The waters of Greenport Harbor were roiled and stained following a steady morning rain. With the sun just breaking through, however, and the tide beginning to ebb, the prospect of an afternoon bite was steadily improving and my hopes were running high. Lowering a sea robin belly strip to the bottom, I tried to envision every rock, hard spot and bump transmitted through the line. The harder the bottom, the longer I allowed my bait to linger in place, before continuing to dance it along as the boat drifted parallel to the dock at S.T. Preston’s.
It didn’t take long to nail my first fish, a pleasant summer flattie that was just shy of the legal limit. Asecondfishmatchedthefirst.Thethird,however, had a real set of shoulders and left no doubt about wanting to stay on the bottom. After a spirited, straight up and down battle in 20 feet of water, the 7-pounder hit the deck. A beautiful fish with a light, mottled topside first spat out my hook, then coughed up three whole squid and a small baitfish. The May waters may have still been quite cool, but that hadn’t stopped this doormat from feeding with abandon.
BIG FLUKE RONDEVUES
To be sure, Long Islander anglers are blessed with excellent fluke fishing throughout the summer months – but they are especially fortunate when it comes to catching big fluke. The current International Game Fish Association all-tackle summer flounder record, a whopping 22-pound 7-ounce doormat, was caught off Montauk by Capt. Charlie Nappie back in 1975. Several line class record fluke have also been decked, and most seasons see several doormats topping the 12-pound mark placed on the scales. During the early part of the season running from opening day through the second week of June, the odds are some of the biggest fluke to be caught all year long will come from the waters of Greenport Harbor between its eastern breakwater and the mouth of Pipes Cove.
“We should have a pretty good start this year,” said Capt. Dave Brennen of the Greenport open boat Peconic Star (www.peconicstar.com; 631-875-2631). “The waters here should be warming up enough to make for a solid opener on May 17, although we’d always like to see things kick off a week or two sooner. We’ll start out fishing just 100 yards or so from the Greenport rail road dock, then spread out a bit over the next few weeks. For that whole first month, though, the best of the action with big fish tends to fall within sight of our dock.”
Indeed, this Greenport run is close to home and offers some really big fish – but it can be more hit and miss than runs at Montauk or in the ocean off Shinnecock, Fire Island and Jones inlets. You might, for example, nail a 6-and an 8-pound fish on the same trip, maybe even the same drift – or you may just pick a keeper or two to take home for some tasty fillets. The action varies greatly from day-to-day but at the peak of the run odds are good of at least drilling a mini-doormat in the 4- to 6-pound class.
While Greenport Harbor is the epicenter of the big fish action, this run actually spreads into all the area between Robins Island and Orient Point, including the “Greenlawns” section on the west side of Shelter Island and Bug Light to the east of Greenport Harbor. Most doormats here are taken in stiff currents over rough bottom in 15 to 100 feet of water, so bring along some heavy gear. You’ll need a stiff rod capable of handling 8- to 12-ounce weights and 20- to 30-pound test line. If fishing from a private boat, let the wind help determine where to start out with an east wind being good for the Greenlawns and a southerly breeze best for Greenport Harbor action.
PLENTY OF BAIT
“The big fluke are drawn to this location by an influx of bait,” explained Brennan. “Many anglers think that the biggest fluke all come here chasing the squid run, but there’s also plenty of baitfish in these waters during May, and we get the doormats whether the squid show or not.”
Brennan suggests anglers work traditional baits for the fluke on standard bottom rigs with 4/0 sproat style hooks, noting little difference in doormat catches between those who use whole squid or outlandishly large strip baits and those who bait up with a single pennant of squid and a spearing or smelt combo.
“The guys who catch – the ones that frequently win pools – they all have two things in common,” said Brennan, “They ask the mate what’s been working most recently and they leave their lightweight South Shore or Long Island Sound gear at home. If you want to score in the strong currents out here, you’ll need to work with stiff rods and 8 to 10 ounces of lead. We fish depths ranging from as shallow as 20 feet to over 120 feet.”
By comparison, Capt. Joe Paradiso of the Greenport charter boat Nautic Lady (Eastern L. I. Sportfishing Charters; www.captjoe19.com; 631- 786-8418) likes to entice doormats using a 6- to 8-ounce fluke ball.
“I don’t know that the size of the offering makes a really big difference,” explained Paradiso, “but you’ll need this much weight to hold bottom in these waters. Rather than simply using squid or standard strip baits, however, I try to offer something out of the ordinary. My favorite is a long strip of herring, which I catch and salt over the winter. Peanut bunker from last fall works pretty well, too. Usually, I’ll position my hook about 6 inches behind the fluke ball using a fluorocarbon leader. I also tie a teaser about a foot above the ball and tip that with a small peanut bunker or spearing.”
Big baits or small, traditional or unconventional, there’s two things you’ll know for sure about the Greenport run. First, you’ll be fishing just minutes after leaving the dock. Second, big fluke will certainly get a look at your baits. As always, however, it’s up to you to make them bite and get them to the surface.