A few simple “hacks” to improve your cooler score this season.
What’s better than rhythmically bouncing a bucktail only to have it stop with a thud? A hookset later you feel that telltale headshake of a big fluke, the kind that shakes your arms as well as the rod tip.
Is there any better taste of summer than a fried flounder sandwich? White bread, a touch of tartar sauce, a few slices of garden fresh tomatoes, and a freshly bread crumb coated, golden fried fluke fillet—seriously, does it get any better?
It makes total sense why we have a love affair with the flatfish; they are accessible to anyone, from shore to head boat, and can be taken with all element of bait or artificial. But with ever stringent regulations, finding keepers to make that sandwich can be difficult, forcing anglers to expand the “mental tackle box” to improve catch rates.
Whether you’re a back-bay bouncer or a deep-water pounder, we all have “hacks” – here are few of mine.
1 Assist Hook Stinger
The use of a stinger hook, placed further back in the bait will go a long way toward increasing your hook-up ratio. Usually a stinger hook is tied into a rig via fancy snells and such, but there is a much easier way! The assist hooks that are meant for tuna jigs make perfect stingers, with hooks connected to short loops of heavy braided line, long enough to loop over themselves to connect.
They make perfect and easy stingers for all fluke rigs, bucktails and leadhead jigs.
Simply take an assist hook (I like sizes 5/0 and 6/0.) and wrap the loop of the braid of the assist hook around the bend of the jig hook.(Fig. A) Then run the assist hook through the loop around the jig hook.(Fig. B)
This creates a second hook further back that can be hooked through the bait; doesn’t matter if you’re using soft plastic, Gulp! or even a sand eel or squid strip.
2 Sharpie Your Bucktails
Some days the fish want dark, the next day they want light, and the next, spotted? How do we keep up? Easy, buy a lot of white bucktails; they work great on their own, but are also a blank canvas that can be changed simply by coloring them! On the Salty Lady, we keep a full complement of colored Sharpie markers in our bucktail box. Should the need or desire arise to change the color of our white jigs, we can color the fibers, any color or colors we choose. Some key colors are black, red, pink and chartreuse, but feel free to get artistic.
If the fish are biting on dark colors, simply take a dry bucktail and using the sharpie color the fibers in one direction from the head of the jig to the hook. This prevents the fibers from bending and misshaping the jig. Try coloring the head as well; color in eyes, or scale patterns, or even the gills.
3 Crazy Glued Heads
The unique strike of a fluke plays havoc on jig and soft plastic combinations. Countless times, anglers feel the bite, but miss the hookup, only to find their soft plastic tail slid down the shank of the hook. Any soft plastic can be attached to the head of the jig with a few drops of “Crazy” glue or Berkley Angler’s Super Glue.
Add a few drops to the back of the dry jighead and slide the plastic up. Hold the plastic there for a few seconds, and it should stick. This prevents the plastic from sliding down when a fish hits, and allows you to catch more fish without replacing the plastic. Which brings up how to change the plastic after it’s glued. It’s very simple, just pull the plastic down off the head. There will be some residue of plastic tail on the head, but not enough to cause an issue, and when a new tail is glued on, that residue helps the adhering of the new tail.
4 Dye Squid
As anglers, we clamor for color, especially for flukin’. Squid is a staple bait but is always white. You can change that by picking up some cake icing dye at any store that sells cake decorating supplies (AC Moore, Michael’s, etc.). These come in an array of colors, although I prefer black and leaf green (chartreuse).
First clean the squid tubes and then cut them into strips. Place the squid strip and a small amount of the icing dye into a plastic sealable bowl (I use the ones from previous takeout Chinese dinners.). Next add enough water to cover the squid, stir a little, and let it sit in the refrigerator for an hour. Next empty the water from the container. Store the squid in that same container until it’s time to use.
5 Cooler Killies
For folks without a small baitwell and tired of losing minnow buckets, a small cooler does the trick. Killies, minnies, mummichogs, whatever your preference for these hardy fluke candies, these particular baits can exchange oxygen with air if their gills are kept moist and their metabolism is slowed (much like eels.)
Simply take a small cooler with a well-fitting top and fill the bottom with about 6 inches of ice. Then soak with saltwater about six or eight pages of newspaper and create a “tray” with the newsprint on top of the ice layer. Drop your live killies right on top. The fish will stay alive all day, if they do not get submerged in the ice meltwater, so be aware of the water level and drain as needed.
Another benefit of this method, is as the day progresses, the fish get darker and darker colored. If you can, fish your sandy bottoms late in the day, and the dark baits will stand out against the light bottom.
And if you find my lost bait bucket on the way in, give me a shout!