New Jersey'™s Back Bay Fluke Bonanza

New Jersey'™s Back Bay Fluke Bonanza

Some of the biggest flounder are being taken by savvy anglers who ply the myriad back bay areas all along our state's coast. Here are the best places to try right now! (July 2007)

Even though you'll be fishing in shallower water, with many smaller flounder being caught, don't forget to bring along a wide-mouthed net. You'll need it when a hefty summer flattie jumps on your bait.
Photo by Nick Honachefsky.

Here's the real skinny on flatfish. Fluke anglers up and down the Eastern Seaboard can probably claim that they are flat-out the most dedicated to their fare in the realm of saltwater angling.

Possibly no other summertime fishery brings more people out onto the brine to put a summer flounder or two into the frying pan. And with the way these flatfish fight and taste, who can blame them?

New Jersey boasts hundreds of miles of pristine backwaters with myriad sod banks and sedge islands, as well as larger tidal bays that combine to make up an endless playground for fluke fanatics.

And the payoff is often spectacular. The key to flatfish success is to know the ins and outs of the back bays, and how to fish them effectively.

THE SEASON

May through October spells the prime time season for Jersey backwater fluke, and a seasonal pattern definitely emerges. (Our manmade season runs from May 26 to Sept. 10 this year.)

Come springtime, late April and early May signal the fluke to migrate into the back estuaries to spawn out, meaning a large selection of doormats move into the shallows.

With water temps in the low 50s at that time of the year, theory dictates that anglers should note that flatties need that spark of warmness to elevate their body temperatures. Hence, they find ever-shallower environments -- "skinny water," if you will -- to sun themselves.

These fish will lie on low-cut flats and shallow banks of backchannels and sod banks. But once summertime rolls into play and water temps reach the mid-60s and beyond during the heat of summer in July and August, wily flatfish know its time to cool off.

That's when they hunker down inside those deep channels and deep cuts off underwater sandbars and overhanging sod banks. And that's where you'll find them right now.

CHANNEL TACTICS

Channels and the surrounding flats are where you'll find most of your back-bay flatties, and certain strategies can help you maximize your catches.

I've found that bucktail jigs are some of the most lucrative offerings by far in back-bay areas.

For maximum efficiency, 3/8- to 3/4-ounce bucktails should be tied to a leader with a loop knot to allow the proper undulating motion of the bucktail's fine hairs to work its magic. The most efficient and effective rig is a 40-pound SPRO barrel swivel tied to a 36-inch section of 20-pound fluorocarbon leader, with the bucktail on the end.

A dropper loop is then tied 18 inches down from the barrel swivel onto a size 2/0 Gamakatsu Octopus-style hook, with a white or chartreuse bucktail hair teaser looped on.

Another back-bay offering that seems to put the flatfish on the bite is the simple shad dart and spearing combination.

Simple, quick twitches of the bucktail, sporadic and quirky -- and lifted not more than 6 inches off the bottom -- will attract fluke to bite.

Always maintain the lightest bucktail possible to allow you to hold ground while on a drift.

You can always drop the bucktail back to entice a strike.

Tip the bucktail with a fresh or salted-down herring, mackerel, hickory shad, bunker, bluefish, sea robin or dogfish strip. On the 2/0 dropper hook, place a 3- to 4-inch strip as well.

Another back-bay offering that seems to put the flatfish on the bite is the simple shad dart and spearing combination. Shad darts in plated silver or gold, and in the 1/4- to 3/4- ounce sizes, are simply tipped with two spearing, which are hooked through the eye sockets.

The dart is cast out and worked in a similar style to a bucktail. But pay more attention to keeping the dart close to the bottom while allowing it to drag over the sand. You do this with quick twitches of your rod tip in order to stir up some sand and to make the spearing dance on the bottom.

When working over the back channels, your drift is your key to success. Paying attention to the wind and the tide. The prime drift of any channel will have you setting up 100 yards on one side of a flat, bouncing your lure along in the 4- to 6-foot deep flats. You keep drifting in and through the hole of the channel and continue bouncing your jig on the other side of the flat for about 100 yards.

Most fluke will not move very far away from the superhighway feeding route of the channel. Thus if you drift over 100 yards onto the other side of it, put the boat in gear and drift back over the piece of real estate again. Try to position your presentation in fast drifts through the center of the channel, working each ledge, through the cut, and over the opposite edge.

Fluke are aggressive at this time. They will chase the bucktail jig up the channel ledge, but may not immediately hit it. You may need to coax them out of the deeper water and up the ledge for a solid hit. Thus dropping back is necessary in some instances.

BIG BAY FISHING

Jersey's largest bays, the Raritan and the Delaware, create our state's southern and northern boundaries. Both big bays contain both shallow and deep waters, with small tidal creeks flowing in and replenishing them every moment of the day. Without a doubt, some of the largest doormats of the year are always taken from Raritan Bay. Not only do the flatties have shallow 3- to 10-foot depths to feed over, but deeper channels ranging from 20 to 65 feet also harbor the largest flounder during the late summer months.

Delaware Bay is a much shallower area altogether. Depths average in the 10- to 25-foot range, though it does have waters that dip down to 65 feet in certain sloughs.

No matter which bay you fish, heavier tackle needs to be implemented due to increased depths and rushing currents. Bucktails can still work well, though it's time to change up to heavier 1- to 3-ounce models. But by far the most productive baits are live peanut bunker, snapper blues or large stri

p baits.

You can procure fresh peanut bunker baits with a cast net in the backwaters prior to your trip. Snapper bluefish will also fit the bill, provided they're in the 2- to 4-inch range. Snappers are suckers for Sabiki rigs.

Live baits are best used on a fish finder slider rig. The live peanut bunker or snapper blue should be hooked through the bottom lip and out the upper lip to allow it to swim freely. Let out line as the drift dictates.

When using large 5- to 10-inch strip baits such as bluefish, sea robin or mackerel, rig up the same fish finder slider rig and let the strip bait undulate back in the current in free spool. When you feel a fluke pounce on the strip, drop your bait back and feed it to the flounder for a count of three before you strike. This will ensure that the fluke has the whole bait (and hook) in its mouth.

Many times, anglers will hit on the first tap when a fluke will only be mouthing the bait. Let it swallow it whole. Patience pays off big time when using strip baits in the big bays.

JERSEY'S BACKWATER SWEET SPOTS

Barnegat Bay

Two prolific channels connect Barnegat Inlet to Barnegat's back bay: the Oyster Creek and Double Creek channels. For foraging fluke, the Oyster Creek cut is a prominent superhighway that stretches from the BI Buoy in Waretown out to Barnegat Inlet.

The meandering channel runs an average of 10 to 14 feet in depth and holds some sweet ledges and edges to work. Noted hotspots along the channel are by the BI buoy, and the flats off the No. 33 "Rolling Rock" can.

Double Creek Channel passes through along the south side of the infamous Barnegat shoals. The channel is a bit narrower than Oyster Creek, and its average depth runs from 7 to 11 feet, with sharper edge dropoffs. Near the south east side of the channel mouth, you can find holes that reach down to 22 feet.

Ludlam Bay

This wide, shallow back-bay estuary behind Sea Isle City is a perennial early-season hotspot, and fluke up to and over 8 pounds are caught here during the early summer. Bucktails tipped with mackerel or bluefish strips will do the most damage here.

Townsend and Corson sounds are each a short run from Ludlam Bay, and the tidal inlet waters here hold flatties.

Rainbow Channel

Rainbow Channel in Somers Point derives its name from its rainbow-like arc as it cuts through the sod banks. The channel is constantly finding its way as the southernmost of three consecutive channels, including Elbow and Ships channels, and is considered the most prolific flatfish factory out of the three. Waters run from 3 to 20 feet, and fluke from 1 to 14 pounds have been taken from its reaches in the last year.

Manasquan River

Flatfish will hide along the Intracoastal Waterway ledges from the Manasquan Inlet, through the state Route (SR) 35 Bridge, down past Treasure Island and west to the SR 70 Bridge, roughly three miles inland.

Many tidal fluke will hang on the flats outside the channel markers, and 2- to 4-foot depths are not uncommon holding grounds for 4- to 7-pound fluke during the summertime months. Drift from one channel edge to the other, covering the pit of the deep channel to find where the fluke are lying.

When using large 5- to 10-inch strip baits, such as bluefish, sea robin or mackerel, rig up the same fish finder slider rig and let the strip bait undulate back in the current in free spool.

Raritan Bay

Romer Shoal in Raritan Bay tends to be one of the most prolific action spots for fluke lovers, especially south of the shoal where the water ranges from 6 to 8 feet. These shallow grounds produce some of the finest flatfish the bay area has to offer. Outgoing tides produce nicely here, because the warmer backwaters of Raritan Bay are spilling out and bringing the fluke with them.

Flynns Knoll, just south of Romer Shoal, is bordered by the Sandy Hook Channel on its south side, the Chapel Hill Channel on its west side and the Ambrose Channel on its north side. Though all the surrounding channels bring baitfish in and out with the tides, the northwest corner of the Knoll harbors shallower waters from 9 to 11 feet at low tide.

Flat out, you've got flatties waiting for you in Jersey's backwaters. And I'm not just talking about those tip-benders that are pretty to look at, but not big enough to keep.

This is where you want to set up for fluke, a bit out of the ripping currents that the channels create around you, into the calmer water.

Delaware Bay

The Pin Top is thin, elongated lump, about 100 feet in diameter--not very big. Yet it's surrounded by a mess of sloughs and gullies, which run between 30 and 36 feet deep. The Pin Top itself is the spot that comes up to 16 feet at its pinnacle on the south end. On the southeast side, a deep slough cuts across near buoy 16, marking the entrance to Flounder Alley, and on the west side is the shipping channel.

Both sloughs will hold doormats throughout the summer months.

Hawks Nest Shoal

The Hawks Nest Shoal is basically a long, skinny oval hump that lies approximately 14 miles northwest of the Cape May Canal inlet. The appeal of the shoal is not only the dramatic dropoffs around it, but also the myriad of structures surrounding the area.

The east edge of Hawks Nest drops from 9 to 16 to 24 feet in a blink of an eye, providing excellent ledges for large flatties. The shoal is also bordered by Cedar Brush Hole on one side. A few wrecks and Reef Site No. 4 are all within close proximity at the shoal's southeast corner.

Flat out, you've got flatties waiting for you in Jersey's backwaters. And I'm not just talking about those tip-benders that are pretty to look at, but not big enough to keep.

If you play your game plan correctly, you're not only looking at plenty of fillets, but you can claim a doormat on any given day -- as I almost did last year when I caught and released an 8.75-pound fluke from Ludlam Bay, only six hours before the official start of the season!

When the technique and know-how is dialed in, you can leave the parade of ocean-going fluke enthusiasts to waste gas rushing to the outside. All the while, you can sit comfortably inside the back channels and flats to pull on a constant flatfish feast. Back-bay fluking is taking the angling community by storm, and now here's your shot at the game.

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