Early Season Fluke Fishing

With Old Barney Charter’s Captain Kevin Schmidt

Every spring, fluke make their annual migration from the continental shelf to the inshore waters and back bays. This trip to spawn and feed provides excellent fishing for amateur and avid anglers alike. This natural occurrence coincides with every fisherman’s itch to get back out and bend rods. Part of this “itch” gets me thinking about some familiar questions on Early Season Fluke Fishing.

Five W’s To Early Season Fluke Fishing

Who I am going to bring on my first trip? What baits will I use? When will the season open? Where will the flatties lie in wait? Why will I fish
certain rigs, baits, tides, and areas?

As an English teacher, I stress to my students the importance of addressing the 5 W’s (Who, What, When, Where and Why) in their writing. What follows are my “5- W’s” to Early Season Fluke Fishing.

Summer flounder fishing is fun and flounder is good eats!
Summer flounder fishing is fun and flounder is good eats!

Who is going fishing?

I figured I’d start with the easiest one – whomever you want! Kids, siblings, cousins, friends. Just be sure to enjoy the trip, have fun, and be safe. What makes a fishing trip most exciting? Catching fishing… Here’s some tips to help you better your fluke fishing game.

What setups and rigs to use?

My favorite bay fluke fishing rod is a 7′ medium action spinning rod with a comfortable cork grip. While some choose to fish a Ferrari, you’ll get the job done with a number of rod choices in the $50-$100 range. For example the Tsunami Classic Series and the Shimano Talavera Inshore Series.

For reels, a 2000-3000 size spinning reel spooled with 15# braided line is my choice. Good affordable options… Penn Pursuit III Series, Penn Battle II/III Series and the Daiwa BG Series.

Here's Tanner Johnson with a nice fluke he caught fishing light tackle in Barnegat Bay.
Here’s Tanner Johnson with a nice fluke he caught fishing light tackle in Barnegat Bay.

For leader, I tie a 3 ft. leader of 20lb. fluorocarbon via a double uni knot to the braid. Many believe the difference between mono and fluoro is minimal, but I notice increased hookups with the non-reflective fluoro as my leader. Avoid snap swivels or Tactical Angler Clips and tie a double overhand loop knot to the end of the fluoro. This eliminates all terminal tackle in the rigs and allows increased feel from subtle taps – a trademark of sluggish early season fish. Plus, the double overhand loop knot allows you to easily swap out bucktails or jigs when color and weight changes are required.

Usually, I will tie a dropper knot 18” above the hook to add a bucktail teaser with Gulp!. I thread the dropper knot through the eye of the baitholder hook and present the teaser close to my main leader.

This fluke went for a Tsunami Glass Minnow rigged up as a teaser.
This fluke went for a Tsunami Glass Minnow rigged up as a teaser. (Click to link to product)

Another presentation variation for the teaser is to make a larger dropper knot, still 18” above the overhand, and cut one of the two lines coming from the knot, which will leave a single strand of line coming from the main leader. Tie a hook to the tag end. This longer teaser will trail about 10-12” from the mainline, sink closer to the bucktail on the bottom, and tempt the most timid fluke to strike.

Overall, a long teaser helps with those apprehensive early season bites. Cold water can lead to lethargic fish, with short strikes or mouthing (just putting the bait in their mouth and not swallowing). It is important to use baitholder hooks on the teaser (not the common octopus, kahle, or circle hooks) because the baitholders’ barbs hold the Gulp! on the shank of the hook to give a better presentation in the water. The Mustad 3400-BN is the perfect hook for this task. Remember, if nothing else is working, the old school “plain Jane” minnow on a 3-way rig, or the squid strip/minnow combo may just do the trick. You can use the octopus, kahle, or circle hooks on the 3-way rig. I prefer 3/0 Gamakatsu Octopus Circle Hooks.

This fluke couldn't resist a Spro Bucktail tipped with Gulp!
This fluke couldn’t resist a Spro Bucktail tipped with Gulp!

If you’re familiar with the “match the hatch” strategy of the freshwater angler, apply it to the early season flatties. Outgoing tides will carry juvenile baitfish which are naturally smaller. So, go small with the baits in early season. Anything from 1/2oz. to 1 1/2oz. max on bucktails or jig heads – usually a white Andrus bucktail. Both will produce early season. Perennial productive colors and sizes, especially early season, are 3” and 4” Gulp! Swimming Mullet colored pink, green, or white. When fishing with
other people, rig different color combos of bucktails and teasers until you figure out what the fish are chewing on. Start with green and white and go from there. On some days fluke only want one color and other days multiple colors work. If you are going to fish multiple days in a row, be sure to note the stomach contents when cleaning the day’s catch. Note what’s in their bellies and do your best to replicate it the next day.

When to fish?

Fish whenever you get the chance, but if you can be selective, know that tides, water temperature, and moon phase matter. The first 2 hours and last 2 hours of the outgoing tide typically produce most fish in early season. Those times within the tide stage also help with speed of the drift and water temperature. Take note of speed over ground (sog) on your machine. The most productive speeds for me are between 0.8knts. – 1.3knts. Finicky fluke also feed according to the fluctuating water temperatures. The ocean is usually still cold when fluke season opens, and the incoming tide commonly produces temperature drops ranging from 10-15 degrees compared to outgoing, warmer bay water. In early season, the incoming cold water will almost always shut the bite down. So, try to focus on fishing the outgoing tide when early season fluke fishing.

Jordan from Fishermans Headquarters caught this summer flounder fishing one of the main channels that leads from the inlet to the open bay. These thoroughfares are gets places to target fluke.
Jordan from Fishermans Headquarters caught this summer flounder fishing one of the main channels that leads from the inlet to the open bay. These thoroughfares are gets places to target fluke.

Many anglers swear by fishing the full moon. However, I’ve found that a couple of days before and after a full moon are not great bites. You may take fish at this time if you work hard enough, buy my logs indicate that it’s less than ideal.

Where to fish?

Fluke are predators. They lie in wait until the tide carries baitfish into their strike zone. Then they attack. For this reason, I will primarily work the channel edges first, which hold these adaptable hunters. Try to position the start of your drifts in shallower water, and allow the outgoing tide to carry the vessel into deeper channels.

Kirsten Holloway caught these early season summer flounder fishing the shallow waters with light line working the channel drop offs.

Bites often happen as soon as the presentation drops from shallow to deeper water. As mentioned earlier, try to set up your drifts on the outgoing. Even in the bay I will always lay down a trail on my machine. After the first drift, note what, if any, setups were hit or caught fish. Pay attention to color, speed, location – whatever produced the first fish and/or bites. After the drift is done, run back to the start of the previous drift and position the boat for the same drift. Once strikes begin to happen, try your best to mimic exactly the conditions (speed, bait, color, size) to earn more hook ups. Again, take note which setups are producing and then change all rods to the producing rig. If after several drifts, nothing is producing, change locations, change colors, or change rigs.

Why target early season fluke?

I pride myself on keeping detailed logs. One recurring patter I noticed year to year, above all other factors, concerns what stage of the season I am fishing – early, middle, or end of the regulated fishery. I have found the opening 2-3 weeks of the season always has greater, quality hook ups. For the beginning of the season, the fluke have just finished a very long migration and are on the feed. Also, there are increased numbers because the fishery has not undergone much pressure early in the season. All these factors make for great early season fluke.

Early season fluke offer the opportunity for excellent sport and table fare while enjoying time on the water with family and friends. Now is the time to take inventory of your tackle, tie a variety of rigs, an do some maintenance on your gear. Visit your local tackle shops and stock up. Prepare now so when the fluke arrive, you’ll be set with a variety tactics to help load the box with quality flatties.

Fish With Old Barney Charters

Are you looking to get out fishing? Save the date now for your next fishing adventure. You will not only enjoy the day, you’ll learn a lot too. Give Captain Kevin Schmidt at Old Barney Charters a call today! 1-267-918-1746

Here's Dewey Knapp with a Barnegat Bay fluke.
Here’s Dewey Knapp with a Barnegat Bay fluke.

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