Although the start of the summer season has been less than ideal with COVID-19 and some uncooperative weather, it looks like fishing will be all but encouraged to get outside and social distance this year. Once May turns to June, there is no better fish to target for the fight and dinner table than summer flounder/fluke which thrive in Northeast bays, inlets, and beaches. Unlike many tackle shops tell you and facebook posts will show, you don't necessarily need a boat to get in on the action. In this post, I'll explain what rigs to fish, discuss the baits that will get them to chew, and where to score some flatties on foot this season. Also, if you want to enter a free giveaway for a hoodie and shirt of choice off our shop, all you have to do is follow @blue_oceangraphics on instagram. Drawing will be on July 15th, or at 500 followers, whichever is first!
The Two Rigs you Will Need
High Low Bucktail/Jig Head rig
Fish Finder Rig
These two setups are perfect for targeting fluke from shore whether you want to cast and retrieve up and down the marsh, beach, and jetties or throw your pole in the holder and wait for a bite. We will cover which rig to use and what best fits your style of fishing as we discuss what you will need and how to tie them up.
High Low Bucktail/Jig Head Rig
The high low "jig rig", as I like to call it, is super simple to tie up and perfect for making cast after cast while searching for flounder. Unlike the teaser fluke rigs that you will find with a three way swivel in most tackle shops, this rig is designed to catch fluke from shore, marsh banks, beaches, and works well drifting inshore from a boat or kayak too. As a bonus, you are also likely to entice a bite from any striped bass, bluefish, and weakfish in the area. Here's what you'll need to pick up on your next tackle shop stroll:
1/4 oz to 3/4 oz bucktails or jig heads
Tactical anglers clip or fast snap clip
3/0 or 4/0 Gamakatsu baitholder hooks
20-30 lb fluorocarbon leader material (Monofilament works too)
Barrel Swivel (optional, but encouraged for beginners)
Berkely Gulp! Baits (4 inch/5 inch white Swimming Mullet, 3 inch pearl white/natural Shrimp, 5 inch white/chart pepper) *Personal favorites*
Plug Bait and Z-Man also offer durable, scented soft plastics for fluke and other species
Pictured above are the basics to get you started. Fishing jig heads and monofilament leader material will cut down the cost if you're fishing on a budget, but definitely spend the $$ on one of the scented soft plastics mentioned above!
To tie it up, you'll first need to tie an improved clinch knot (fisherman's knot) to the correct end of the fast snap clip. This is the end opposite the curved portion where you slide the bucktail or jig head on. The clip is very useful to switch bucktails and jig heads with ease to go up or down in weight depending on conditions like wind and tide.
Next, you'll need to tie a medium sized dropper loop about 12-14 inches up from the clip. Then, pinch the loop together and thread through the eye of the baitholder hook, pulling the hook through, twisting the loop (pictured) and then threading the hook back through.
Finally, you can cut the leader material 6 inches above the dropper loop and either tie your favorite line-to-line knot directly to your mainline or use a barrel swivel and tie improved clinch knots on each side to your mainline.
This rig works best with the artificial Berkely Gulp! baits and I listed a few of my go-to choices above. The wall of Gulp! packages can be intimidating at the tackle shop, but I assure you that you won't go wrong fishing the choices above. Personally, I fish a 5 inch swimming mullet or jerk shad on the bottom bucktail or jig head, and a 4 inch shrimp or swimming mullet on the baitholder hook above.
*Notice the cuts up by the head from some hungry blues and fluke on that jerk shad!
Presentation is crucial, so take your time to rig the baits as I have pictured to ensure they move through the water as effectively as possible. Strip baits like squid and mackerel also produce lots of fish on this rig so don't be afraid to switch things up.
Since Gulp! are pricey, reuse them by putting them back in the bag/jar in the juice they come in so they keep a strong scent. DO NOT leave them on your hooks, they dry up and are impossible to remove. Also, if the part is shot where you hook them in the head, cut a half inch back and keep using like new.
How to Jig Up Some Fish:
Flounder are known to be opportunistic feeders that are adapted to perfectly disguise flat on the bottom and prey on the next unsuspecting meal that swims by. In order to exploit their feeding behavior, covering as much ground as possible is key to catching these fish. While this is easily achieved with a drifting boat or kayak, it is a little more difficult to do on land, but not impossible. With a systematic approach, you work from left to right or right to left with the tide making casts out in a fan pattern to cover the bottom that is directly in front of you. A fan pattern means casting out at 3 or 4 o'clock when facing the water and then retrieving in. Next, cast an hour to the left at 2 o' clock and so on until you cover the zone in front of you as pictured below. It's crucial you make a majority of these casts with the tide direction to present a proper presentation to these fish.
If no luck, move further up or down the bank or beach you're fishing and perform another series of fan casts. The retrieve should be a slight, systematic jig of the rod tip to work the Gulp! baits up a bit in the water column, but you should primarily keep your rig steadily bouncing along the bottom in the strike zone. This is where using the right weight of bucktail/ jig head is crucial. You want just enough weight to feel the bottom, but not so heavy that your jig has no action and just drags along. A lighter jig also allows you more success in coming free from any snags you may come across. The 1/4-3/4 oz weights should have you covered for a majority of conditions from shore.
Fish Finder Rig
The fish finder rig is perfect for the angler who is looking to set up shop on a pier or beach for the day, throw up some chairs, and practice 12 oz curls while wetting a line in hopes for some summer flounder. A fish finder rig is also ideal for fishing live baits or chunk bait for a variety of species. This is what you'll need to get your hands on before you head out for the day:
Snap Swivels (medium sized)
Sinker Slide Snaps (Use the braid-friendly ones if you use braided line)
4/0-5/0 Gamakatsu Octopus Circle Hook
30 lb leader material (Fluoro or Mono)
*You can buy a pack of pre-snelled hooks for minimal knot tying*
2-4 oz sinker (a rounder style is better for fluke as it rolls around a little)
Start by snelling an octopus circle hook on a 12-18 inch leader, then tie a surgeon loop on the other end. To avoid tying knots, you can also just buy a pre-snelled back of hooks like mentioned above, but I encourage you to strengthen weaknesses and practice the basics!
Next, slip a sinker slide on your mainline and tie on a snap swivel with an improved clinch knot for monofilament or a palomar knot with braid. If you use braid, make sure to use the thicker sinker slides as braid can cut through the sinker slides designed for monofilament. Now, just clip on your leader with the snap swivel and attach a weight to your sinker slide and you're ready to cast out.
For this bait-and-wait style of fishing I prefer to use mackerel in strips as they produce a strong, oily scent in the water that attracts fish. Try to hook the bait just twice, through the skin side and then back out for a strong hold and natural look. Other baits like squid, spearing, and live minnows produce too.
How to Bait-and-Wait:
While just casting out and putting the rod down may seem simple, using a fish finder rig and a few tricks can really help you produce more fish than the guy next to you. With a fish finder rig, the idea is the fluke will pick the bait up and either swim off or just simply sit and eat. Unlike other rigs, the fish won't feel the weight of the sinker as the line slides through the sinker slide. The key is to use a light drag while the rod sits in a sand spike or against the rail. This is an ideal application for a bait runner or live lining reel that utilizes a light drag for the initial bite, and clicks off to the main drag when fighting the fish. Be careful your drag is light enough that the rod won't be pulled in!
What this looks like is a drag peeling hit where you will first tighten the drag to come tight with the fish, and then let the octopus circle hook set itself. Other times, the rod tip might have a slight tap with no drag pulled where you will need to tighten the drag, and then try to set the hook when you feel a bite. Another tell-tale flounder antic is where there is no run or rod taps, but the rod tip just bends over ever so slightly as the fish swallowed the bait and just sat close by. Here, you will want to tighten the drag and set the hook. Keeping a keen eye on your rod tip and having your drag set just right while casting out a fish finder rig can help you produce this summer season. As a bonus, this doubles as an awesome way to catch those residential striped bass that may occupy your local waters through out the year.
Where to Find the Flat Fish!
When starting out, it's easy to get caught up in where is the "right spot" to target flounder. Here is the basic breakdown of how these fish operate in the Northeast waters. In early spring, April-May, bigger fish will move in from off shore and spawn in the intracoastal waters and bays. When the water begins to warm through June, fish will be on the move out into the inlets and beaches back to the off shore grounds. Then, by the end of June/July the deep water reefs will start to produce fish through the fall. Now, this doesn't mean you can't catch fluke in the bays in August, because you certainly can, but a majority of the fish will be in the inlets and beach front by then. So first, when picking where to target fluke, take the time of year into consideration. Early season, pick a marsh bank or pier in the bay or intracoastal waters to fan cast around or cast out a line. As the season progresses, look for fishing locations closer to inlets or in the inlet itself if fishing is allowed. Jetties located by inlet openings are a great place to target fluke towards the end of June and through July/August. Inlets in general become great staging areas where larger fluke will congregate before moving off to the ocean so it's worth putting in the time and learning about your local inlet this season.
Best Bang for the Buck at a $150 Price Point
I see a lot of people asking what the best set up is at the $100 to $150 price range for light tackle fluke fishing in the intracoastal and inshore waters. As someone who has worked in the tackle industry for years, I can confidently tell you that this is the way to go. For reels, I would choose a 3000-4000 size what I like to call "black and gold" series reel. That would be the Penn Battle II, Diawa BG, or Shimano Nasci. Basically, they all try to compete with each other at the $99 dollar price point and are all great reels. So, do a little research and pick whichever brand you trust, but you can't go wrong with one of those three. When it comes to rods on a budget, you'll be hard pressed to beat Tsunami. They are simply doing the best for less. Their classic spinning rod, medium-heavy at 7' foot is listed right now at $39.99 and won't let you down with fuji guides, fuji reel seat, and solid cork grips. Take care of this set up by gently spraying off with fresh water after you fish, and I promise it will last season after season.
Catch Em' Up
Every year, I see some doormat flounder hit the scale well above the 5 lb range that were caught with both feet on land. Some of these fisherman were just casting out a line hoping for a bite, others a little more dedicated by fishing the tide daily, but the point is you don't need a boat to target fluke. My last tip is to think like a flounder. Survey the beach or bank that you're fishing for a drop off or hole where one might be laying and cast to it; you'll be surprised how often your intuition produces a bite. Stick to one of these rigs, take the time of year into consideration, support your local tackle shop (as most are doing curb side pick-up, limited customers inside), and get out there this season for some land based flounder action. If you read this far, I appreciate your time! Please feel free leave any questions or comments below.
Below was an evening strike mission at our local inlet with action every few casts and even one that made the 18" cut. That night, 3 inch white Gulp! mantis shrimp was the ticket. *Fish on cooler is not the one being held*