The mass migration of mullet and peanuts puts the flatties at your feet.
Almost any beach in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast is going to have the potential for a surf caught fluke. Any beach structure you would target for striped bass, blues, or any other gamefish is the water you are going to want to fish come summertime. Jetties however, are a great place to start looking as they provide shelter for baitfish and serve as a great ambush spot for fluke.
Beach morphology also plays a big part in finding fluke. Look for sandbars and fish the deep water surrounding them. Many times a sandbar will form off the beach, causing a deeper cut to form between the beach and the bar. Water will then run parallel to the beach through this cut. This is a perfect scenario for beach fluking. Fish these troughs thoroughly and you will likely find fish at some point.
Often times, a rip tide will form running perpendicular to the beach. If you are okay with wading, this rip tide will usually form between two sand bars. Where this is the case, I will wade out on the sand bar and fish the rip, as it puts me in a similar position as when the cut runs parallel to the beach.
Depending on where you are on the coast, your season off the beach can start anytime between May and June, and run well into September. Water temperature has a huge effect, as this is the cue for fish to begin moving out of the back bays and making their way offshore. Before summer flounder make it all the way to the offshore wrecks however, they stage around the inlets and in the surf, feeding heavily on the abundant forage as they prepare for the journey to their offshore wintering grounds.
I have found with most locations that tide does not matter as much as water depth. I tend to shy away from spots that are showing any exposed bar, as this cuts off the flow of water and any bait getting washed in. Time of year and water temperature will also control when I go. If it is early in the season, and the water is cool, look to fish the warmest water possible. This will normally come during the afternoon, after the sun has heated up the water all day, warming it up as much as several degrees in some cases.
I have struck out at a spot in the morning, and fished the same tide later in the day to find a great bite was triggered just by the sun heating the water. As we get later into summer, any time of day will produce, but I will begin to focus on sunrise and sunset. Fluke don’t tend to eat at night, so sunrise and sunset will be their first and last meals of the day, increasing their aggressiveness.
Another factor to consider will be whether or not you see any kind of small forage in the surf. The presence of sand fleas, spearing, rainfish, juvenile kingfish, juvenile pompano, snappers, mullet, small calico crabs, and anything of that sort makes it a very good place to fish. With a lot of barren beach, any stretch with abundant forage is likely to hold fluke.
One of the perks of this fishery is getting to fish relatively light tackle off the beach. I mainly use two different set ups. The first is a 7-foot Lamiglas XP703S rated 3/16- to 5/8-ounce with a 2500 class sized reel spooled with 10-pound Sufix 832 Advanced Superline in Coastal Camo. This is what I consider my calm water set up, as I will only throw something up to a half-ounce on these days. For deeper rougher water, I opt for my 9-foot Lamiglas rated 1/2- to 2-ounce with a 4000 size reel spooled with 20-pound braid. It is an old blank, but I do find the new GSB91LS has the same rating and would be up to the task. I always carry both with me in the car, as I never know what piece of water I will be fishing throughout the day.
When it comes down to rigs, I always throw a teaser rig. My first set up is with a Skyline Minnow Mini Flare Hawk. I opt to get these tied without the longtail they traditionally come with, and find the nylon style hair adds some extra dance to the presentation compared to traditional bucktail hair. For the presentation on the bottom, I will throw a Skyline Ball Head with ribs. I use this when trying to simplify the presentation since sometimes in the cleaner, calmer water the hair can be too much. Regardless of what is on the bottom, on top I will always tie in a dropper loop about 18 inches ahead of the jig, and place a 3/0 hook on the loop.
My teaser hook is always rigged with a 3-inch Gulp, and will either be a pearl white or chartreuse swimming mullet or a new penny shrimp. On the bottom I tend to fish a bigger bait, either a 5-inch swimming mullet in those same colors, or the recently introduced pink/white 6-inch grub. I opt to use 30-pound Seaguar STS steelhead/salmon fluorocarbon leader for this fishery, as it is very hard to pick up even in clear water and is very strong in case you hook into something much bigger. I tie on a pretty long leader, around 6 to 7 feet. If there is a problem with the teaser hook, you do not need to tie a new leader on, but instead do a new dropper loop and replace your jig. I use an FG knot to connect the leader to the braid, as it has a very slim profile and casts through the guides without any interruption.
Fluke don’t like leaving the bottom often, so your presentation should be on or close to the bottom. If you are fishing near any structure, cast as close as you can to this piece. Once it hits the bottom, work your presentation right along it. Slowly twitch the presentation along, starting the rod tip pointing towards the ocean and working the rod back so that is parallel to the beach. Return the rod to the position of pointing at the ocean, collect the created slack, and repeat.
Work it all the way to the beach, even right to the waterline, as many fluke will be sitting right there waiting to ambush prey going up and back with the waves. When feeling the telltale “tap, tap” of the fluke, give them a couple of seconds to eat it before setting the hook. Once the fluke is close to the beach, keep walking back and never break pressure until they are out of the water. Many fish get lost when surf fishing during the end game due to the angler going forward and trying to grab their catch before it is completely out of the water.
One other technique to employ is live bait. Live killies, shrimp, spearing, snappers, finger mullet, peanut bunker and other forage all make excellent choices. Cast them out in the same spots you would work the Gulp, but do not work it the same. Rather, let the surf move the baits around, and just reel to keep tight.
Keep in mind that late summertime surf can hold a variety of different species, many of which will be feeding on the same baitfish the fluke are. Striped bass, bluefish, weakfish, kingfish, sundials, cownose rays, houndfish, and countless others all take up residence in the surf, particularly during this transitional time of year. All can be handled on the light fluking outfits as long as you are making constant quality checks on your gear. Triple check your knots, monitor your leader for chafing, and avoid using bent or dull hooks. These are all good checks to make to avoid heartbreak. If you hook into something bigger, make sure you back off your drag a little to avoid getting broken off.
Fluking off the beach can be a great way to enjoy this quieter stretch of summer at the shore. It requires a light pack out, one that can always be ready in the car for a spur of the moment trip. Plenty of action can be found, and you might be lucky enough to find a keeper fish or two in the mix. It’s also a great time to prospect for the upcoming fall run while enjoying the many species running the beach during late summer. It is a fishery that will keep both the avid and novice angler entertained while awaiting the next round of hardcore surf action.