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  Wrecks - Bottom - Trolling - Inshore - Offshore 23 April 2018
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Summer Flounder,
Back Bays to the Offshore Reefs and Lumps

Summer Flounder (locally known as Fluke) are one of the most sought after recreational saltwater species. Known for their quality white meat and solid fight on light tackle, the popularity of the Summer Flounder is aided by the fact that the species can be caught from the back bays to the surf to the offshore lumps, making them accessible to everyone. While many articles have been authored on how to catch fluke, I believe that the where and the when is equally important. Use these tips to help find your own "honey holes" and know when to fish them.

Fluke are a migratory species whose migration pattern is primarily East-West in nature. After wintering on the edge of the Continental Shelf, Fluke begin moving into the back bays in early Spring. There, they enjoy basking in the warm shallows, and as the water temperatures rise, they begin moving offshore seeking the cooler bottom temperatures. Back bay and land-based fishermen don't despair, good numbers of large fluke take up residence in deep water holes inshore throughout the summer.

8-17 - Dan Brennan and friends with fluke (summer flounder) off of Little Egg Inlet. As I said, I really believe coming home with a good catch of tasty flatties is more about where and when you fish than how. That being said, your first priority needs to be to find productive fishing grounds. Sure, you can ask at the local bait and tackle store and fish the popular fishing grounds and "named" hot spots, but learning to find your own productive grounds will provide better results and make you a better fisherman in the long run. To begin, get yourself a good local chart of the back bays, inlets, and near shore ocean waters. I like the laminated charters that are available from most bait and tackle shops as you can refer to them often out on the water without ruining them with water stains. Forget the named "hot spots", and instead seek out the following productive areas:

  1. Channels - Find any location where you have a narrow area of deeper water surrounded by shallows. Fish are likely to be holding on the channel edges waiting for a free meal to wash by them.
  2. Sand Bars - These are especially productive early in the year when the shallows are warmed quickly by the sun. Move as far up onto the flats as your draft will allow, then drift off the edge.
  3. Creek/River Mouths - These areas are constant flows of bait, generally most productive on the ebb tide as bait washes out of the creeks into the waiting mouths of their predators.
  4. Back Creeks - Every bend in a back creek has an accompanying deep hole, and most all hold fish. Don't expect to catch a ton of fish here, but the fish caught are usually fair sized.
  5. Land Based Anglers - Seek out bridges and old docks in the back bay, and groins, jetties and piers on the front beach. Pay particular attention to the prevailing tide and current, and fish the down current side of this structure.

Finding new hot spots isn't limited to just reading a chart. Instead, make the most of your time on the water when waiting for the next fish to bite or motoring between drifts. Here is what the attentive captain will notice:

  1. Changes in Bottom Contour - Rarely will you actually see a pile of fluke on your sounder, especially in shallow water. However, note any sudden change in depth, even only a foot or two, as this may be a productive back bay lump or hole.
  2. Reading the Surface - On a calm day with a light breeze and bright sun, you will be able to see the productive shallow areas as they will "jump" out at you. Additionally, look for the tell-tale signs of rips that may hold fish, indicated by a rippling surface in an otherwise calm area. Also, don't discount a couple birds that may be picking at the surface showing the way to some feeding flatties below.
  3. Watching Others - When you see someone's net go overboard, don't run right over on top of them. Instead, pay attention to their drift and try to set yourself up to cover the same productive ground.

Now that you've got all these potential hot spots, you need to figure out when they are actually hot. While everyone has their own idea of the best fishing times, these "times" are not clock times but rather "times" of different conditions on the water, including tide, wind and weather.

Tide is one of the biggest factors affecting back bay fluking. Certain tides will turn the fish on and get them feeding aggressively. Different tides will be better at different times, but if you fish an area and have a good bite at a certain time today, most likely they will bite again in the same spot at the same "tide time" (usually an hour later) tomorrow. The tide also brings changes in water temperature and salinity, which especially affect early season fishing. When the water is generally cold (less than 60 degrees), look for warmer water to turn them on (usually an ebb tide). After a period of heavy rain with a lot of fresh water run off, the incoming tide is often better as it brings in salt water to compensate for the increased amounts of fresh water introduced by the rain. Finally, note how the grass problem may be affected by tide. All you may need is a little tide change to keep your baits clean and presentable as opposed to fishing with a lettuce salad all day.

Wind patterns will have an effect on the bite you experience. The most noticeable effect for most anglers is your drift. Best drifting conditions are generally when the tide is with the wind. On very windy days, you may have to work to find locations where you can "hide" out of the wind a bit, or employ a sea anchor device to slow your drift. Additionally, a strong Southerly wind will often usher in cooler bottom temperatures, giving the fish a temporary case of lockjaw.

We all like to fish on blue-bird days when it's "Sunny and 65" out, but these conditions, while great for "fishing", aren't always conducive to good "catching". For starters, good weather brings out more boats, making it difficult to get a good drift. These are the days that you really need to seek out those other prospective hot spots you've identified for yourself to get away from the traffic. Some other weather related items to keep in mind is that the bright mid-day sun will warm the flats and often get the fish biting, and after a night of heavy rain, you need to find some "saltier" water such as closer to the inlet.

Summer flounder (fluke) captured by Capt. Adam. So you've got the where and when down, but you've still got some questions on how to catch more fluke. While the conventional fluke rig consists of a hook on a 3-foot leader attached to a 3-way swivel with a snap for your sinker, try replacing the sinker snap with a 12" length of mono with a surgeon's end loop at the end to attach your sinker. This changes the "angle of attack", getting your bait bouncing off the bottom a little more to entice that trophy fluke. Use of small bucktails and shad darts have also become popular, made even more deadly when tipped with a mackerel strip or squid strip soaked in shedder oil. When the weed is really bad and you can't seem to get away from it, suspend your bait off the bottom using a bobber; you'll be surprised how aggressive a hungry fluke can be, not at all afraid to come off the bottom for a tasty meal, only to become your next meal. Finally, don't forget that as soon as you hook up, reach for that GPS and save your location. Fluke often inhabit small areas of the bottom, and short drifts over the same bottom can be the difference between catching a fish or two and filling a cooler.

When the fish move out of the bay and onto the ocean from mid-June on, you can often enjoy some of the best fluke fishing of the year, if you know where, when and how to catch them. Artifical reef and wreck sites are popular as they hold the bait that fluke feed upon. Be prepared to loose rigs here, so leave the fancy stuff home, the simpler the rig the better. Work structure edges, and look for areas in the reef with depth changes and work these areas.

Lumps hold many fluke, also, with 60' depths seeming to be the magic number. You want to find a lump that comes up out of the 60' depths and fish the edges, or find a hole the drops off deeper from a 60' depth. In addition to finding these target locations on your chart, you will run over many of these lumps and holes transiting to and from the fishing grounds, so be sure to keep that bottom machine running. Bigger baits often catch bigger fish here, with live baits such as peanut bunker, snapper blues and spots producing some of the best catches.

Before you set out on your next fluke expedition, remember that where and when you fish is every bit as important as how you fish. Follow the above tips and you'll be sure to consistently put together good catches of Summer Flounder from the back bays to the offshore reefs and lumps.

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