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From New Jersey to Cape Cod, the Northeast’s prolific backwater bay systems offer myriad options to bend a rod, and there is no better time than late springtime through summer. 

A Backwater Slam. It’s the ultimate goal, and it means boating an inshore grand slam of striped bass, weakfish, fluke and bluefish. This time of year, with good planning and execution, it can be achieved within a day’s fishing.

Here’s how to set up the gameplan to score the Big Four, which also provides valuable insights on each for more targeted days pursuing any one species or any combination.

Start Easy - Bluefish

bay bluefish catchbay bluefish catch

Bluefish are the valiant warriors as well as the garbage trucks of the bay systems. The choppers are notorious for feverishly terrorizing any bait that get in their way, but they also act as caretakers and clean up any dead baits floating along the bay floor.

Generally, you can find bluefish at any tide or time of day. Blues are willing to hit nearly anything thrown at them, but they have a hankering for aggression offerings. Thus, topwater poppers cast out against sodbanks or over shallow flats usually elicit plenty of action. In the late spring, true gators of 10 to 15 pounds are still hanging around, though summer months mostly offer large numbers of smaller 2- to 4-pound choppers.

Ideal offerings that can take a beating from blues are the Creek Chub Striper Strike and Rebel Magnum Pop-R. Cast out the poppers and gurgle them with quick snaps of the rod tip to create commotion and prompt blues to attack.

Low-Light Sessions – Striped Bass

saltwater striped basssaltwater striped bass

The most prominent and popular species of the Big Four – striped bass – are thick inside the Northeast bay systems, but they are a bit trickier to tempt than their bluefish counterparts. Times of low light, including the pre-dawn glow, sunrise, dusk and nighttime, are prime times to target bass as they rely more on ambushing their prey than recklessly attacking it.

Soft baits are beneficial during the low light or dark hours as they present a silhouette profile bass can key in on. Hot soft baits include the YUM Break’N Shad and the YUM Pulse fished on 1/2- to 3/4-ounce leadhead jigs. Work soft baits back with a twitch-sink-twitch cadence to spark a striper to feed. Once the sun comes up or is about to set, commotion will attract bass better. Thus, poppers such as the Creek Chub Knuckle-Head or stickbaits are clutch. For exploratory casting around docks and sodbanks, the Bomber Wind-Cheater and Bomber Badonk-A-Donk match a fleeing baitfish. Dial in areas of structure such as sodbanks, inlet rocks, channel edges, piers and docks to find bass lying in wait and unable to resist a well-presented lure.

Bass can truly span the gamut of 24 inches up to 40 pounds on any given day, depending on the area you are fishing, so be prepared to buckle down if you hook into a large linesider.

Take it Easy – Fluke

Northeast fluke catchNortheast fluke catch


Fluke are the fish that drive the tourist economies along the coastal states during the summer months as they are both plentiful and fine fare on the dinner table. Bright sunny days are prefect times to angle for fluke, and you don’t have to get up early to find them as they enjoy sleeping in and will feed throughout the day. The key is to go light and work the bottom of the channel edges, flats and inlet areas as they hunker down to pounce on passing prey.

A light ½ to 1-ounce leadhead tipped with a 4- to 5-inch soft bait works wonders to trick fluke into a bite. Spice up the offering with a strip of mackerel, bluefish or squid to convince the fluke to pounce on the hook. Don’t overlook tying a small 2/0 to 3/0 bucktail teaser 18 inches above your soft bait to jig as many times the fluke opt to attack the lightly fluttering teaser while the leadhead bouncing around gets them interested.

Generally speaking, fluke will range from 1 pound up to 8 pounds, with an occasional 10-pounder earning “doormat” designation.

The Ghost - Weakfish

weakfish catchweakfish catch

This one is the toughest of all Big Four species to catch as weakfish are known to be secretive and silent. Weakies rely on ambush tactics under the guise of darkness to fatten up and thus dark hours are the finest times to fish either at dawn, dusk or nighttime. 

Smaller lures that mimic their main forage of spearing, peanut bunker and rainfish are preferred as they can grab onto them with their spike tooths and proceed to suck them down with ease. Soft baits include the YUM 3.5-inch Pulse or YUM Ribbontail Grub on a 1/4- to 1/2-ounce leadhead. Drift over a flat or ledge, and cast uptide of your drift, working it bait back at an ultra-slow pace in the mid to lower part of the water column, gingerly raising the rod, with an occasional twitch. Weakfish will lightly hang on the artificial. Once you feel a light tap, set the hook forcefully, but set an ultra-light drag to ensure the hooks do not rip through the weakfish’s papermouth.

Interestingly in recent years, larger model weakfish, true tiderunners pushing past the 10-pound mark, have been keying in on larger swimming plugs like the Bomber Magnum Long A, though its best to replace the trebles with single hooks for a more effective hookset. For plugs, go with dark color patterns such as black or black/purple and fish the plugs only at night.

End Game

Setting out to target the Northeast Backwater Grand Slam is one thing, but to achieve success, an effective gameplan needs to be instituted. Lucky anglers can score all four species of stripers, blues, fluke and weakfish by lunchtime, but most likely it will take a full day’s worth of time to put in to check the slam off your list. Remember, you technically have a 24-hour period to hit the goal, but so long as you set aside proper amounts of time to fish the night hours, you can work the harder species of striped bass and weakfish off your list and then concentrate on the easier ones of bluefish and fluke. Swing for the fences!