In Search of the Perfect Fluke Catcher

By: Thom Pelletier


The most effective method of catching Fluke can be both a point of disputation and an opportunity for individual anglers to autograph their approach. Some guys swear by a certain rig while others swear at the same rig. Some guys are allegiant to a certain color come hell or high water while others debate that conditions dictate color choices. Itís hard to convince a fisherman who has just decked a 10 pound doormat with a white bucktail that pink is the way to go. Likewise, trying to sway the opinion of a diehard live bait disciple to the virtues of fluke belly strips is usually inviting an often-boisterous clash of conclusions.

I believe that the angler that is open minded enough to sample many techniques would probably reap the most rewards. Thatís not to say that I donít have tried and true bait and rig formulas that I lean toward. But if my fishing buddy is hammering them with a Squid strip adorning his offering while Iím relegated to being his disgruntled audience and net minder as I fervently stick with my SkipJack strip, obstinacy loses; Iím switchiní.

LET'S TALK MEAT - Real bait (i.e. "the meat") mostly depends on availability. Standards like Squid and Mummies are the most accessible. Exotics like imported Smelts, usually frozen, have a following when you can find them. I'm inclined to stay away from frozen bait myself, other than Squid, as I find the freezing process tends to diminish the durability of it. Then thereís the rest including Fluke bellies, Sea Robin fillet strips, whole SkipJacks and fillets, choggies(i.e. cunners, berguls etc.) just about anything that swims into your bait trap and even freshwater Shiners.

JUST THE FACTS - Before delving into effective methods, however, let's first analyze and put some prospective on one of the most accepted ways to get one's bait down to the bottom and into the strike zone. The fishfinder/sinker slider device is a regional favorite, unfortunately when applied to Fluke fishing, it seldom performs as advertised.

The ideology here is that the line slips through the nylon sinker harness on the take, lessening the degree of sinker weight sensed by the quarry. While I do subscribe to this method when chunking for Bass or Blues, I donít believe it is an advantage while Flukiní. When chunking, the reel is usually left in free spool from a stationary platform with the lineout alarm on. Here, the fish can truly run with the bait, unimpeded by any drag the sinker might create, until the reel is engaged. When drifting, the pressure created where the swivel is made tight to the fishfinder by the boat's progress all but negates the lineís ability to pass through it. Therefore, the use of a fishfinder to lessen the resistance of the presentation and by extension, not alarm the fish is rendered ineffectual. Although I donít often make use of the fishfinder/slider method, its popularity at all the RI hotspots speaks for itself. And, hey, you have to get your bait to the bottom one way or another.

Even the perception of Fluke shying away from the resistance created by the weight is flawed in several ways. First, these fish live in a predator and prey world. Seldom does the prey surrender submissively and without attempting to flee. This is essentially the same resistance that the predator, in this case Fluke, is faced with every time it feeds.

I think we too often try to bestow human attributes on the fish we pursue. Fish live by instinct. In their competitive world, they can't scrutinize every feeding opportunity. I'm convinced that they lack the thought process to associate a resistant morsel of food with the danger of an angler 50 feet above trying to catch them. Thatís not to say they donít possess the powerful instinct of self-preservation, but they are also strongly motivated by the need to feed. If anything, I believe that an inability to easily overcome resistance and scarf a bait only serves to aggravate them and makes them increasingly determined and assertive.

THE BIG THREE - Rigs present the more personalized aspect. This is where we'll most often enjoy the consternation of those agreeing only to disagree on which is superior and which is inferior. Letís look at the three that are probably the most popular.

The Bucktail Jig enjoys a huge fandom in these parts. It is probably the most universally employed Flukin' tool on the entire East Coast and has been for a long time. Quite often the largest specimens of the season are caught on a big bucktail. These lures can also used in tandem, which I'll expound on a bit later.

There are numerous configurations available but two styles get the nod most often on my boat. The open mouth "Smilin' Bill" jigs are the type I like when a heavy jig is required. I'm talking about the six and eight ounce varieties. I like the bulk and density of these jigs particularly when slow trolling with a trailer, which Iíll also elaborate on later.

My other preference, especially in the one to four ounce ranges, is the flathead type. This shape cuts water very well as the narrow face affords less resistance in the current but still offers a large silhouette in proximity to weight.

The options in coloration seem to be ever expanding, but from what I've encountered and observed, white, chartreuse and pink are the most prominently utilized. Jigs tied with a few strips of metallic tinsel to add a bit of flash can often make a difference.

Regional lure manufacturer ATOM LURES offers a variation on the traditional jig called an Atomic Bullet. This jig employs a free-swinging bucktail-dressed hook attached to a shiny lead ball. I've had some good outings using these as well.

The Standard Fluke Rig is a commonly applied Fluke-catcher. I'm speaking of the pre-packaged variety, many of which have been around since Lassie was a pup. A number of these are built around a 3-way swivel that includes a sinker snap. I've seen them with wide gap hooks as well as long shank beak styles. Some use the long shank hook with a smaller hook tied to the shank. This allows a strip-bait to be secured in two places.

The adornments on these rigs can vary widely. The oldest styles I can remember use a couple of sections of plastic tubing separating a spinner blade or two on clevises and often included a few beads. These are still around along with similar types trimmed with Mylar, bucktail or vinyl skirts. Some models use a barrel swivel to allow the for a fishfinder set-up.

The Jig & Trailer is another common formula for tempting Fluke. This method combines both of the previous categories working a jig as the weight and an unweighted trailer in tow about 30 to 36 inches behind. This allows a two-bait presentation, doubling your odds. This is the approach that I go with 95% of the time. I tie my own rigs, know as ThomCats, using a T-shaped 3-way with the jig tied to the in-line ring and the rig tied to the other. I find this produces the least amount of tangles, which are not uncommon with 2-bait proposition. Other anglers will go with a dropper loop to cut down on the hardware. Whichever way is practiced, an 8 to 10 inch leader to the jig permits the trailer to ride a little off the bottom and freewheel in the current. From my experience, this is quite appealing to the Fluke, as 9 out of 10 fish will take trailing offering.

This is a multi-purpose devise that can be used drifting as well as trolling. When tide and wind die at the same time nullifying the drift, slow trolling with a jig heavy enough to tend bottom can put your bait in front of fish. This manufactured drift can extend the day when the elements fail you.
Variations on this rig can include substituting a smaller jig as the trailer. When Bluefish or tough bottom structure are gobbling up too many jigs, a bank sinker can be applied. Jigging, even with sinker weighted offerings, will often spark uninterested fish. This maneuver seems to ignite the contentious nature in Fluke.

This modest summation is by no means the be all and end all of Fluke fishing strategies. It is, however, a core approach that can be augmented to the extent of each anglerís preference.

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Thom has been fishing Narragansett Bay and the RI south shore for over 40 years and written numerous articles on fishing in Rhode Island for On the Water, The Fisherman, Saltwater Sportsman, Nor'east Saltwater, and Northeast Boating magazine. He is also a fishing guide for Rhode Island fishing charters.

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