Surf Casting: Catching Fluke
I've fished the New Jersey shore for more than thirty years. In that time, I've seen some really big fluke taken from beaches and jetties. Some of these were incidental catches, but others were taken by well planned, seasoned, veteran fishermen who knew the habits of big fluke well. There are three techniques I've learned through the years, which will help you catch bigger from the Jersey Shore.
Before we get into that, what is a big fluke? Current New Jersey saltwater fishing regulations state that a keeper fluke is 18 inches from tip of the nose to tail. An eighteen inch fluke for many is already a big fluke. It will likely weigh between a pound and half to two pounds depending on the season. From my experience, a big fluke is any fluke over 22 inches that starts to reach over the four pound mark. Any fluke that hits double digits, say 10 pounds or more, caught from shore, is extremely rare, but it does happen and I've seen it happen. These double digit fluke are true doormats, often caught on live bait.
In New Jersey, there are three primary areas to fish for fluke. These are inlets, open beaches, and back bays. In my experience, early in the season, shore fisherman can expect inlets and beaches to offer the best chance at a big fluke, then the back bays later in the season. All of this corresponds to bait migration. Wherever you see lots of baitfish like spearing, rainfish, killies, snappers, spots, tinker mackerel, peanut bunker, and anything else a fluke can fit into its mouth, you will find big fluke. Find the bait and you will find the big fluke.
Here are the three techniques I have used to catch big fluke.
1. Large Strip Baits: On a standard fluke rig, bait up with large strip bait. You want to use the freshest possible bait such as freshly caught bluefish belly, bunker, and any other oily fish. If you can't get fresh bait, use a long strip of squid, about 8 to 10 inches and soak it in bunker oil overnight. It will be irresistible to big fluke. You may get a lot of short strikes from smaller fluke, but when you get a large one on, you will know immediately.
2. Bounce a Sassy Shad: In early August when the snappers start to show and the inlets are loaded with bait, I love to use a three inch Sassy Shad on a 1/2 ounce jig head. I soak it in some shedder crab oil or bunker oil then cast it out. The trick is to work it slowly and bounce off the bottom. Also, work the bait all the way into the rocks if you are fishing off a jetty or near rocky structure. Many times, big fluke will wait in the rocks to ambush prey drifting by. One of my biggest fluke, a four pounder, was taken with this method.
3. Live bait: Late in the season, August to September, there simply is no substitute for live bait. Snappers, spots, and mullets are all killer baits for very large, doormat sized fluke. As much as possible you want to lob the bait into the water with very little weight to hinder the movement of the live bait. Snappers and spots can be hooked behind the dorsal fin, but mullets can be hooked in the mouth and reeled in slowly off the bottom. Another technique, not often seen, but very effective in the back bays, is to suspend live bait under a float just off the bottom. This technique can really bring in a lot of big fluke as well as keeper weakfish.
These three techniques have helped me over the many years catch keeper fluke. Remember, regardless of the month; look for baitfish in the water. When you find them, fish that area hard for fluke, they will be there, sometimes right at your feet, waiting to ambush your bait or lure. Good luck and tight lines.