NJ Fishing Report
We’ve reached the heart of the summertime, and saltwater fishing could not be better! Fluke, bluefish, ling, tuna, sharks – you name it, it’s been a fantastic summer so far with plenty of piscatorial activity. Some points to note for August includes that the sea bass season sits at two fish at 12.5 inches through August 31. As winter flounder fishing has been rock solid, remember there is a two fish limit at 12 inches long. Enjoy the spoils of the saltwater summer, and get some fresh tuna steaks and fluke fillets on those outdoor BBQ grills!
Fluke fishing inside R-Bay was surprisingly productive all through June and early July, with large 5 to 10-pound flatties coming up in spots like the Raritan Reach, Ambrose Channel, and Tin Can Grounds. Those big fluke are usually around in late August and September, and their early presence in the bay may mean there could be one heck of an August fishery on doormat size fluke. The bayside of Sandy Hook, especially near Plum Island, held some fluke action as well for surfcasters as they could reach the historically productive flatwaters with bucktails and squid strips. Bluefish just did not want to leave the baywaters so far this summer as 5 to 8-pound choppers provided plenty of action off the Keansburg Pier, Port Monmouth Beaches, and the Belford rocks as poppers, plugs and chunk baits claimed blue dogs. All signs point to them being there throughout the summer for rod-bending fun. Look for some porgies to push back into the bay in August, as the Belford Rocks, Romer Shoal breakwaters and Keansburg Pier pilings could very well have the po-po’s on the bite. Dedicated striper hounds will still be able to find their fix of linesiders while drifting Swash Channel and the Sandy Hook Rip with live eels or sandworms during the night time tides. Also look to drop some live eels in by the Highlands Bridge where resident bass up to 30 pounds lay in wait around the pilings to ambush a writhing eel.
Bottomfishing amped up big time as bottom bouncers hitting the Mud Hole were delighted with seriously full cooler catches of cod, ling, and even winter flounder. Winter flounder fishing was off the charts as Mud Hole trips gave up true blackbacks of 3 to 5.5 pounds and put delicious fat fillets in the icebox at a two fish limit at 12 inches long. Sporadic cod catches were mixed in on party boat trips, with an average of 15 cod to 10 pounds or so caught on each trip out. But the main attraction was that red hake or ling finally showed up on the grounds. Ling were ghost all winter long, and worried a lot of anglers, including myself, but now the hordes have moved back inshore in full force as the Mud Hole is once again coughing up catches of 15 to 45 per man on each trip out. Fresh clam baits took all three species, but 3/0 hooks rigged with Berkeley Gulp! 3-inch white Swimmin’ Mullets definitely brought more fish to the hook down below. The bountiful bottomfishing should continue on through the month of August in the Mud Hole, the Farms and Shark River Reef, but also be on the lookout for big bluefish to be on the prowl out there during night time excursions as blues will range anywhere from 5 to 20 pounds, depending on the schooling patterns. Even though sea bassing is at a two fish limit for now, there should be plenty of humpbacks at the aforementioned spots to put your meager limit among the catches in the cooler. Further inshore, fluke fishing will take top billing and this is the time when the hardscrabble structure areas off of Long Branch, Deal and Asbury Park really shine bright. You can easily find the hard stuff by looking out for marker buoys which betray the presence of lobster pots on the rocky areas. Make drifts around those areas first with 2 to 4-ounce bucktails and only use short 16-inch leaders on fishfinder slide or three way swivel rigs to minimize your snags. Come late August, look to bump out into deeper water in the 55 to 70 foot range to find larger model fluke prowling about in the cooler waters to break away from the searing water temps inshore. The Long Branch lumps are a solid spot to drift as contours will run from 50 to 70 feet up and down throughout your drift. There should still be flatfish hanging in the Shark River Inlet as that area was lights out hot during early July as 3 to 6-pound fluke were hoisted up from the bulkhead walls and off the L-Jetty at the mouth of the inlet.
Barnegat Bay will be the land of the summer beasties during the month as a wide variety of smaller species can easily be angled up with a well defined clam chum slick inside the bay. Any ledgy areas that run from 5 to 15 feet will be a lucky spot to set up a slick, where then small bits of clam can be sent back on size #2 to #4 baitholder hooks to catch myriad species including kingfish, blowfish, weakfish, porgies, sand sharks, stripers, bluefish, fluke and even exotic species like juvenile cobia and snowy groupers that visit the B-Bay waters in the tropical summer weather. You can also work over the Oyster Creek Channel for summer flounder as the flatties will stick tighter to the channel bottoms in the deeper water to cool off. Drift with ½-ounce to ¾-ounce bucktails and a dropper teaser tipped with a bait strip or Gulp! New Penny Shrimp. If weakfish show up, they will set up shop in Myer’s Hole, where you can anchor up and start a grass shrimp slick drifting back shrimp baits on float rigs into the slick where weakies will put their noses into the slick’s scent and come feed like rats to the Pied Piper. Inshore pelagic opportunity abounds as well for those trolling small feathers, Clark spoons and cedar plugs from 1 to 10 miles offshore. Skipjack tuna, mahi, Spanish mackerel, false albacore are all on the menu. Work areas like the Manasquan Ridge, Barnegat Ridge, as well as the Axel Carlson Reef, Garden State North and South Reefs, crisscrossing the ridges at a 5 to 7 knot pace. More ambitious anglers can set anchor at the Barnegat Ridge and dole out fresh spearing in a slick then rig light tackle rods with 20-pound fluorocarbon leader, size 1/0 hooks, with a fresh spearing threaded on and burying the hook point into the bait to trick the keen eyesight of bonito, Spanish macks and football sized Bluefin tuna. While out at the ridge, also be sure to troll around the area of the many lobster pots as their hi-fliers attract chicken to gaffer size dolphin up to 20 pounds. If you are really looking for a fight, why not set up a serious shark slick at the ridge, or around nearby wrecks like the Mohawk or Tolten to tangle with makos, threshers and hammerhead sharks.
Speaking of sharks, plenty of large makos up to 300 pounds and threshers up to the 300-pound mark were caught during the month of June and early July. Follow the 20 fathom line contours and set up slicks drifting a wide span of area. Hot spots in June included the Triple Wrecks and the Fingers. The southern canyons at the Wilmington and Poormans sparked with an early season yellowfin tuna chew as 20 to 30 pounders were commonplace with 40 to 50 pounders going into the icebox. And for even more promising news, bigeye tuna were already being hooked in late June, which means we could continue on the annual historic bigeye bite we’ve lucked into the past few years. Bluefin tuna of 50 to 100 pounds should be gravitating around the textbook areas of the Atlantic Princess, Chicken Canyon, Winnecone, and Bacardi wrecks.