November 03, 2021
In most instances, telling someone your success was just a fluke implies more luck than skill. Not in bass fishing, though.
Fact is, the soft-plastic bass bait with the minnow body and forked tail has long enjoyed a reputation as a proven producer when bass are busy gorging themselves on baitfish.
Herb Reed invented the first soft-plastic jerkbait, called the Slug-Go, in the early 1990s. The Zoom Bait Company followed with their "Fluke," and like Coke, Frisbee and Jell-O, the term has been broadly applied to many versions of the soft jerkbait form. For our purposes, we’ll use the generic "fluke" reference for this ultra-convincing bait that is incredibly useful on the fall feeding scene.
During the fall, topwater baits excel as fish tend to "feed up." Walking or popping a topwater can offer some of the most fun you'll have this time of year, but this bite often tapers off by mid-morning. The same fish that were willing to feed "up" probably haven’t left the area, so twitching a fluke—maybe with a tiny bullet weight or rigged on a lightly weighted hook—might tempt a few more fish patrolling deeper in the water column.
Even when the topwater bite’s still on, you’ll want to keep a fluke handy for follow-up shots. During the fall feed, bass stun or kill a lot of baits that end up drifting through the water column. So, if a fish misses your topwater, fire that fluke toward the point of attack, twitch it a couple times, then dead stick the bait. That usually does the trick.
Fished shallow or deep, the fluke’s streamlined profile and subtle tail action so closely resembles what bass are looking for each fall that it often sails right past any discernment. That being said, even a furious bite fizzles, and whether it’s increasing sunlight/heat, fishing pressure or the post-frontal blahs, a handful of modifications and tactical tips can keep you in the game.
The inherent appeal of the fluke notwithstanding, consider these tips for improving its effectiveness.
From tiny 3-inch models to jumbo 7-inch versions, the fluke profile can be used to mimic yearling threadfin shad or hefty gizzard shad. Also consider that different versions of the basic fluke can vary in look and action, with offerings like the Big Bite Baits Curly Tail Jerk Minnow, Bass Assassin Straight Tail Shad or Berkley Gulp! Crazy Legs Jerk Shad being popular.
During a 2020 tournament on Lake Hartwell, Bassmaster Elite pro Patrick Walters worked to tempt spotted and largemouth bass that were chasing the fast-paced flurries of blueback herring. Walters had established a one-two punch with topwaters and Zoom Super Flukes, but with many competitors on a similar routine, he knew he needed something to set himself apart.
Walters switched to a 6 1/4-inch Zoom Fluke Stick, which blends a traditional stick worm body with the fluke’s distinct tail. The slimmer profile allowed Walters to show the fish something different.
"They’ve been throwing a Super Fluke on that lake for (many) years, so the fish have seen it before and they know it’s the same action," Walters says. "The Fluke Stick is something that gets them fired up. Rather than Texas-rigging the Fluke Stick with an extra-wide-gap hook, I used a No. 2 Neko hook threaded through the nose. I could reel the bait a little faster, it had a good action and I feel like it has a better hook-up ratio. The fish were head-shotting the bait, so with an exposed Neko hook, when they hit the bait, it would grab them."
Flukes may be rigged in any number of ways. This includes on a jighead, Carolina- or Texas-rigged or weightless. In October, weightless rigging often shines. For best results, use an extra-wide-gap hook with a screw-in keeper to minimize fluke wear and maximize the action.
To further liberate your fluke, set the hook point in the bait as you normally would, then carefully cut a half-inch slit in the bait’s underside away from the hook bend. This trick works best on bigger flukes, like full-sized to jumbos, which can be limited in their action due to their thickness.
Remember that earlier point about wounded baitfish drifting through the water column? Well, some of the biggest bass spend all of their time below the surface schoolers where they can leisurely pick off the easy targets. Cast a Carolina-rigged fluke past a schooling frenzy, slowly pull it into the red zone and you’ll often find a sizable taker. Additionally, when bass target bait pods they often nab multiple meals in one bite. Anglers can leverage this appeal with a “donkey rig,” comprising a main-line bait and a second on a sliding leader.
Construct your double-fluke rig by running your main line through the top eye of a swivel before tying to the top eye of a second swivel. Adding a 2- to 3-foot-long fluorocarbon leader to each swivel creates separation between your baits—a point you’ll appreciate in the event of a double-header. Thanks to the sliding leader, your fish won’t be pulling against a common connection point.
Bassmaster Elite pro Keith Combs shared a technique he’s used to tempt big fish holding deeper in the water column. Bridges are one of his prime scenarios, but deeper docks could also play. Inserting a 1/16- to 1/8-ounce nail weight into the nose of a 7-inch Strike King Magnum Caffeine Shad pulls the giant fluke bait downward at a faster rate than the plastic’s natural fall. To maximize the dynamics, Combs inserts one barb of a No. 2 Owner treble hook in the bait’s back for maximum grabbing power.
"The fish are down below and they sense it coming down to them," Combs says. "They don’t see the hook or anything; they just see the bait spiraling down. I’m basically dead-sticking the bait, so it has its own action. It has enough bulk to it that you can feel the bait. If you get a bait that’s too light, you always have slack in your line. When they bite this bait, all you have to do is reel it in."
Combs finds that the larger fluke-style baits work better than a standard version because the more significant body can accommodate a big nail weight. Also, a larger bait falls with a wider spiral, so he avoids the line twist common to smaller baits.
MAKE A POINT
If non-committal fish are just swatting at your bait, consider Kentucky pro Terry Bolton’s solution. In open-water scenarios, Bolton trades the usual extra-wide-gap hook for a No. 4 VMC round-bend treble. Doing so requires a line-through connection, and he accomplishes this by creating a channel with a metal rivet sleeve set into a Zoom Fluke’s nose. To prevent the sleeve from damaging his bait, Bolton plunges a starter hole with the rivet’s center pin.With less resistance, the sleeve smoothly slides into the bait with the flat end flush with the nose.
Running 12- to 14-pound fluorocarbon through the sleeve and out the bait’s hook slot, Bolton ties to a split ring and then adds his treble. Pinning one point into the body holds the hook securely, while the split ring keeps the rig flexible during a fight so there’s less chance of a fish shaking loose.
"What that treble hook does is give you a better hook-up ratio," he says. "Because it’s exposed, all you have to do is pull and reel to set the hook. Also, the rivet sleeve adds weight and improves casting distance."
If this doesn’t work, try slipping the eye of a treble hook over the point of your main hook, slide it to the bend and pin one point in the bait’s back. Adding a single-hook trailer also works.
Flukes offer plenty of visual appeal right out of the package. However, often times you’re competing against a natural buffet of baitfish. If you find yourself in this situation, try these modifications to enhance your fluke’s charm.
- 1. Use a hypodermic needle to inject air into a fluke’s body and add buoyancy. In most cases, fall presentations call for a peppy twitch, but the ability to pause and hover your bait gives the fish a different look. Moreover, if you move up shallow to fish for the bream eaters, pausing a fluke above a laydown or under a dock can really push a bass’ buttons.
- 2. Add a dark spot to your fluke’s front end to mimic the distinctive shad dot. In a feeding frenzy, that might be just the visual cue that tricks a feeding bass.
- 3. Dipping your fluke tails in dyes (chartreuse, orange, red, blue, etc.) can draw more attention and make your bait stand out more in the low visibility of early morning or overcast days. Dye pens and sprays work equally well.
Fluke designs vary greatly. Here are four of the best bass busters available.
Just like any other lure type, there are good fluke designs and not-so-good fluke designs. Of course, the right design can mean the difference between catching fish and a day spent casting to bored bass. Here are four of my go-to models.
ZOOM SUPER FLUKE
The original fluke-style bait, this 5 1/4-inch, salt-impregnated fluke features a deeply cupped belly with a hook slot. The deep belly accommodates larger gapped hooks easily. A forked tail lets the bait glide nicely in the water for a tantalizing action. The salt adds weight to the bait, making it cast farther than unsalted models.
STRIKE KING CAFFEINE SHAD
The 5-inch Caffeine Shad has a uniquely shaped bubble tail, which keeps it on top of the water easier than flukes with narrow tails. This fluke can be fished any number of ways, including Carolina-rigged or on a jighead when fish are deeper but still prefer a fluke. A coffee scent is added to mask human odors.
The 5-inch StreakZ is made of Z-Man’s proprietary Elaztech material, which is incredibly resilient and billed as 10-times more durable than other soft plastics. I can tell you from personal experience these flukes will catch dozens of fish seemingly without wear. The thin “rat tail” shimmies with the subtlest of rod tip twitch.
BERKLEY POWERBAIT POWER JERK SHAD
The PowerBait Power Jerk Shad is molded from Berkley’s proprietary PowerBait material. PowerBait has fish scent and flavored attractants molded in. When fish strike, they hold on for an advertised 18-times longer than other fluke-style baits—the result is more hook-ups. — Dr. Todd A. Kuhn