If there’s any month that truly defines change, its October. As colors shift from brilliant and lively to a smoky weathered hue, the air temperatures make their most noticeable shift from short sleeve to sweatshirt weather. Without a doubt, it also ushers in serious saltwater fishing in Jersey as bait schools including sand eels, bunker, spearing, rainfish and herring make a mass exodus southward and on their tails in hot pursuit, the prized fare of striped bass, bluefish and weakfish. Offshore, the canyons are lit up with tuna and swordfish activity. There’s just too much to do in only 31 days! Make note that the fluke season is closed for the year but black sea bass season reopens on October 22 with a 15 fish bag limit and 13-inch minimum size.
Fluke fishing wrapped up in fantastic fashion in R-Bay with spots like the Raritan Reach, Ambrose Channel and Sandy Hook Channel all giving up quality boxers in the 3 to 10-pound bracket, but I won’t dwell on fluke here as the season is now closed. You will however, want to know that the porgy fishing in the big bay was as solid as it gets as spots like the Tin Can Grounds and Reach Channel held plenty of pork chops over the 9-inch minimum size to throw in the cooler. Focus on areas around Romer Shoal lighthouse or any other rocky type areas inside the bay to pull on the last of the porgies before they move out for the winter. Bluefish from 1 to 4 pounds blitzed in Laurence Harbor in early September, but we hope their bigger brothers will move in for the fall run. Look for choppers from 5 to 18 pounds to come tearing up the bay in October and they should be anywhere from the mouth of the bay all throughout the back areas in Keyport, Laurence Harbor and Port Monmouth. Number one on the hit list however will be striped bass. Schools of linesiders will be migrating past the bay mouth first, and charter boats will be stacking up at the mouth to drop metal jigs and to troll umbrella rigs and bunker spoons for bass in the 10 to 40-pound class. Birds diving on frantic baitfish at the mouth of the bay off the Sandy Hook Rip are commonplace and betray the presence of feeding stripers. Creep up onto the outside of the blitzes and drop jigs or cast poppers into the fray to hook up with big mouthed bass and toothy blues.
As sea bassing is once again an option, no doubt you want to hit the nearshore structure areas like the Sandy Hook Reef, Rattlesnake, the Farms, Scotland Grounds and Cholera Bank where sea bass will be feeding heavily before they make their final move to their offshore canyon shelf wintering grounds. Look for the 65 to 100 foot depths to ply sea biscuits off the rocks and rubble piles and bring plenty of squid, clams and Gulp! Baits. Also on the nearshore structures, especially in the Mud Hole area, action on porgies, ling and cod will be available for bottom bouncers. Clam baits will take all the three species as you work over the 100 to 130 foot depths. The main attraction along the coast however will be the double barreled shot of striped bass and bluefish as they make their annual Fall Run. A variety of methods will tackle the duo, but most widely utilized are trolled shad bars rigs, Stretch plugs and bunker spoons, or to drop 4 to 6-ounce white Kroc spoons or Ava 27 to 87 diamond jigs. Both species of fish will be close up onto the beach, out to the 3 mile federal limit for stripers. Waves of big blues should be the first to move through with bass trickling in after the third or fourth week of October and then full throttle on in November. Often overlooked since there is only a one fish limit instated at 15 inches until November 16th, blackfishing is an option for fun fishing when you are out on the wrecks and reefs. Its nice to spice up the box with a blackfish when out sea bassing or ling fishing, but you do have the option to practice your togging skills at spots like the Shark River Reef, as well as closer to shore off the shallow wrecks in 10 to 25 feet of water like the Adonis, Rusland and Morro Castle wrecks that exist in the shallows outside the surf off of Manasquan and Spring Lake. Shark River inlet’s rock walls are also prime spots to find a tug from a tog. Jetty jocks working the north jetty of the Manasquan Inlet will find the last of the false albacore and bonito schools working the rippy waters of the inlet mouth. Quick cast and speed retrieve with slim metals like Deadly Dicks or even 1-ounce Crippled Herrings to attract attention from the speedsters. Always use 20 to 30-pound fluorocarbon as a leader as the tiny pelagics have keen eyesight that will turn away if they spy regular monofilament leader.
By October, the waters just outside the breakers out to about a mile are usually erupting with bluefish exploding on schools of mullet, bunker and herring. Any time of day, gator blues will be destroying bait schools and it’s a run and gun affair to find the fish and consequently cast out heavy duty poppers and metal jigs to hook into some arm-wrenching battles with fish in the 10 to 20-pound class. Don’t send out your good gear, always use your worst beat-up poppers in the tackle box, and employ 40 to 50-pound monofilament leader to any lure you tie on, lest you will be losing a lot of lures. Here too, the first rumblings of stripers will hit the shores, with pre-dawn and sunup hours until about 8 AM the best time frame to find stripers pouncing on shad bar rigs and bunker spoons trolled off of Lavallette, Seaside Heights and Island Beach State Park. Stick in the 30 to 40 foot range with your trolled offerings for best results. Sea bass and porgy hounds will set up shop at the Axel Carlson Reef, Barnegat Light Reef and Garden State North and South reefs to put numerous fish in the icebox. Barnegat Inlet will hold bass both at the mouth and at the bayside delta off the Coast Guard Station as drifted bunker chunks or live spot on fishfinder slide rigs will tempt bass which root down and suck scraps as they float by with the incoming tide. Many boaters opt to drift on the inside or outside of the North Jetty, pitching their baits as close to the rocks as they can, and usually only counting to 10 before they get whacked by a bass. Savvy blackfish anglers will work the outside of the north Jetty, casting grass shrimp and fresh crab baits against the rocks, pulling quality tog to 7 pounds off the rocks. Another hot bet is to drift the Manasquan River system, tossing 4 to 5-inch pink or white rubber baits like Zooms or Bass Assassins on light ½-ounce jigheads to score with stripers up to 30 inches as well as possible shots at weakfish, hickory shad and bluefish.
An incredible white marlin bite lasted into early September and was most certainly one for the books, but now we switch over to targeting the second half push of yellowfin tuna and the movement of more longfin albacore into canyon waters. Look for the Hudson Canyon area at the Dip and West wall to be the hot spots to find yellowfin in the 40 to 80-pound caliber as night chunking with sardines, butterfish and squid will be the main methods to score with the big bullets. The Hudson always offers up a shot at doing gladiatorial battle with a swordfish, just drop your baits down about 200 to 300 feet to find the swordies lurking below. The Toms, Spencer and Lindenkohl Canyon areas will no doubt also hold the tuna schools, as you have to constantly monitor where the warm water eddies will be at any given time. Once late October moves into November, the bite will be furthest south in the Wilmington and Baltimore Canyon areas and longfin tuna will be the main species to take over.
Enjoy the bounty October offers up and take advantage of what may just be the best fishing month of the year!