One thing I’ve noticed about highly successful fluke anglers is that they know how to tie a variety of rigs. There are fluke rigs designed to fish sandy flats, inlets, rocky waters, oceans, bays, sounds and everywhere in between. Even novice fluke fans can usually identify two or three different rigs used to target these delicious flatfish.
Following are six rigs that have proven themselves beyond reproach on my flatfish excursions. Just keep in mind that it doesn’t matter which rig you choose if you aren’t using enough weight to frequently bump the bottom while drifting.
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Fish-Finder/Live Bait Rig
The fish-finder rig allows you to feed a little line to a fluke that has gobbled your bait without the fish feeling the extra weight of the sinker. This equates to more solid hook-ups since you can give the fish a little extra time to fully commit. This rig is the best choice for targeting fluke with larger live baits like mullet, snapper blues, spot, or live squid.
For bay or shallow-water fishing, go with a size 3/0 or 4/0 octopus. For larger fish, ocean fishing, or live bait, choose a 6/0 to 8/0. The bigger hooks work better with larger baits and make it tougher to stick the shorts, resulting in fewer fish to be released.
Don’t be too quick to set the hook–at the very least, let the line come fully tight. If you have more patience, allow an extra 5 to 10 seconds before setting the hook with a smooth, sweeping lift of the rod.
- Slide a 1/2- to 2-ounce egg sinker up the main line and secure a large barrel swivel to the terminal end. If heavier weights are needed to hold bottom, use a fish-finder snap-swivel slide to attach a bank sinker.
- Secure a 30-inch length of 20- to 40-pound-test monofilament leader to the barrel swivel and snell an appropriate-sized hook to the terminal end.
Used to present one bait along the bottom and a teaser or second bait above, the high-low rig is a popular choice among fluke fans. Especially productive in shallow water where summer flatties are more inclined to rise, it keeps two baits simultaneously in the strike zone and works well in depths to 80 feet. In addition to possibly tempting two fish at once, it allows anglers to continue fishing without checking for bait after missing a hit.
To keep the teaser/upper bait in the primary feeding zone, let out enough scope so that the line stays at a 30-degree angle to the water while drifting. Glide the rig to a foot above the bottom once or twice per minute to check for the weight of light-biting pool winners. Tip the top hook or teaser with a single spearing or thin pennant of squid. Bait the lower hook with a long squid strip, strip bait, or spearing and squid combo.
- Start with a 36-inch length of 30-pound-test mono leader.
- To one end, attach a large barrel swivel with a clinch knot for connecting to the main line.
- At the opposite end, use a surgeon’s loop to secure the sinker.
- Tie a 2-inch dropper loop 4 to 6 inches above the sinker and add a 3/0 to 5/0 pre-snelled octopus hook.
- Next, tie an 8-inch dropper loop 16 to 20 inches above the smaller dropper and clip one end free at the knot to make the high leader.
- Secure your teaser or top hook to this with a clinch knot so that it rides eight to 12 inches from the main line.
Tangle Free Rig
This novel rig features two Thundermist T-Swivels with a 90-pound test Rosco barrel swivel and comes with 4/0 or 5/0 VMC Permasteel corrosion-free hooks. Use the 4/0 in the bay and the 5/0 in the ocean. Tied on 40-pound-test fluorocarbon leader material, this tangle-free hi-low rig has a 25-inch leader on the bottom and a 10-inch leader on top. The full rig length measures about 40 inches.
Use a sinker, fluke ball or bucktail as a weight with this rig. For bait, try a squid strip or squid and spearing combo on the bottom hook and a 4-inch Berkley Gulp! Swimming Mullet or pair of spearing up top. Fish this rig on a tight line at a 45-degree angle and the higher hook with the Gulp should catch more big fish.
This rig does a great job of riding without tangles, even in 100-foot depths.
Hopkins Surf Rig
This fluke rig was popular from shore and small boats in the sandy rips around Nantucket in the past, and still works to this day. It consists of a Hopkins Shorty with the hook removed and an 18- to 24-inch leader tied to the swivel. At the end of the leader is either a bare hook or a bucktail teaser. Baited up with a strip of squid, cut bait, or a piece of Berkley Gulp!, this rig casts well on spinning tackle, flashing and fluttering just above the bottom on a slow, steady retrieve. One way to really get the most out of this rig is to set your vessel up on a sandbar, get out, and cast to deeper water from along the shoals.
No matter where you toss this rig, simply reel back slowly enough that the lure stays in contact with the bottom. Because you’ll be crawling it along, work over sand, not over rocks. Lift the rod easily if you feel a tap and set hard should there be any extra weight at the end of your line. Tip the hook with a strip of squid or a thin fish strip—sea robin is preferred.
- Attach a Hopkins Shorty to the end of a short leader and barrel swivel.
- Remove the hook and tie an 18- to 24-inch leader of 20-pound test monofilament to the split ring.
- At the end of the leader, attach either a bare or a bucktail-dressed hook.
Fluke Bucktail Rig
This is a terrific rig for anglers who prefer to actively jig for fluke. Work a SPRO Power Bucktail vertically by bouncing it on a tight line to keep it from snagging between rocks or along wreck edges. It is deadly for fishing rough bottoms.
Tip the teaser with a single spearing and the bucktail with a large spearing, strip of squid, or strip bait. The bucktail should be heavy enough to bounce on the bottom, which can be as light as 5/8 ounces in shallow water with light current or up to 3 or 5 ounces in deep water and strong current. If more weight is needed to stay deep, choose a single-hook bottom rig instead.
- Secure a 3/4- to 6-ounce bucktail to the end of a 36-inch, 30- to 40-pound mono or fluorocarbon leader using a Rapala loop knot.
- Tie a 3- to 4-inch dropper loop 16 to 20 inches above the bottom bucktail and loop on a teaser or second, lighter bucktail.
- Attach the rig to the main line via a large barrel swivel.
So-called because fluke eat it “like popcorn,” this rig is similar to a high-low rig except that on the end of each of the two 3- to 4-inch long dropper loops is a small ¼- to ¾-ounce bucktail or silicone-skirted jig. This is a popular deep-water option, best used around sandy structure with few snags.
Fishermen are occasionally skeptical that the small hooks on these bucktails will hang a big fluke, but the larger fish often inhale the jig so entirely that the hook sticks securely deep inside the fluke’s mouth.
Upon dropping this rig to the bottom, keep the rod in constant motion, bouncing it along the bottom and occasionally giving it a big sweep. The purpose is to bring the two bucktails alive as you drift, causing the skirts to pulse and the strip of squid or cut bait to flutter enticingly.
- Tie a double surgeon’s loop for the sinker
- About 10 inches above, make a 3- to 4-inch dropper loop, followed by a second, identical dropper loop about 18 inches above that
- Add a barrel swivel 10 inches above the top dropper.
- Loop a ¼- to ¾-ounce bucktail or silicone-skirted teaser to each dropper
- Add a cannonball sinker of the appropriate weight to the double surgeon’s loop
Other Fluke Rig Considerations
How Much Weight?
When fluke fishing, you need just enough weight to be able to maintain bottom contact without dragging the rig. As a general rule, start with 1-ounce of weight for every 10-feet of water and adjust deptending on the drift speed, always truying to use the lightest weight possible. Often, scaling down your braided line will help get away with lighter sinkers.
Brighter is better! I prefer to keep my fluke rigs simple, but that doesn’t mean they have to be drab. Adding a bright teaser, grub or squid skirt to most rigs can improve productivity, especially when underwater visibility is limited. Consider white, chartreuse, and hot pink as go-to colors, as well as Nuclear Chicken—a pattern for which doormats seem to have a real sweet spot.
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