ON THE MOVE: LIVE-STICKING SURF FLUKE - The Fisherman

ON THE MOVE: LIVE-STICKING SURF FLUKE

Nick Caliendo hit this fluke in the Sea Girt surf in early June.

You’ve got to move it, move it.

Is there a more popular targeted summer species in the Jersey surf than the summer flounder or fluke? When you understand their nourishment preferences and foraging mentality, fluke are relatively easy and fun to catch on lightweight gear in the surf.

Knowing what they eat, the type of underwater terrain in which they hunt for food, and the presentation techniques that help to trigger strikes is important. Although dead-sticking bait rigs is an effective surf technique, that method is not the recommended way to hook up with fluke because they feed aggressively, are known for their ambush mentality, and prefer to hit moving targets. Keeping your offerings in motion while presenting natural baitfish rigs, artificial baits, or soft plastic lures is essential to your success. I call this fluke tactic live-sticking.

Live-sticking for fluke is similar to the livelining technique used for larger and more prestigious fish. Attaching a hook to a live adult menhaden and letting it swim freely, for example, is a great way to attract and catch striped bass.  That same technique using smaller baitfish like live minnows and peanut bunkers works equally well when fishing for fluke. In fact reports thus far this season in The Fisherman in Sandy Hook in particular have shown plenty of good fluke taken by surfcasters floating a live killie beneath a bobber and casting from shore.

Their lively movement alone is attractive to fluke but casting and retrieving them slowly along the bottom from offshore back to the beach maximizes their appeal; this tactic also exposes them to fluke ambushes over a wide expanse of underwater real estate.

KEEP IT LIGHT & SIMPLE

Rod and reel combos, line, and sinkers for fluke should be lightweight; they provide the best sensitivity in working baits or lures. Popular fluke rigs are very basic but effective. Most start with a three-way swivel. A sinker clip is attached to one of the three eyes and a 30-inch length of fluorocarbon leader material with a single hook attached to another eye. Larger rather than smaller hooks work better in dealing with the large mouths and aggressiveness of fluke; circle hooks help to preserve the resource. The third swivel eye is for connecting the rig to your main line. Rigs like this allow a live bait to swim freely and move about as you retrieve the rig back to the shoreline. Bait movement is always essential; a live bait moving around on the rig supercharges its appeal.

Attaching a dropper teaser hook on a standard fluke rig gives you two chances to hook up on each cast as you are live-sticking. Bucktail teasers come in a variety of profiles, colors, and shapes or you can attach a small soft plastic lure to your teaser hook. Both catch fluke when the rig is worked along the bottom in tandem with the primary baited hook.

I find the single best live bait for large fluke are snapper bluefish which start appearing along most ocean shorelines later this summer. Be sure to have a snapper popper rig with you at that time so you can catch these baby blues; a feisty snapper on a bait rig worked along the bottom triggers very aggressive fluke strikes. Although live snappers often catch fluke on a dead-stick, live-sticking them makes them almost irresistible to large fluke. Big live baits catch big fluke.

All the baitfish mentioned and others like peanut bunkers are major sources of the nourishment that fluke need to fuel their daily energy needs. Livelined, they look and move in ways familiar to the fluke that are stalking them. Fluke also respond well to other baits, real but not alive, as well as to lifelike imitations. Fluke belly, sea robin, mackerel, bluefish, and squid strips presented on traditional fluke rigs provide enticing flutter action, attractive scents, and lifelike illusions that ambush-minded fluke find fascinating.

For example, Fisherman’s Choice hand-cut squid strips enhanced with Fin Essence scent attractant make for a dynamic combo. Without movement, however, they and other strip baits don’t have as much appeal; keeping it moving will inject life into all these baits and assist with the attack trigger in fluke.

Fishbites, Gulp and many soft plastic baits have revolutionized fluke fishing, making these artificial presentations just as attractive to fluke as actual natural baits, and easier to transport while walking the beach.

GULP & FISHBITES

Artificial baits and a variety of lures catch lots of fluke every season. Anglers like them because they do not have to be kept alive or kept cool, and because they catch fish. Gulp! Swimming Mullet soft plastics revolutionized the fluke surf fishery years ago, now many other soft plastic fluke lures have proven themselves as well. Fishbites E-Z strips that come in a variety of bait choices make great flutter strip baits with built-in scents; the newest Fishbites designs in the Fight Club line combine the scent aspect with the enticing body movement.

Dropper teaser hooks dressed with a bucktail or some other adornment that enhance a live bait presentation work equally well with strip baits, lifelike imitations, and lures. But without anglers moving them along the bottom in a convincing fashion, they aren’t nearly as effective.  A twitch and a jig on the retrieve will give that appearance of life; the appearance of life makes them attractive to foraging fluke.

Standard fluke bait rigs have proven themselves as great ways to present both live baitfish, soft plastic lures, and strip baits to fluke. Some anglers prefer artificial lures and weighted jigs tipped with strip baits. All these baits, lures, and techniques catch their share of fish when the offerings are presented with movement along the bottom.

Proper presentation is critical to any species that you target. Fluke are somewhat unique so treat them accordingly. Know your prey, and stalk them accordingly. Whatever you throw offshore to tempt fluke into striking, you need to move it and keep it moving. Live-sticking tactics put fluke up on the sand for you.

Even short fluke in the surf are enough to put a smile on the face of the more diminutive statured surfcaster.

ELITE HUNTERS

Fluke are fierce predators with an aggressive ambush mentality. They have the ability to change body coloring to blend in with the texture and color of the bottom where they live while also possessing excellent swimming ability, large hinged mouths, excellent eyesight, and sharp teeth. Fluke are masters of camouflage which gives them extraordinary ambush opportunities. In addition to being able to change their colors to match their surroundings, they like to burrow into a sandy bottom or flip sand over their backs until only their eyes are exposed above the sand. When prey approach, fluke ambush and devour them or chase them down using their excellent swimming ability.  The best strategy to take advantage of their ambush mentality is to fish near the bottom with a moving bait, though you’ll also find fluke actively leaving the bottom to attack a target that looks tempting in the wash.

FOOD STUFF

Adult fluke are opportunistic feeders, eating whatever food is convenient at the time. They prefer live prey which can include small fish and baitfish like spearing, bay anchovies, peanut bunkers, and killifish; grass shrimp; snapper blues; squid; and other forage fish. They will even eat clam morsels, worms, and small chunks of mossbunker if they are available.

The author with a Sandy Hook keeper fluke caught on a standard rig enhanced with a dropper bucktail teaser. The fish hit the primary lure which was a Gulp! Swimming Mullet.

PRESENTATION

Rig movement is essential to triggering a fluke strike. Try different retrieve rates until you get a positive response. Even try jiggling the retrieve; stop-and-go presentations sometimes make a difference. And do not give up on your retrieve until your rig is on the beach; fluke often lie in wait right in the wash for unsuspecting baitfish to enter their ambush zone, and many times you’ll see them in shallow water attacking your bait.  Remember that fluke will ambush by sight; live prey, flutter strips, paddletails, bucktails, and other offerings whose presentations look natural are targeted. Scent potions added to real and artificial baits sometimes can make a difference between a strike and just a look.

 

Gulp and Fishbites are easy to transport in backpack or other basic beach bag, making surf fluking a snap with your favorite bucktail or jighead (just don’t forget the cooler!)

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