Sometimes size matters for 11th hour fluking in the suds.
It’s been a fantastic fluke season in the surf this year, especially in Island Beach State Park (IBSP) where there’s been an exemption from New Jersey statewide regulations for the past 9 years with two fish at 16 inches minimum, shore fishing only.
While not every beachside community is happy with the differing regulations, those shore fishermen at the state park have been cleaning up, especially in the wash. And with only a few precious weeks left in the summer flounder season, glory days are still ahead of us.
“Best fluke season ever,” is how Ray Kerico of Grumpys Tackle in Seaside Park describes the 2021 surf fishing. “And keepers too,” he adds. While downsizing the size limit increases your odds of bringing a keeper or two home for dinner, it’s no slam-dunk fishing. You have to work the surf. That’s what make this fishery so fun. Be prepared to wade through a bunch of shorts before that summer flounder tapes out at the sweet 16 mark.
Or maybe you’ll get slammed on your first cast, and beach a fat 21-incher, which happened to me this past July, just because I managed to cast in the right spot at the right time.
Five Casts, Five Steps
If you’re looking to score fluke in the suds this month, surf fluking’s all about structure, presentation and run-and-gun casting. Maybe throw in some high tide and low light factors, plus a little luck, and you’re at least guaranteed to have a great time in the wash.
“You have to move. The fluke are on the bottom, and they’re not going to come to you,” says Scott Sleckman, working the counter at Grumpys. He touts the five-five rule: cast five times, move 5 feet down. Repeat until you get a hit. When that occurs, work the area thoroughly. “Where there’s one, there’s probably more,’ he adds.
Scott was showing a young angler what has now become the go-to terminal rig for Island Beach surf fluking: a bucktail /Gulp teaser combo. Bucktails can range anywhere between 3/8 to 2 ounces, with 1 ounce as a good starting weight. White’s always a good starting color, maybe with some splashes of green or blue and a Mylar strip to match the day’s forage. I’ve also done well with yellow and chartreuse.
Use a small snap, in case you want to change bucktail weights or colors, tied to the bottom of a 3-foot length of 20- or 30-pound mono or fluorocarbon leader. Use a dropper or surgeon’s loop to rig a teaser about 2 feet above your bucktail. On the tag end of your teaser line, rig something like a 2/0 or 3/0 Gamakatsu Octopus hook, to which you’ll thread a Gulp.
Most of my surf fluke hits are on the teaser, although that 21-incher nailed the bucktail jig, so I always fish with two Gulp baits. I’ve had the most success with the 4-inch Swimming mullet style in nuclear chicken, but white and pink shine also produce.
As always, check with your favorite surf shop to see what they recommend. I did just that one busy summer day at Betty & Nick’s tackle shop, also in Seaside Park, gateway to Island Beach State Park surf fishing. I also asked owner John Bushell what he considers the most important factor in IBSP fluking. “Learn where the sloughs, cuts and holes are at low tide,” he says, “and then work them at high tide. And move around.”
John went on that one of his regular customers successfully works the “Miracle Mile” every day in the summer, which is quite the workout. He starts from Two Bit Road, just after the park entrance, and fan casts every slough, trough, cut and hole until he winds up at Gillikin’s Road, the first beach buggy access road in the Park’s northern section.
That’s where I first met Scott Bailey, an affable surf angler, doing what I now call the surf jiggle. It’s by far the most effective presentation of the Gulp! bucktail/teaser combo. Cast your rig into some busy water, let it settle on the bottom, and take up the slack. Now work your rod tip into a steady cadence of very short, rapid jigs, while slowly retrieving. The surf jiggle is all in the wrist action. This really gets the attention of fluke hunting for sand bugs, crabs, spearing, snappers, peanut bunker and other forage in those sloughs and cuts.
Sometimes the fluke will whack and engulf your Gulp, other times you’ll just feel a slight hesitation in your cadence. When that happens, strike back to see if anything’s mouthing your bait.
To help detect these strikes in the surf, for me nothing beats braided line matched to a long graphite rod with a fast taper tip. I use a 9-foot steelhead rod matched with a 5500SS size spinning reel for extra casting distance into those cuts and rips. And I’ve learned to always surf jiggle my retrieve right up to the wash. So many fluke will hit my baits right at the beach ledge, where the shore break meets the beach. I guess they figure it’s now or never!
Just about all stretches of Island Beach State Park are good fluke hunting territory. From Two Bit Road in the northern end, to Barnegat Inlet in the Park’s southern reaches, it’s all about locating that busy water that’s home to those keeper summer flounder. This is the time of year when the fluke start dumping out of Barnegat Bay too, staging in the surf for their fall migration to far offshore ocean waters. That’s why I’ll be paying special attention to the Park’s southern end, closer to the inlet.
While dawn and dusk are always great times to be on the beach, I’ve come to favor tops of the tide for my sweet 16 fluking at IBSP. The shore break is especially pronounced then, churning up all kinds of goodies for hungry fluke, and I can hit longer stretches of deep water from my sandy precipice. Now that the calendar’s turned another page, we’ll get those clear blue September days, with winds coming down from the northwest, my favorite beach fluking wind.
See you on Island Beach, where I’ll be doing the surf jiggle dance, looking for a couple of sweet sixteens!