Captain Phil Leo of Pura Vida Sportfishing Talks Deepwater Fluking




Where are you From?

I have lived in South Jersey all my life about 45 minutes from Cape May, although I spend so much time in Cape May I would consider it a second home.

How did you get your start in fishing?

My father took me freshwater and surf when I was really young maybe 4 or 5. My uncles also had boats and we fished out of Fortescue just about every weekend in the late 70’s and 80’s. I pretty much was raised doing some type of fishing just about every weekend from the time I was 8.  Once I could drive I did a ton of surf fishing myself and started working on charter and private boats.

How many years have you been working in this industry?

Basically since I was 17 or 18 either part or full time. The first boat I ran professionally was a private vessel when I was 19, some 26 years ago, out of Atlantic City. I have been figuratively hooked ever since.

What is your favorite type of trip to run?

I really don’t have a favorite. I really like them all. I am a huge bottom fisherman and wreck fisherman, so I love blackfishing, seabass, tilefishing, and fluke fishing. On the flip side its really cool to see big yellowfin or bigeyes streak through your chunks and get to hand feed them or sight fish for mahi with light tackle. Or troll at night for bigeyes and have a pair of rods start screaming and tearing off into the pitch black. As the saying goes “It’s all good”

How often do you get to fish for fun?

As much time as I get to spend on the water, I very rarely hold a rod and fish for myself much anymore. Between running the boat over the course of 10 or 11 months and the maintenance, tackle prep that you do on your weather days, it keeps you very busy. I really get as much or more enjoyment out of watching my clients catch a nice fish as I would have if I had caught it myself. I have been lucky enough over the years I have been fishing to have caught quite a few fish of a lifetime myself that I just enjoy the experience of being on the water with friends.

News is that you are going to be fishing on a new boat this season. Can you talk little bit about the boat and some of your goals for the coming season?

I joined back up with an old friend to bring a boat I used to run, Pura Vida, down to Cape May as a charter vessel. The boat is a 35′ Henriques Express with twin 440hp Yanmars. As versatile as center consoles are, the bigger, heavier boat gives you a bit more flexibility with the weather and much more in the way of creature comforts without losing too much in the way of speed. The Henriques platform is great as they are a great sea boat and have huge cockpits that give you plenty of fishing room, along with a ton of comfortable seating, etc. She’s pretty much custom rigged with dual anchors and top of the line electronics, tackle, and safety gear. As far as goals, really just to fish as much as possible and have fun with my clients. I get the opportunity to run more 2 day marathon trips for tuna and deep dropping and all of the other pelagic species with this boat and I am excited about that, as you can really do some fun stuff when you have that long time offshore.

When you start fishing fluke do you typically start shallow and go deeper as the season progresses?

I don’t start fluke fishing until the third week of June usually and almost always start ocean fishing unless there is a bite in the Delaware Bay. I generally start in 50 to 70 feet of water in stay in that depth most of the season, with some exceptions. Late August and September I’ll venture out over 100-120 feet once in a while.

Picking a spot to fish in an entire ocean can be tough, lets assume I took away your plotter and all your numbers. What would you be looking for?

That is a tough one there. Out of Cape May, years ago we fished a lot of humps, lumps, and sloughs. Basically sand bottom with depth changes and we would consistently catch fish. You could pick an area on the chart with a decent change in depth and find fish or fish large areas of natural rough bottom. That has changed a lot in Cape May over the past 10 years. We don’t see fish in most of these areas anymore with any kind of consistency at all except for some of the natural rough bottom areas. Now almost all of the fluking I do is on very small natural or artificial wrecks, obstructions, and coral beds. It’s all about short precision drifting, unless your fishing a larger coral bed where you can take longer drifts. Being a wreck fisherman helps a lot, because the types of bottom you find blackfish and seabass on you’ll find fluke for the most part. Without good numbers or using your plotter to track your drifts, it would make things much more difficult to consistently find fish.

What are some of the biggest mistakes you see people make when fluke fishing?

When fishing heavier structure, you need to stay as close as possible to fishing straight up and down. Drifting too fast or using too light a bucktail or weight on a rig when your fishing sticky bottom will lead to a lot of lost tackle as well as missed takes. We backtroll a lot to slow the drift down to use lighter weights or use a drift sock if we’re fishing larger areas when you have harder currents or wind. Even using heavier weights with rigs helps. Also tracking your drifts and if you find a pocket of fish in one part of the drift line to make short drifts and hit it as much as possible as long as it keeps giving up fish. That’s where GPS plotters shine. You can go right over a small area of drift line bump it to either side by 5 or 10 feet and really cover a small area that is producing fish.

With UV and glow jigs, teasers, etc. becoming increasingly popular, have you seen them have an impact in deeper water where light conditions are lower?

I used to fish a lot of glow bucktails and B2 squids, we caught a lot of fish on them and it was always a must have in the bag. We also did well on on non glow squids like motor oil and purple flake as well as white, chartreuse, pink, and other color bucktails. Some days, some colors seem to produce better but I think its more important to spend as much time fishing over areas holding fish and presenting them the bucktail, rig, or teaser  as natural as possible.

Bait or Gulp?

I use both. Some people that fish with me only fish gulp on bucktails and catch a lot of fish. We also catch a lot of fish on bucktails tipped with squid strips and spearing. I think if you put it over the fish and it looks right, they’ll eat it.

Perfect wind and tide days are few and far between. Can you tell us a little bit about power drifting and how you use it to make the conditions work for you?

You don’t get many days where you have light wind and current together that gives you a nice slow drift. I actually like .5 to .7 kts when I am bucktailing small areas. Larger areas, such as the Old Grounds for instance, I think faster helps you cover more ground to find pockets of fish. Either way I don’t like to over 1 knot of drift. you see a lot of conditions ranging from light current against wind to wind that pushes you against the current to wind and current against each other at various angles to heavier wind with current  that wants to push you way too fast. Given a perfect world I’d want to be going with the current all the time. Most of the time we are fishing with the wind against current or cross current. Power drifting is basically using your motor to either slow your drift or in rare instances to push your drift when there isn’t any. I gauge what the drift is like without and look at the scope of line versus what I know it should be and get a feel for how it is pushing me against the current. Most of what I do is what I call backtrolling or bumping the motors in reverse very briefly to slow my drift down to the speed I want so the guys can fish straight up and down even if we are drifting against the current or cross current. It does a couple things, first it allows you to work a small area and spend more time in that area working your bucktails and giving fish a shot to take them. Secondly it looks more natural. Instead of a bait that appears to be flying by upcurrent, it gives the appearance of bait that is holding in the current or slowly moving against it. There are times time I even bump troll into the wind, so that I can power drift with the current, if the wind isn’t too bad when backtrolling isn’t working.

What kind of things do you try when the fish just aren’t cooperating?

Change colors on bucktails or change my drift speed to see if it makes a difference. Try power drifting with the current. If I am fishing an area with a lot of small pieces, move around and try different small pieces. If I am fishing a large natural bottom area, move to different areas within it to try different pieces of bottom or depth change within that area. Make a big move to another area. Basically try ever trick in the book you know but there are some days where no matter what you do it will be tough sledding and even depth charges wouldn’t seem help. Those are the days you find a spot away from everyone else and quietly talk to yourself and curse at the fish.

Any other advice you can offer on the subject.

Don’t hesitate to try new techniques or areas you haven’t fished. even when you spend a lot of days on the water, you learn something new every trip. Make mental notes of it or have a log. Always look for new bottom on every trip, whether you have numbers to check or your just tooling along between areas, keep an eye on the sonar. You would be surprised by the number of wrecks, etc. I have found doing that. That’s how you build up a logbook of numbers.


The "Pura Vida" is a 35' Henriques Express Sportfisherman sailing out of Snug Harbor Marina in Cape May, NJ.
If you are Interested in Chartering A trip with Captain Phil you can visit there website at or contact Captain Phil at


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