Saturday marks the start of the 2012 New Jersey fluke season. Anglers who have been catching and releasing pre-season fluke will be able to keep up to five fish per day with a minimum size of 17.5 inches.
Anglers have been prepping for the big day. Tackle is being readied and hopes are high. There are always those who seek an ‘edge’ that will let them catch a big fluke. Most, however, hope they catch more keepers than they did last year.
I would like to catch a big fluke. But, because I have an affinity for dining on a fresh-caught fluke fillet, I’ll settle for at least one fish big enough to provide dinner for two. To accomplish this, I’ll dig into my bag of tricks that have produced fluke in the past. Some work for me.
My late friend Henry Schaefer, long time North Jersey outdoor writer and ardent fisherman, was as good a fluke angler as any I ever met, except for my brother, Vince. Fishing with either one of them was a humbling experience.
Vince fished light tackle and a basic rig that included a light sinker three feet ahead of a 2/0 long shank hook dressed with white bucktail. He liked minnows for bait, but was not adverse to adding a touch of squid at times.
Henry was a fluke fishing dead-stick disciple. He could regale you with stories about novice anglers who out-fished real fluke “pros” who hand held their fishing rods for hours while newcomers dead-sticked pool winning fluke.
“So-called fluke experts are forever pulling the bait away from the fluke,” Henry theorized. His repertoire of dead stick fluke stories came from his having witnessed many dead stick doormat fluke catches made by youngsters and women with little or no fishing experience or by anglers fishing for fluke for the first time.
A dead stick is a fishing rod, reel, line, sinker and baited hook left to do its own fishing. It is not unusual to see anglers fishing their own boats with one or two rods dead-sticking in the rod holders while they hand-hold another rod. Keep in mind many party boats have rules which prohibit anglers from fishing more than one rod at a time. They also frown on anglers who leave unattended rods tied to the rail while they socialize.
Most anglers fish for fluke with the reel on free-spool with the line controlled by the thumb. Thus, when a fluke picks up the bait, the angler can ‘drop back’ to allow the feeding fluke to get enough of the bait to insure the fish can be hooked. It is a traditional fluke technique which has gained popularity because of the success which follows its users.
Like pickerel and pike, when fluke seize a bait, they hold it in their jaws before swallowing it. It is a mistake to strike too fast or before the fluke has swallowed the bait far enough to have the hook in its mouth.
Fluke are not usually a structure fish like tog, sea bass and some of the other ocean fish, but they are often caught on rough bottom over coral, shells or on the artificial reefs which now dot the coastline.
Big fluke often take pools when anglers are fishing wrecks for sea bass, porgies and blackfish. Doormat fluke lurking in the wreckage seize baits being dangled around the structure.
Lacking an air bladder, fluke spend a lot of their time motionless on the bottom with only their eyes showing above the sand. Fluke bounce up to catch small fish, but they do stalk small shrimp by ‘walking’ on the long fins which extend from both sides of their bodies. The American Littoral Society was able to take motion pictures showing fluke in their stalking mode while pursuing shrimp. Fluke have also known to rise off the bottom and hit an assortment of moving lures.
Whether you hand hold the fishing rod or fish a dead stick one, fluke are fun to catch. Because of their delicate flavor, fluke may be the most popular of all of the fish we catch for the table.
Dead-sticking may be an effective fluke fishing technique, and it may have its place mostly on private and charter boats. But it is just another way to fish and it may or may not work for you.
Meanwhile, here are some tips which might help improve your fluke catches:
Keep minnows alive when transporting them to and from fishing. Minnows should be alive to be most effective when fishing for fluke. Use an aerator or change the water when transporting minnows. Some aerators have a cord which plugs into the vehicle’s cigarette lighter. Others are battery-operated self-contained units.
Keep minnows in a bait well or in a floating minnow bucket on the boat.
When fishing with minnows, change them periodically, especially if the minnow looks lethargic or dead. Active minnows catch more fish.
When fishing for fluke in shallow water try using a bobber to hold the minnow just above the bottom. When fishing a minnow under a bobber, the norm is to hook the minnows through the lips or through the skin on top near the dorsal fin. If you watch minnows hooked like this, you will note that after a brief amount of thrashing around, the minnow will settle down and suspend itself under the bobber.
To keep a bobber-fished minnow active, hook the minnow through the skin on its side. The minnow will try to remain upright, but the hook will turn the minnow on its side. The minnow will again try to right itself, and the hook will again turn it on its side. Thus the minnow will also keep moving. The more movement your bait has, the more signals it sends out through its lateral line. Odds are that the bait will catch more fish.
Hooking minnows in this fashion also works when fishing with minnows and a bobber in fresh water. Some anglers color the minnow by painting it with mechurocrome.
Another tip from fluke “pros” is to keep your minnows in a white colored container. You will notice that after a short time in the white container, minnows turn lighter in color. The lighter colored minnows will be more visible when fished over back bay dark bottom.