The summer travel season is just ramping up!
Like underwater highways, the primary channels that lead into local harbors, bays and inlets act as primary road for fluke when they’re moving inshore for the summer. Throughout most of our region, these summer flounder have already moved in from their offshore wintering areas and will set up in areas where they can feed and find warmer water to spend the summer snacking down and acting as the keen hunters that they are.
Fluke are predators, and will go where bait is present. For the most part, channels are surrounded by tidal flats. The ever-present container ships and tankers that use the major channels in and around major metropolitan areas in the northeast for example make life ever-so interesting while drifting the channels throughout the year. They need a good deal of draft so that they can clear the bottom; so in the middle of that channel, the water is doggone deep. On the edge of that channel however, the depth generally gets shallower. The same theory applies in channels in all of our aforementioned rivers and smaller bays, just on a smaller scale. So, as you get inside the channel markers, the bottom drops, creating a hole.
The changing bottom, coupled with current from either direction, allows bait to pile up in the nooks and crannies along the edge and enables fluke as predators to lie in wait looking to chow down. The edge of the channel and the accompanying structure serves as the fluke’s point of ambush, since it’s a change in depth from the bottom on both sides of it, and that structure will hold bait.
Holding that edge of course is the key when fishing the channels in any size boat. Wherever you fish for summer flounder, you need to be able to hold the bait over the edge of the channel with your boat to score fish. Sure, you can deck some nice fluke drifting right up the gut of the channel, but for the most part, the fluke are using the edges as their highways to get to their destination.
Wind against tide situations are a tough card to be dealt when trying to fish channel edges, but power drifting can enable you to work the edge in these situations. Using your motor to drift along with the current makes a big difference. Also, casting out away from the boat and working your rig or bucktail back works wonders when you’re just flopping with the wind and current opposing one another.
Optimally, you want to fish where you will have wind and tide working together, or tide pushing you along enabling you to drift the edges; but in a pinch, use your motor to keep the boat over the edge, even as sometimes you’re getting pushed off by such things as boat wakes, a wind change, or even a gust of wind. If you see that you’re in the middle or off the edge, fire up the motor and power back over the edge by either using the channel markers as a guide, or using your GPS to keep you in position.
With all this talk of highways, you also have to think about the off-ramps, those tidal flats that abut those channel edges. They feature shallow, warmer water with good current, and they often have good amounts of bait present in the late spring.
Typically when fishing shallower rivers and bays, a medium spinning outfit loaded with 20-pound braid will do the trick. The “go to” rig many sharpies use is a live minnow on a fishfinder rig— the key in shallow water fluking is using a light leader and a light hook; fluorocarbon is a must and your hooks on the smaller side. Salted mackerel or bunker also work extremely well early in the season. In places where water is deeper and current is typically faster, you can use your standard fluke tackle, whether it’s medium or medium heavy spinning or conventional gear. Bucktails, Gulp, good ol’ fluke rigs baited with squid and spearing, minnows, smelts and the like will get as much love as they do in the dog days of August.
When targeting early season fluke this spring, don’t be one of the guys that parks his boat in one spot and makes 45 drifts in that area all day, where you’re bouncing around in other boats’ wakes, catching a few fish, and dealing with seemingly hundreds of other boats, and probably thousands of hooks in the water. Do yourself a favor and seek out one of the fluke highways and cash in on some great early season fluking!