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FLUKE, THE OPPORTUNISTS!

From squid to snapper blues to grass shrimp, fluke feast on anything that swims. Take advantage of local food sources to deck more doormats.
By Capt. Scott Newhall
Tags: inshore

Upon landing a summer flounder, have you ever been white-washed with regurgitated grass shrimp that glued themselves to your body and boat? Have you ever been present when a doormat shook her head so wildly that the gunwales got completely painted with sand eels? Or have you ever witnessed a fluke cough up so many tiny crabs that you wondered if it was tautog that you were bringing into the vessel?

Most fishermen who have wet a line in pursuit of fluke have encountered the feisty flatfish choking up these half-digested specimens and many others. Flounder consistently gorge themselves on small crabs, spearing, mantis shrimp, grass shrimp, squid, sand eels, shellfish, peanut bunker and baby gamefish. They lie motionless except for those two eyes that continuously rotate, scanning for prey to mistakenly enter their territory.

THE VIEW WITHIN
Fluke are both patient and stealthy as they wait for food to meander into their strike zone, rather than swimming and hunting like many other species of fish. Then, in the blink of an eye, it's over and the helpless bait is swallowed before it even knew what happened.

But if a flounder's stomach contents consistently indicate they are feeding on all these different creatures, it is curious why anglers choose the variety of bait they attach to the hook. I have never seen crabs used as the bait on all of the fancy fluke rigs or beautifully-colored bucktails. Grass shrimp are most often used for weakfish, or even winter flounder, but sparingly as the primary bait for fluke.

"Match the hatch" is a phrase that originated with freshwater trout fishermen, in which anglers tie and utilize flies that "match" the bugs the fish are currently eating. This successful theory, used for many other species, spawns hundreds of new lures each season that aim to imitate the natural food of trophy fish in both fresh and saltwater. With flounder, however, it is unnecessary to either duplicate the exact forage the flatfish are feeding upon or mimic that forage with a similar-looking artificial.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

"In some of the most favored channels of the estuary system, fluke feed heavily on tiny mussels and hurl them up by the dozens when landed."
Flounder after flounder launch mussels into the boat to the point where walking over the gel coat sounds more like walking on Rice Krispies as the shells explode on the floor when crushed. The tiny bivalves make up a substantial part of the flatties' diet when they inhabit waters that hold a plethora of this food source.

So why then are minnows (mummichogs) the most popular backwater bait for targeting flounder even though the fish are eating what we wouldn't even consider placing on the hook?

The mussels fluke prefer are smaller than a fingernail and exist by the thousands on the sandy bottom, where they have no defense as they trek along at a snail's pace. Juvenile mussels creep by using the cup at the tip of the foot as a sucker and by forming a path of threads along the substratum. It is later in their development that they become sedentary and somewhat less available to flounder by nature of where they locate themselves.

But when the young-of-the-year mussels infiltrate the waterways, fluke don't even have to move out of their position to strike, and instead allow them to move in front of their nose. Then the flounder can quickly inhale them, undulate several times to send them down the digestive tract and wait for the next unwary morsel. It's easy pickings and the fluke doesn't need to expend energy to put together a meal over the course of a day.


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