With great expectations, 27 members of the Ward Melville High School fishing club sailed aboard the Port Jefferson open boat Celtic Quest last Sunday. Fresh off a pair of glorious porgy trips, their objective this time was to bucktail fluke. In preparation, many had tied teasers and bucktails during club meetings. Several had even built custom fluke poles under the volunteer tutelage of rod builders extraordinaire, Al Goldberg and Capt. Neil Faulkner.

"It's great to see so many young anglers today," said club adviser Bob Wilson, a history teacher at the school. "You can learn about fishing from meetings but there's no better classroom for fine-tuning skills than out here on the water.''

While the fishing in Smithtown Bay struggled getting started, most club members seemed undeterred.

"I've already learned that if I stay at the rail I'll eventually catch something,'' said Sean Walters, a junior, before connecting with several shorts plus a very respectable pair of keepers.

"I just want to catch a fish -- any fish!'' said Olivia Nelson, laughing. She and fellow senior-to-be Sabrina Cohn would soon deck a pleasant mix of robins and summer flatties.

It took the better part of the day, but as the students mastered a few tricks, the bite grew more aggressive. Offering a squid strip on the bucktail and spearing on the teaser helped some join the fun. Others discovered slowly lifting the rod to remove slack from the line was a prerequisite for solid hook sets. Extra credit fell to those sharing newfound knowledge and, by day's end, most club members clearly had beaten the learning curve.

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Heading home, Brendan Watkins, a junior, was all smiles while lifting a 22-inch pool winner for photos.

"That's what this is all about,'' said Wilson with satisfaction. "We simply want to introduce kids to this great pastime. As you can see from all these smiles, it matters little what's biting as long as a few rods keep bending throughout the day.''

Free fishing weekend

New York State DEC has designated Saturday and Sunday as a "Free Fishing Weekend'' in New York State. For these dates only, no license is required to fish in state waters. All other fishing rules and regulations spply.

Plenty of solid choices await anglers heading out this weekend. West End fluke to 8 pounds are chewing artificial Gulp! mullets near the Marine Parkway Bridge, while the ocean bite is solid on the McAllister Grounds in 65-foot depths. For thresher sharks to 320 pounds, chum west of the Rockaways in 60-foot depths.

Great South, Moriches and Shinnecock bays each have fluke and blues up close to the inlets, plus a smattering of weakfish to 8 pounds deeper inside the bays. Consider Ocean Beach or Point O' Woods best for the weaks. In ocean waters, RSA sea bass action continues strong while cow stripers are still stalking bunker between Jones and Debs inlets.

Out east, bluefish encircle Jessup's Neck, while Robins Island and Cherry Harbor sport jumbo porgies. For keeper fluke, use porgy strips at Montauk or Gardiners Island. Striper fishing is improving at both Orient and Montauk points.

North Shore anglers should try sand eel style soft plastics to entice keeper fluke from Smithtown Bay, buoy 9 off Wading River and Roanoke Point Shoal. Porgies are off all the prominent points in 30-foot depths.

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