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Articles:Avid Contributors :

OFFSHORE FLUKE -
BOTTOM STRUCTURE IS THE KEY!

In late summer and early fall, fluke fishing generally improves as these predatory fish begin to feed with enthusiasm, preparing for their migration to the continental shelf. The average fisherman is generally satisfied with the results of his efforts during this time. Most days catches are usually sufficient, producing a meal and maybe a little more for the freezer. What the average fluke fisherman doesn't realize however, is that many of the bigger trophy fluke, in the four to ten pound range, have already left the shallow bays and inlets to head offshore, feeding as they go. It is my opinion that these larger fish begin their migratory run, drawn by their natural instincts. Their natural instinct to feed however, is stronger at the beginning of this migration, then is their drive to move on to deeper water.

As these fish move out onto the mostly sandy bottom of the Atlantic, heading for the edges of the canyons where they will over-winter, they must occasionally move past productive feeding areas. Wrecks, reefs, rockpiles, or bottom strewn with shell and gravel, are like oases in the middle of the Sahara desert. They attract and hold numerous baitfish by providing an anchoring surface for the microscopic and macroscopic life that the baitfish consume, the beginning of the food chain. When fluke encounter these areas they make a stop to fill their gut before moving on to the depths. As a result, these areas hold and concentrate enough fluke to make the fishing very worthwhile, and often producing a good number of bragging size doormats. In order to partake of this type of fishing, one must first know the whereabouts of these productive bottom structures. My recommendation is to begin with one of the many artificial reefs which have been constructed within easy reach of many of the coastal inlets. These reefs are generally in the 50 ft. to 75 ft. depth range which is ideal. In addition, these reefs are sometimes marked by buoys and/or have published loran coordinates of their position. These reefs provide a rather large productive and fishable area since they are usually built from a collection of smaller masses of material that tend to scatter when deposited, and become at least partially covered with sand. This is better than a single large wreck which actually will have much less productive habitat around it. In addition, large wrecks have a tendency to devour much terminal tackle.

In order to be successful with some degree of consistency, two pieces of electronics are an absolute must, a loran and preferably a video recorder. The loran is essential in order to find the generalized fishing area at the onset of the trip, but its usefulness does not end there. When fish are hopefully caught, a quick notation of the specific coordinates will allow one to be able to make repeated drifts over the same spot where most likely more fish can be caught. An alternative to working with the loran would be to drop a marker buoy when a fish is caught and then, figuring wind and tide, make repeated drifts passing over or near the marked area. The most productive area around bottom debris extends outward to a limit of about fifty feet. The ideal situation would be to make a drift beginning at the immediate side of the structure and then moving along its perimeter or away from it. Maneuvering into this position can be quite difficult without the aid of a good quality recorder. When fishing inshore areas, landmarks can be used for ranges and triangulation, but offshore, this convenience is not usually available. In my opinion, video recorders provide the best picture, literally. They can clearly show even a fine layer of rubble that surrounds most pieces of wreckage. A high quality paper recorder is also suitable and provides a permanent record of the piece you are working for future reference. I personally have both pieces of gear and use them both, but still would prefer the color video if I had to choose one. I have still to be shown a LCD recorder that can even come close to what I would consider sufficient for the task.

In preparing to fish, once in the general area, I run the boat in a north-south or east-west grid and drop marker buoys directly on the high pieces of bottom structure. I use two liter plastic soda bottles with an appropriate length of 80 lb. dacron line and a sash weight as markers. I then settle the boat near the buoys to determine the direction of drift. The boat is then positioned so that it will drift alongside or better, between the marker buoys but not directly over the structure. I continually watch the recorder so that in the event that the boat does drift over a large piece of wreckage, the fishing lines can be raised or pulled in before they become fouled in the debris. The recorder can also tell visually, when to lower the lines so that the baits will drop in right next to the structure. Once an area has been worked over with no results, I will move on to one of the other spots that have been marked or hopefully continue the drift on to another area. It is not unusual for the fish to be concentrated at only one spot, therefore do not give up without trying at least several different spots. Another alternative to marking bottom structure with buoys, that should be considered, especially if you fish the same area repeatedly, is to construct your own loran chart. Using a piece of graph paper and assigning each vertical and horizontal line some increment of the two lines of position you use on your loran, bottom structure positions can be charted for the general area. Once the positions are all placed on the grid, a simple visual inspection of the arrangement of the bottom pieces will make it a simple task to plan the path of drift for the most promising areas.

Tackle, especially terminal tackle, is worth some consideration. With deep water and currents, more lead than is common to fluke fishing will have to be used, and therefore slightly heavier rods and reels are more suitable. My choice of outfit is a Penn 320 GTi or 25 GLS, spooled with 25 lb. test Ande line on a Penn PC-3701L Power Stick rod. This outfit is light and easy to hold, but strong enough to handle the extra weight and possibly a large fish. My terminal tackle is a basic modification of the typical fluke rig. It incorporates a three-way swivel to which is attached the fishing line, the hook and the sinker. I use pre snelled packaged hooks, preferring the English wide gap style of 3/0 to 5/0 size. When I attach the sinker, I position it allowing the hook to ride about one foot above the bottom. I attach it with a weaker piece of monofilament than is used for the fishing line. This arrangement keeps the hook above most of the bottom debris, and should the sinker snag, the lighter line attaching it will part before the main line, thus saving tackle and perhaps even a fish. I will often also utilize a high hook, approximately two feet above the swivel and on a shorter leader. Baited with a strip of squid, a killie or a spearing, this often catches some quality size humpback seabass that also are found around the wreckage.

Since there is a good possibility to attract larger fish, larger bait is also appropriate. My preferred bait is a live snapper or one freshly dead. If not available and in the spirit of bluefish conservation, whole and preferably fresh smelts from the local fish market work very well as do large killies. A strip of squid added as an attraction serves well but is not absolutely necessary. Sometimes I have felt that the addition of the squid strip actually hindered the action. Another excellent bait is a split tailed strip of fluke belly. I generally sacrifice the first keeper to prepare belly strips and always give them a try. This type of fluke fishing is more of a challenge than the laid back summer time bay variety, but, the rewards can be great. It is a real pleasure to fish an area with almost no boats, wakes or other craziness, typical of a bay fishing excursion, and to catch a bucket full of some real bragging size, good eating fluke. Give it a try, I'm sure you will like it!

Good Fishing, Capt. Al Lorenzetti Al Lorenzetti 1995
Published in "The Fisherman" 1995

 

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