By Tom Schlichter
April is a tough month to be an angler in the Northeast. Sure, it offers the occasional glimpse of sunshine, a warm day here and there, and the promise of a new fishing season, but by Nature, April days are often chilly, wet and windy.
May, on the other hand, delivers on April’s tease with warming trends, gentle winds and fishing promise usually fulfilled. By the passing of the first full moon, most of the early season finsters are on the scene and the fishing should shift into high gear with stripers, scup, blues and, of course, summer flounder all in good supply. It’s the summer flatties that always seem to capture my interest most, for they are challenging to hook, put up a good fight on light tackle, and are especially pleasing to the pallet.
My favorite starting point for a lively fluke discussion these days centers on the use of teasers. It seems nearly every serious fluke angler has a few deeply held convictions on the topic. Some anglers, for example, depend on a specific color or pattern; others favor teasers that are sparsely tied while another school holds that full-bodied teasers attract bigger fish. A fair number of fluke sharpies like their teasers to sport wide-gap or octopus-style name-brand hooks, but I know nearly as many excellent fluke fishermen who opt for the simple flash of a little bucktail wrapped around a standard sproat. Among my fluke-seeking buddies are those who position teasers three feet above the bottom hook or jig, others that tie them at six- to eight inches, and a slew insisting that 14 to 20 inches above the bottom hook is the right height no matter where you fish.
There are anglers who will use soft plastic shads and grubs as fluke teasers, those who will tie on the cheapest puff of attractant they can buy, and others willing to invest a lot of time and money to create or track down virtual works of art to lure in their fluke. All this, and we haven’t even touched on whether or not a teaser should be worked straight up and down or allowed to drop back with a little scope in the line.
Then there is my buddy Michael Potts, skipper of the Montauk charter boat Blue Fin, IV, and one of the better fluke skippers I know. He claims that fluke teasers aren’t really teasers at all since true “teasers” don’t have hooks. “Check your umbrella rig, or an offshore tuna spread,” he antagonized me, “See the hookless tubes and birds? Those are real teasers.”
Ah, the semantics of the fishing game. But Potts may actually be right if we get really technical about things. Still to most local anglers fluke teasers are simply any dressed upper hook on a high-low rig. The primary dressings can include bucktail hair, synthetic materials such as Mylar, Flashabue or Krystal Flash, feathers, soft plastic grubs or even a small jig. Call them what you want, and choose whichever style catches your fancy but know this much is certain: adding a teaser to your favorite fluke rig virtually guarantees more summer flatties over the course of a season.
COLOR CAN MATTER
Naturally, there are a few points to keep in mind when selecting fluke teasers and, despite all the debate, several patterns seem to hold true across most fluking hot spots. Consider color, for example. White teasers seem to produce just about everywhere, and these serve as a good control option since you know they should bring at least a fair response. I think they tend to work best in clear water, especially on sunny days.
Chartreuse is another teaser color that sees regular action. Because of its high visibility, it’s a great initial choice when the water is murky. Pink is yet a third top producer, especially when the fluke are feeding on local squid in early May, mantis shrimp in late-June, or small calico crabs in July and August. Black works well when you have to deal with a bit of brown tide.
After these choices color selection is a free-for-all. Olive and green have many followers when sand eels or spearing abound. Orange and red match up well to young sea robins. Silver and blue complement peanut bunker, rain bait, or small snappers, while yellow or gold are a good match if juvenile weakfish or a set of small blowfish take up temporary residence in your favorite fluke haunt. With the discovery last year of the fluke’s affection for salmon-colored Berkley Gulp! you can bet this spring will see some salmon-colored teasers added to the arsenal.
No matter the color, most fluke teasers, I think, are made more effective when tied with a white belly section, or at least a few strands of synthetic material that add flash or iridescence to the pattern.
TIPPING IS ENCOURAGED
Tipping fluke teasers with a piece of bait is one theme that seems to have nearly universal appeal. Most sharpies select a minnow or a short, thin strip of squid or fish belly to add a little scent and taste to their offerings. The key is to keep the added bait relatively light so that the teaser will continue to dance seductively above the lower bait or jig. In other words, tip accordingly without being overly generous. Larger teasers can handle larger baits. The exception to this rule is when using Gulp! If you go with synthetic bait, there’s no need to add the real thing. In fact, adding a shiner or strip bait is likely to take away from the action of your grub or minnow teaser so simply fish them solo.
What’s the perfect teaser size? Some anglers use the exact same color and teaser size wherever they fish. Most highly successful fluke anglers, however, base teaser size on location and the size of the fluke they hope to catch. Size 3/0 teasers can provide a lot of fun with short fluke inside bay and harbor waters. They are small enough to provide plenty of action and big enough to turn the head of an occasional keeper. I crush the barbs on these teasers when I fish in shallow areas where shorts are sure to outnumber keepers by a wide margin.
If keepers are the point, a size 4/0 to 6/0 teaser is a more logical choice. The larger profile of these sizes seems to discourage short fluke, and sometimes even intimidates sea robins. I like a 4/0 for most of my bay and sound fishing. For open ocean waters, or ports with a big fish reputation such as Greenport, Montauk or Nantucket Shoals, a 5/0 size generally works fine. It discourages small fish from biting, can be tipped with a decent sized sweetener, and has the strength to handle the biggest fluke you’ll ever hook.