Understanding the parts of a fluke jig is essential to putting together the best presentation for fooling keeper flatfish.
Fluke may be bottom dwellers, but they are predators of the highest order. They lie in wait, ready to attack any baitfish or crustacean that drifts too close. This predatory nature makes them prime targets for jigging. While using jigs for fluke is nothing new, there are more options than ever for anglers hoping to get into this active and engaging way to catch the Northeast’s favorite bottom fish.
Fluke fishermen want their jigheads to get down fast and stay down. Fast-sinking shapes like the ball and ultra-minnow jigs are the most popular.
Both styles have a line tie designed to keep the jig horizontal during a straight up-and-down presentation.
The skirt of a fluke jig adds bulk, action, and a splash of color to the presentation. Since skirts can affect sink rate, choose jig dressings based on the depth you are fishing, the baitfish you are trying to match, and the action you hope to achieve.
The flowing action of a bucktail hair jig simply can’t be replicated with synthetic materials. It has always been a great material for fluke jigs, and in some situations, it is still the best option. Fluke jigs tied with bucktail hair are less durable than some other materials, and repeated attacks from fluke, sea bass, sea robins, and bluefish will eventually leave you with a balding jig.
Bucktail jigs with more sparsely tied hair are better for fluke because they sink faster than denser bucktails. In shallow water, such as back bays, this is less of an issue, but in 50- to 100-foot depths, a faster-sinking jig is more practical. Bucktails tied with sparser hair and a thinner profile work better for these areas.
Stealing a page straight from the largemouth bass fisherman’s playbook, fluke anglers began fitting silicone skirts on jigheads within the past 10 years, with great results. A benefit of silicone over bucktail is the seemingly infinite array of colors available. And, the bright UV colors really pop in a silicone skirt.
Silicone skirts are also more durable than bucktail. While bucktail is wrapped onto a jighead with thread and epoxy, silicone skirts can be wrapped on with wire or metal collars, which keeps fluke and other toothy fish from chewing through the skirt. Silicone can’t quite match the natural flowing action of bucktail hair, but it comes close. Plus it has a pulsing, flaring action as it’s jigged, which has proven deadly on fluke, both in teasers and heavier jigs.
Another borrowed page from the playbook of other fishing styles, vinyl squid skirts, the same material used in tuna trolling lures, make attractive fluke jigs. These are stiffer than bucktail and silicone, but what the vinyl squid skirts lack in action, they make up for in durability. They are excellent choices when sea bass, bluefish, porgies, and other persistent bait stealers are competing with the fluke for your offerings.
Sometimes, less is more when jigging fluke. Using a jighead without a skirt results in a faster-sinking presentation and a thinner profile, which can be key when the fluke are focused on sand eels or smaller baitfish.
Ball-shaped jigheads and slender grub-style trailers are killer combinations.
A fluke jig without a trailer is like a sandwich without anything between the slices of bread. The jig is primarily the vehicle for the meat of the presentation, the trailer.
A good fluke trailer needs to provide two things: action and scent. The action could be the subtle undulation of a perfectly sliced strip bait or the wild kicking of a curly tail. The trailer allows an angler to quickly adjust the size, color, and scent of the presentation to help dial in what the doormats are hungry for on that particular outing.
When we talk about live bait for fluke, we almost always mean the mummichog. This small, brown killifish is available at any coastal tackle shop, is hardy enough to keep alive all day, and lives for a long time on the hook. While “killies” of “minnows” (depending on where you do your fluking) are only found in backwaters, they can still be effective on ocean reefs. Pinning one above a strip of squid will add the deal-sealing vibration of a panicked baitfish to your presentation.
This is the original fluke trailer. For as long as fishermen have pursued fluke, a strip of cut fish or squid pinned to a hook has put fillets in the ice box. A good strip bait should be 5 to 10 inches long, no more than 1½ inches wide at the top, and taper down to a point.
Squid is the standard strip bait because it’s readily available, easy to cut, and has a bright white color certain to grab a fluke’s attention. Strips from various fish are a bit more durable than squid and are equally effective. I’ve caught fluke on strips of sea robin, bluefish, mackerel, bunker, and fluke.
The “fluke belly,” the ribbon at the edge of the fluke fillet, is a deadly piece of bait, but using it in some states requires anglers to have evidence that the strip was from a legal-sized fluke; i.e., the rack of the fish it came from.
When cutting a strip bait from a fish, you may have to do some trimming to make sure it isn’t too thick. Strips with too much meat left on them will provide plenty of scent but not enough action. Slicing them down to ½ inches thick (or less) is ideal. The belly section of most fish is naturally thinner, and often white in color, making it perfect for strip baits.
With a slender profile and a ton of action, the curly tail seems tailor-made for fluke fishing. It pairs nicely with any bucktail or bare jighead, comes in a variety of colors, and the ones made specifically for fluke have specially formulated fluke-attracting scents.
NOTE: While some fishermen may be tempted to pile trailers onto a hook, like an overstuffed sandwich, the resulting presentation will be unruly and ultimately unappetizing. If you’re going to double down by adding both an artificial and a natural trailer, take a look at its action next to the boat before dropping it down. In most cases, less is more.
When jigging for fluke, the fish respond best to a mix of short bounces and high lifts. Keep the rod in constant motion, hopping the jig along the bottom with no more than 6-inch lifts of the rod. Every few minutes, break up this cadence with a big sweep of the rod. Sometimes, this changeup in the action triggers a following fluke to strike; other times, the big lift will get the attention of a fluke nearby that hasn’t seen your jig.
Stay in constant contact with the bottom, letting out and retrieving line as needed to keep the jig as vertical as possible through depth changes. Once it has scoped out too far, it will be less effective. Reel up and drop again.
You can double the attraction of a bouncing fluke jig by adding a teaser 12 to 20 inches above it. It can be a bare baitholder hook outfitted with a grub teaser or a ¼- to ½-ounce skirted jig tipped with a trailer and strip baits.
As the fluke jig bounces and scoots along the bottom, the teaser sits above it, shimmying and shaking, often attracting more bites than the jig itself.
The Chicken Rig
The most popular fluke rig of the last few years has been the “chicken rig”. It consists of two 1/4- to 1/2-ounce jigs on a high-low rig above a bank or cannonball sinker. The rig is fished by bouncing and shaking the rod tip, maintaining contact with the bottom. This gives great action to the jigs and trailers, drawing savage strikes from fluke.