Focusing on prime bottom will yield more keepers on every trip!
Fluke fishing has certainly changed a lot in my lifetime. Growing up in in southern New England, I remember the days of the 21-inch size limit and all the stories from frustrated family members about how much better it was when the limit was 16 inches. They made it sound like the fluke were everywhere in those days and in big numbers.
These days we have to work a little harder to find those keeper fish, but I don’t mind doing the extra work. Through a lot of trial and error, I have keyed in on a few factors that can really help you put more keepers in the box.
No More Sandwiches
The first change that really seemed to make a difference in my fluking was to pay closer attention to my bait. I have spent a lot of time fluking, starting when I was a young child with my grandparents and then working on a charter boat when I was a teenager. Fluke fishing was always the same; make long, aimless drifts with a three-way rig baited with the classic fluke sandwich (a baitfish sandwiched between two pieces of squid, fluke belly or bluefish belly). This offering is famous for a reason, it catches a lot of fluke, but it also catches lots of small sea bass, short fluke, sea robins and even porgies. I truly believe fishing bucktail jigs makes for a far better, and more focused, presentation.
I learned a lot from watching John Skinner’s underwater fluke videos and seeing how these fish reacted to different offerings. Any time you can learn about fish behavior, you’re making yourself a better angler – no matter if you’re chasing fluke, porgies, tuna or sharks, understanding their behavior means you’ve already won more than half the battle.
If you look at a fluke, their markings, the way they can change color, the fact that they lay on bottom like they do…these fish are ambush predators that lie in wait and then strike with those big, toothy jaws when a baitfish gets too close. The incorrect assumption that most fluke fishermen make is that this is how fluke always feed. My eyes were opened when I caught some fluke on umbrella rigs and then I caught a few more while casting plugs for bass and bluefish. I began to realize that fluke can be very aggressive, will make runs up into the water column to attack prey and are most certainly not that patient ambush predator that just lays camouflaged on the bottom waiting for a meal to come to them.
The next adjustment that came from these experiences was upsizing my offerings. No more fluke sandwiches for me, I settled on the bucktail – bigger bucktails – in the 2- to 6-ounce range, depending on water depth and drift. I wanted my offering to look even bigger so I started using the Gulp grubs in both the 4- and 6-inch sizes. But I didn’t completely abandon the classic sandwich mentality, I will often add a strip of fish belly to beef things up even further and if I had my way, that strip would always be bluefish belly. With this combo of a strip bait for the smell and taste the Gulp grub tail for the color and action then the jig to put it all together, you have an effective compact presentation that you can impart a lot of action to that definitely puts a lot of fish on the deck.
The final piece of the puzzle for me has been concentrated drifts—I’m not making those long, aimless drifts any more. Finding bigger fluke is all about location, I target changes in bottom contour. This means poring over charts and paying close attention to your electronics. I mostly focus on three specific types of areas; steep contour lines, changes in bottom composition like the edges of boulder-strewn bottom and underwater points. These areas hold lots of baitfish, provide ample ambush opportunities and my results indicate that keeper and doormat fluke love them.
This year in particular I spent a lot of my time in deeper water for these fish, fishing edges in depths ranging from 50 feet on the shallow end down to as much as 100 feet on the deeper end. I typically go in with an area in mind that I plan to hit – some piece of bottom that I like the look of, or that has produced well for me in the past – and I make short, concentrated drifts over that small stretch of prime bottom. This means that I spend a lot more time fishing the best spot in the area instead of making long passes over a wider area and hoping to land on a keeper. I try out new spots all the time too and when I land a good fish, I mark that location on my electronics, odds are there more with that fish or it’s a desirable location for these predators to be in. Over time, marking all these locations will add up to a lot of spots that you can fish with confidence.
Nuts & Bolts
I do most of my fishing with a one of the low profile Penn Squall conventional reels in the 300 size, I pair that with a 6-foot, heavy action Tsunami Slim Wave rod. I like to use very thin braid when I’m fluking, it reduces drag and helps me keep the jig under my rod tip. My go to braid has been 10- or 15-pound test PowerPro Super Slick V2, it’s thin, tough and it treats me well.
I can’t stress enough the importance of having a large and diverse repertoire of styles and sizes of jigs and grub tails. I really like the Prime Bucktails from Spro because the hooks are very sharp and the line-ties are clean. I also like S&S Bucktails for their top notch craftsmanship and the quality of their hooks. If I had to pick three favorite colors it would be white, chartreuse and bright pink, but I carry many colors because sometimes they really will key in on something specific.
If you’re looking to find ways to put a few more keeper fluke in the boat before the end of the summer, take my advice. Fish tighter spots, fish bigger baits and try every location that catches your eye. It won’t take long before you start catching more keepers (and fewer shorts), it’s a game plan that really works.