Finding Fluke: Think Like A Predator - The Fisherman

Finding Fluke: Think Like A Predator

author
The author hoists a big fluke caught in a spot where not another boat could be seen.

Think like a fluke to beat the fleet and hookup where no one else is fishing.

I’m not here to tell you what the hot color of Gulp will be this year or about some secret fluke rig that the commercial fleet uses. Rather, I hope to convey a mindset that allows you, as the angler, to think for yourself. A way to think about structure and how fluke relate to that structure in a logical and calculated fashion. Ultimately, a way to get away from the fleet and find your own spots with the help of that chartplotter sitting right there on your console.

To understand where my fluke fishing methodology comes from, I’d like for you to know a little about my background as a surfcaster. Surfcasting took a hold of my life in my late teens and consumed me. Every thought I had was about surfcasting for striped bass and being around the ocean. As I progressed in surfcasting, I tried to get away from the obvious spots and the crowds that frequented them. Sometimes that meant fishing a spot at what other anglers might deem the “wrong” tide. Sometimes that meant exploring potential spots far from common access points.  Other times that meant fishing a spot for no other reason than having an intuition. More often than not, these endeavors to get away from the crowds yielded failure or little success. However, every so often, my persistence would reward me with success.

From there, I would start to dissect the spot and ask myself the obvious questions.  Why are those fish here? Was it bait? Was it the moon? Was it time of year? Was it the structure? Can I find another spot that sets up in a similar manner and duplicate my success there? My thirst for success came with frequent failure and more importantly the ability to analyze and learn from that failure. Gone are my days of pulling the night shift and casting from dusk through dawn for stripers. Those long nights have been traded for a wife, a boat and early morning tides in search of big fluke. Despite bidding farewell to surfcasting, I continue to apply the same logic to fluke fishing with fantastic results; fishing spots others don’t.

short-drift
Making short drifts over transition zones will yield more hookups and bigger fish.

Where To Start?

It’s a big ocean, where to start? Keep your eyes on your electronics and not where the “fleet” is. Study your chartplotter and you’ll be able to break away from the pack! Fluke, being a bottom dwelling fish, can be found in a plethora of different bottom contours and structures. Sand waves, cobbles, flats, boulder fields, and reefs, just to name a few, will all hold fluke. Just like stripers, fluke are ambush predators. They will position themselves in a spot that is efficient in terms of the amount of energy needed to be expended in order to eat. Simply put, the fluke is looking for a spot where bait is most likely to drift by which translates to an easy meal. I refer to these high percentage spots as transition areas.

Transition areas are the underwater highways of the ocean that funnel and concentrate the travel of marine life. The first type of transition area I will refer to as bottom contour changes. Such as ledges, deep bowls, and humps. Bottom contour changes are quite easy to identify on your chart plotter. The second type of transition area, bottom composition changes, aren’t quite as easy to identify. Understanding this transition type is absolutely key as this will open up an abundance of spots most would overlook.

Before breaking down transition areas, let’s briefly touch on bottom types. After all, fluke live solely on the bottom. Understanding these different bottom types is key to understanding transition areas in general. Often, I see anglers only associating fluke with sandy bottom. This couldn’t be further from the truth and quite frankly sand would be my least preferred bottom type. Fluke, particularly larger fluke, love to hang around rocky bottoms because they offer more in terms of food and cover or protection.

Here is an experiment for you – grab a mask and snorkel and take a swim over a sandy bottom at your local beach. You’ll notice some sporadic fish and bait, but by and large the fish you will see are widespread and random. Now take a swim over a small boulder field, you’re going to notice more fish, more bait and that the fish are relating to the structure in a predictable fashion unlike over the sandy bottom. Now, apply this concept to your fluking grounds. Particularly, pay attention to your chart plotter and how it describes the bottom. Rocky bottoms will often be labeled “RKY”, sandy bottoms labeled “SAND” and boulders will be labeled “BLDRS” (we’ll come back to this later).

Another advantage of a rocky bottom is the fact that trawlers and commercial boats generally will avoid these areas as rocks can damage their gear. Conversely a sandy area would be a trawler’s preferred fishing grounds as the sand is not likely to damage or snag their gear. Not only do the rocky bottoms dissuade the commercial fleet, they certainly seem to dissuade a lot of the recreational fleet too. For the simple fact that fishing a rocky bottom requires more concentration and will result in frequent snags and lost fluke rigs. Trust me, sacrificing a few bucktails per trip is worth it!

sidescan
Today’s technology reveals so much about what’s hidden under the water. Here we see a boulder field with a defined transition to a tract of sand—classic hunting grounds for fluke.

Contours & Humps

First, let’s tackle bottom contour transition areas. Targeting fluke around these contour changes is far from groundbreaking, but it’s certainly worth a discussion. Contour changes would be defined as an area along the bottom where the depth changes rapidly or in an irregular way. Here are a few classic contour change examples that attract fluke. Where a shallow area drops off to a deeper area in a very short distance. This creates a “cliff like” feature underwater that is referred to as a ledge. Humps are quite synonymous with fluking and for good reason. A hump is an area that protrudes upwards from a relatively flat bottom which creates an underwater hill. The opposite or the inverse of a hump would be a bowl. This would be an area within a relatively flat bottom that protrudes downward to create a bowl-like shape along the bottom. The last major type of contour change is a trough or a channel. Think about this as an underwater valley, these are often the result of ancient river beds.

Each one of these contour transition areas can hold fluke and more importantly can hold fluke on any part of the contour change. Let’s use a hump as a hypothetical spot. A quick side note – when targeting fluke over contour changes it is imperative to constantly watch your depth and raise and lower your offering accordingly to keep it close to the bottom. Since a hump is a 360-degree feature, it will fish almost identically no matter which direction the drift is running, making this an easy contour to learn on.

I like to start my first drifts well before the hump, generally in the flatter deeper water leading up to it; I call these prospecting drifts. These drifts tend to be longer because I’m attempting to identify a pattern. My results suggest that larger fluke prefer the safety of deeper water, so I start deep and drift up the slope of the feature—raising my offering accordingly. Just as I prefer to start well ahead of the feature, I also like to drift well past them. When you reach the apex of the hump, continue to drift and lower you rig until you’ve moved off the feature completely. Throughout your prospecting drifts, you should be marking the spots where you had hits or hooked up on your chartplotter. After a few drifts you may begin to see a pattern emerge.

Generally, if my first few drifts were over this hump early in the morning, I’d expect most of the fish to be caught at the precipice of the hump. Conversely, if I was fishing this spot later in the day, I’d expect the hits to come on the deeper flats or right on the beginning of the hump. After a few prospecting drifts, I would pay attention to where the majority of the marks were clustered. I would then make shorter, more precise drifts, over these areas. This type of strategy for systematically breaking down a spot can be applied over all of the other bottom contour transition types. This method is far more effective than paying attention to where the “fleet” is or chasing the party boats.

fluke
If you put in some time to find these ‘off the beaten path’ spots, you’ll find that every fish you pull over the rail comes with a little extra dose of satisfaction.

Crunching Composition

Now, let’s dive into one of my favorites that doesn’t get near the discussion it should: transitions of bottom composition. Simply put, where one bottom type transitions to another bottom type. Such as a sandy bottom turning into cobbles or a boulder field turning giving way to mud.

Let’s use an above water example of a transition area to better demonstrate the concept – where a forest meets a wide open field. You will often see animals, such as deer and turkeys, traveling this transition line. These animals feel safe as they feed in the field because they can jump right back into the safety of the forest if danger is spotted. A predator, such as a coyote, will take advantage of these transition areas because his prey is likely to congregate there and it provides him adequate cover for ambush. Take this logic and apply it to the transition of where a rocky bottom meets a sandy bottom. As baitfish meander along the bottom of the ocean, they are likely to follow these transition lines for food and safety, no different than deer and turkeys. A perfect spot for a fluke to remain hidden and safe as he waits for unsuspecting prey to pass by.

So, how do you find these transitions? They can be difficult to identify compared to a bottom contour change which is far more obvious. Again, your chartplotter will be your best friend in finding them. As previously noted, try to identify different bottom types on your navigation charts. This will give you a starting point. From here, I recommend drifting over these areas while using a side-vu or a down-view type of sonar as this will give better definition of the bottom makeup than traditional sonar.

Apply the same prospect drift methodology to dissecting these spots. Pay attention to what you’re seeing on your screen and correlate that to what you’re feeling as you bounce your rig along the bottom. Bouncing your rig along rocks, will feel much different than sand. When you notice a transition area, drop a waypoint. As you mark these transition areas, you’ll often notice a change in bottom will often result in a bite. After several prospecting drifts, you should be able to dial in the spot and begin making those more precise drifts over your newfound transition area. Once you begin to grasp where the actual transition is occurring, try to time a tide or a wind to direct your drift parallel to that transition line. Doing so will help you keep your offering in the strike zone longer which will translate to more bites.

Once you have a handle on these transition areas – contour changes and composition changes – you’ll notice that they often occur within close proximity to each other. Where a sandy flat meets a rocky hump, or a sand channel that runs through a boulder field. Pay attention to the details and you’ll find success.

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