Vet Craft Sport Fishing 

by Captain Harvey Yenkinson


One of the biggest motivations for anglers is to catch the trophy size fish of whatever species they target. Years of fishing ventures can fade in an angler's mind, but every fishing enthusiast, for many years, can retell the story of the largest fish of the species that they have caught. Trophy sized fluke, like other larger members of their respective species, will have feeding and habitat preferences different from the average sized fish. Knowledge of these preferences can enable anglers to catch some true trophy sized fluke this coming season.


Flukasaurus Diet


The diet of many species of fish change as they grow, fluke being no exception. Most fish species graduate from a diet of zooplankton, copepods, and shrimp as newborns to crabs, worms, snails, and other small baits as they reach small to mid size. Most trophy predators switch to being piscivorous (fish eating, including squid and sand eels) as they reach the mid to upper ranges of their weight class.


The general rule for catching large fluke when ocean or bay fishing is to use larger baits. There are clear exceptions to this, particularly when fishing in shallower bays, creeks, and backwaters. Large fluke here are used to feeding on smaller offerings. Large fish are also taken from bays or deeper water ocean spots on the old “squid and minnow” combination. In general, though, when targeting large fluke, larger baits will account for the majority of large fish caught.


Larger baits can consist of strips of bait up to 12 inches long. Some anglers consider fluke to have body dysmorphic syndrome, meaning they can’t realize their own body size when consuming baits as long or longer then they are. In reality, though, fluke like to target large baits when possible, taking advantage of the high calorie offering consumed relative to the caloric energy expended to acquire the bait. Fluke can swallow a bait as wide as its mouth can open. Large fluke, with their hinged mouth, can open their mouth wide enough to allow an angler’s entire hand into their mouths!


Fluke can swallow baits longer then themselves by two mechanisms. One is that the bait can coil up inside the fluke’s stomach. This has been observed as whole squid curled up inside of a fluke’s stomach which are longer then the fluke itself! Fluke will appear tumorous or pregnant when captured with these baits already in their stomach (and they are still feeding).


The second method of swallowing large baits is that the stomach is composed of expansile smooth muscles, similar to our own. This mechanism allows the stomach to temporarily accommodate a very large bait, till stomach juices can soften and start to digest the engorged bait.


With this in mind, many large fluke are caught every year with long strips of legal sized baits. Although less commonly used by many anglers, live baits of species like bluefish (caught in the marina on small bits of bait) or netted baits like peanut bunker, pin fish, grunts, spot, or other reasonable sized baits account for many trophy caught fluke as well. Both the New Jersey state record fluke of 18 pounds 12 ounces and the world state record fluke of 22 pounds 3 ounces were caught on live bluefish.



Flukasaurus Habitat


Fish where the big fish live! The largest members of the species need to hunt where there is forage of sufficient size and abundance to maintain the caloric needs of a large bodied predator. Just as a big human needs to consume larger quantities of food to maintain his body weight, so does a fish. Also a fish needs to consider how many calories it expends to capture its prey. If a fish doesn’t consume more calories then it burns hunting over a season, it will weaken or die.


The caloric needs of fluke dictate that they will be found in areas of greatest caloric abundance of their prey species. In shallow back water areas, this can be at edges of creek beds, shelled bottom areas, steep sod banks, sloping edges of channels, or any other structured areas, man made, or natural. In the ocean, fluke will reside in areas of heavy bait concentration as well, which is found in two scenarios.


Temporary Hunting Habitats


Fluke will feed heavily along the paths of their migrations. The migratory route of fluke in their east-west trek, coincides with bait systems availability. Nonsedentary bait systems will hold fluke as long as the bait system remains in that locale. Examples of this are the migration patterns of squid and sand eels, both of which may make up to 20% of a fluke’s diet.


When fishing in less intensely structured areas, such as sloping waters of bays or fathom lines, fluke are often feeding there due to migration phases of these baits. This type of bait system is transient as the bait moves inshore and off on its own migratory run. Both squid and sand eels move inshore in the spring coinciding with the westerly directional movement of the fluke. Large fluke can be found in these areas for weeks at a time as long as the bait system remains intact. Sandy bottomed areas that have no resident bait system will have short lived but very productive fluke fishing when bait systems are present.


Stable Bait Aggregating Systems


A more reliable way to target the largest fluke is to fish in highly structured areas. These areas include natural and artificial reefs, wrecks, bivalve beds (clams, mussels, oysters), rocky bottoms, and sloping banks that have hard enough bottom to allow a colony of corals or other marine life that can hold a resident bait system.


During the summer months, these areas in deeper waters will sit below the thermocline (division between upper warm water and cooler waters beneath). In May fluke begin to move into these structured areas in the ocean and start to feed as the resident life on these areas (crabs, snails, worms, octopi, juvenile sea bass, sea robins, etc.) come to life. The migration pattern of fluke coincides with the timing of the warming of the benthic (bottom) waters and the coming to life of these inhabitants.


It is estimated that up to 90% of the largest fluke never return to the estuarine waters where they matured and left when they were large enough to join the migratory fish. While some large fluke are caught inshore by very savvy back water anglers, a majority of the large fish caught will come from ocean waters 60 to 120 feet deep. Waters of this depth will be found on New Jersey’s artificial and natural reefs. Also any areas of deposits of debris fields or wrecks will hold a community of very large fish.


Due to the stable bait systems of these types of areas, once fluke move into that feeding area, they will stay and feed till the late fall spawning urge moves them offshore for the winter. The stability of this bait-fluke feeding complex directs many anglers to fish the same areas day after day during the entire length of the open fluke season.


Fluke may move slightly from one area of the bait laden floor to another. Some times they will be found in the exact spot week after week. Some times, perhaps due to a migratory bait movement like squid, sand eels, herring or other fish, a fluke population may move off an area, but can often be found nearby. On most days, however, a poor bite is better explained by a change in water or drift conditions, then it is by a fluke population shift.