30 Days of the Doormat


By Zach Harvey

It’s finally June. Look sharp.

After my half-failed state-of-the-fluke projection in last month’s issue—and a month during which I heard almost every commercial and recreational fisherman I know express serious doubts about the squid situation—I’m mighty glad that it’s June. There still aren’t many squid around to speak of, but there are a few at least flitting in and out of the shadows in the usual places if you watch long enough. At press time, I know of only a couple tackle shops in the region with a line on the gorgeous native stuff we’ve been blessed with the last few seasons.

Then again, when I think hard about what all that calamari shook loose in terms of the late-spring fluking, I can’t recall the May-June catch rate really blowing anyone’s hair back. All that bait was nice, but from what I’ve gathered about the fluke fishery so far this season, it’s been showing marked improvement over anything we saw in 2012. Part of it, naturally, is the dramatic impact of that all-important half-inch separating 18 ½ inches from 19 on the ratio of keepers to throwbacks—not a big surprise when I think back to those days a season or two seasons back when 10 consecutive fish that crossed the rail cheated death by less than half-an-inch. This year’s regs have put all those fish on death row.

Of course, fluke fishing is a very different experience for those of us who spend too many of our total living hours obsessing over strip-bait specifications and writing love poems to the folks at Owner Hooks who made 6/0 thin-wire kahles (i.e. wide-gaps) available on the open market—in a darker, matte finish, no less…. For my part, I watch one particular clip that underwater photographer and fisherman, Mike Laptew, captured some years back of a good-sized slab stalking and suddenly annihilating a small choggie (because this is a Rhode Island magazine, I don’t have to add the synonyms, ‘bergall’ or ‘cunner’—but I digress…) At any rate, I watch this snippit of doormat porn the way I imagine Bill Belichick watching game film on a Monday afternoon. What I mean is that the real joy of fluking—the eating of hours-old, slush-brine-chilled flesh notwithstanding—has almost nothing to do with winging paper-thin just-keepers into a fishbox.

For me, it’s more about the transcendent silence, the absolute, razor’s-edge focus that ejects every single shred of workaday tedium and adult-life stress from my skull for the duration of my sinker’s or bucktail’s journey across some lane of boulder-flanked pea stone, or along some margin of storm-tumbled lobster gear—every molecule of me straining to gather each layer of sensory output transmitted from my rig 125 feet uptide into my brainstem via fluorocarbon, sinker, swivel, topshot, braid, guides and blank, reel, thumb, palm, arm, shoulder and spine—in that order. And then the sinker stops cold. A barely-perceptible tap and then a very definite thump rocket from my hook straight into my soul. I set the hook. The rod loads—a good, deep bend—and the little Newell gives up a slow, jerky surge of drag.

This fish stays down all the way in. When I have her straight up-and-down, it takes two tries to pry the big fluke’s considerable surface area of the big fluke’s white undercarriage off the crunchy bottom. My stomach performs a floor-gymnastics solo when I get my first look at this fish, and I announce to my friend, kidding roughly 38 percent, that if he blows it with the net, I will remove every one of his finger- and toenails with my belt snips.

The best part is that all this will be unfolding numerous times these next 30 days, June, the month to end all months for me, for my closest fishing buddies, and for you—the fluke-obsessed. It will start out in 60 or 72 or 80 feet (unless the dogfish should swarm the deeper drifts), and progress in as far as about 30 feet before the fireworks signal the next phase of things. By mid-month, it would reasonable to expect good to lights-out slabbing in all the textbook doormat haunts, in no real order: Outside the Watch Hill Reefs, the reefs, rubble and various hills off Weekapaug and the Charlestown Breachway; out amid all manner of gillnet and lobster gear way off the apex of Point Judith’s Center wall (and at various intervals along the Newport oceanfront, the edges of high ground at Nebraska Shoal, east of Scarborough on those short, tight aisles of open cobble—or more of the same type of terrain along the west side of Beavertail up into Austin Hollow, Jamestown; the tideswept broken real estate off Bailey’s Beach, Newport, Elbow Ledge, Fort Adams; the westernmost three to four spans of the Newport Bridge and the “maelstrom” drifts in that conflicted plot of deep water; off Sachuest or Norman Bird Sanctuary, and particularly in one of our state’s most bountiful fishing grounds around the mouth of the Sakonnet River (if you plan to fish the latter, keep a diligent watch on your GPS lest you meander across No Man’s Land and wind up drifting into a still-closed season on the Mass side). By month’s end, it will be everywhere, and I’ll want a do-over.