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John Skinner

John Skinner is the author of Fishing the Bucktail and A Season on the Edge. He’s the creator of the fishing log software FishersLog. He’s a consistent producer of trophy striped bass and holds the current New York State false albacore record.

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July 28, 2013

Casting for Fluke

by John Skinner

The break in the heat put a few bass and blues within reach of surfcasters last week, but the bass were mostly schoolies, and there weren't many anglers to take advantage of them because many surfcasters throttled down their effort when the hot weather set in. I confess to being one of them. I fished very hard in May and June, did well, and switched over to a more relaxing pace of targeting fluke when the last heatwave hit. There is plenty of shore-bound fluke potential available this time of year.
As I was kayak fishing yesterday I watched one of the local South Shore partyboats drifting within casting distance of relatively easily accessible shoreline for over an hour. I was at varying distances, but from what I could see, there were only a few anglers on the half-mile stretch of rock and sand. The partyboat is out all day, every day, had access to the ocean and entire bay, and still focused on fish that could be reached from shore. That says a lot about the fluke potential for anglers casting from that stretch of shoreline.
When I target fluke from shore I use the same gear that I do when bass fishing in the bays. I use my 7-foot Penn Regiment rod that's rated for 10- to 17-pound-test line and a Penn 360 Slammer spooled with 20-pound-test braid. My terminal fluke rig is exactly the same as what I use in my boat or kayak. It's a 1/2- to 1-ounce bucktail at the end with a 3/0 Gamakatsu Baitholder hook on a dropper loop about one foot above the bucktail. The bucktail and dropper hook are tipped with a 4-inch Berkley Gulp Alive Swimming Mullet. This is all on a leader of 20-pound-test Fluorocarbon. The important detail is to swim this rig close to the bottom. I impart a constant and rapid jigging motion because it works so well for me in the boat and kayak. A steady retrieve with occasional twitches would work just fine too.
As for where to fish, it's hard to go wrong with the inlet areas, especially on the incoming current that brings in clean ocean water and often some bait along with it. If the current is very strong in the main inlet, work your way along the inlet's back side. Generally, if you can find areas of current and some edges, bars, or drop-offs, these areas are worth a shot for fluke. It's important to keep in mind that, like stripers, fluke often won't feed heavily through an entire tide. If I had to pick a portion of the tide in the eastern Long Island bays and adjoining shorelines, I'd go with the last two hours of incoming and the first hour of outgoing. Of course this will vary from location to location. Note that the water quality may change drastically depending on the tide stage. The end of the outgoing might be brown and weedy as water is drawn from the back reaches of the bays where there is a lot of algae growth. After the first hour of incoming you might be fishing on gin-clear ocean water. As usual, some experimentation with locations and tide phases will yield the best strategy.
Below is a fluke casting video I shot during the last heatwave. I also included a short video of the tying details of the rig I was using. Although the casting video was shot in the bay, the technique is also effective on the ocean beaches in mild surf.

Casting for Fluke:

Rigging Details:

July 08, 2013

Some Pencil Popping

by John Skinner

Summer's upon us now for sure, and breaking the 90-degree mark seems like a daily occurrence. The water temperatures were running a bit cool through the spring and the first week of summer, but that's behind us now. There's probably a lot more effort directed at fluke and triggerfish than there is stripers now. Still, there are stripers in our waters, and they need to eat. If you're looking to catch them on artificials, the window for almost all of the good potential has been reduced to dusk through dawn. One of the more effective lures for the summer is a pencil popper. Sure, they're good in the spring and fall too, but they seem to stand out among the others in summer because they have the ability to raise fish when other artificials are ignored. This is likely due to the fact that you can retrieve them slowly while dancing them with a lot of commotion. It's often enough to trigger a bass to smash it. If I'm going to target bass with artificials in this weather, I'll be thrashing the water with pencils at dusk and dawn, and crawling minnow-shaped swimmers, such as Bombers and RedFins, when it's dark. I'll often make the change between lure styles around the time that it's too dark for me to see my plug hit the water. Usually I'll change back and forth more than once in the last or first 20 minutes or so of readable daylight before committing to the lure style change. Sometimes they don't hit the poppers unless there's a fair amount of daylight, but will hit the swimmers. Other times they'll respond to poppers in very low light. You just need to keep testing them.
A good strategy for this time of year is to plug both the front and backsides of the inlet areas at first light until just after sunrise, and then spend a little time on fluke or triggerfish. The backsides are usually more productive on the incoming current in this warm weather because of the influx of cooler ocean water. I like trips like this because of the three completely different species, something's bound to be in the mood to hit. A little variety in the cooler is a nice thing too. Anglers fishing the night tides at Montauk have iced the cake many times with big bass on pencils at dawn. On trips when I've eeled Montauk in the predawn hours, I always finished off with pencil poppers. Since they cast easily more than twice as far as eels, they'll allow you to cover a lot more and somewhat deeper water.
There are lots of pencil poppers on the market, and you can easily spend $20-$30 each for the custom ones. For bays and Long Island Sound and calm ocean conditions, I'm a fan of the much less expensive Cotton Cordell pencil poppers. They'll set you back around $6 each, and they're very effective. These are a nice match to a medium action 9-foot rod that is comfortable under calm conditions. Here's a video of the plugs in action.

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