Can you believe its Labor Day already?! The official end of summer is here but while the crowds and general activity “down the shore” will be considerably thinned out, make no mistake, the fishing is set to shift into high gear. Before you start on your saltwater journey, note that the last day of fluke fishing in Jersey is on September 25, and that black sea bass season is closed for the month.
Raritan Bay continued to be the most productive spot in Jersey to land both quantity and quality numbers of fluke all through August and now as we enter September, look for true doormats to be on a serious chew in the deeper channels such as Ambrose Channel, the Raritan Reach, Swash Channel. A few drifts by Romer Shoal, the #1 Can and the 19 Buoy will also dial you into flounder. Porgies were stacked solid in the back off the Keansburg and Port Monmouth Piers and those pork chops should be sticking around the planks through the month. Drop a hi-lo rig with size #6 baitholder hooks tipped with sea worm or clam bits for a porgy punch. If you see little blips and bloops in the wash off the Sandy Hook Rip spraying spearing and peanut bunker around, then its probable that Spanish macks, bonito and albies are around. Surfcasters can launch 1-ounce Crippled Herring while those fishing on deck of a boat can also rip metals or poppers through the waters, or troll small 3-inch feathers and 00 Clark Spoons around the area for blistering strikes from speedsters.
Bottom bouncing off the northern coast anchored the fishery in July and August as wrecks and reefs were super prolific for all sorts of species. Porgies, triggerfish and sea bass were laying thick on the structure at the Tin Can Grounds, Middle Grounds, and the Sandy Hook Reef. In the Mud Hole plenty of snowshoe winter flounder up to 5 pounds, sea bass to 4 pounds, ling and even a few cod sprinkled in here and there all jumped on clam baits. The ling bite really amped up as well inshore at the 3 to 10 mile wrecks, as both on day and night trips had the bottom brawlers wrapping their mouths around hooks baited with bergall strips, clams, and 3-inch Gulp! Swimmin’ Mullet grubtails. Some days anglers could catch up to 35 to 40 ling per man, with average catches of 10 to 20 per angler. With the high 70 degree water temps sitting on the surface in late July, nearshore trips also saw some chicken class mahi up to 5 pounds cruising around the boat where prepared anglers launched small bucktails to hook up. Fluke fishing was most productive in the 40 to 55 foot depths off Long Branch, Elberon and Deal rockpiles. Look for those fish to reside in the same area off the coast in September, but moved outward a bit into the 50 to 75 foot depths. You might want to try your hand at trolling up speedsters around the Sea Girt and Sandy Hook Reef sites as Spanish mack, false albacore, bonito and even a possibly mahi or two will eagerly pounce on feathers, clark spoons, ava jigs, Got-Chas and small squid spreader bars. Troll over reef sites at a 5 to 7 knot pace and focus on the sunup hours to about 10 AM, when after that the speed demons seem to go off the chew until dusk.
Success for the last gasp of summer flounder fishing will be best served by targeting the Axel Carlson Reef, Manasquan Ridge, and even further out to the Barnegat Ridge north and south. Drop and bounce big bucktails up to 4 ounces down when there is little or no drift, but switch over to a short leader and a fishfinder sliding snell rig lanced with strip baits when the current starts to get to strong and demand any weight over 6 ounces. While out at the Barnegat Ridge (approx.. 14 miles), try to set up with a spearing slush slick to attract bonito, spanish macks, skipjack tuna and even possibly some football bluefin tuna. While there, work over the big yellow bell buoy on the north ridge with small bucktails tipped with squid strips or Gulp! as many times cobia, mahi, bonito, and horse eyed jacks will be lined up and down the buoy line, providing some truly exciting light tackle action. For the first time in years, kingfish moved up into the central coast surfline as the Bay Head shores had kings up to 12 inches nibbling away at worm and clam bits. Smart surfsters were catching the kings and using them for live and chunk baits for large sand tiger sharks, butterfly rays and roughtail stingray for a big game battle. Historically, the mullet run should kick off this month and the first real push of big bluefish of 8 to 14 pounds should follow as they move in our waters from the north, sticking around to harass the mullet schools. Work the surfline from Manasquan south to Island Beach State Park to find roving packs of blues. Croakers should be snapping along the coast on the first full moon in September, as the hardheads will eagerly tap away at squid strips and small pieces of clam sent down on hi-lo rigs in the area just outside the surf breakers out to about 40 feet. Back inside, look to Barnegat Bay to be a circus of species as kingfish, weakfish, small stripers, cocktail blues, croakers and spot will provide plenty of bent rods for baytrippers kicking back and sending size #1 hooks out tipped with clam or squid bits. Weakfish should also be holding up in Myer’s Hole on the inside of Barnegat Light’s south Jetty and they can be hooked with grass shrimp. Also, look for the first real deal sized striped bass to be inhaling bunker chunk baits inside the Barnegat Inlet.
The offshore party was all about Bluefin tuna. Down south, Masseys Canyon and the 20 to 30 fathom line humps lit up with Bluefin of 40 to 150 pounds and yellowfin tuna trickled into the area of 30 to 40 pounds with some ferocity until it became a parking lot out there and the noise began to push the fish down and out. Bluefin were also found out at the Triple Wrecks, the Coimbra and the Corvallus wrecks. Pre-dawn and sunup you could troll effectively but after the sun was up for an hour or two, you needed to go drop down to the jig or bait with butterfish and sardines in the 20 fathom depths. Mahi moved in big time as dozens of chicken to gaffer class mahi up to 25 pounds were trolled or picked off the lobster pots with bucktails and live killies sent out on a bare hook. White marlin bite took a while to get going as there was no real chew going on as of August, warm water eddies need to move in to really get the marlin going and to start the overnight chunking tuna show at the Hudson, Toms and Poormans Canyons. A few blue marlin in the 400 to 600-pound range were reported in late July, which may be a good sign for September’s billfishing. September should be the prime month for chunking yellowfin tuna as well as swordfish in the Hudson canyon, and by next report, we will know exactly how the bite is going.