Thursday, June 15, 2017


Fluke season here on Long Island started out slowly.

There have been pockets of fish here and there, and a few spurts of action, but by and large fishing has not been good.  

Nor’, a popular website that posts fishing reports from all over the region gives a pretty accurate portrayal of what’s going on.  Reports from the Fire Island Inlet area, where I fish, say things such as

A party boat angler reported that

Another private boat angler reported

 while one more complained that he

Anglers from other parts of the South Shore of Long Island have issued similar laments.  But what I found interesting is that when a fisherman out of Jones Inlet, perhaps a dozen miles west of me, complained that

“Seems like there are no fish around at all,”
another angler responded by saying that

“I agree i fish Jamaica bay & outside every week , endless amount of fuel & bait 4 trips 0 keepers!  I think the fluke will not come in this year & the regs aren’t helping.  [emphasis added, typos present in original]”
It’s pretty clear that fishing for fluke, more properly called summer flounder, is much worse than normal this season, although a significant proportion of the fish that have been caught have been large, including a seven-pounder taken on a Captree party boat and a nine-pounder caught by a private boat in Jamaica Bay.

But judging from that last quoted reply, it’s pretty clear that some anglers still don’t understand why fluke fishing is so poor.  The comment that “I think the fluke will not come in this year” suggests that there still is a good body of fish out there somewhere, while “& the regs aren’t helping” sounds as if the angler believes that he should be able to harvest smaller fish.

But if we look at the science, both of those suppositions are clearly wrong, and that the folks who perpetuate the myth that the stock is healthy, and that the rules are too strict, are doing real harm.

The last update to the summer flounder stock assessment, which was used in setting this year’s regulations, was released nearly a year ago.  It found that

“[Spawning Stock Biomass] was estimated to be 36,240 [metric tons] in 2015, 58% of the [biomass target that would produce maximum sustainable yield] and 16% above the [threshold for an overfished stock]…The average recruitment from 1982 to 2015 is 41 million fish at age 0.  Recruitment has been below average since 2010, ranging from 21 million to 36 million and averaging 26 million fish.”
Based on that finding, fluke fishing shouldn’t be very good right now.  Anglers shouldn't be seeing many few fish, with the usual horde of shorts missing because of the below-average spawning success that has been consistent since 2010.

And that’s exactly what is going on. 

The Laura Lee Fleet, based right inside Fire Island Inlet at Captree State Park, provides comprehensive reports of its customers’ catches, right down to the sea robins and dogfish (a/k/a “cape sharks”).  When we look at such recent reports, we see

“Wednesday 6/14/16 [sic].  Today’s 7 AM trip had 23 fishermen they caught 109 fluke, and 5 sea robins.  Today’s 8 AM trip had 17 fishermen they caught 50 fluke and 10 sea robins.  Today’s 1 PM trip had 29 fishermen they caught 25 fluke, 3 sea robins and 1 cape shark…
“Tuesday 6/13/17.  Today’s 7 AM trip had 14 fishermen they caught 74 fluke, 12 sea bass, and 5 cape shark.  Today’s 8 AM trip had 13 fishermen and they caught 75 fluke, 3 sea robins, and 12 cape shark.  Today’s 1 PM trip had 17 fishermen they caught 47 fluke, 5 sea robins, and 7 cape shark…
“Monday 6/12/17.  Today’s 7 AM trip had 20 fishermen and they caught 51 fluke, 10 sea bass, 9 skates, 8 cape shark, and 3 sea robins.  Today’s 1 PM trip had 27 fishermen they caught 62 fluke, 3 sea robins and 9 cape shark…”
Thus, over the course of 8 boat trips, spread out over 3 days, 160 anglers caught a total of 483 fluke, that breaks down to just 3 fluke--including undersized fluke that must be thrown back--per person.  The fact that a 3.48-pound fish, caught on June 2, was given special mention would support an assumption that most of the fluke caught have been small.

The reports for those three days were typical of reports for the entire season.  The only notable exceptions were mentions of a three larger fluke, a 6.7-pound fish caught on May 31, a 6.24-pound fish on May 28 and an 8-pounder landed on May 17, when the season opened.

Those are the sort of reports you’d expect to see from a population that has declined to just 58% of the target level, has experienced poor recruitment for the past 6 years, but still includes some larger fish from years prior to 2010, when recruitment was still good.

We need to be honest here.  

In a typical season, you can catch three fluke, including shorts, over the course of a half-hour—sometimes in less than ten minutes—not over the entire course of a four-hour trip.

So folks who just assume that the fish are elsewhere, and “will not come in this year” are pretty clearly deluding themselves.  As of the last assessment update, we’re looking at a population that is still headed downhill.

It’s time for all of us—anglers, for-hire operators, tackle dealers and, most of all, those who write in the magazines and purport to speak for the angling community—to admit that the last stock assessment update is in perfect accord with what we’re seeing on the water:  Not many legal fish, relatively few shorts and a handful of big holdovers from 8 or 10 years ago.

The science isn’t bad.  It’s right on target.

Unless we start following that science, and stop rebelling against it, the current bad fluke fishing will soon get a lot worse.

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