July is the glorious month we wait for all year long, as the scent of BBQ and sun tan lotion wafts through the air, while sounds of the ice cream man and the hustle and bustle of tourists on the streets. This is the time to kick it back, relax and enjoy the myriad options to fish Jersey’s saltwater playground. Firstly, a few changes to note when wreck fishing this July: The blackfish season reopens on July 17th, with a meager one fish limit at 15-inch minimum size, while black sea bass regulations change to another paltry two fish limit at 12.5 inch minimum length, running only from July 1 to August 31. Thankfully, fluke season is running on all cylinders, as is bluefishing,
shark and tuna fishing to keep you occupied the whole month long. Whether its simple crabbing off a dock, or trolling ballyhoo for tuna in the canyons, get out and enjoy all that July has to offer!
June offered up non stop bluefishing from the shores at Port Monmouth, Keansburg Pier and
Cliffwood Beach. R-Bay was inundated with 8 to 14-pound gators all month long in May and June, and may still be meandering around in July. Striped bass will most likely turn into nocturnal feeders as they will find the deeper channels to hunker down in the cooler waters during the heat
of the summer. Check out the Swash Channel, Flynn’s Knoll, Ambrose Channel and the Rip, drifting live eels or sandworms during the night hours. The main attraction in Raritan Bay this month will no doubt be fluking. By now, fluke should be stacked in the back, especially around areas such as the Ammo Pier, the 9 and 10 cans, and off the Coast Guard station. Look for waters in the 10 to 25 foot range to score numerous flatfish, and simply drag three-way swivel rigs tipped with spearing, squid or Berkley Gulp! baits. More active flukers will employ the use of a 2 to 4-ounce white bucktails tipped with a strip bait to work the Romer Shoal and Ambrose Channel depths.
For the second year in a row, the striper population was strangely absent of the numbers that have been seen in recent years, however, early June saw a real blast of big bass hugging the shores from Shrewsbury Rocks down through Spring Lake. These fish were rather large, in the upper 40’s for the most part, with a good number of 20 to 30 pounders as well. Bunker spoons and livelined bunker accounted for most of the fish. There should be some remaining resident bass
sticking around throughout July, and those big girls will most likely be hanging around Jetty
Country in Asbury Park, Deal, and Long Branch around the jetty tips. Look to go nocturnal on
these bass with slow-worked wooden swimmers or live eels. Sea bass fishing was lights out hot in
the 80 foot depths, especially at areas like 17 Fathoms, the Farms, and the Klondike area. Since there’s only a two fish limit on the sea bass in the month of July, they most likely will be a bycatch when you are fluke fishing, so in that vein of thought, whenever you are working hardscrabble structure piles and rocky sections for fluke, drop a squid or clam bait down on your drift as well to pluck a few sea bass for the cooler. Fluke fishing should be going off along this stretch of coast as
larger flatties empty out of the backwaters and set up in the 40 to 60 foot depths off the coastline.
Spots like the Manasquan Ridge, Rattlesnake and Long Branch humps will hold your keeper class
fish. Drop down large Peruvian spearing lanced once through the eyes on a hook and slow drift
over the ridges. But you don’t have to travel far to find fluke as the Shark River Inlet was off the
charts solid for fluke fishing through June as fat flatties up to 8 pounds were stacked in the river
system and readily hit bucktails cast from the bulkhead. To keep it interesting, there’s a good
chance you can effectively target inshore sharks such as threshers, duskies, browns and even a
spinner that will move through the area if bunker schools stick through the month. Try and set up a
simple chum slick anywhere in the 80 to 100 foot depths off the coast and see what you can find taking your baits!
While the big blues didn’t infiltrate Barnegat Bay en masse like they did last year, they did
stormtroop the central coast big time and were destroying tackle and rigs from Barnegat Inlet’s
north Jetty to Midway Beach in Seaside to the shores of Lavallette. Fresh bunker chunk baits attracted hits from blues that ranged anywhere from 6 to 20 pounds, but averaged in the 12 to 15- pound range. Look for sporadic shots of bluefish all summer long in the surf, as well as in Barnegat Bay as they move in during the incoming tides to crash and splash on bait schools. Smaller blues in the 1 to 2-pound class should be the norm, but make no mistake the big gators will still be milling around to pummel your popper. Fluke fishing will take top billing in the backwaters, especially inside the Manasquan River system and within Barnegat Bay. Usual Barnegat haunts include Oyster Creek Channel and the ICW but do not overlook out of the way spots like Double Creek Channel, the backside of the Dike and the area between the BB and BI Buoys to find fluke hunkering down. For a real blast, set anchor near the 40 marker and create a clam chum slick while setting out four light tackle rods with size 1/0 Baitholder hooks tipped with grass shrimp or clams to land a bevy of species including blowfish, kingfish, croakers, small stripers, weakfish, bluefish, and even exotics such as juvenile cobia, assorted baby groupers and jacks. Those operating under the guise of darkness can find weakfish in Barnegat Bay, especially around the sedge islands where the deep cuts will hold big weaks down deep. Cast a plain 3/8-ounce jighead tipped with a 5-inch pink Zoom to see if anybody’s home. And finally, surf and bay sharking opportunity starts really kicking in during the latter part of the month. Break out your gear around the full and new moon times and fish with fresh bunker or mackerel baits off the docks at LBI or in the surf anywhere from Mantoloking down through Island Beach State Park and prepare for a knock-down drag out battle with sharks that can exceed the 200-pound mark! Don’t be surprised to see monstrous 300-pound butterfly rays, 75-pound cow nosed rays and southern stingrays in the mix as well.
Tuna or sharks, take your pick. The question exactly should be where exactly will the bluefin and yellowfin tuna be? As of early June, 20 to 40-pound yellowfin tuna were already caught in the
southern canyons near the Lindenkohl and Spencer, but may just move up into the Hudson Canyon by July. Though there were scattered reports of bluefin tuna in June, they may be schooling in greater numbers now, and perennial hot spots including the Atlantic Princess, Chicken Canyon and the Glory Hole may have bluefin. Usually it’s a jig bite right now as you can drop large hammered diamond jigs or troll feathers or cedar plugs to find bluefin up to 100 pounds. Shark fishing for makos, threshers, and blues should be solid if the water temperature stays above 65 degrees. And on the side plate, when you are out on wrecks in the 30 to 60 mile range trolling or drifting for sharks or tuna, take a few pokes and drop some jigs over the wrecks and onto the bottom to see if any cow cod up to 40 pounds or Pollock to 30 pounds may be home hanging around.