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NY, NJ, CT, RI Edition
May 11, 2011
Volume 22 � Number 3

COVER PAGE    CONTENTS    FEATURES    SEA OF OPPORTUNITIES: GO DEEP FOR FLUKE

Sea of Opportunities: Go Deep for Fluke
by Tony Salerno
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When it comes to fluke fishing, it's hard to beat fishing for the flatties in shallow bay water using small bucktail and soft plastic jigs, particularly when there are a few big fish around. However, by the time summer rolls around, the focus of bigger fish shifts towards the deeper cooler waters of the ocean that dot along the south shore bays of Long Island. Indeed there are plenty of small fish in the bays, but if you are looking for an opportunity at a jumbo or two, focus your attention on the deeper depths of the big blue towards the later part of the fluke season and slam a trophy.

HOT BITE DURING A HOT SEASON

Generally there are three spurts of action that have anglers in hot pursuit along ocean waters. The spring run where herds of fluke move inshore feasting on an abundance of squid that swarm the inshore waters. Some of the feistier smaller fluke will travel through the inlets and settle in the tranquil shallow waters of the bays feeding on smaller bait, while their larger and older siblings continue to decimate the local squid population in nearby ocean waters.

Act two normally occurs between late June and mid July. These summer run fish usually settle within a mile or two from the beach anywhere from 20 to 75 feet of water chasing and gobbling up the myriad of baitfish that populate local waters during the summer months.

Just as you can be sure there will always be taxes to pay, you can count on plenty of true doormat size fluke which will be taken from the channels of Sandy Hook, through the waters well east of Montauk Point. It is this time of year when party and charter boats from the entire local ports do a splendid job of bringing back pool winning fluke that usually hover around the 10-pound mark. This happens almost daily.

The grand finale is the late summer, early fall run as fluke begin their farewell migration out of bays and harbors for their journey to the Continental Shelf.

It is the time of year when savvy anglers look for particular pieces of structure with the intention of stopping the monster fluke in their tracks and onto their dinner plates.

A TOTALLY DIFFERENT WORLD

Unlike fishing inside the bays, ocean fluke fishing is a category all to itself. Sea and drifting conditions as well as water depths and bottom structure are all contributing factors to a successful day. The key is to blend these elements together in the proper fashion, and when you can, it is usually as easy as eating pie. In truth, the chances of having these key elements blend together perfectly are as good as I have of winning the lottery. The intent is not to discourage but rather better prepare with a contingency plan that will work for conditions at the time.

POWER FOR THE HOUR

So what is a perfect drift? Generally speaking, a drift of 1 ½ knots is ideal since this speed will keep the fluke aggressively chasing down your offerings while minimizing the activities of undesirables such as skates and crabs. However, there are exceptions to this rule that only the fish can explain, but if your drift is between 1 and 2 knots you'll be fine.

A drift slower than a knot often results in a burdensome pick of skates which can make for a frustrating time. This is usually the case for early rising anglers when there is a minimal breeze or no breeze at all during the early morning hours. One way to resolve that problem is by power drifting. Kicking the engine in and out of gear and keeping the boat moving will get you into the fluke and help to minimize skate activity. Yes this can be burdensome, but the rewards are great. Besides you'll only be power drifting for an hour or two since a typical summer day includes a refreshing sea breeze from the southwest, which will set up a good natural drift.

A drift much over 2 knots may be too fast, which will require more weight to hold bottom, and will result in a lot of short strikes, particularly in water deeper than 60 feet. All is not lost. A sea anchor is the solution to slow the drift down allowing the rig to stay on the bottom and give the fluke a shot at the bait.

A sea-anchor is a triangular type bag attached to a piece of anchor rope placed overboard where it fills with the water. It acts as a drogue and slows a fast drifting boat right down. To determine what size sea anchor you should use depends on the size of the boat. A sea anchor is extremely effective when drifting in deep water where a considerable amount of lead is required. Quite often when the fish are in water depths of 60 feet or better and a fast drift requires 12 or 16 ounces to touch bottom, a sea anchor can reduce the amount of lead to 4 to 6 ounces. Beneficially this will allow a better feel of a subtle bite, and a more spirited battle with the fish.

GEARED FOR THE DEEP

Conventional and bait caster outfits in the 10 to 20-pound class are suited well for the ocean bite. I recommend keeping the spinning outfits stored out of the way since this type of gear can be awkward for the deeper water. Rods should be of a fast taper and capable of handling weights to 8 ounces. You will appreciate the backbone when it comes down to driving the hook into the fish, especially from the deeper depths.

One of my favorite outfits for the task at hand is 7-foot Lamiglas TFX 7020 CT Tri Flex Graphite Inshore rod matched with a Daiwa Saltist reel model STT 20 TH, packed with Daiwa's 30-pound ultra smooth Samurai. The Lamiglas Tri Flex has the back bone needed to drive the hook home into the biggest of fluke, yet ultra lightweight to hold onto without fatigue all day long. The Daiwa Saltist is a true workhorse designed for braided line and super speed with a 6:4 to 1 speed ratio.

Speaking of braided line, these days they are just about a must, particularly in the deeper waters. Three things that anglers will benefit from when employing braided synthetic; super sensitivity at the feel of the rod, particularly when the bite is subtle; better hook set from the lack of stretch of the line and the ability to employ lighter sinkers and jigs thanks to the thin diameter of the line itself. It is, however, visible in water, which may have an adverse affect on line shy fluke. To solve this problem, I strongly suggest attaching a six foot mono or fluorocarbon leader of 25-pound test to the braid via a blood knot and tie your terminal gear to the leader. Frequently check the leader for abrasion.




RIGS PLAIN AND SIMPLE

When it comes to looking for the big fish in the deeper waters, forget the little gizmo's that would probably frighten the larger fluke away. Instead, a plain 3x3 rig consisting of a 4-foot leader tied to a super sharp 5/0 Wizard octopus hook is all that is needed to ice down some quality fish in the box. A teaser placed approximately 18 inches above the sinker often contributes to some additional action as well. Sinkers round out the terminal end. I recommend bringing along an assortment from 4 to 12 ounces to cover most conditions.

Jigging the ocean floor during the summer months works magically on big fluke. While most bucktails in the 3 to six-ounce range will get the job done, I was fortunate to try the new Big Eye Bucktail from Wizard Tackle. The Big Eye Bucktail was created by Ken Ehlers, which created the Spro Bucktails. Ken has made some great modifications with the new Big Eye doing exactly that; designing larger bulging holographic eyes, which helps bring this lure to life. In addition, the pupils of the eyes are embodied with a marlin which is the logo and insignia of Wizard Tackle. The unique shape and placement of 2 eyelets allows this jig to be used for vertical jigging and on the surf equally effective. As for jigging them at the Green Lawns, I used the 4-ounce Big Eye in chartreuse, white/chartreuse, pink/white and olive/white and all worked dynamite with pink and chartreuse having a slight edge. There is no doubt that the size of the eyes is what made the difference of this lure, especially when tipped with a strip of squid.

BAITS FIT FOR A KING SIZE FLUKE

I'm sure you've heard people say "big bait, big fish". Well true enough, but you might want to add that the fresher the bait the better the chances of nailing a trophy fish. In fact, fresh is another key element to the art of duping big fluke. I'm sorry but the frozen stuff just won't cut it. Don't be misled, vacuum packed spearing, squid and sand eels work just fine with the majority of fluke, but if you truly want the pick of the litter with a double digit monster, then you better change your train of thought.

Long thin strips of a fresh filleted fluke, either the white or dark side have a long and proven record. Keep in mind that if you are to strip down a freshly caught fluke, it must come from your bag limit and the rack and one side of the flesh must remain intact should you be boarded by a DEC Officer.

If you prefer not to part with your bag limit, long strip baits from a freshly caught dogfish or bluefish belly work very well also. If you can obtain fresh tinker mackerel or squid, you have some real fluke candy to play with.

Live bait such as peanut bunker, finger mullet, snappers and small bergalls are all primo choices and will work best when the bite is picky at best.

LOCATE THE BAIT

Find the bait and you will find the fluke. It's that simple. Therefore, a quality depth recorder is imperative during your search for the big boys. Monitor the screen closely, keeping an eye out for bait on or near the bottom of the ocean floor. Once you find an area with a considerable amount of bait, mark the GPS coordinates, then set up a drift pattern to put you over the concentration of bait. Keep in mind that baitfish move constantly; therefore, you will need to move with them.

However, don't be so fast to leave an area after there was a good concentration of bait moments ago. Odds are that there'll be some fluke that will stick around an area waiting for another opportunity to chow down on another school of bait that just may be passing their way.

Most often when fluke are located in a particular depth of water, odds are it has plenty of company with it. This is all well and good if you are seeking plenty of action with mixed size fish. It would not be my first choice to scout out the bruisers. Instead I suggest looking for pieces of irregular bottom such as the edges of a wreck or reef, or any sudden change in bottom depth or contour.

These are the areas the guy in your marina with the 10-plus pound fluke fished but probably won't admit to.

PATIENCE AND LET THEM EAT

Small fluke are extremely aggressive and hit like a freight train, whereas rug size fish are much more cautious, particularly when the bait just doesn't look right. It's those soft taps that you need to focus your attention on.

The key to nailing these bruisers is patience, especially when long, large strips or live bait is employed. In other words, never take the bait away from a fluke if you miss it on the first bite. The largest mistake many anglers make is taking major league swings, and then reel up to see if any bait remains.

This is a no-no. Instead, keep the bait down there for at least a minute or two. Big fluke will follow bait a long time before committing to it. Therefore give them a chance.

CAUTION AT THE INLETS

While a good steady breeze can keep the rods bending and a cooler brimming with tasty fluke, it also can create challenging conditions with the breakers in front of an inlet. Therefore, make sure to check weather and sea condition reports before heading out of any inlet. Try to plan your days when winds are between 10 and 15 knots and coincides with the current at the inlet from the time you expect to be heading home. Keep in mind that safety should always be first priority.

As always, please practice self restraint and please don't let a precious resource go to waste.


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