Try the Hopkins Hop
Reach Surf Fluke and Attract Blues
For several years I fished the surf on occasion during fluke season and did well live-lining killies with freshwater spinning tackle. The method is simple and fun. I wade out to my waist and cast a killie on a size 6 plain shank hook on six-pound test with eight-pound test fluorocarbon tied to the hook and a small barrel swivel. The leader protects against tooth abrasion due to fluke head shaking during fights, but I check it after each catch. Just above the barrel swivel a tin split shot is all the weight needed in ordinary surf conditions. I caught fluke after fluke with the same tackle and method reminiscent of one way I approach big smallmouth bass in small rivers.
But last year on a trip to Sandy Hook I hooked one nice fluke after about an hour—definitely a good-size keeper—with no other hits. I strained to get all the reach I could using a split shot. The surf was light and the beach sloped out beneath the waves at a very soft angle. I finally told myself--too shallow.
I checked my tackle bag to make I sure I didn’t have any bank weights or pyramid sinkers—I did have my eight-foot Tica—and as feared, had no such weights. Instead of giving up, I opened my mind to another possibility. Opening my shoulder bag full of lures, I quickly took out a three-ounce Hopkins. Directly, I took the treble hook off the split ring, then tied about 2 ½ feet of fluorocarbon leader from the ring to one of the simple plain shank hooks I had been using.
Letting Sit and Slow Retrieve
It seemed plain to me that if fluke lurked out there beyond the wave rises this would work, and it did within five minutes. That first cast I just let the Hopkins hold bottom and waited for the small fluke to come to the killie. But on subsequent casts I began to feel things out. I would let sit, then lift the rig off bottom and pull for a few yards, let sit again. I positioned the killie for the fluke, rather than just waiting for a fish to come along.
Fluke typically camouflage themselves against the sand and wait in ambush, looking up for any rainfish, peanut bunker, or other forage to pass overhead. As awkward looking as fluke are, they behave as remarkably swift and agile predators. My concern with any sort of heavy weight involves dragging it into a fluke and spooking the fish, but this never seemed to be a real problem with the Hopkins. When fishing a bay channel with a two or three-ounce bank sinker, for example, the situation includes the sand and muck kicked up by the weight attracting fluke rather than frightening them away.
So naturally I began to wonder if my shiny Hopkins might add to this sort of appeal. Fluke mostly sight feeders, they do scent prey much better than Spanish mackerel, for example, which don’t seem to scent prey at all. Fluke love smelly squid and cut baits, and inhabit dark channel depths of 30 feet, and ocean depths greater. But if they can, they’ll use their eyes first.
I continued my slow retrieves, covering range and catching a number of fluke, and became more aware that just possibly the flash of my Hopkins helped attract fish. If you were a hungry fluke and saw a fishy flash four or five yards away, you might be curious and swim over. And once you got there—aha! A nice killie to cramp down on in one fell swoop.
I had got into a rhythmic pattern of swooping the rig up, then letting it flutter back and sit awhile. On one of these rod lifts, I got a solid strike before the flutter. The Okuma’s drag allowed unmistakable straining thrusts to give—bluefish! In 15 minutes I caught two more, all of these about three pounds, with added speed to my retrieve. All of the bluefish hit on the uplift. My hopes rose. Perhaps quite a few blues had moved in and I could have a lot of fun, but as it turned out, I felt happy to find a quicker retrieve works best on the blues, and the Hopkins really does lure them straight in like a beacon.
But all of the blues went directly for the killie. It’s a puzzler, but given a choice between a slab of metal— not that they know its metal—and a killie trailing right behind, they slam the killie. Who knows, perhaps if I fished the Hopkins alone one or more of these bluefish would have slammed it. But they had to choose. The Hopkins fully evident to sight, so was the killie.
Teasers are essential surf tools because they excite fish by imitating predator after prey. Fish are like us—we see a happening and have a tendency to want to join in. Savage competitors that predatory fish are, a big striper will steal a little teaser away from seven-inch Redfin plug.
But the Hopkins is larger than the killie. Nevertheless, it works. Blues have no mind to get confused on the issue. What they see is a real fish swimming after something and that fits the pattern well enough.
So particularly if confronted by a slow sloping surf, try the Hopkins Hop to reach fluke distanced beyond breakers, and tease any blues that might show up. My suggestion is to use a 1/0 long shank hook if blues do arrive, not bad for fluke either. Personally, I prefer small hooks and don’t seem to lose fluke to them. Take that split ring off the Hopkins too. The knot can get caught on the ends and weakened.
A method for blues of about four pounds and smaller, I’ve had no problem with just the fluorocarbon because the blues get hooked on the outside of the mouth. I’m sure that with enough encounters some bluefish will bite off. But if you’re targeting fluke, don’t use steel. And possibly blues more likely hit that killie without such obvious and unlikely connection between it and the Hopkins steel would be.
Possibilities are endless for approaches to angling. More often than not we just stumble onto something when we have forgotten something else. But without keeping an open mind to what just might work, we would turn and walk off the beach.