Enjoy summer variety in between the spring and fall striper runs.
Summertime is a great time to work the surf, especially with ultralight gear. Any fish you hook up with – even if it is only a short fluke, kingfish, croaker, blowfish, sea robin or a snapper blue – is fun to catch.
Of course, mixed in with all the small fish are a good number of keeper fluke. An added bonus is that the summer surf offers more than just fluke and other small fare; there are potential big surprises that can add some real spice to your catches including bonito, Spanish mackerel and a few pompano later in the season.
Your first priority in getting the most out of summer surfing is to manage the often intense sunlight, heat, and humidity. Light clothing, sunscreen, sunglasses, bug spray for those westerlies, a cell phone, and definitely a hat are bare necessities. You may also want to include something like a 5-gallon bucket for carrying needed gear essentials, a tackle backpack, sand spike, enough water to stay hydrated, and perhaps a chair so you can give your body needed breaks. Do your utmost to pack sensibly and to travel light.
I have a collection of ultralight rods and reels teamed with other lightweight gear that make it fun to catch summer fish while also putting very little strain on my senior body. The rods are about 8 feet in length with very limber tip actions; the reels are more applicable to freshwater fishing than saltwater; the lightest possible sinkers are used; and 10-pound mono – or braided line – helps to keep things light. The objective of this presentation package is to maximize sensitivity in detecting bites in addition to adding excitement to the fight once a fish is hooked.
Fake Them Out!
Many years ago live killies and squid strips were the prescribed way to catch summer surf fluke. However, new artificial baits like Gulp! Swimming Mullet and Fight Club baits from Fishbites have revolutionized surf fishing. They have profiles that mimic those of baitfish, create alluring illusions when retrieved, and give off an enticing aroma trail; there is no need to keep them alive; they are packaged in reseal-able plastic bags; they can be used for extended periods of time. When using Gulp, occasional dunking back in their original container’s scent potion quickly refreshes their aroma aura.
A great variety of other soft plastics also work their wonders along a summer shoreline on fluke; just rig them as you would a live killie. I like using some sort of teaser on my fluke rigs: doing so doubles my odds for a hook-up. No one teaser fits all situations but always try to match the baitfish in residence where you are fishing; smaller always seems to out-perform bigger teasers. Small Gulp! Swimming Mullet, soft plastics in white with thin profiles, and white squid skirts have worked best for me. Whatever type rig or bait you use, when angling for surf fluke you need to always keep your offerings moving.
The most serious access handicap during the summer months for anglers is that bathers take priority in the pecking order. Nothing is going to change this accepted restriction on surf fishing but you can work around the problem. Fish beaches in the early morning and late afternoon, before bathers start arriving around 9 a.m. or after they begin leaving the sand after 5 p.m. In addition to the access being the easiest at those times, it is during those two off-peak bathing timeframes that you will be the most comfortable managing the sun and humidity and it is then that the fishing is best.
It is not difficult to find good fluking spots. Fluke love sandy bottoms where their chameleon-capable bodies blend in perfectly with natural underwater terrain. Holes and troughs observed during low tide attract fluke at high water because of the ambush opportunities they provide to these aggressive feeders. All kinds of structure – either rocky bottoms, or that found adjacent to jetties and inlet rocks – are great natural fluke ambush and feeding zones because of the robust marine life found in such underwater real estate.
Given a choice, I prefer to settle in one spot with my gear rather than walking the beach as I do in the fall during the striper run. This way I can bring more stuff, be more comfortable, and more thoroughly work a promising shoreline. However, I do like to wander far left and right from my starting point to broaden my search area and to increase my odds of finding fish.
Catching summer surf fluke is fun when you downsize your gear to accommodate the summer conditions in which you will be angling. To double your fun, be sure to bring along a second rod combo. Although fluke are the most popular targeted fish during the summer months, there are other species on the menu that can make your day. This list includes spotty catches of bluefish and even striped bass; an occasional weakfish; increasing numbers of drum, bonito, and Spanish mackerel; small sharks and big rays; and perhaps even a late summer false albacore. These species are often incidental and accidental catches.
I like my secondary combo to be a 9-foot rod with some backbone, teamed with a high-speed retrieve reel that is armed with a direct-tie metal lure like a Tsunami Slimwave or a Hogy Epoxy Jig. Be sure your second combo is lightweight, capable of long casts and fast retrieves, and able to handle anything that is hooked. Including a teaser on your shock-leader rig will boost your odds of hooking up.
If the fluke are not in the mix when you work the summer surf, switch over to tossing and working small lures to see if other species are in residence and feeding. Some days, you will hit both the fluke and more formidable species; some days one option may be hot and the other not; rarely will both options disappoint you!