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Growth and Spawning
Recreational and Commercial Importance
Angling Techniques

Common Names: Fluke, summer flounder

Scientific Name: Paralichthys dentatus

Range: Estuarine and coastal waters from Nova Scotia to Florida. Most abundant between Massachusetts and North Carolina.


Fluke are normally found in the nearshore coastal waters and bays where they are available to anglers in the warmer months of the year, thus their other common name of summer flounder. In the fall and winter they move offshore into depths of 100 to 500 feet of water. There is also a tendency for fish to return to more northern estuaries in successive years, resulting in a higher occurrence of larger, older fish in the more northern parts of its range.

Growth and Spawning

Fluke can grow to a length of more than 30 inches and weigh in excess of 20 pounds, although 1 to 3 pound fish are more typical with an 8 pounder being considered large. The New Jersey State Record was set in 1953 and weighed 19 pounds, 12 ounces. Juvenile fluke grow very fast and can reach a length of 9 to 12 inches during their first year. A 15 inch fluke is generally in its third year of life and will weigh between one and two pounds.

Most fluke are sexually mature in their third year and spawn in the fall or early winter while migrating offshore or on their wintering grounds. The number of eggs a female fluke has is directly proportioned to her size, with large fish being able to release as many as 4 million eggs in a single season. Larvae and post larvae drift and migrate inshore, entering coastal and estuarine nursery areas from October to May. When they first hatch from the egg, fluke larvae look just like any other fishes. Within a few days, however, the right eye starts to migrate over the top of the head. By the time it reaches its' inshore nursery area and settles to the bottom, both eyes are on the left hand side of the body and the little fish looks like a fluke. Fluke belong to a larger group of flat fishes called left eye flounders, whereas our winter flounder belongs to the right eye flounders, with both eyes on the right hand side of the fish.

Recreational and Commercial Importance

Fluke are highly prized food fish sought by both sport and commercial fishermen. They are typically one of the top three fish taken in the sport fishery each year. The New Jersey recreational harvest in 1997 was estimated to be in excess of 1.7 million fish. Under a coastwide management plan, recreational harvest is controlled by size and possession limits. By 2002, the minimum size limit was increased to 16.5 inches with a daily possession limit of eight fish per angler.

Fluke also represent one of the three or four most important finfish in New Jersey's commercial fishery, with a value of over two million dollars annually. The commercial fishery is also controlled by the coastwide management plan. Entry into the fishery is limited and vessels must abide by gear restrictions, a size limit and state landing quotas. The 1998 commercial quota for New Jersey was 1,858,363 pounds.

Angling Techniques

Fluke can be taken from May through October in most years. Because of their extensive distribution in the nearshore coastal waters and bays throughout New Jersey, they can be caught by private boat, party boat or while fishing from shore. A typical fishing outfit would include a five to six foot rod with either a conventional or spinning reel filled with 10 to 20 pound test line.

Summer flounder lie on the bottom, partly concealed with sand and partly by its coloration, which can be changed to blend in with the surrounding environment. When suitable prey appears, it rushes out and devours the victim. The best fishing strategy to take advantage of this "ambush" behavior is to fish very near the bottom with a moving bait.

Due to their large mouth and aggressive nature, large hooks (4/0 - 6/0) work well and reduce the chance that smaller, sub-legal fish may swallow the hook and be damaged or killed. A good rig would start with a three way swivel on the end of your line. A 10 to 12 inch leader should be attached from the swivel to a bucktail tipped with bait such as a strip of squid or clam. The third eye of the swivel should have a longer leader, approximately 2 feet in length, attached to an unweighted hook, possibly adorned with a feather or mylar streamer, and another bait. The second bait should be different from the first bait, possible a live killie.

If you notice one bait catching more fish than the other, then put the bait that is working best on both hooks. If you are drift-fishing or slow trolling from a boat, adjust the weight of the bucktail so that it Just touches bottom occasionally. If the bucktail is too heavy and drags along the bottom, it is more likely to get fouled with debris or be eaten by crabs. A surf caster may want to use a longer rod and heavier bucktail to allow longer casts, and to retrieve the rig slowly to cover ground where fluke may be lying in wait.

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Department of Environmental Protection
P. O. Box 402
Trenton, NJ 08625-0402

Last Updated: August 18, 2004