Home Drifting Easy - Fishing Tips How do I catch croakers in the bay?
How do I catch croakers in the bay?

“How ‘bout some of those CROAKERS!”

Anglers read that croakers are suddenly all over the bay and
want to try to catch some. It’s not hard to do it and once you catch and
clean a bunch, you may beg to go back to flounder fishing. BUT, when the
croaker run is on, it’s lots of fun for you and the family.

“What kind of rig do I use? Is it different than flounder

Basically, when one fishes the regular flounder haunts in the
bay anglers run into schools of croakers. Flounder like a #1 or #1/0 size
hook with a big minnow or shiner with a strip of squid beside it on the same
hook. If you run into a school croaker you will catch some of the larger
ones on these hooks and bait, BUT you will get more bites than fish.

If you are specifically croaker fishing, you want to use smaller
hooks. Set up a top and bottom rig with size #4 or #6 hooks (either wide gap
or long shank type). Since these fish are bait stealers, you definitely want
to fish with two hooks! It doesn’t matter what type of top and bottom rig.
It can be a wire JT1040 rig or a monofilament top and bottom rig (30SW).
There are also a variety of pre-made 2-Drop rigs made by Sea Striker or
Eagle Claw made with #6 or #4 hooks that work just fine. One of the Sea
Striker rigs is called a (SMP1) Spot/Mullet/Pompano Rig. Another is an Eagle
Claw L967-4 or a L967-6 Lazer Pompano Rig made with double gold Kahle hooks.
Even though the rig says “pompano” it is a perfect size for croaker.

Just remember, if you are fishing in the bay, don’t buy the rigs with little
floats. These are for the surf.

At our stores, we take a simple 1040 wire top and bottom rig and
insert two Bear Paw snelled spinner hooks, size #4, on the stand-offs. These
make great croaker rigs and a size #4 hook will still catch a flounder. I do
suggest setting the hook quickly so if you do get a flounder on these
smaller hooks you do not give the fish a chance to swallow it. Use just
enough sinker weight to hold the bottom. Carry a variety of weights
including 1, 1 ½, and 2-ounce bass cast or bank type sinkers. Carry extra
hooks or rigs, as croaker have hard mouths (that’s why they are also called
Hard Heads). They can dull a hook quickly.

“What is the bait to catch croaker?”

When croaker are feeding they will eat just about anything. They
take shiners and squid, but aren’t particularly interested in live minnows.
They take squid alone, a combination bait of bloodworm and squid, bait
shrimp, clam snouts, pieces of peeler crab or clam, and they love the new
FishBite Bloodworms. At night, they’ll even take lures such as a lead head
with a 4-inch soft body!

I wouldn’t waste the $10 on real bloodworms if you can get some
FishBite bloodworm for croaker. They FishBites stay on the hook longer and
you can catch 3 to 5 fish on one piece of bait. The Crab flavored FishBites
also work for croaker and they stay on the hook even longer because they are
thicker. BUT croaker seem to love the Bloodworm flavored FishBites. When I
bait up with these, I like to double hook the bait strip so it stays on
longer. (Do this before it gets wet—It is hard to work with after it gets
wet as it gets kind of gooey!)

“Will flounder take FishBite Bloodworms?”

I have caught several flounder on the Fishbites, though the good
ol’ shiner and squid or minnow and squid combo still works the best! When I
think there may be flounder around with the croaker, I fish the Fishbite
like a strip of squid. I cut it longer and let it dangle off the hook in a
longer strip. (Your Bag of Worms will not last as long when you do this, as
you WILL lose some of the strips to croaker!) You can also combo your strip
of bloodworm flavored FishBite with a shiner, strip of squid or a FishBite
Crab Strip. (I caught a nice fluke on this combination last week!)

“What is the technique for catching croaker?”

Croaker will practically jump on the hook when they are biting.
I like to jig my rod up and down a little to entice them if I’m not getting
any bites. You can also cast off the side of the boat and retrieve in slow
to “fire them up.” The larger croaker seem to be in the deeper areas of the
Thorofare, Main East Channel, and the Inlet. The incoming tide seems to be
the best in the bay areas and the last of the outgoing has seen some large
ones in the Inlet.

When the tide gets slack, the croaker when slack off. That’s
when you want to start jigging up and down more.

“I don’t know whether to fish for croaker or fish for flounder.
I’m so confused!”

When the tide is coming in hard, go ahead and fish for croaker.
The Thorofare, the Convention Hall Channel, the deep hole near 33rd Street,
and buoy #6 just Southeast of the Thorofare are hot spots for croaker. When
the tide starts to slack and ESPECIALLY when the tide peaks and just starts
to go out is FLOUNDER TIDE. Pull off the croaker rigs and put on the
flounder rigs. Sometimes one only gets a good 45-minutes to one hour of
premium flounder fishing. Don’t blow it fishing for croaker that will be
there most of the day somewhere no matter what!

Sometimes flounder bite quite good at the very end of the
outgoing tide and sometimes they don’t. One way to know if you might ought
to switch your rigs is when you start catching small flounder on the croaker
rigs. Where there’s small flounder there’s one or two big ones around.

“Can I fish two hooks? One for croaker and one for flounder?”

Certainly. I would put the smaller size #4 hook on the top and
the larger #1/0 hook for flounder on the bottom. Let a little line out to
the top hook will dangle closer to the bottom. Bait the flounder hook with
a live minnow without squid so the croaker will leave that hook alone. Now,
the only problem you will have is when you get a bite. Is it a croaker bite
where you want to jerk the rod tip right away? Or is it a flounder bite,
where you want the fish to take the bait for at least 15-20 seconds?
Concentrate on the different bites. Croakers wham the bait and shake it
hard. A flounder bite is softer and subtler. The flounder gives a little
shake, then maybe there’s a moment when nothing happens, then you feel a
weight. Pull up on the rod tip slowly and then if you feel the weight of
the flounder, set the hook. If you note the different feel of the bites you
will learn quickly which ones are which.

“How do you clean a croaker? Are they good to eat?”

Croaker have a big head and a large rib cage. When you start
filleting them, you’ll realize that you should only KEEP THE BIG ONES. Once
you get the fillet off the side, feel for TWO sets of belly bones. Once you
get all the bones out of the fillet they are wonderful to eat if you pan
fry, sauté, or deep fry. Some people don’t mind eating around the bones and
like to scale and then “head and tail” the croaker. I find that croaker is
great fresh, but that it does not freeze for a long length of time like
flounder or sea bass. Your best bet is to keep what you want to eat fresh
and release the rest. One legal flounder will give you as much filleted
meat as 10-12 croakers.

Croakers are a BALL to catch. If you have company or just like
to have fun yourself, carry some lightweight spinning outfits out and watch
those rods almost bend in half with fighting croaker. You’ll see smiles all
around from the kids…

Good fishing…