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.
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.
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.
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?
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 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.
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