Get your own spot: Where to target fluke in the back bays

I see it all the time on facebook, “Yo bro where did you catch those?” which is usually followed up by an angry retort like “no @&!$ng spot burning!”. For those of you that have not discovered what “spot burning” is, it is when you take a fish picture with some type of notable landmark or clear view of where you are fishing and post it on the internet for all of the world to see. You will then be reamed out by all the internet fishing community for ruining that spot (unless your a charter captain, they are for some reason immune), and I know I have been shamed by Facebook fisherman before for committing this cardinal sin. It is not always easy to find a good “spot” and it can be tempting to just ask that guy you saw who posted the pics of all those keeper fluke he just caught but don’t you want to find the fish on your own? Now don’t get me wrong a network of friends that will share good intel with you is key, and if my friend tells me he just slammed them in the False Hook Channel I am probably going to check it out. You will feel way more manly though if you a find spot where no one else if fishing and start catching fish.

Bottom Contour Maps:

Probably the easiest way to find new areas to fish are by looking at bottom contour maps

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Pic 1 Channels

 

which are readily available on the internet at places like www.nauticalcharts.noaa.gov . or you can download the Navionics app for around $15 for your cell phone or tablet. I really like the Navionics app because the charts are much more detailed and you can also mark locations you might want to try and allows you to look for new spots while your doing things like watching the 4th grade concert or a wedding ceremony. Probably the most important thing to know is how to read the lines on a contour map and it is really very simple, the closer the lines are together the more drastic the depth change is. For example in picture 1 is a screenshot taken directly from the Navionics app that shows a channel that drops from about 16ft to 64ft and if you notice between the depths of 16-20 feet the drop is more gradual and from 20ft-60ft the drop is much more drastic.

Channel Edges:

Now when looking for areas to drift for fluke you are going to be looking for a number of different types of bottom contours that may hold fluke on any given day and probably the most common and easy to find areas are channel edges. Depending on water temps and number of other factors you will typically find fluke hiding near these channels, but the key is to pound the edges and concentrate your drifts on the edge and in the middle of these channels to key in on what depths the fish are located on that day. When the tides are moving these channels act kind of like highways for everything floating around in the bay which includes bait. During the early months like May and the beginning of June you may find fish on the warmer shallower side of the channel and as waters begin to warm you will typically find them in the deepest parts of the channel. With all of that being said sometimes the fish just are where they are, I have had days in the middle of August where I was consistently catching fish in 8ft of water on the shallow flat leading into the channel. That is why when you start your drift try to cover a range of depths until you start to see a pattern of where the fish are holding and then make smaller drifts over a concentrated area.

Creek Mouths:

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Pic 2 Creek Mouth

Another very easy thing to locate on you bottom contour maps are shallow creek mouths that empty out into deeper water. In picture 2 there is a perfect example of one of these shallow creeks 2 ft or less that empties into a nice deep cut where fluke or any predator can lay waiting for food to funnel out. This type of spot is typically one you are going to want to fish on the outgoing tide because as the tide drops the water flows out of these creeks along with all the baitfish, crabs, etc. that have been taking refuge in them.

 

Humps, Lumps, and Holes:

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Pic 3 Deep Hole

A key pattern you may be noticing in these spots are depth changes, and if you could only have one thing in a back bay fluke spot where things like artificial reefs do not come into play, it would be a drastic change in depth. Picture 3 shows a nice 2oft hole and fluke tend to congregate around these depth changes for a number of reasons, these areas break up the current flow allowing fish a place to rest including baitfish, holes can provide cooler water during the deep summer months, humps can provide cover for predatory fish to strike from. In Picture 4 you can see an artists rendition of a hump with a fluke waiting on the down current side for his meal to come drifting over his head. The important thing to remember here is to present the bucktail or bait with the current or fluke will know something is not right.

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Pic 4 Hump

 

 

Structure:

We all know that structure almost always hold fish and in the back bays structure is not always easy to come by but it is there for those willing to take the time to look for it. Structure does not have to mean a sunken wreck it could just be a piece of sod bank that broke off into a deep run or rock pile in the middle of the bay but these areas are almost always home to some type of food source like crabs, mussels, and baitfish which means the fluke are not far behind. Finding these places can be tough, sometimes you just notice something on your depth sounder when your moving along and others can be seen on contour maps like the rocks in picture 5. Most of the time structure like the rocks found on the map take a little effort to find, they are often times not exactly where they are shown on the map and sometimes they are just not there or are not there

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Picture 5 Rocks

anymore. With a little effort though many of these smaller spots will pay off, the most important thing to remember is to stay focused on that piece of structure and its surrounding area, the further you get from that particular piece the less life you will find.

 

Choosing Your Spot:

Now that the 4th grade concert is over and you have an entire library of new spots to try the last thing for you to do is choose which spot your going to fish. Often times a certain spot is going to be more ideal for you one day than it is the next. One of the first things I like to do is gauge how the drift will be, now this is subject to change due to wind and tides but if you have a nice west to east 1 knot drift than that channel that runs east may be a good choice. Let’s say its late August and the water temps are very high, chances are you are going to want to fish the deepest holes and channels you can find or vice versa in the early months you may look to fish a shallow flat that drops off into deep water. Another very important thing to remember is to look for clean water, this is actually one of if not the most important factor that is going to affect your fishing. If your not in clean water than you are better off moving on to a new spot until you find clean water, and some days the only spot you do find is going to be the cleanest water you are able to find.

Hopefully this information will get you well on your way to prospecting your own fishing holes, but just remember no “spot burning”!

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Outfitting for Back Bay Fluke Success

Every season starts long before opening day for most, with hooks sharpened, reels re-spooled, hoards of gulps and bucktails purchased, and every angler in the tri-state area frothing to hit the waters in search of that doormat flounder. Then comes opening day, you see the boats piled up in every orifice of the backbays looking for that trophy or at the very least their first flounder dinner of the season.
Depending on who you talk to from tackle shop to old salt to employee at the local sporting goods store everyone seems to have a different version of what rods, reels, line, and rigs to use.  Many I see on the water to this day are using meat sticks spooled with heavy braid more suitable for tuna than they are for backwater flounder where lightweight sensitive rods, line, and jigs are everything and can make the difference between a fish that hits the net or a well fed fish that is still out there laughing with one more minnow in his belly.

Rods and Reels:  For rods I prefer graphite for its sensitivity but some manufacturers are also making a composite blend rod for a more affordable price that still gets the job done. Typically a 7’0 penn battalion or squadron rod rated 8-15lb is what im using, with enough sensitivity to feel even the slightest follow from a toothy predator but enough backbone to set the hook and handle jigs up to around 1 1/4oz. For line lighter is better allowing for better depth penetration to keep you near the bottom without having to let a country mile of line out or fishing additional weight to get there, 15lb braid like Spiderwires Invisibraid I find is the best balance of strength and sensitivity.

With reels I find the 2500 size class Penn Battle to be a perfect blend of weight and line pickup to allow me to jig all day without getting tired from an overbearing reel.

 

Rigs: 

Flounder in the backwater is all about keeping the presentation as vertical as possible so flounder setupyou can tap dance over those pieces of sticky bottom and toothy structure. Again in this situation I believe less is best for my usual setup I fish 15-20 lb fluorocarbon leaders tying the braid to the leader using a Albright or other line to leader knot trying to avoid using

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Magic Tails Bucktail

heavier terminal tackle such as swivels or snaps, Typically from there i have about 8-10″ of leader before a dropper loop that is about 4″ long. On the loop I usually have a #1-2/0 Gamakatsu octopus style hook. Below this I leave about 12″ of line before tying a loop knot to a Magic Tail minnow head style bucktail.  Typical weight bucktails that I have found for the backwater that work for my area in almost all situations are 3/4-1oz and being most of my fishing is done in stained estuarine water I opt for the more visible colors like white and chartreuse. The minnow style heads from Magic Tail Bucktails I find to be the best style bucktail because when tied on the leader they still remain horizontally balanced. Unlike many other bucktails which hang more vertically when jigging does not present naturally whatsoever. I also prefer to trim the hair on the bucktail back a little almost to the hook this allows the tail of the gulp to show off its action and creates a strike point that is closer to the hook part of the bucktail. A little trick I picked up years ago that everyone does while jigging for pompano down south and it has paid off ever since.

 

 

Baits:

Usually you can find me fishing Gulp! 4″ swimming mullet in either chartreuse or white on both my dropper loop and tipping my bucktail,  Gulp! has been a great asset for flounder fisherman as that scent just seems to drive the flounder absolutely wild, so wild that I have had flounder spit up gulp that appears to have never had a hook in it almost as if 1433016566495some fisherman accidentally dropped them in the water and they floated along until ingested. When I am certain there are large concentrations of smaller baitfish like silversides or spearing around I’ll switch that dropper loops bait over to a minnow. In certain situations especially early in the season due to the lack of many other forage species I find the large flounder are feeding on calico, green, or asian crabs. This is confirmed with some of what they spit up when landed in the boat and don’t be afraid to put that crab back on the hook if it’s still alive or recently deceased as doing so has had some stellar results for me in the past. Most recently on a trip last year, everyone on the boat had caught but one client whom up until that point had only a few bites to show for his efforts.   One of my clients hooked a nice flounder and it spit up a lively asian crab on the deck I put that crab on his hook and for the next 2 drifts the same guy that had not caught a flounder yet the entire trip boated 4 flounder around his friends, whom at that point were asking me if I had anymore crabs.

 

Jigging technique:

When jigging as mentioned before it’s all about trying to keep it as vertical as possible this will allow you not only to feel every bite or breath from a fish, but also allow you to avoid getting snagged on the many pieces of bottom structure where the flounder live.  Typical day in the life of my jig is drop it straight down, jig along until it starts to scope well away from the boat and simultaneously the bottom (usually about 1-2mins. ) bring it 1433891302387in and drop back down again.  When dropped I hit the bottom and lift the rod tip about 4 inches so its hovering just above the bottom flounder are engineered to feed up having eyes that look upward. A flounder you can get to commit to a jig that is 2-20inches off the bottom is much more likely to open his mouth all the way and take the jig or hook much like a striped bass or largemouth, rather than the traditional peck, peck, peck felt using the typical drag the bottom technique. Having the jig off the bottom also allows flounder from a greater distance to key in on it, the way I explain it to clients is to look at it as an airplane, is it easier to see the plane when it’s laying on the runway or when it’s in the sky?  The action I choose to impart on the jig is just a simple and very subtle bouncing of the rod more of a shaking than anything with the rod tip moving up and down by a matter of inches. Avoid doing massive up and down motions of the jig as I find this is an archaic method that made sense in the monofilament days to compensate for stretch of the line, but now with the invention of superlines every motion on that rod tip is reflected almost to the millimeter on the jig below.

 

I hope these Pointers help y’all key in on that doormat flounder this season, or at the very least help increase those numbers!

 

-Capt. Brian Williams

 

Badfish Charters Ocean city, NJ

www.ocnjfishing.com

www.facebook.com/badfishchartersoc

Call or email to book a trip!

856 371 4346

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Finding my MOJO

Before now I have owned a leaky jon boat (the previous owner named it the “Happy Hooker”) a hobie kayak and now the “Reel Stupid” a well worn 20 foot center console that my wife was super pissed about me buying. Whatever she’ll get over it but now I have all this fishing to do and all this ground to cover. With that new found freedom comes the ability to employ different techniques to get fish in the boat. Trolling for me meant pedaling my kayak as hard as could while pulling around a deep diving plug not without success I might add but I was limited. Now I have the ability to troll popular lures like umbrella rigs, stretch plugs, bunker spoons, and the new crowd favorite Mojo Rigs I just have to figure out how…

The spring bass run in the Raritan Bay has been great so far this year and I had a chance to try out some of these techniques in the past few weeks with some success but not to the level I had hoped. My first trip out was successful as we were able to bring a few fish to the boat in the middle of the Saturday parking lot but the fish would only take an umbrella rig that felt like I was dragging around a cinderblock. I kept hearing how well everyone was doing fishing Mojo rigs and I was determined to get in on the action. At this point these rigs have quickly become the go to trolling rig for just about every striped bass fisherman

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S&S Bucktails Rattlin’ Mo

on the east coast. The Mojo itself is basically just a giant bucktail head, a heavy swing hook, and skirt tied inverted so the hairs flair out more giving it a larger profile in the water and they range in size from 2oz to a 46oz cannonball. There a broad range of options in rigging these oversized jig heads some people rig them as single Mojo usually a larger sized heads of 20+ oz with a large rubber shad or soft plastic added to the trailing hook. By far the most popular is the tandem rig consisting of a heavy duty 300lb 3-way swivel tied to your main line and 2 lengths of 100lb mono, a 12-15ft length on top and a 4-8ft length on bottom. Tied to the short bottom line is a heavy mojo head ranging from 10-460z depending on the depth and what you choose to use on your trailing line. On your longer trailing line you can pretty much experiment with anything but the most popular choices are swim shads, diving plugs, bunker spoons, and a second lighter mojo head.Untitled2e Keeping in mind that the lighter your trailing lure is the heavier Mojo head you will need to use to keep your line down. I prefer to troll with 2 S&S Rattlin’ Mo heads rigged with 9″ rubber shad bodies with. You can use any combination of Mojos like 12oz/6oz or 18oz/6oz but the lightest combination you can use to get to your desired depth is going to be the most fun to fish.

On my last trip to the Raritan Bay I finally found the success I was looking for trolling these Mojo rigs.IMG_2963x  It was a sloppy windy day and I was fishing by myself so I decided to start out fishing one line with a chartreuse tandem rig 16oz/4oz. After a while of poking around I finally found some serious concentrations of bunker in 38ft of water and shortly after my rod went down and for the rest of the day it was fish on every time I passed through a school. It sounds simple and really it is the hardest part is getting your lure in the strike zone but once you find that spot its game on. As a point of reference I was fishing a rig that weighed a combined total of 20 ounces in 38 feet of water and I found that with 175-185 feet of line out (not including the rig) my lures were right were I wanted them to be just about 5 feet off the bottom. I have found the best way to start is to drop your rig to the bottom while the boat is either stopped or barely moving and then lock up your reel, bring the boat to trolling speed 2.5-3.5kts and drop the rig to the bottom one more time. If you see your rigs are bouncing off the bottom than give the reel a few cranks and keep repeating the process until you find that spot you are looking for which is typically just a few feet off the bottom. This is where reels with line counters and metered braid can help you find that spot and get back to it very quickly without having to slow the boat down. I use Power Pro Depth Hunter braid which is color coded and marked so that I can remember exactly how deep I was when I got a strike and I can reset to that exact depth without question.  If you find the fish moving up in the water column give the reel a crank or two until you get hit again and before you know it you will have a very good feeling for how deep that Mojo rig is running.

Some days the fish want one thing and other days they want another but I think more often than not if there is bunker present a hungry Striped Bass will not hesitate to take a well presented MOJO rig. If am going to be trolling there will always be a MOJO in the spread to get the day started and it will probably stay in the spread. Good Luck finding your “MOJO”

jpr

 

Backbay Spring Stripers with Captain Skip Jastremski Jr.

 

With the Spring Bass season just around the corner its time to talk a little skinny water fishing. Captain Skip was nice enough to talk briefly with us about his operation and some backwater striper tips. Check out Stalker Fishing Charters

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When did you start fishing?

I started fishing when I was 5 years old. When I was around 12 years old I started really getting into it and fishing competitive surf fishing tournaments on a surf fishing team.

How did you get your start in the charter fishing business?

When I was in my early teens I was second mate on a busy boat out of Cape May (Miss Cape May). Then in my early 20’s I became the 1st mate on that boat until I obtained my captains license in 2002. The rest is history.

Take us through a typical day in the life of Captain Skip.

For me it’s either family or fishing! I’m married to someone that fully understands that fishing is who I am. So she has to put up with the early hours and late days! I have kids that keep me on my toes with their activities, so I might leave the house at 4:30am, the work till 3 or 4pm and have to have my son at soccer practice by 5pm which I coach. I’m a busy guy!

I think a lot of people see a captains job as a dream job. What are some of the difficult things about it that people don’t realize?

No job is easy, and being an owner/captain of a charter boat is certainly no exception. I’d say the biggest thing is just making sure everyone on a trip is safe at all times. Also when having to make a call for bad weather, sometimes folks don’t understand that we are all losing out if the boat(s) don’t sail that day. Oh and the mounds of paper work that you must stay in compliance with.

The Backwater Skiff charters are a fairly new offering from Stalker Fishing what made you decide to expand the operation and what do you enjoy abut fishing the backwaters versus the open ocean?

Honestly I have been kicking it around for years. I grew up fishing the backwater and always thought I had a great knack for figuring out where the fish are in the back. The thing about the backwater is that I rarely get blown out with any type of bad weather. My favorite thing about the backwater is in early fall when most everyone is waiting for the ocean stripers to arrive, Cape May almost becomes a ghost town. I go almost 3 weeks without seeing another person fishing at all. We literally have it to ourselves and it is generally when the best top water bite is!

How do you manage running the backwater charters and the Stalker II at the same time?

Its not easy but I just do what I can and generally have to revolve around what’s going on with the Stalker II around the Backwater Skiff. I will break it down in months for you.

May (Drum season: AM: Skiff – PM: Black drum on the Stalker II

June, July, August: Am: Deepwater Fluke on Stalker II – PM: On the skiff

September, October, Early November: AM and PM: On the skiff

What are your feelings about the health of the striped bass population after a fairly promising fall run?

I think we had a little decline, but things are looking up as we just had a couple of very good spawns. I also think with the amount of bunker we are seeing, it will hold fish longer in specific areas instead of passing us quickly like they did for a couple of years. In the next 5 years it will be off the charts again!

After a seasonably warm winter when do you expect the bass to start stirring in the back bays?

April you can definitely find bass feeding in the back. I won’t start until mid May when I can start seeing some top water crashes on plugs.

It’s your first day out for the season, where do you start and what sort of things are you looking for?

I’m likely looking for some current coming out of a creek mouth. This is where shiners, crabs, and any other bait will be coming from and the stripers will be waiting for an easy meal.

 

For me at least, targeting bass in skinny water can be a lot more complicated that looking for birds and trolling out front. The difference of approach seems like night and day. What are the key techniques and things to know when targeting spring stripers in backwaters.

Well one of the biggest factors in skinny water is being as quite as possible. Most of  fish in the back are local fish and have seen it all at one point. They are smart and at times reluctant to even look at an artificial bait, but if you play your cards right you can be very successful.

What are your go to plugs, jigs, etc. for this type of fishing?

Stillwater Lures (Smack-It Jr.), MirrOlures (She Dog), Tsunami (Sand Eels), Bass Kandy Delight (BKD) on 1/4 oz jighead.

 

Any other words of advice for the readers?

Make sure to have the right size rod, reel, and line for fishing in the backwater for stripers. We usually use something in the 7′-7’6″ range with a spinning reel loaded with 10lb braid. Also if you feel unsure you could also book a trip with me on the skiff to get a full view of what to do!

 

Captain Skip Jastremski Jr. has been fishing in the Cape May area for 30 years. He was born and raised in Cape May and has experience with all types of fishing from surf to offshore. The Stalker II is located at Snug Harbor Marina in Cape May, NJ. She is a 2008 34' Custom Calvin Beal downeast boat powered by a 490 Cummins turbo diesel engine. Fully equipped with state of the art electronics to ensure a great day of fishing. To Book a charter with Captain Skip on the Stalker II or The Backwater Skiff you can visit http://www.stalkerfishingcharters.net/ or call 609-972-5218.

 

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Captain Harv on “The Science of Flukasaurus Fishing”

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written by: Captain Harvey Yenkinson

The ocean and its marine creatures has always been a source of great amazement to me. Learning the science behind our fisheries has always been an asset to me no matter what I am fishing for. The purpose here is to introduce some of the known science that impacts our ability to capture a trophy sized fluke.

Migration:

It is always wise to try to understand the migration pattern of any species you target. Right now a majority of the fluke population is offshore, mostly just inshore of the canyon edges anywhere from 40 to 85 miles offshore. Fluke spawn offshore in these deep waters where they will spawn several times during the course of their offshore foray, mostly in the early winter months. The young spawned will move inshore in the early spring where they will reach the backwaters and shallow bay areas where they can mature and feed. These young fluke will remain inshore and not migrate offshore until they are 1-2 years old. The adults begin to move inshore in very early March with some of the adults migrating into the bays and backwaters. While most folks think all of the fluke migrate way inshore as stated above, a majority of the fluke stay out in the ocean and never move inshore.

Fluke can be caught in the inshore waters as early as March with many astute anglers targeting and releasing them well before the season opens where fluke can be retained. Fluke will feed in the backwaters and bay waters from them until the water temps rise too high in the summer. Despite the abundance of bait in that venue, a majority of the fluke first shift to deeper pools and channels, then towards the inlet, then out to the oceanic feeding stations. (A need for all species of fish to stay in their water temperature tolerances is a primary driver of species migrations.)Some very large fluke, however, will continue to feed in the backwaters well into the summer and fall.

By mid summer and into the early fall, most of the fluke will be on the near shore reefs, wrecks, coral beds, and other structured areas. The backwater fish migrating out to the near shore grounds join the larger segment of the fluke that never migrated that far inshore in those areas. As we get into early September the fluke begin to leave the near shore structures and work their way out to structured areas further offshore and eventually out to the winter spawning grounds. So this is the basic pattern, an east-west migration, but interesting variations do occur.

A water world vs an air world: Learn to get into the mind of a Fluke

I wouldn’t want to be reincarnated as a fish! Us humans have it easy compared to our marine counterparts. We get hungry, we go to the fridge. No money, the government will give you some. Gets too cold, we turn the heat up and stay put. We don’t have to worry too much about anybody eating us but fish live with this every day, 24 hours a day. During fishing season, besides their own natural predators, they have to contend with us during the summer season. Then they have to avoid the draggers during the spawning season offshore as they try to find gravid females in their spawning cycle while avoiding nets dragging by trying to capture them. The young spawned 50 or more miles offshore have to make it to the inland waters to mature, a migration taking place when they are only an inch or two long, without getting eaten or killed by abnormally cold spring water temperatures.

Life in a water world is much different then it is in the air world we live. Long distance visibility is greatly restricted in even the clearest of water. Our waters can be clouded with bacteria, viruses, protists, phytoplankton, zooplankton, copepods,and silt, reducing visibility to as low as a foot in some extreme cases in the benthic (bottom) environment where fluke reside. Fluke live in a world with much less colors then we do, living in a world of fewer and fewer colors as they descend into deeper worlds. Sounds travel much faster in water then they do in an air environment (new divers are often amazed that they can’t tell which direction a sound is coming from under the water as our brain can no longer distinguish which ear hears the sound first). Fluke have developed the ability to see ultraviolet light and can distinguish between reflected light and original source light, a sense us humans don’t have. Water pressure waves can be detected by lateral line sensations. The camouflaging ability of fluke serves them well unless you undergo an aberrant metamorphosis and end up with your white side up. Smell in an underwater world can help guide fluke to feeding sites, help them find prey, alert them to predators, and help them find mates.

Anthropomorphism is a term used where us humans give human like traits to other creatures. Above are a few examples of why this is a futile adventure and why, to become a better fisherman, we have to learn to understand the world of a fluke, how their senses are different then ours, what are their feeding mechanisms, what puts them on the feed, what makes them strike at some lures and not others, how their world changes with changes in tides, moon phases, wind direction and intensity, water clarity, bait presence, and other factors. Why does a spot that produces so well one day not produce well the next day, or even later in the same day.

Wind:

There is not a fisherman among us who doesn’t watch the wind forecasts when we think about fluke fishing. My own approach is to look at as many forecasts as I can and get a feel and use my judgement to determine whether we will go fishing that day. I look at NOAA forecasts, www.windfinder.com, www.fishweather.com, www.buoyweather.com, and sometimes shore forecasts as well. Usually by looking at multiple site forecasts and based on my own experience with weather patterns, I can decide if it is a fish day or not. Running charters requires you let your crew know by the day before whether we will be going or not to avoid folks making a long drive and not being able to go. It is a lot easier if you are just going with your pals and can make a decision in the morning!

The other thing to keep in mind is how the wind is going to effect the fluke fishing. There are many aspects to keep in mind when thinking about wind factors. Surface wind basically pushes surface waters. The longer the wind has been blowing, the harder it has been blowing, and the greater the fetch (water distance over which the wind is blowing) determines how rough it will be. This basically determines the fishability of the day but this is just one thing to think about.

Wind direction and speed also effect the bite as well. When thinking about this you want to know about how wind factors effect the benthic (bottom) environment where the fluke are feeding. One scenario to ponder is what is the effect of a persistent S or SW wind and the upwelling it can produce. One might think that a southerly wind would be a good thing because being a warm wind it would warm the waters but in fact the opposite occurs inshore.

A scientific fact you should know is that wind pushes water approx 90 degrees to the right of the direction of the wind. Another words, with a S or SW wind the surface water moves east, an offshore movement. If the earth was not spinning, a south wind would move the water north, but this spin creates the Coriolis effect and moves water to the right of, and perpendicular to, the direction of the wind. As this surface water moves offshore it creates a type of loop current where warm surface water is moving out and colder offshore bottom water is moving in to replace the water moving out. This is what is called an upwelling and can drop the inshore water temps by as much as 12 degrees. This upwelling requires that wind be strong enough (usually 15 knots) and has been blowing long enough (two to three days) to cause this upwelling to take place. This is the reason you may note fish coming up very cold or your bucktails feeling very cold as you reel them in.

So who cares? These upwellings can cause the fluke bite to temporarily slow down as the fluke adjust to this sudden oceanic change. If you are steaming out of the inlet and you notice the water temps is 68 degrees instead of 75 degrees like it was last time you were out, you will know an upwelling has occurred. So what should you do about it? The effect of an upwelling is greatest the closer to shore you are choosing to fish so fishing further out will often see this problem diminished. Another thought to ponder is that large steel wrecks have stored the heat of the previously warmed water and can provide a local environment of warmed waters particularly if the tide is not running strong. This localized “radiator” effect can sometimes provide a good bite in surrounding colder waters.

Another observation I have made is that sometimes you will start to see a bite slow down during the course of a day during southerly wind conditions. I believe this occurs as the bottom water temps are starting to decline as this upwelling effect is beginning to take place.

Northeast winds………..the good and bad

One cause of a NE wind is a high pressure to the north of us and a low pressure to the south of us. Wind rotates counterclockwise around low pressures and clockwise around high pressures, again the rotation created by the the spin of the earth. If you picture in your mind you can see how the funneling effect of these two pressure systems can create a pretty strong onshore NE wind.

The other common cause of a NE wind is the appearance of a hurricane which can create havoc in land and oceanic environments.

The interesting thing about a noreaster is that the fishing can be very good as this wind starts. Before I go on I would not recommend going fishing in any forcasted NE wind unless it is very light. NE winds blow over a great expanse of ocean (large fetch), and tend to be worse then forecasted creating very dangerous seas in most cases.

The stimulatory effect of an approaching storm on fish feeding is fairly well documented although I think it is not a direct effect of dropping air pressure itself, but instead on the oceanic factors that change in the beginning of an approaching storm. One example of a benefit of an early NE wind is the way it stacks baits up against shore structures, causing a good bite in that venue.

Last year one of my friends went out fluke fishing on the beginning of a NE wind. Joe came home after fishing in some rather rough conditions with a limit catch including two 28″ fish. Overall, though, fluke fishing in NE conditions is not favorable. Besides being difficult or impossible to fish in, that type of wind tends to stir up the bottom sediment and cloud the benthic environment that the fish are feeding in. The suspension of silt and debris, which tends to worsen the longer the wind blows, can reduce visibility to near zero where the fluke are trying to secure a meal.

When we see roughened surface waters, that water surge is translated down to the bottom waters as well since water is pretty much a noncompressible medium. Often you will see a swell created by a NE wind, a swell being a sign of a distant storm and its accompanying low pressure format. This swell too can create a lifting effect on the ocean floor again creating poor benthic visibility. Swell conditions do not always effect the quality of a bite and generally the deeper you fish, the more this effect will be eliminated. I can remember some outstanding fluke fishing days in huge long period swells.

Hurricanes in the fall tend to chase the fish offshore. Fluke seem to honker down and withstand not being able to feed well if the conditions occur in the middle of the summer and/or we have not approached the fall offshore migration period. Fish of most all species can not go too long without keeping up with their caloric needs. If the benthic conditions are too poor for too long and we get a hurricane in the late summer or early fall, the fish tend too move out. As always there are exceptions in nature, and I can remember having some very good fluke fishing days as soon as it was calm enough to go back out after a hurricane passed.

Spring tides and how they effect fluke fishing

Believe it or not, the term “spring tide” has nothing to do with the time of year. Spring tide refers to a “rising up in tide” and describes the tides we see during full and new moons. The tides associated with new and full moons are nearly identical in most instances. You may hear the term “king tide” which is simply a higher (and lower) spring tide that occurs because the moon (the major heavenly body that controls tides) is closest to the earth in its orbit (perigee).

So who cares?

Spring tides can effect fishing depending on where you fish. If you fish the back waters, the higher then normal tides pick up a lot of dead grass and debris, and the strong surging tides can make the waters all dirtied up and make fishing poor in that venue. If fishing a bay like the Delaware Bay (there are fluke there) it can also be problematic due to the intensity of the tides. Fishing away from the main channel can help reduce this effect and allow you to catch in that scenario.

How about fishing the ocean in a full or new moon. Personally, I don’t worry about it at all! Moon driven tidal effects get diminished the further out one fishes, so the effect can be minimal or actually helpful. How can it be helpful you may be thinking? Tidal movement of water is most always a stimulatory factor to predator feeding. Also on a day where there is little to no wind, a little boat movement with a tide can be just what you need to slowly drift along side your favorite structure. Another added feature is that when your boat drifts with water movement alone and not with wind, you will be able to fish straight up and down with ease, which is always a benefit when fishing snaggy structure.

When you fish around 20 miles out, away from any ebbing water from a bay, moon driven tidal movement can be negligible if present at all. The current movements offshore are usually wind driven or oceanic currents produced by other oceanic factors (loop currents, meandering eddies). When fishing reefs, wrecks, or structured areas like coral beds, 20 miles out or so, moon phase should be of little concern to you.

Imagine this:

You are walking along the aisles at the Atlantic City Boat Show waiting for your favorite fluke seminar to start and in front of you is this gorgeous woman walking. She has on high heels, dressed to the hilt, long blonde hair, swaying her hips seductively in front of you. She turns around and has the most beautiful face you have ever seen. You muster up the courage to talk to her, she opens her mouth to speak, and she hardly has any teeth and has breath that smells like a dead fish! Hmmm. Never mind!

So what does this have to do with fluke fishing you may ask.

You may think you were picky if you turned down that lovely woman above (I know some of you wouldn’t ). In order to catch a true flukasaurus you are in the same scenario. To capture an experienced fluke you must get all of the parameters right to entice her to bite, fight her successfully to the boat, and land her before she has a chance to throw the hook and escape.

That means, fishing in the right location, fishing in good bottom visibility waters, presenting your baits close enough for the fish to see, providing the proper motion to your offering such that it mimics some of the bait patterns in nature, and present scent trails that entice the fish to strike and hold on. Then you have to hook the fish properly, fight it to the boat so you don’t lose it, and then guide it successfully into the net without letting it break the surface. A lot of things have to go right to capture that specimen you have sought your whole life.

Fluke live in a world much different then the one we live in. As we begin the discussion about enticing a fluke to bite, try and let go of all your own perceptions of things and allow yourself to enter their world, understand their sensory apparati and understand what makes them eat.

Understanding Color: What color rigs and bucktails should I buy?

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Most folks buy the most beautiful rigs we see but we would be wise to think about what that rig would look like to a fluke.

Here is an example. Suppose you finally land your biggest fluke when fishing on a wreck on one of the artificial reefs. You are in amazement staring at this massive fish with your pink bucktail dangling from its mouth. Then the fluke says to you, “Wow, I haven’t seen that color (pink) since I was a year old!) What did she mean by that?

Fluke out in the ocean in water depths over 30-40 feet live in a world of mostly greens, blues, grays, blacks, and shades of white. In shallower waters like in the backwaters and shallower parts of the bays, fish get to see reds, oranges, yellows, and pinks! When fluke are in their first year or two of life, they mature in the shallow waters of bays, estuaries, and backwaters and hence may see pink objects. In deeper waters, pink simply does not look pink to fish or humans.

Something you should know about color is that color is relative! (Capt Harv’s theory of color relativity, ha!) When we look at something we call pink, it is reflecting wavelengths of light we have learned to interpret as pink. Pink is the color it reflects, not the color it really is. Now take that pink bucktail in a dark room and if you can see it at all it is now black (absence of color). Now take it down 60 feet in the ocean and it is now gray.

The deeper one goes, the more color loss there is as the water progressively filters out the longer wavelengths of light. I remember the first time I took my brother scuba diving. I had red fins back then and my brother was surprised they changed to black as we dropped to our diving depth.

So when you hear someone say pink was the hot rig today, what they really meant was gray was the hot rig that day.

So what color rigs should you choose. In general white, green (chartreuse), and blue are colors that will be visible if you are not fishing real deep. Glow colors are my favorite as they emit light and make your offering even more visible. Having said that, many guys have their favorite colors and have caught well on them. Sometimes you catch well not because of the color rig you are using, instead in spite of the color you are using.

I used to have a black rig and it caught extremely well. I called it the black death rig. I gave it to one of my favorite anglers as a present since he was amazed how well he did with it. Our bucktails help to give our baits very good movement and allow us to fish our baits well on the bottom, which even with no color, can make them very effective. Keep in mind too that fluke are on the bottom looking up at our rigs. Fish tend to be countershaded with white on their bellies and darker colors above. The reason nature has made them white on the bottom is because they are less visible looking up into the glare of the sunlight. Hence a black bucktail can be more visible then a white one!

In my opinion, coloration can make differences on some days, but in general, is not a major factor in determining if you catch well or not.

Motion:

Motion detection is a feature that we do have in common with fluke. The brains of many creatures are attuned to detecting motion because it serves as both a means of securing food and detecting potential predators. Fluke live in a world where they have to be aware 24 hours a day to avoid being eaten by predators such as sharks and large rays. Fluke mostly, but not entirely, hunt in daylight hours, and its two eyes which have nearly 360 degree visibility and independent movement are constantly searching for prey that might give themselves away through their movement.
It is a rare day that a dead sticker will out fish a jigger. The rig of a dead sticker can only move in a horizontal fluttering pattern as the boat drifts slowly along, a pattern that is sometimes quite effective. I can remember one day in particular when a gentlemen I had on board was too sick to even think of holding his rod. Periodically I would have to tell him he had another fish on. At the end of the day he had two 25 inch fish, the biggest of the trip that day. Although, not common, this does happen.

More commonly, though, folks who are active jiggers will be the best producers. For those not familiar, jigging is a technique we use where we are fishing with bucktails (jigging works well with dragging type rigs as well) and imparting a constant oscillatory movement to our rigs by constantly twitching them up and down. Everybody has their own unique rhythm and pattern, but the production of vertical motion in addition to horizontal drift motion tends to improve the catch.

Those best at jigging tend to mimic the patterns of bait in nature that are likely to illicit a strike. Think about how nervous squid dart back and forth, how bait fish flutter about, how injured fish have jerky motions, how small crabs nervously move across the ocean floor, etc. I always tell people,” be the bait!” Many good anglers totally get zoned into their fluking and learn to detect subtle bites or missed strikes. Astute anglers learn to drop their baits back, slow down their motion or twitch it even more, based on the type of bite they perceive.

These types of skills are honed over a lifetime of fluking. I always enjoy watching my anglers who have become masterful at employing these techniques. If you are new to jigging, have no fear. Experiment with different velocities and amplitudes of jigging and you will find what works for you.

Smell:

Much of what is written about fluke relates to the visual sense of fluke. Many different types of rigs, styles of bucktails, jigging motion, and color of our offerings all relate to visual clues and this is the main focus of thought of many fluke anglers. Think about this scenario: You are adrift at sea and the only fish in the ocean are fluke. You have a choice of either an unlimited bait supply including any natural or artificial baits and all the rigs you want with a plain hook only………..or you can have an unlimited supply of the best bucktails made, every rig ever invented, colored skirts, etc but you can use no bait.

Which choice would give you the best chance of survival (remember only fluke out there in this scenario)? My choice would be bait!

If you notice we all fish with all kinds of variations of rigs but one thing we all use is some type of natural or artificial bait added to our hooks. Sure, I know you can catch fluke with no bait as I am sure many of you have. I have caught them using diamond jigs, spoons, stretch lures, and other rigs with no bait at all and I am sure many of you can add to this list. But what is your first reaction when other guys on the boat are catching and you are not……….you reel your bucktail in to see if you have lost your bait.

Fish live in a world of short range vision, not because their eyes are incapable of longer range vision, but because water limits their visibility. As many divers are aware, your typical dive off the northeast coast of the United States gives you a visibility of around 20 feet or so on an average day, some days a little further, and some days only a few feet. While our gulf stream waters are the clearest, even they have visibility limitations. All kinds of things in the water including bacteria, viruses, protists, phytoplankton, zooplankton, and silt all restrict visibility to various degrees. It is like trying to look through a dense forest………the more trees there are……..the shorter the distance you can see.

While our air world is largely visual with our other senses taking second place, a sense of smell plays a much more vital role in daily survival for fish. The brain of a human can perceive literally hundreds of millions of smells, and most likely fish are capable of perceiving a very large number of smells too.

If you look at a fluke (and most other fish) carefully you will notice they have two nares (nostrils) on each side of their head. Humans have one opening on each side of our face, the other opening to our nasal cavity is back in our throat. Fluke have tiny hairs in their nasal cavity that pump water in one nares and out the other. They use sense of smell to detect danger (predators and scattering bait fish release chemical compounds), locate likely feed sources, and help them find suitable feeding grounds.

The sense of smell is a very important sense and has been around for a very very long time in evolution. It is such a primitive sense that it has a direct connection to the brain (limbic system) in such a manner that the brain reacts without having to go through a thought process. Another words the brain reacts to odors in a way that is not controlled by conscious thought. That smell can directly stimulate the fish’s brain to want to flee, want to investigate, and/or want to eat.

I think the olfactory sense of fluke is very important in their daily hunting forays and is a sense seldom talked about but knowledge of this sense is something that can greatly improve your ability to catch trophy specimens.

Let’s talk about natural baits first. Many of us cut strips of any of the legal bait sources we have. We often make strips out of sea robins, bluefish, false albacore, bonito, and others including squid, mackerel, bunker, mullet, herring, smelt, sardines, etc. In general the more highly scented the bait, the better it tends to work. The only downside is sea bass tend to jump all over the highly scented baits on many days. Some of my favorite strip baits are bluefish and false albacore. Some of my favorite whole baits are spearing, smelt, and sardines.

One thing you should know is that the scent produced by any natural bait is actually a combination of many thousands of chemicals exuding from that bait. Let me give you an example. One day one of my anglers brought some live mullet to use while fishing for fluke. He is a very good angler and tends to catch some very big fluke every year. He persisted fishing with the live mullet for quite awhile but they were not working that well that day. Some had died in the livewell and he tried filleting one and immediately started catching. Other anglers starting doing the same and our catch rate was picking up over what it was.

Part of the reason may have been the strips were visually more attractive then the whole fish, but I think other factors are at play. The scent released from a filet can be quite different than the whole fish. Humans are capable of detecting millions of scents but our capability pales in comparison to many other creatures on earth. If you would have two dogs talking, they would laugh that humans cannot follow scent trails that are so obvious to them. Fish too, living in a fluid environment with impaired long distance visibility, have a well developed sense of smell as well.

All creatures in the ocean from a snail to a clam to a whale are releasing scents into the water. Fish picking up on the pheromones and other chemical scents can detect fear signals, predator presence, spawning readiness, and other scent related signals.

A whole live fish like a mullet is releasing its own scent trail from its mucous coating, its gill and mouth openings, and excrement’s it is producing. A filet of a mullet is releasing those same scents plus an overwhelming scent trail from all the newly exposed tissues such as its muscle, liver, intestinal contents, kidneys, etc. Internal body scents like these are common from an injured fish as its internal components can now release scents into the water.

Keep it fresh:

Many of us use strip baits of various types for fluke fishing as it is a proven attractant. I always encourage folks to make nice good looking pendant strips as the strips are working as visual attractants as well as scent attractants. What you do with your strips once you make them is very important. You want to keep them as fresh as possible. Baits deteriorate at an exponential rate. What that means is that in twice the length of time, the bait is four times less fresh.

Fluke are opportunistic feeders just like striped bass. They will feed on a variety of food sources including dead creatures lying on the sand but this is not their primary forage preference by any means. So one needs to think about the range from a freshly prepared strip and a strip made an hour ago. The second you prepare a bait it is starting to change in many ways. Left out in the sun it dries out and no longer flutters well. What us humans are largely unable to detect is how the scent qualities are changing rapidly as the bait sits out in the air.

A bait doesn’t immediately change from fresh to rancid. The gradual deterioration of scenting qualities can greatly effect the ability of a bait to work. I am certain fluke can detect those changes so it is important to keep your baits out of the sun and as cool as possible. I also find if you place the meat portion down and place your wet towel on top of the skin side, the meat portions of the baits won’t swell which makes them better fluttering baits. If not used in relatively short order it is wise to discard them. You should also wash the bait board, your hands, and the knife before preparing new baits so you don’t transfer that rancid odor.

I am sure most of you have had the experience of one guy on the boat catching and others are not. This happens for a variety of reasons, but one factor is that the guy who is catching is most likely changing his baits more often then the guy who is not. Our baits, once deployed in the water, are becoming less effective by the minute for two reasons. One is that the water is warming the baits causing rancidity to progress (ever smell a piece of bunker you used too long for striper fishing). The second factor is that the scent is diffusing out of the bait so that it is producing a lesser amount of a scent trail the longer you use it.

With all that being said, I do tell my anglers the following. If you just caught a flukasaurus and the bait looks a bit ragged, don’t change it. Try dropping it back in for awhile and see how it performs. We as humans are poor at judging exactly what appeals to a fluke! On many days I have seen the ragged looking baits be the top producers.

Semiochemicals :What the heck are they?………..Welcome to the world of Gulp

The folks that invented Gulp spent many tens of thousands of dollars working on this product. The thinking on developing these types of products is based on the basic knowledge of the importance of scent on enticing fish to feed. A little science on the sense of smell:

Smell is the only one of our senses that the brain reacts to without any interpretation going on. Another words, if you touch something or see something or hear something, your brain has to interpret those sensations for you to understand and react to those.. On the other hand, the sense of smell has a direct connection to the brain via what is called the limbic system. What this means is that you (and fish which also have a limbic system) react to that smell without having to think about it. Another words, for example, if you are in an elevator and someone else in there is a little gassy let us say, you react with revulsion at this primitive level without having to think about it. A fish will react to certain smells that entice it to feed, when it may not have otherwise.

Semiochemicals are what are called signal chemicals. These products are present in many natural systems. For example a school of frightened bait release fear pheromones (a type of semiochemical) which causes the whole school to scatter. Another example in a land based system is how a female dog in heat can release pheromones that makes male dogs go nuts and want to breed. Another words, these types of chemicals cause the creature to react in a way that it really has little control of.

Semiochemicals, and in fact all types of attractant smells, are the keys to Gulp and other types of bait working. They will cause a fluke to engulf one of our offerings that may well have gone untouched without the presence of bait scent stimulants.

The scientists that developed Gulp worked with this concept to develop the product. While making the shapes and motion making ability that Gulp has, their main focus was on the scenting ability of the product. While most plastics we use are oil based products (which increases their durability), gulp is based on water based resins. The reason this was done was to allow it to better soak up the Gulp compounds in the liquid.

Gulp…………the good and bad.

First I will mention the bad because there are not too many things bad about it. One thing is that it really has a stink to it (human perception) which can get on a lot of things, but the fish love the smell. Also Gulp is loved by sea bass as well so often you will catch a lot of sea bass while using this product. One other technical problem is because Gulp is based on water based resins, the end portions tend to get bitten off which seems to make them less effective once they lose the added motion induced stimulation of the tail portion.

The good sides of Gulp far out weigh the few bad points. Many tens of thousands of dollars were spent by the research scientists developing this product. The one thing they knew is how the sense of smell is such an uncontrollably strong stimulant to get a fish feeding. Gulp has a combination of these semiochemicals (stimulant chemicals). Apparently all Gulp has one basic ingredient but others are added to mimic the bait it represents.

The Gulp product itself, because it is water based, works so well because it can soak up the juices better then an oil based product. An oil based product works more on close range scenting and taste requiring a fish to be in close proximity or actually have the bait in its mouth. Gulp has the ability to lay down a stimulatory scent trail that emanates from the product.

The thing to remember with Gulp is that it needs to be recharged. Bait scent trails of any type deteriorate exponentially. Another words, if you fish twice as long with a bait, it has lost four times its ability to produce scent. The best deal with Gulp is to change out with other baits in the jar to keep your scent trail the most seductive. Exactly how long depends on how fast you drift, water temperatures, and other factors, but I would change them after 15 minutes and certainly no longer then 30 minutes. Some guys will drop their baits in the jar when the boat is preparing to make another pass over structure.

Also you can dip your other baits in Gulp too to give them the benefits of this product.

Rigs for Fluke……….For many years, many of us just fished with the traditional dragging type of rig. My favorite, which I sometimes still use today, was the “flukasaurus rig”. It was rigged off a three way swivel on a 4 foot leader. It consisted of a few glow beads, then a spinner blade, then another bead, then a 3 or 5 inch glow squid, following by one more bead, then two hooks snelled 4 inches apart. On the two hooks we might put one long piece of bait or put two smaller baits on each of the hooks. Nowadays we mostly fish with bucktail rigs. There are four basic ways to fish with bucktails, with guys coming up with other variations as well. Feel free to post them!

The four basic ways to fish bucktails are:

1. Plain bucktails, which can also be chrome balls, facet jigs, or other such items
2. Bucktail teaser rig
3. Tap dancer rig
4. Popcorn rig

1.The plain bucktail is simple. It is rigged on a leader of either monofilament or fluorocarbon. Some guys like to use a plain bucktail to reduce snagging and also when wanting to target large fish only.

2. The bucktail teaser rig is the one I mostly use on my boat. Here a dropper loop is formed 12-18 inches above the bucktail below. This rig tends to have the least tangles for me and can be very productive. On the dropper loop you can use a plain hook, smaller bucktail, or other attractant.

3. The tap dancer rig puts the bucktail on the shorter segment of the rig with the smaller bucktail or hook placed on the longer segment of the three way rig. Here the bucktail dances as it is jigged ahead of the tempting trailing bait.

4. The popcorn rig is like a high-low rig. Here there are two dropper loops above with small bucktails on each. On the bottom portion anglers commonly fish a bucktail, but a plain weight can be used to reduce snags.

“The physics of phishing (fishing)”:

One thing I talk about in my seminars is the setting of the hook on fluke. I have guys come on my boat that don’t set the hook at all but simply reel when they have a fish on, and I have guys that set the hook so hard I have seen rods snap in two!. Perhaps you have seen some of John Skinner’s videos where he talks about the need to set the hook. Everybody has their own thoughts on hook setting for fluke and I will give you some thoughts to ponder and perhaps consider when choosing your own hook setting protocol.

One thing to think about is the new graphite composite rods (stiffer then fiberglass) and braided line (close to zero elasticity) take a lot of the stretch out of the system. Therefor it is really not necessary to have such a powerful hook set as in previous times.

Also consider the principal of physics which has to do with an object at rest wanting to stay at rest. Also a larger mass object requires more force to overcome friction and get it moving. I always give this example: Picture a large refrigerator type cardboard box on the stage and also a small box about 2″ x 2″. Now I am going to hand you a rod with the hook imbedded the same distance into each box. Now I tell you to rip the hook out of the box. When you give a sharp yank on the large box you are able to rip it out of the box. When you try the same to the small box, the box keeps sliding on the stage and the hook won’t come out.

So what does that have to do with setting the hook on a fluke you may ask? What it means is it’s easier to rip the hook out of a large fish then it is a small fish. The moral of the story is that if you have never caught a fluke over 10 pounds, one reason can be you are setting the hook too aggressively.

In my seminar I show a picture of a substantial fluke we landed that was just hooked by the skin of its mouth. The same scenario can ensue when you hook a fish in the softer internal parts of its mouth parts. Every year we land 6 or more very large fish that would have been lost if the hook set (or fight) was too aggressive.

Keep in mind too that a larger hook can grab more tissue then a smaller hook. Another words, a 5/0 hook is likely to be more successful then a 3/0 hook in grabbing enough tissue to keep the hook from pulling. A hook can only grab the amount of tissue between the distance between the hook and the shank.

Also keep in mind the harder you set the hook, the larger the hole you are going to make in the mouth of the fish, giving it a greater chance of escape.

In general if you are fishing with a fairly stiff rod, a simple flick of the wrist is all that is generally needed (assuming you are using sharp hooks). For some of the rods with a much greater bending modulus, a more aggressive sweeping hook set may be needed to engage the hook.

Think about the above physics involved, and find what works best for you!

So you have a well tuned hook set into that prize fluke that you have waited a lifetime to capture. You can feel the weight of the fish on the set. Everybody is telling you that you are probably snagged but your instinct tells you better. Your mind races to perform the next portion of the battle. So what can go wrong now? LOTS!!!!

The next thing you should think of is this. You’ve got a powerful fish on the line. Your hook is hopefully secured to a reasonable amount of the fishes flesh in its mouth or its jaw. The size of the hole in its mouth is always wider then the diameter of the hook. The fish is capable of 100 mph head shakes which its instinct tells it to use when it feels encumbered by the pressure it feels in its mouth. . The fish will do everything in its arsenal of abilities to free itself.

Every year I see guys lose big fish because they forget one thing: Never let the rod unbend! Many anglers do this without ever being aware they have done it. Often when folks hook a fish, they temporarily allow the bend to come out of the rod because they adjust their stance prior to fighting the fish, set down their drink, change the way they are holding the rod, etc. 90% of anglers that do this are not even aware they let the rod unload. The typical scenario unfolds after the angler tries to continue the fight only to find out the hook was dislodged when pressure was not maintained.

You can try to keep this in mind or have your buddies watch you to see if you unknowingly do this. Guys that are good sometimes walk towards the bow of the boat as they do everything they can to not let the rod unload. Some guys get up on their toes to accomplish the same thing. Many hold their rods low so they can keep the rod from unbending after the hook set is accomplished.

So, here you are. You had the fluke of a lifetime find your offering attractive. You successfully hooked the fish without ripping the hook out of the fish. Now you need to get the fish from the bottom to netting range. As my friend General Haig always says, “Relax, enjoy the fight!”

The one thing you want to do for sure is not let the bend come out of the rod. Some folks do this by reeling as fast as they can to get the fish to the net. I prefer another method which has worked well for anglers on my boat.

Keep in mind, here is your scenario. Your fish is hooked in one of several ways, and it is hard to know till you see the fish on the deck how it was hooked. Some are inadvertently gut hooked (not common with bucktails), some are barely hooked in the lip, some are hooked in the soft parts of the mouth, some are hooked solidly in the jaw, some are hooked but have a huge hole where the hook went through the mouth, and some are foul hooked. Good fluke anglers get a sense how their fish is hooked, but even the best are never certain.

So the trick is to be able to successfully bring this fish up through the water column knowing you may have a solid hookset or a barely hooked fish. One thing I always recommend is to fight the fish with fairly light drags, somewhere around 3 pounds of pull. Basically, if you have a fish over 5 pounds, you should definitely be pulling drag as you bring the fish up. The purpose of the light drag setting is not because you worry about breaking the line, but instead, because you don’t want to pull the hook. Lighter drags almost always land more fish no matter what you are fishing for (assuming you are not getting spooled, or chaffing your line on structure or rough mouth parts).

The ideal retrieval process keeps the same amount of pressure on the fish the whole way up. I recommend as the fish pulls harder you reel slower, as it pulls less you reel faster. On a very aggressive dive back towards the bottom, it is helpful to angle the rod down a bit to take some pressure off the fish. You basically want your rod bent the same amount all the time. Many anglers retrieve their catch constantly loading and unloading the modulus of the rod as they reel up. If you were to put an in line scale on the line you would see the poundage of the pull vary from less then a pound to much more then that depending on how hard they were yanking.

Physics dictates that if you keep a constant pressure amount on the fish (say 2-3 pounds) you are much less likely to pull the hook then if you keep varying the amount of pressure you have on the fish. The easiest way to tell you are exerting a fixed amount of pressure is to watch how much your rod is bent as you retrieve the fish. If your rod keeps the same amount of bend the whole way up, you have the technique mastered. It is much easier to accomplish this if you don’t pump the rod, just keep the rod still and vary your retrieval speed as mentioned above. Some anglers can pump the fish up and using the techniques mentioned above, keep the rod bend the same.
So you have gotten this far, You hooked the prize specimen, you successfully kept a constant bend modulus in your rod, your drag slipping as excessive pressure is dissipated, and the beautiful creature comes into visual view. What can go wrong now? Lots!!!!!!!

As a charter captain I never want an angler to lose his fish because of a netting error. Keep in mind the following thoughts when you are the angler or the net man.

The net man should have had the net in hand long before you ever saw the fish. He should be right along side of you so he can get the proper angle on the fish. You as an angler are now the maestro of the presentation to the net man. One thing you don’t want to do is bring the fish to the surface. You may recall that I mentioned a fluke can have a 100 mph head shake in the water. Well guess how more violent that head shake can be when the fish shakes its head in an air medium rather then a fluid medium. Also as I mentioned when the fish is hooked by a bucktail, the fish is even more capable of dislodging the hook as it used the weight of the rig to its advantage.

So the trick is to lead the fish to the net man but keeping the fish below the surface. The net man has his job cut out for him too. Keep in mind you want to lead the fish into the net head first. You don’t want to have the net man chasing your fish. I like to keep the net ready to go, making sure it is not going to snag on something in the boat when I am getting ready to net the fish. I keep it out of the water till I am ready for two reasons. One reason is that the fish may be spooked by the net, second is that the net may get snagged on a trailing hook if the fish is behaving wildly, when you are not quite ready to net the fish.

It is important the net man be ready because another mistake where fish are lost is when the angler retrieves the fish, he needs to keep the fish moving in order to not let the rod modulus unload. Another words, you don’t want the fish just sitting there with no pressure on it while the net man is getting ready. As soon as you unload that rod, the fish can escape via the large hole that is usually in the mouth structure tissues by now. If your net man is not ready, either slow down your retrieval speed till you see him ready, or keep the fish moving in circles so you don’t unload the rod. A fish waiting on a slack line is a recipe for disaster!

Another reason fish are lost is because the net man fails to realize where the fish actually is. It is not where it appears to be!!! This has to do with Snell’s law and other principles of physics, but in simplistic terms, what happens is light bends (refracts) as it goes from one density medium (water) to another (air). The light wave bends as it comes from the water to the air and makes the fish appear closer then it actually is! By the way, it actually makes it look larger too!

The fish will be appear to be about 10% closer then it actually is. The deeper the fish is when you net it, the more difficult this becomes. I try to net the fish when it is about 1 foot beneath the surface and make my grab realizing the fish is actually a little further away then my brain is telling me.

Multiple hookups………………..what to do

It is not unusual at all to have multiple hookups when fluke fishing. As I always say in my seminars…………less then 1% of the ocean floor has any fish population. And of that fraction of 1%, only a fraction of 1% hold any fluke. And of that fraction of 1%, less then 1% hold keeper size fluke. Another words, very little of the ocean bottom hold big fluke. And the big fluke are not evenly distributed by any means. When fishing a typical reef, for example, the keeper fluke will congregate on different microsegments of the reef structure, some holding more fish then others.

What happens on a typical drift is you are moving over some structure, then hit the honey hole where heavy bait concentration have congregated the fluke. in these microconcentrations, multiple hookups with big fish are not unusual. So what do you do?………………

What I try to do is orchestrate the landings to give us the best shot of losing none of these fish. One technique I use is to have anglers stagger their landings by varying their retrieval speeds such that the fish are reaching retrieval range far enough apart so I can get to them all. If the fish are coming up on the same side of the boat and I don’t have enough time to get one out of the net, I will have the angler give me some slack, and net the second (or third) fish without removing any of the previous fish.

If the fish are coming up on opposite sides of the boat, multiple nets come in handy. If multiple nets are not available, and the fish are coming up quickly, simply cut the first anglers line above the swivel, leave the fish in the net, and go over and net the fish on the other side of the boat. I can always deal with the tangles, but don’t want to lose the fish.

The story of my personal best which took place about 4 years ago:

The trip started out like any other, with fairly nice seas to fish in. Despite fishing on some pretty good structure, we weren’t exactly filling up the fish box. On most days, I don’t fish, but instead focus my efforts are helping out my anglers, and manipulating the boat on some of the best structures in the area I am fishing. I decided it would be helpful if I could show the guys the jigging technique I use to try to capture more fish on these tough type days.

I went below and grabbed my lightweight fluke rod and put on a 2 ounce chartreuse bucktail to which I attached a 5 inch piece of sea robin. I positioned the boat so I would drift over the pieces I wanted to hit, and after my anglers were all baited up and fishing, I dropped my rig behind the motors. On the second jigging motion I felt that typical fluke grab, and after a light hook set, started retrieving the fish off the bottom. I knew it was a nice sized one, but never anticipated it would be my best.

As luck would have it, no sooner had I hooked up, but two of my anglers hooked up. Normally I coordinate the anglers so the fish come up one at a time and I can net them without problem. I told the anglers to reel their fish in first and help each other net them and I would keep mine slowly coming up till they had their fish. The first fish comes up and it is a short. The second angler, who is now on the opposite side of the boat that I am, reels in his fish which turns out to be a nice 25 incher. Unfortunately, he is tangled with the guy next to him but they are able to successfully net the fish on the first try. So we have the net in the boat (no second net today on board today) with the 25 inch fish and their two complicated rigs composed of chrome balls and their teasers.

Just then I get a glimpse of my fish, and oh boy, this is not the time to catch this one with that mess in the net. So I instruct the angler to get my scissors and cut their lines, leave the fish and tangled rigs in the net and come net this one. I told my volunteer angler that I would lead the fish into the net. It was difficult for the angler with all the mess and fish in the net and his first attempt unfortunately hit the fish broad side and down to the depths it went.

No problem I told the angler. I had the fish on a light enough drag that she could dive without exerting undo pressure on the hook. I never let the rod unbend so I had a pretty good feeling we were still okay. Knowing that it is not common knowledge that the fish is further away then our eyes would tell us, I instructed my net man to get well underneath the fish as I reeled her toward the net again. The next netting attempt again hit the fish and away she swam again.

My mate Ronny was on the boat fishing towards the bow and I called for him to come back and he was able to net the fish (Ronny never misses a fish!). Everyone on board was shocked at the size of this fish as we seldom get to see fluke this size in south Jersey. After a bunch of photo taking and a few more drifts in the area, and a few more fish in the cooler, it was time to head home.

It was kind of funny when I was going past one of the loaded head boats coming in, and one of the guys on board pulled the fish out of the cooler to show the fish to the guys on the head boat. The captain started honking the horn and all the guys were doing the waving bow. The angler said, “Capt Harv, I’ve been waiting to do that my whole life.” He was the same lucky angler whose photo of a huge drum I had put on one of the articles I wrote in one of the fishing publications.

As there are always a lot of naysayers and doubters, I took the fish over the Jim’s bait and tackle to have it certified and entered into the Fisherman magazine contest. It measured out at 34″ and 13 pounds, exceeding my previous best of 11 1/2 pounds. Going to be a hard one to beat.

The "Vet Craft" is a 25' Grady White powered by twin 200 HP Yamaha Outboards. It has a Cruising Speed of 30 Knots. If you are interested in chartering the "Vet Craft" you can visit Vetcraftsportfishing.com

 

About Captain Harv:

Harvey Yenkinson, B.S., V.M.D. received his Bachelor of Science Degree in Animal Science from the University of Maryland in 1971 and his V.M.D from the University of Pennsylvania in 1975. Captain Harvey’s knowledge of the marine biology of the fish he targets provides for an interesting day of learning about the fish species of the Atlantic coast. Captain Harvey is very active in marine conservation and is a member of the Jersey Coast Anglers Association (JCAA),  national chapter of the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA), and chairman emeritus of the Pennsylvania chapter of the RFA.

  • US Coast Guard licensed captain for vessels up to 25 tons
  • 27 years experience fishing the inshore and offshore waters of Cape May, New Jersey
  • Sport fishing writer for numerous publications including the Fisherman Magazine and the New Jersey Angler Magazine . Capt Harv has written in excess of 75 feature articles on the science behind fishing for stripers, fluke, tuna, black drum, and sharks. Capt Harv has presented numberous seminars for the Recreational Fishing Alliance and the magazines he writes for.
  • Four time winner of the South Jersey Shark Tournament
  • Biggest Shark (565 lb. Tiger Shark)
  • Second Heaviest Mako shark (275 lb.)
  • Biggest Blue shark (192 lb.)
  • Second Heaviest Blue Shark (200 lb.)
  • Winner of numerous striper, fluke, and tuna tournaments
  • Member RFA, NCMC, JCAA, Bass Barn

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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 www.pvfishingcharter.com or contact Captain Phil at CaptPhil@pvfishingcharter.com