local Fluke with lemon, parsley, and capers: This recipe comes from the owner of a Long Island restaurant called Aquebogue. It involves flouring the fish filets with a little salt and pepper. Meanwhile, you melt some butter and add in lemon juice, capers, and fresh parsley. You can even pour some white wine into the mix. When the fish has been pan fried, serve it with the butter sauce poured over the top. Capers are an excellent addition to fish dishes. If you’ve never had one, it’s somewhere between an olive and a pickle flavorwise.
Fluke are tasty in butter (what isn’t really?) and this recipe from N8TE on Allrecipes.com utilizes butter in a baked dish. Put your flounder in an oven safe pan and brush with butter. Then, mix up some more butter with Panko, parmesan, and fresh thyme. That goes on top of the fish and the whole kit and kaboodle sits in the oven for around twenty minutes. Serve with a side of steamed asparagus or garlic sautéed spinach and you’ve got a quick, tasty meal. Of course, you could also opt for a nice batch of French fries if you’re feeling a more British vibe.
Another baked dish comes from All Our Way via this recipe for baked flounder Italian style with fresh cherry tomato herb sauce. If the title alone doesn’t make your mouth water, I don’t know what will. The tomatoes and herbs are cooked on the stovetop with a few flourishes to make a sauce. Then, the sauce goes over the filets in a casserole dish. That all goes into the oven while you prepare a nice Angel Hair pasta to serve under it. A little garlic bread would certainly not go astray as a crispy accompaniment.
Whatever style you decide to try for your flounder, don’t forget the most important rule of fishing: have fun!