FLUKE FISHING THE MICROENVIRONMENT
by Captain Harvey Yenkinson
The most productive fishing days for large fluke require bait presentations
in the areas of the bottom of the ocean, bays, or backwaters that are the
most densely populated with the bigger fish. Oceanic predators, like fluke,
are dependent on using their hunting skills in areas most likely to provide
ample size prey to support their body mass. Anglers fishing in such areas,
using the appropriate baits and fishing techniques, are likely to bring
home the large fluke they are targeting.
When seeking the appropriate spots to fish for large fluke, one needs to
consider the construction of the surfaces over which our baits are
presented. The ocean floor and the area immediately above it are referred
to as the benthic and epibenthic environments. While not usually visible
from the surface, global positioning equipment, video fish finders, and
appropriate charts or charting equipment can enable us to find areas
that will provide such benthic environments.
99% of the ocean floor is comprised of shifting sands that provide poor
substrate to establish any bait holding or congregating habitat. Even
within the 1% of the ocean floor that holds such habitat, tiny
percentages of this habitat will hold the proper epibenthic bait
species and benthic structure to attract the large fluke we target.
Marine communities that will hold large fluke congregations require
some sort of hard fixed substrate to form a bait community. Natural
systems that fall in this category include mollusk (clams, mussels)
beds formed on the sloping edges of lumps or depressions. Also included
in this category would be rocky bottoms found in ancient stream beds
that are now part of our oceanic system.
Artificial reefs formed as part of the New Jersey artificial reef
program or other ships sunk through disaster provide the same hard
structure necessary to establish an appropriate marine community.
Predators hunt where prey abundance is the most concentrated, and
it is these habitats that provide the proper venue for big fluke to forage.
Fishing the Microenvironment
Fishing in the vicinity of natural or artificial reef structures is
the common protocol of most fishermen and most days result in a
decent catch. Our reef material is colonized by thousands of marine
creatures including hard and soft corals, algae, mussels, barnacles,
sea urchins, anemones, crabs, snails, and worms, just to name a few.
This mass of interwoven and interdependent creatures forms the bait
structure that form the basis of the habitat that will hold the
prey species large fluke feed upon.
Making long drifts through such an area is successful when the bottom
structure is dense enough to make the boat drift over productive
areas in the course of its wind and current driven profile. The
reality of long drifts though, is that only a portion of the time
is spent in the most productive territory.
If a camera was attached to a fluke rig as it traversed the bottom,
a wide variety of habitats would be seen. A natural or artificial
reef is really a community of microreef systems, some of which are
more favorable to fluke concentrations then others. The areas of
most intense structure with greatest vertical relief and organism
concentration will be the areas of greatest fluke concentrations.
In particular, it will be the large fluke that have congregated
in these structured areas. Large fluke will push their way into
and congregate around areas of bait plethora to compete for the
baits present. The scenario of a reef structure is that the large
fluke will be concentrated in microenvironments of the best bait
holding structure. In fact, the first large fluke arriving in the
first schools of fish moving onto a reef system, will congregate
tight to structure in the best bait ambushing real estate.
Savvy captains will try to keep anglers fishing in the areas of
greatest fish concentration. This process is most successful due
to the hunting tactics of the fluke themselves. Fluke, like all
fish, hunt through acquired genetic feeding skills. The largest
of fluke, though, have learned better skills through a process
called operant conditioning. The largest fluke, through many years
of hunting, have learned to repeat hunting techniques that are the
most successful, and cease using ones which are the least successful.
The largest fluke, like an experienced urban combat soldier, have
learned to hunt in areas that are the most likely to be productive.
The ability of the captain to find these areas and keep his anglers
fishing over such areas is the key to capturing large fluke. Fishing
in these bait enriched microenvironments is a skill evolved through
experience and logging these spots.
Finding the Hot Spots
Finding the most productive areas to fish is a combination of many
factors. Knowledge of fluke migration patterns determines when and
if the fluke will migrate into the reef areas. Our natural and
artificial reefs will accumulate large fluke every year, but the
timing and concentration of these fish will depend on many oceanic
factors including bait movement, water temperatures, changes in
water temperatures due to wind, and ocean currents. Once fish
have migrated to our reefs, bait structure is ample to keep them
there through the summer months into the early fall, until seasonal
changes or hurricanes cause them to move offshore.
Once the fish have arrived, fishing in the appropriate areas becomes
the duty to fill. If fishing on any of New Jersey’s artificial reefs,
one needs to secure a copy of the reef charts to find where the
structures have been sunk. The same should be done if fishing reef
sites from any adjacent state. Fishing in uncharted areas such as
fathom bank edges, lumps, or natural reefs requires self learned
experience or gps locations from a friend.
Fishing in the most intensely populated areas is the key to finding
the biggest fluke. Knowledge of different types of bait aggregating
systems is key in this regards.
One example is fishing by a wreck. Large fluke congregate at the
edges of wrecks immediately adjacent to such structure. The further
one ventures from the edges of wrecks, the more sparce the fish will
be. Big fluke will lie within inches or a few feet of a wreck to wait
in ambush of prey darting out from beneath or from the crevices of a
wreck. Finding a wreck through use of gps numbers and then seeing it
on your depth finder are the beginnings of fishing in such an area.
Due to the limitations of video depth equipment, you cannot tell if
you are directly on top of the wreck or not, particularly if the water
is deep and the wreck is small. Ideally, you want to stop your boat
and begin your drift (or you could anchor) directly adjacent to the
wreck. This can be done by bouncing your sinker off the wreck, till
you no longer feel the “clink” and then dropping your rig directly
adjacent to the wreck as the drift begins.
Even this technique can be refined by visualizing the habitat beneath.
The prime fishing area can often be at the bow and stern of the vessel
or structure, where eddies are created by the current whipping by the
sunken vessel. All ambush predators have learned to hunt in areas of
eddies, where bait fish are rendered move vulnerable to attack by
swirling waters. Also areas of the wreck that are broken up, or
contain low lying lattice type structure will be more productive
then intact hull sections.
Another little know benefit of fishing adjacent to wrecks is a
phenomenon that occurs from a persistent south or southwest wind.
This wind moves inshore waters in the offshore direction and causes
cool offshore waters to replace it inshore. This cooling effect of
the inshore water, which can be up to 12 degrees, puts the fluke in
a nonfeeding mode. The larger wrecks, however, will retain heat,
and warm the waters adjacent to itself, similar to the way a hot
water radiator heats a home. The localized warming effect of the
wreck will keep bait and the fluke that feed upon them in the active
mode even when the surrounding waters are cool and nonproductive.
Repeatedly making short drifts away from a wreck and into the wreck
debris field is a very productive method. Succeeding drifts should
start horizontally along the wreck to try to locate the most productive
drift profiles of the wreck.
Another microsystem within a reef structure that is present and is
easier to fish is within a natural or artificial rock or rubble habitat.
Here the vertical relief of such structure can form many bait rich areas
in a fairly concentrated area. By short drifting (a hundred feet to a
couple hundred yards) over such areas, one is likely to cross the path
of many large fluke. By keeping an eye on your video screen for the
hard bottom and its attendant marine growth outcroppings, one can short
drift these highly productive areas.
Making repeated drifts over these areas, and repeating the most successful
drift profiles, can lead to a quick fill of the cooler with large fluke.
In reality, every drift will be somewhat different even if the same starting
point is used. This occurs due to the exact start point of the drift,
electronic error in gps readings, wind change, tide driven current change,
rudder position when the boat is stopped, or deployment of a drift sock.
Fishing Drop Offs
When fishing on an edge in the back bays or on a mollusk bed on a fathom
bank, fluke will often hold at a certain depth. Fluke congregate at a certain
depth due to bait availability at that depth. Fish will often be found at the
same depth in different locations in nearby areas. In this scenario, the
microenvironment of the edge is the depth where fish are found. Much time
is wasted by fishing a wide depth range when the fish have been found to
be congregated at a certain depth. Slow trolling or drifting when possible
in that depth profile will yield a much higher catch then slow drifting down
a large incline, devoid of fish at other depths.
Big Fluke Success
By paying attention to the microenvironment you are fishing, and spending
your drifting time in such areas, you will have the most successful days.
Big fluke congregate in these areas of intense bait concentration and short
drifting these locales will keep your baits in the attack field of these
bottom ambushing predators.