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TOURNEY WINNING FLUKE - TEN POUNDS OR BUST

Broadening your repertoire puts more keepers in the cooler and might even help you hook a tourney winner.
By Zach Harvey
Tags: inshore

A problem I see in fluke fishing is that its practitioners get overly specialized. They fall into the hot-bait or hot-rig traps, and thus eliminate their chances of catching good slabs in the majority of fluke situations. Fluke eat lots of different things, dwell in a wide array of bottom types, and generally resist being patterned. No one rig or approach smokes ‘em everyday. I know bucktail specialists, deep-water fanatics, live-mummy junkies, and spinner freaks. The best flukemen I know, several of whom are women, resist the ease of marrying one overall method. In the course of one season, they catch more and bigger fluke than all the specialists I know combined.

This article is not meant to be critical of any single methodology, but rather a case for cultivating a much broader repertoire, hopefully answering the regulatory call for huge keepers, expanding your notion of what appropriate fluke bottom looks like, and opening your eyes to just a few of the hundred ways you might stick a 10 this season.

I’ve caught 8-plus-pound fluke in every 10-foot block of water depth from 2 to well over 100 feet. I’ve caught them on bucktail jigs, teaser rigs, two-hook rigs, bare, no-frills leaders, tiny hooks, huge hooks, cod rigs and swimming plugs over every single conceivable kind of sea bed from bedrock to eel grass to benthic ooze. As the already staggering and governmentally unrecognized biomass of slabs grows and expands its range, new possibilities are opening up every season. Obviously, you needn’t be intimate with every method, but if you aim to limit out more often than not, you’ll need more than two compartments in your bag of tricks.

CAST AND RETRIEVE
Get away from thinking your fluke rig needs to be freespooled to bottom straight down, or that when the drift isn’t happening, you’re headed for skunksville. Fluke are notorious bait chasers, and - particularly when the drift dies - suckers for a fast-moving target near the bottom. Rather than drifting easy bottom, consider actually anchoring up right on top of one of your pet wrecks or rockpiles - a spot where drifting would empty your tackle bag in two ill-fated drifts - and fan cast with bucktails. This lets you cover the turf from lots of different angles. Fluke love wrecks and boulder heaps, bottom features that usually hold gaggles of juvenile cunners and pin scup - “ambient” baits that account for a large chunk of a doormat’s summer diet once squid have spawned and scattered.

BAIT IN THE SHALLOWS

The classic spearing-over-squid or spearing-over-fluke-belly is legendary, but it’s also a rat magnet.
Somewhere along the line, maybe 10 years ago, fluke fans decided big fluke lived on deep, broken, tide-swept bottom almost exclusively, and writers like me beat the drum of big bait, deep-water, gnarly-bottom big fluke. It’s true that there are doormats in the deep, but equally true that you can hone jumbos in 5 to 10 feet of water without culling through triple-digit throwbacks. The X-Factor is live fish bait. If you look at the prevailing summer and early-fall forage (peanut bunker, silversides, herring spawn, bay anchovies, etc.), you’ll note there’s lots of the stuff in 3 to 15 feet of water. Especially when you’re marking huge clouds of mini-bait tight to the beach, consider logging a few pre-trip hours behind a Sabiki rig or cast net and rounding up a well full of small livies. That doesn’t mean mummies or other brackish baits, unless you’re working salt ponds or other brackish areas where mummies actually top the menu. It means little tinker mackerel, jumbo spearing, snapper blues, bar jacks, small bunker or bergalls. These are the baits that fluke are actually eating in nature. Tackle shops push mummies and killies because they’re the only live fish baits that work from a logistical standpoint.

For rigs, all your considerations should center around the bait’s ability to swim. In short, at least until your livies die in the well, forget spinners, circle hooks, teasers and jigs. Think instead about the lightest (weight-wise), thinnest-wire hooks you can buy, even if they’re small by fluke standards. Think 3-foot, 20-pound test fluorocarbon leaders ending in a barrel swivel, above which sits an egg sinker that is just heavy enough, or fishfinder sleeve. Think about a bait that can move around naturally, unfettered by clunky hook, free to pull line, not lashed to a fixed 6-ounce bank sinker; think lightning-fast strike; think quick reaction; think about getting cleaned out many times until you get used to the hair-trigger nature of the doormat bite on a live fish bait. Doormats take tinker mackerel the way a roofing hammer drives a nail.

The other advantage to playing shallow is that you won’t have to contend with the current astounding biomass of spiny dogfish. When your deep-water specialist counterparts are singing the Gray One Blues, you’ll be taking a nice share of 24- to 28-inchers, slabs that need no yardstick en route to the slush cooler.


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