As we start to slow down and head into the winter months, I found it fitting to write about the fish that has my attention from April-September and reminisce about this past season. If you ask almost every fisherman from Rhode Island to the Carolinas they will most likely have caught one, or like me, it consumes them for months out of the year. Introducing our flat friend, the Fluke! In order to give me topics to write about throughout the boring cold winter, this will focus on tackle and technique. I will have a follow up on tactics and locations (no spot burning guys!), I will also address structure and throw in some tips. Stay tuned for that!
I’ve spent countless seasons chasing these fish, and up until recently I wasn’t very confident in my abilities to accurately target them. Like most kids i was introduced to Fluke fishing using a big ol’ rod, “fluke rig” and a bank sinker. Bait was usually a live minnow or a strip of squid. Up until this point I had only fished freshwater, and didn’t realize that the bottom of the bay was so lumpy. Every time that rod tip bounced, I would rush to the rod cause I had a fish on……..not.
In recent years, YouTube took off and became an excellent resource for techniques, and more importantly what not to do. I would be remiss if I did not give credit to John Skinner for forcing me to up my game. While I’m sure he doesn’t give up all his secrets, if you are paying attention to what he does share, it can be game changing. Watching the underwater footage he shared is also a valuable tool to learn the habits of these fish.
After watching John’s videos, mastering the dropper loop, and getting the Tsunami Glass minnows, I was ready, or so I thought. Don’t get me wrong, the “Skinner rig” will produce fish, but for me i don’t find it as effective as a single Bucktail or jig (more on that later). I’m not sure if its me, or the leverage a dropper loop has over the side of the line, but even the smallest fish on the teaser hook feel huge. There are advantages and disadvantages to this type of setup. The most obvious advantage, would have to be having two hooks in the water, two hooks are better than one, right? Not exactly, at least for me. Before I gave up on the teaser hook, I had given up using anything weighted on the top and switched to a 4/0 hook with a Gulp threaded on. On tough days the amount of action that comes with the teaser hook can entice more strikes, which is always a plus. Fishing is the most expensive way to get a free meal, and having a setup like a Skinner rig can consume resources, so for the frugal anglers among us it may not be as appealing.
As I said earlier, my technique has definitely evolved over the past few years. I went from using a heavy 2-3oz Bucktail on a beefy rod, to the Skinner rig, and this season settled on the lightest tackle I could get my hands on. By light tackle I am talking about everything, rod, reel, line, leader and finally my Bucktail. Being able to tie my own Bucktails is probably the biggest advantage to my fishing game. It can get overwhelming sometimes though, because you can make your ideas reality, it almost gives you too many options (first world problems, I know). As far as rods go, I switched out from my beefy gear, and fell into the Fenwick HMG Inshore rods. First I picked up a 6’6″ spinning rod, and paired it with a Penn Battle II 4000 spooled with 20lb Power Pro braid. The size of the reel is a bit of overkill for the rod, but it has proven to be a super versatile combo in my lineup. When I am out on the water i try to maximize my time, and cutting off and retying lures can become a hassle, so I usually carry multiple rods, rigged and ready to go. With the spinning setup being my primary, I decided to purchase a second Fenwick, but this time in a bait casting version. I set this rod up with a Shimano Cardiff 300, again paired with 20lb Power pro. This rod I tend to keep rigged with either a different color, or heavier weight jig, depending on conditions.
Once I picked up the lighter rods and reels I started using the lightest weight jigs I could. My Swiss Army Knife for jig weight is 1oz. At that size its heavy enough to quickly reach bottom, and light enough to feel even the lightest of taps. On a low current, or slack tide situation I have also stepped down into the 3/4oz size as well. For back bay trips, I have multiple colors in these sizes to satisfy the pickiest of eaters.
Bait; Fluke are highly predatory fish, and depending on the time of year, their diet can range from the smallest crabs, up to 6-8″ Spot. Minnows and squid strips are a very convenient option as most bait shops have them and are pretty user friendly. For me, I have pretty much put natural baits aside, and almost exclusively use Berkely Gulp. Its an extremely effective and easy to use bait, and comes in a variety of colors. Whatever they put in that Gulp juice, it works, and works very well. The only downside to Gulp, is the tails on the baits can be pretty fragile, and torn off easy. On a busy day, I certainly have burned through multiple bags of the stuff, and it can get expensive.
Colors are a tricky topic of conversation. Going into a tackle shop and seeing the absolute myriad of colors can get confusing. Some say the colors catch the angler not the fish, but that is a whole topic in and of itself. I will touch on the basics here. There are a couple go-to’s that will always be in my box. Chartreuse and just about any variation having that color will usually produce. White is another color that you cant go wrong with. Hot pink is a great color to keep in your box as well. Any of those colors are proven producers for me, and many other anglers. The same can be said for your bait selection. I do however try to match my bait to the color of my Bucktail or jig, and I will adjust colors based on water clarity.
Last but not least, I will touch on leaders. I always try to match my leader to the weight line I’m using. Most commonly my rods have 20lb braid on them, so 20lb leader is what I use. As far as material goes, I prefer Fluorocarbon, due to is abrasion resistance, (Fluke have lots of sharp teeth, I will take any advantage i can get). When attaching the leader to the mainline, I prefer an Alberto knot, its quick and easy to master and get back in the action after a break off. Again, for the more frugal anglers, monofilament can be used as well, but like I said, I like to have every available advantage I can.
I will be continuing this series on my flat friends in future posts, so keep checking back for updates. Thanks for checking it out, and as always, Tight Lines!
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