Its July, people are traveling to visit friends and relatives, shopping for the inevitable picnics celebrating Independence Day, getting together with friends to do some fishing, horse shoes, swimming, whatever fits the people, place and event.
By July, pretty much whatever a person wants to catch is in the area and probably actively feeding like the people who are celebrating and maybe getting sunburned in the process. At any summertime event, two things should be on hand, sunscreen and “bug juice” (insect repellent).
I am not sure it’s still available because I bought a lifetime supply years ago, but one of the most effective repellents that is not toxic and won’t melt the finish off your fishing rods if they are touched is “Skin So Soft”. During those midsummer days, slathered up with every bit of exposed skin covered with sunscreen one of my favorite things to do here in our marine waters, wind and tides permitting is to drift some of my favorite areas for summer flounder (fluke).
It is a laid back kind of fishing that requires proper gear and rigging, preferably with rods that are appropriately stiff yet sensitive to detect their often light bite, and some idea as to where the fish will be at various points in the daily tidal changes, perseverance and as with any venture, luck.
Far removed from winging plugs and getting hard strikes from hard charging bluefish and striped bass. Fluking is a more subtle, scientific form of angling that will produce some fine eating, delicate white meat fillets. Many people use baited jigs, my favorite method with an additional twist in the form of a dropper fly or jig roughly half the weight of the main jig, tied a foot above the main heavier jig and back three to four feet with some sort of soft plastic teaser. Any hook always has some sort of bait, squid strips, and live killifish if you can find or trap them in a minnow pot. Great fluke bait is a strip of menhaden (bunker), their oily flesh is like chumming the bottom.
The concept is to create a scent trail that everything in the ocean will follow its source. I call the jig and dropper a “double fluke sandwich”. Finding the proper terrain is as much a key to success as anything else. For instance, a lobster pot is baited for those crustaceans, stay well away from them and the lines for the sake of the “lobsterman’s” hands and crew. But down tide, the bait in the traps creates a chum slick that both predators and prey may be sitting, sniffing the scent and waiting for something that fits into their mouths to happen by.
We always ate fluke fresh the day they were caught. Any uneaten cooked fillets can be mixed with some chopped celery and mayonnaise to make a fluke salad sandwich with lettuce, tomato (cheese is optional) on your favorite bread or toast. Fluke salad is an excellent way to get the most out of these delicious fish. They keep pretty well and last two or three days before they lose their flavor and start becoming more like cat food than fluke
The key to a successful fluke drift is to have wind and tide moving in the same direction, providing they aren’t going so fast baits can’t be kept bouncing or very close to the bottom. A cross wind is not quite as good but acceptable, winds into or against the tide is often untenable because drifts are too slow. When the lines are coming up with more crabs than fluke it’s time to go somewhere else, troll or cast for bass and blues or go home.
The technique I prefer to use is a rod in each hand, baited with the double hook rig described above. Lift gently and set the main jig back to the bottom and keep repeating.
Fluke often move up behind their prey, follow a short distance then make an initial grab, often on the dropper rig or the very end of a long bait. If the weight of the fish is not felt because it missed the hook but the overall resistance of the set up is lighter, keep it in the water for a few more yards because that hungry fluke may be moving up to grab the jig even if the bait is all gone. I often added a soft plastic teaser to hooks and placed squid strips, fillet of menhaden or live mummichogs on top. Leave the rig in the water for a few more minutes until the fish is hooked or it stops tapping the bait. If possible I’d often drop a few feet of line back when that first tell tale, “tap-tap” from a fluke is felt.
A light, sensitive rod with some back bone, the lightest line practical and the minimal amount of weight required to reach and hold bottom is the key. During those fitful days when the winds and tides are running against each other, are running together in the same direction making fluke drifts too swift, is when to take care of the yard work or other chores around the house. The taller the grass, the better the “catching”. For me, fishing is a double whammy, because when the ocean conditions were wrong, especially if rain storms are moving into the region, we’d often go fishing for northern pike and/or largemouth bass. Which seem to turn on when low pressure and over cast skies are in the area. The quote “so many fish so little time applies to anglers who enjoy both fresh and saltwater fishing, the broad base of interests, basically anything with fins and scales has got me into trouble many times over the years.
As waters warm, one thing I love to catch that is my personal favorite “seafood” is blue crabs. At this writing, I’ve not heard anything one way or another about crabbing in the places I frequent.
This winter was relatively warm and mild which is good for local blue crab survival. However, the chilly rainy spring that followed is not. At this writing, I’ve not gone to my favorite spots to see if there are any evil tempered “finger nippers” around.
I prefer to spot and scoop these tasty crustaceans, but like the proverbial skinning of a cat, there are many ways to catch blue crabs. One important trick is if possible keep any crabs on their feet if possible because they quickly die if on their backs for too long. I like to catch a crab, put some seaweed on them to keep them cool as possible and minimize fighting between them as they are caught, especially when confined in a pail with a bunch of other ill tempered critters. If a couple dies it is not a major problem if they are going straight home and into a pot of boiling water.
I can honestly say I’ve never released a legal sized blue crab which in Connecticut is five inches for hard shells and three and a half inches for soft shells. If a trip was productive and there were more crabs than needed for a single meal, the best way to preserve the catch is to cull the damaged and weak ones from the scrappy hard shelled fighters as soon as you get home.
The strong ones are placed in the vegetable crisper drawer and packed with a little seaweed. They can live for two or three days, as long as they are on their feet and well chilled. Very often they are the ones that suddenly come out of their temperature induced stupor and clamp painfully on to a finger.
The best seaweed for preserving and packing live crabs is what we used to call “pop weed”, the kind that grows on rocks and has e floatation bubbles. Covering crabs as they are caught minimizes the damage they will inevitably do to each other and their captor. Monitor the catch and cook the weak or listless ones first. I’ve had them survive four or five days and still be nasty enough to draw blood prior to their swim in boiling water.
Word to the wise, don’t have too many cold frosted brews before handling the crabs on their way to the cooking pot. Mistakes I’ve made many times and have numerous scars to prove it. The most docile peaceful looking blue crab is inevitably the one that gets you.
A couple of dabs of antibacterial ointment on any bites or punctures from fish spines after washing and disinfecting with peroxide, rubbing alcohol or at least soap and water so the inevitable infection won’t be too severe. The effort and occasional bloodletting are worth it. Do take care of bites and even pricks from fish spines, many years ago a small striper dropped off the hook before it could be “lip grabbed” and nailed my calf. I had a meeting to attend that night and the resulting infection gave me a “staph-infection” that landed me in the hospital for a couple of days, so do take care of any wounds that occur when handling fish, crabs, lobster or even slicing vegetables. Learned my lesson the hard and painful way many years ago.