Long Island, New York Scuba Diving

Our Long Island Scuba diving adventures and events

Friday, March 11, 2005

Flatliners, Killer Fluke In The Sand

I wrote this article some time ago but I thought I would republish it to the blog and give more folks a chance to read it.

A large spider crab raises the alarm and takes an alien stance and lifts his nippers to catch me as I drift slowly overhead. I'm only 15ft deep and I am in a soft current that is pushing me gently as I patrol the sandy south shore bottom where it meets the debris field of a jetty. The usual suspects are there. Rock crabs, green crabs, small blackfish are in plain view as a school of shiners shimmers close by. But, the prey I am looking for I will never see. I will never see him completely that is until he is on my spear. His camo is better than any fish in the north east. His stealth and patience is beyond compare and his speed is as good as any rocket off the launch pad. I am talking about the Fluke.
Also known as the summer flounder the fluke offers some great challenge to the North East spearfisherman. You might think it's a simple process to stick a spear through a relatively stationary fish that is laying on the bottom but that's only part of it. First you have to find them and then you have to see them before they see you. Most beginning divers never see a large fluke but they do get quite a few glimpses of clouds of sand that seems to have just erupted off the bottom like a small stick of dynamite just went off. If you have seen these sand clouds there is a pretty good chance you just encountered a fluke. Fluke are very wary and it takes some skill to come up on them.
Fluke, by nature are super ambush predators. They use their super camo and stealth to suprise passing fish. Usually buried in the sand with only their eyeballs visible. The fluke will lie patiently on the bottom in an opportune environment and explode off the bottom and capture it's unsuspecting prey in it's large jaws filled with backward pointing dagger like teeth. In order to appreciate the magnitude of their hunting ferocity you need to scale it down. Suppose you were diving along that same jetty I described earlier. It's a beautiful day and you can see clearly in all directions and there are no worries. However, on the bottom there is something strange. There it is again it's tiny and it just moved. Just as you begin to focus on what you are seeing as a tiny eyeball, the full mass of a 50ft long animal weighing many tons erupts out of the sand and you are already caught, sheared and held fast unable even to struggle. It's a pretty terrifying scenario and I have often tried pitching the folks in Hollywood about using a flatfish as the next big screen super villain. Maybe starring Richard Dreyfus as a scientist who discovers a mutant flatty off the beaches of Fire island. I don't know why but they don't return my calls anymore. However, you can see how such a predator can also use those skills to elude you as a spearfisherman.
The first step towards a successful Fluke hunt is to find them. Most folks think that Fluke are found exclusively along large stretches sandy bottom. This is not even remotely true. While Fluke prefer to bury themselves in sand they are just as happy to cover up with mussel and shell debris, lay under sea lettuce or dig in amongst the pebbles. Also, fluke love structure and you will always find them around it if conditions are right. What they like most though, is a change in bottom type. They love to setup their ambushes in the transition areas along the bottom. For example, If you are on a sandy bottom and the sand meets a pebble bottom or a rocky outcrop you will want to follow that transition line and you will invariably find fluke. Like wise it could be a mussle bed that meets mud or a wooden dock that meets pebbles or a lettuce field that meets rock. Almost any combo you can think of. Why are they there? There are a couple of reasons. First, those transition areas are great places to hide and break up your background. Second, little fishies also use these transition areas to keep a low profile. When you realize these transition areas have both cover and food it makes a lot of sense why a super ambush predator would want to be there.
Ok, now we know where to find them. The next challenge is seeing them. When hunting most species it's a relatively simple task to see a fish, the whole fish and nothing but the fish. However, it is highly unlikely you will see a whole fluke while you are cruising along the bottom. What you will be looking for is parts of a fish. Because they are buried most of the time you will be booking for two eyeballs, a faint outline in the sand or a protruding tail which they have trouble covering. It takes some practice but once you finally spot one or two suddenly you can see even the best hidden fluke.
The best way to hunt them is to keep yourself at leat 4ft off the bottom. This will give you a better view of the bottom and enough room to maneuver your gun to fire on one of those flatties. And you will want to shoot them in the head to avoid damaging any of that delicious meat. If you see one and you are not in a good position to shoot be careful not to look directly at him as you get into position. If you don't look at him the fluke will still think his camo is working and stay put.
When you finally shoot one be careful. Even with a head shot they can take of fast and crazy. The fish itself is not dangerous but they are incredibly strong and they can whip the spear shaft back and forth violently and I can tell you I have been whacked in the face a few times. Remember to stay relaxed. When you can, grab the one end of the shaft and thrust the point, fish and all into the sand and hold it there. Fluke are great at tearing themselves off spearpoints and because they are against the bottom the spear does not always go through. This will give you some time to gain control and get yourself ready to get the fluke on your stringer. I recommend a stringer over a bag because fish can't escape the stringer. String the fluke through the gills and out the mouth and then close the stringer. Once that is done you can take the spear shaft out of him. Always string your fish before you take the shaft out. It usually takes the loss of one fish to learn this lesson.
I love spearfishing for fluke, I hope you enjoy it as well.
Happy Hunting


  • At 2:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Great Story


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