Back Bay Fluke Fishing - For the Shore-Bound Angler
By Scott Thomas
Back Bay Fluke
As the days get longer, and the nights get shorter, this signals the changing of seasons. The water starts to warm, the fish become more active and it signals the opening of the New Jersey fluke season. It’s my favorite local fishery: Back Bay Fluke. The fishery encompasses all seasons in the bay whether you’re presenting smaller baits in the spring, or live lining peanut bunker, spot, or snappers in the late summer and early fall. Knowing what type of water to look for is crucial, depending on the time of year and conditions.
A 7 to 8 foot rod is ideal. I look for something rated ½ to 2 ounces at the minimum. Bucktails on teaser rigs are my number one weapon for most of the fluke season, unless I’m live lining larger baits. The 7'10" Grumpys Sandstorm rod, the 8’ Jigging World Onyx or the 8 foot Tsunami Trophy II are great options here for the Angler on a budget. A 3000 or 4000 size reel such as the Penn Battle DX or the ever popular Daiwa BG with 20 pound braid will pair up perfectly. If you want the best of the best, the 8 foot ODM Evolution paired with the Shimano Twinpower XD is the way to go. I prefer to tie my own teaser rigs using a 3/0 baitholder hook such as a BKK Surf Baitholder-R. I use 20 pound fluorocarbon tying direct with a uni to uni knot, with my dropper loop about 12 inches above the Bucktail. If you’re too busy to tie your own (or not confident in your knots) a pre-tied Fluke teaser rig will work just fine. S&S Fluke Nukem Bucktails are killer in the in the back water and I keep a range of ⅜ to 1 ½ oz. Berkeley Gulp has surpassed strip bait or squid and spearing as the industry standard, and I’ll use specific sizes and styles depending on the situation. I also mix some Finessense shredder crab oil into my bait mule (be careful, you don’t want to spill it as it can become a nightmare) and the Gulp will get a hit of Pro-Cure Flounder Pounder when the fish are at their pickiest.
I like to cast and move while fluking. I’m trying to cover as much ground as possible, stopping when I find a bite, as I’ve found fluke tend to school, in a sense, in areas together. Knowing how the fluke eat is key when you feel a hit, chewing its way up the bait from behind, I keep tension on the line and wait to feel a heavier thump before I set the hook. The Navionics App or similar marine mapping software is your greatest friend when looking for an area to fish so you can find all the underwater structure within casting distance in the areas were you think food will be holding. Look for shelves, hills, and holes. Intersecting waterways are also a great spot as bait fish will get tossed around by the conflicting currents.
In the early spring, I try to fish skinny water with dark bottom. Mud flats are exceptional areas because the water warms up faster and the fluke will sun themselves here, warming up while the air and water is still chilly. Certain bait will produce far better than others, and knowing what prey is swimming around can be the difference between striking out and limiting out. Many spots in the early season will hold spearing, and matching the hatch is the name of the game. I’ve found that the Gulp sand eel is king in these areas. I’ve done experiments where I’ve used different Gulp, such as a swimming mullet or grub, and both were out produced by the sand eel. In other areas where there is no visible bait present, the fluke can be cannibalistic. This means no baby fluke is safe in this situation. The 4” swimming mullet in either orange tiger, or new penny, can be found on the end of my line.
In the summer I start to size up my baits. The 5” swimming mullet or grub is ideal. This is where I go to my traditional colors, pink shine, pearl white, and white glow are staples in my arsenal. I also love a more natural presentation with mackerel or sardine colors. I tend to target the deeper areas as the Fluke will hold in the cooler water. This is generally when the fluke start to pour out the inlets into the oceans, so the mouths can be great areas to find fluke littered along the bottom. Even with a large amount of fluke exiting the bays and rivers, a big portion still hang back, waiting for the mullet run and peanut bunker.
Fall is my trophy hunting time. When the snappers and spot are plentiful, I’ll try to get out the day before to catch a bunch that I can liveline the next day. A sabiki rig tipped with ¼” - ½” pieces of FishBites (in any flavor) seems to do the trick (if you can weed out the blowfish). I’m looking for the deepest water possible in the bay in the areas I’m fishing. I’ll either run a knocker rig or a single dropper loop rig with the bait hooked behind the dorsal. Giant fluke can’t resist the easy meal of a wounded fish swimming erratically close to the bottom. You can tell when predators get close, and your bait will start moving frantically and bouncing your rod tip a lot. Wait for the big thump, set the hook, and pull them off the bottom. If I can’t find any live bait, that 8 inch or 6 inch Gulp! grubs are my go to. Traditionally, pink shine, pearl, white, or white glow, or the go to colors, but experimenting with other colors I found can produce better results in certain areas. For example, if I know there are blue claws around, especially if I’m fishing during a shed, I’ll use the 6 inch blue fuse grub. If there’s a mullet or a big spearing or killies, mackerel or sardine, are first on my line.
With the current regulations, choosing your catch must be carefully considered. Do you keep the first fish over 18 inches that you catch? Do you throw it back in hopes that you get a bigger one this makes fishing for fluke, all the more challenging and fun some days you strike gold in throwing back your first keeper and are rewarded with a much bigger fish. Others, you lose the lottery and don’t find anymore. No matter what you end up taking home for table fare, back bay fluke fishing is a fun and action filled adventure every time you go out.