Craig Poosikian selling his fluke catch to Red’s Best. Kirsten Friedrich photo.
By Doreen Leggett
Craig Poosikian was a summer kid from New Jersey fishing in Harwich when he caught the fish that got him hooked.
“I caught my first fluke when I was 11. They are the most awesome fish in the ocean. The lowly fluke – just awesome,” he said.
He caught the bottom-dwelling summer flounder, as it is also called, with a popper that floats on the surface. He was curious about the flat, toothy fish and talked to one of his older fishermen friends about how he caught it.
“He told me it was a fluke,” Poosikian said, laughing at the play on words.
The old salt instructed the young Poosikian on how to catch the great-tasting fish, leading to dozens snagged.
“I was the fluke king of the jetty.”
Soon after, a weir fisherman invited him out fishing, with his parents’ permission. Poosikian remembers there was a whole series of cleats along the boat and each was set up with lines that had a bucktail jig at the bottom and three hooks above. The bucktail was for the fluke and then the hooks were baited with squid. Four fish per line – fluke on the bottom, three scup on the squid.
“He paid me 10 bucks for the day. My first commercial venture.”
Poosikian’s life has gone in many directions, but commercial fishing, and fluke, have always been part of it.
In close to 40 years he has seen the population go up and down, now a resurgence.
“Fish go in cycles for sure,” Poosikian said. “If I knew how to predict it I’d be a billionaire.”
The return of summer flounder seems apparent for rod and reel fishermen and for offshore draggers.
“Offshore it’s f&cking gangbusters,” he said.
Last summer, he ran into Ray Kane, the outreach coordinator at the Fishermen’s Alliance who serves on the state’s Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee, which makes recommendations to the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries.
Poosikian asked Kane to see about recommending an increase in the quota, since the fish were so abundant. He was thrilled to see the trip limit go up from 200 to 250 shortly after.
“I respect Craig,” Kane said. “He’s salty.”
Kane said fisheries staff have been discussing the best way to encourage commercial fishermen to catch flounder, now that Massachusetts’ allocation – set by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission – has increased. Poosikian is worried about recreational fishermen who find out where the fish are by hiring a charter, then head out on their own. Fluke aren’t easy to catch, you have to know where they are because they hide in the sand, unlike schooling fish that can be detected with machines.
Recreational fishermen are only catching the big fish, Poosikian says, the breeders, “because it looks great in a photo,” he said. “This is what is happening and it is effecting everyone.”
Now that the population is rebuilding, and the commercial fishery is returning, he wants to make sure the fluke are protected.
Fluke are caught by both rod and reel and small boat draggers, but over the years more and more fishermen have left the fishery. No more permits are being sold and buying one from a retiring fishermen at $35,000 is generally not feasible for a young fisherman starting out.
With recent studies showing a growing biomass, the state is expected to hold public hearings in March.
Poosikian sees the evidence of those encouraging stock assessments first- hand.
“Last year I was standing on shore crushing them; I am not telling you where,” Poosikian said laughing.
Usually, he fishes for them offshore. This past year, he says, they have been everywhere, and backs up that assessment with an anecdote: Usually he fishes four rods and has an additional one that he puts out when he is taking a fish off the line. Most of the time he has at least two rods in the water. Not last year.
“There were points I had no rods in the water,” he said.
The abundance is reminiscent of when he was spending summers on the Cape. After he graduated from high school his mom decided she was going to sell the house and move to the Cape. So he went with her to Brewster and took various jobs during the day and fished when he could.
In 1983 he got a commercial fluke permit, spent his days working on land, weekends and nights fishing.
“I would go striper fishing at night and sell the fish at Captain Elmer’s (an Orleans fish market) in the morning,” he said.
And there were plenty of fluke.
“Thirty years ago Ptown was loaded, Truro was loaded,” he said.
He expanded his fishing circle and by 1985, working at Fib Fab Boat Repair in Orleans, helped build his own boat, named Mudshark.
Poosikian has always balanced fishing with a land job, including at a newspaper printery, 12 years as a land surveyor and today with carpentry and metal work. Poosikian says he loves fishing but hates boats, or better put working on boats in the open ocean.
“The water is only good for catching fish,” he smiled.
For about 10 summers he concentrated on fishing and shellfishing and sometime in the late 80s early 90s saw the fluke begin to disappear.
By 1992 and 1993 there was virtually no fish around and he would go to an “undisclosed location” and catch what he could. He had connected with an Asian buyer who would make the trip down and pay $10 a pound for live fish, good money. Poosikian would leave a message “and he would be waiting for us.”
Soon after the buyer disappeared and the fluke did too.
A lot of people got out of the fishery around that time, but Poosikian stayed, not because he could foretell the future; he just figured might as well. His state renewal notice came in the mail for shellfish, scup, sea bass, striped bass and fluke. He renewed them all, fluke was only another $10. Why not?
“I renewed. I was lucky. There was no forethought,” he said.
In 2005 or so he and Alex Carlson started taking trips looking for fluke and they’d manage to load a cooler with the daily limit.
The two met fishing for striped bass. Carlson had fished solo, but thought working with Poosikian might be a better move.
“Craig, being from New Jersey, knew how to vertically jig, which I didn’t know,” Carlson said.
The partnership grew into fishing for fluke.
“He picks up on little nuances that a lot of people wouldn’t to entice a strike,” said Carlson. “I certainly learned a lot from him.”
And it’s fun:
“We both have this little inner child that comes out. We are like 10-year-olds out there.”
Poosikian has cobbled together an eclectic life that for the last six years includes an oyster farm at Boat Meadow Aquaculture Development Area on Eastham’s Cape Cod Bay.
“Everyone loves those oysters. I hear that over and over,” said Poosikian, who named his business Big Hairy Guy Oyster Farm. “People say those are the best they have ever had.”
He won honors at local Slow Food events in recent years, including best overall and best looking.
Poosikian doesn’t eat any oysters, but he won’t turn down a meal of fluke.
“Fluke and sea bass are the tastiest fish,” he said.
Catching 80 pounds off the beach isn’t going to make him rich, but that isn’t the point.
“This is the fish I want to catch,” he said. “They are aggressive. They are a challenge. When you catch them it is like you have actually done something.”