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[Posted June 1, 1996]

Fluke On The Fly

Fred Kettenbeil's 15-pound 6-ounce Peconic Bay fluke was more than enough to get the ball rolling.

"Gotta go," Bob Wassuta at Wego Fishing in Southold said.
"Wednesday," Nor'east Saltwater advertising manager Phil Scocca replied.
"Me, too," Rich Johnson of The Fishing Line added.
"Gotta try the fly," I chimed in. "How deep, Bob?"
"Thirty to forty feet," he said. "Maybe fifty."

Uh-oh. Time to board the Deep Water Express.

I fine-tuned all three of 3M Scientific Anglers' Deep Water Express shooting heads in preparation.

A Line Profile Chart is included with each so that the lines may be trimmed to suit individual fly rods. Each of the lines' front and back tapers are weighted differently. Using the chart to do a quick calculation can speed the tuning process along.

I started with the lightest - the 550 grain head. I planned to use a Sage 1190-3 RPL-X and tune each for that rod. It's the only way to get the best balance between line and rod.

I installed a temporary braided monofilament loop on the Back Taper of the 550, using a drop of a super glue to hold the loop in place during the tests. 3M's Bruce Richardson advises uses nothing less than a 12- or 13-weight rod for the full 550 grain Express. Though my rod was rated at an 11-weight, it normally loads a 40-foot Intermediate shooting head of about 430 grains (13-weight), so I suspected it would have little problem handling the 550 as is, but I started with some gentle casting strokes, just in case. Too much of a line load can snap a fly rod, so go slow when you test these heavy lines.

Remember, you're not looking for distance. You're looking for depth. Don't power a cast as you normally would. Actually, you don't have to. You'll find that the weight of the shooting head will pull along a lot of shooting line behind it and an easy casting stroke can result in a 50- to 60-foot cast.

The rod handled the 550 Express nicely. A little slow, yes, but I was still lawn-casting to 60 feet. I decided not to trim this head. The 550 sinks at about 7.5 inches per second. If I trimmed it down to a more castable 450 grains, I would have lost some of that sink-rate.

On to the 700 grain Express.

I didn't trim this one just yet, either, but instead of trying to cast the full line, I let out about 10 feet at a time and gently lifted the rod in a wide arc from front to back. Surprisingly, the 11-weight handled the load. This was most likely due to the 3-piece construction which makes for a much heavier and stiffer butt section than you'll find on a comparable 2-piece rod. I found I could lob all 700 grains, but for safety's sake, I trimmed about 75 grains from the back taper.

The Front Tapers are lighter than the Back Tapers, so reversing the head would work to increase the load on the rod. (Mass x Velocity = etc., etc.) In fact, I tried reversing the 550 and found that it practically overwhelmed the rod, so for most fly rods, I recommend trimming from the back.

The 850 grain head would have to be trimmed significantly. I removed 100 grains before testing and I wound up with a 24.5-foot line. Does this defeat the purpose of the 850 Express? Not really, because I've compressed that 725 to 750 grains into a short package that will sink more rapidly in a current.

I decided the heaviest head would be a "last resort." My fly rod would have to contend with the line weight plus water drag and, with luck, a big summer flounder. It might be too much.

I met Bob, Phil, Rich and Don Zieran at Wego Fishing last Wednesday morning. We would be taking Don's 25-foot Taggy Too Columbia to drift the Green Lawns, just a short run from the dock.

Don set up the first drift and I held back in order to get an idea of what I would be up against. We started in about 30 feet of water, but soon the depth finder soared to 55 feet.

"Humps and troughs all along here," Bob explained. "The fluke are in the deeper water."

"We don't usually get fluke on the ledges," Don added.

Uh-oh again. The bait boys were using 5-ounce sinkers, bouncing their offerings within a foot or so of the bottom.

The best scenario for a fly rodder at the Lawns would be fluke sitting on top of the humps. Summer flounder aren't scavengers. They attack moving targets and I felt I could have been able to work a pattern at 30-feet, but a 50-foot dead drop was something else again.

Rips set up the best fluke situation for fly rodders. You can use a fast-sinking head and let the current do most of the work as it carries your pattern along in a thoroughly natural presentation.

For the next drift, I rigged my rod with the 550 head, a 3-foot 30-pound-test butt leader, a 1.5-foot 18-pound-test tippet and Glen Mikkleson's Acrylic Squid. There were no baitfish in the bay last week, but some squid were still around. I figured a squid pattern was my best shot.

The Deep Water Express lived up to its name. After a few casts, I found that the best method was to get the full head and about 20 feet of shooting line in the water on a cast, then feed out more line on the drift. The line quickly sank out of sight.

Knowing whether or not I was touching bottom proved to be the hardest part. The sinker-bouncers could feel bottom easily and their baits were automatically within a fluke's strike window when that lead hit bottom. I had to do a lot of guesswork, but a snagged spider crab told me I was in the right neighborhood. The 550 was doing its thing, down to at least 45 feet.

But my line was practically straight down in the water. There was little wind and both Bob and Don agreed that the ebb current wasn't setting up the way they hoped. To compensate, I tried some longer and more frequent casts up current of our drift, allowing the line to sink and swing around as I worked the pattern in short strips, trying to imitate a squid's movements.

On our fourth drift, the wind and current picked up. My line was now angling off the stern. To compensate, I fed out more until I had 75 to 80 feet in the water and Whack! Missed. Whack-whack!

We returned with fourteen fluke. Phil Scocca limited and Don Zieran had the biggest at 4.25 pounds. Jack Duerew picked up a 13-pound 10-ounce doormat next to us aboard the Peconic Star II and we watched Pat Peck reel in a 28.5-inch fluke. As for me, I missed that fluke and the current never set up quite the same way again for the rest of the day. Bob and Don said the fluke weren't all that aggressive. They were just "laying on the baits," and the lack of a good current might have been the cause.

Still, I learned a lot. The 550 Express can get down to fluke in 50 feet of water. You can make Mikkleson's Squid do life-like things in the water. A fly rodder needs more speed on a drift than a bait angler (a trolling motor might help) and you can catch deep-water fluke on a fly, if you're quick enough.

Wait 'til next time.

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