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.
Fluke season is a couple of weeks behind many of us now, but there's a sense of frustration on my mind concerning the cuts looming for next season's fishery that I'd like to vent about. To summarize quickly, we're looking at a likely 29% reduction in the recreational fluke harvest next year, and that estimate is down from a previously suggested 43% reduction that was proposed due to the perception that several years of fluke spawning has been low. I'd like to share my impression of the 2015 fluke season. I fish boat, shore, and kayak on both shores of the East End of Long Island. I found small fluke (10 to 16 inches) everywhere in ridiculous numbers, and keepers were almost always easy to come by. I fish the Long Island Sound run west of Mattituck from mid-May to mid-July. Generally the biggest effort I had to make to get limit catches was to avoid the areas where I was inundated with smalls. The only downside was that there were fewer fish over five pounds than in previous seasons. Fortunately, limit catches were easy to get. The good numbers of keepers typically dries up in mid-July, and 2015 was no exception. It's at that point that I head to the South Shore between Moriches and Shinnecock. Limits did not come easy for me in the bays, but whether I was in the kayak, standing on a sandbar, or fishing a jetty, the number of smalls was high. There were also a lot of fluke out on the open ocean beach, including a surprising number of quality keepers. One August morning when the weather wasn't good for much I fished way up in a North Fork creek from a dock that I've fished since I was a small child. This is a place where I spent a lot of time growing up, and we caught winter flounder, weakfish, small stripers, blues, shad - everything but fluke. On my visit that early morning I caught dozens of fluke casting a bucktail. It was rare to go two casts without a 13- to 16-inch fluke. This is in a place that had absolutely none decades ago! In summary, I found small fluke everywhere in great numbers this past season, and plenty of keepers in the places you'd expect them to be. In my high school and college years I spent a lot of time fishing Long Island Sound from a tin boat, and while we caught fluke, it was never the frequent lock and load fishery that we've been experiencing for years. If you're interested in the issue, do an Internet search on "Nick Cicero fluke management". He did a recent editorial that covers the issue more methodically and with a wider view than my rant here. I just have to shake my head at the notion that drastic harvest reductions are necessary to save a fish that seemed to pave many of the bottoms I fished this past summer. I wish I could say that I find loads of small stripers everywhere I go, but that is certainly not the case. I think everyone who striper fishes is well aware that we don't have schoolies in the numbers we used to. With stripers often spread thin, a good way to find them is to cover a lot of water with a lure that they're likely to at least give a close look, and give away their presence at the same time. I'm talking about pencil poppers, and how I view them as the closest thing a surfcaster has to a fishfinder. They cast extremely well, and when worked aggressively on the water's surface, they do a good job of drawing fish from a distance. Most importantly, those fish give their presence away with a boil or splash even if they don't hit. I often think of lures catching for one of two reasons, they imitate well, such as a soft plastic swim shad, or they distort what they really are by making themselves hard to figure out. That's what a properly worked pencil does. The optical distortion caused by working it violently on the surface makes it very hard for a fish to realize it's just a piece of wood or plastic, and not a big injured and easy meal. Walk into a tackle shop and you'll be faced with many brands. This video discusses and contrasts a few of my favorites and shows a nice bass caught on a pencil under the type of calm conditions that are usually a challenge for getting stripers to hit.