February is always the toughest month to get by for the fisherman. No doubt, it’s the lamest month of the year for saltwater activity, but make no mistake, there are opportunities to slay some fillets as wreck and reef fishing is primed for blackfish, cod, pollock, ling while party boats can find mackerel schools if they cruise up our way. Regulation wise, here’s some points to note for February and March - Striped bass fishing in the backwaters is still closed through February but will reopen on March 1st. Winter flounder fishing also reopens on March 1st, while blackfish season closes on March 1st. If you are looking to learn some serious saltwater fishing info, come by George Poveromo’s SaltWater Sportsman Fishing Seminar Series set for February 25 at the Linwood Country Club as I will be co-hosting with George with a panel of seasoned Jersey captains in a round robin format on Jersey fishing tactics. For more info, check out www.nationalseminarseries.com , hope to see you there!
Once again, we had a late December and January bite on striped bass in the northern section of the state as keeper class fish up to 20 pounds were jigged up on slim profile metals off the Highlands and Asbury Park areas. It would truly be amazing if there is an actual striper bite going in in February, and we will know for sure by next month’s column, but meantime you might as well give it a shot. Blackfishing remained supreme along the 60 to 70 foot depth wrecks where more than a fair share of 10-pound plus tautog came over the rails on most every trip. A four fish limit on tog is still instated for the month of February, so be prepared to look for blackfish a little bit deeper in the 100 to 120 foot depths this month. Waters of The Farms, 17 Fathoms and Cholera Bank will all be prime turf to drop whitelegger or green crabs down. We can only hope that ling fishing will rebound in the Mud Hole as that fishery has really subsided over the last four years. What was once a lock, it was not uncommon to load up the cooler with catches of 50 ling per man, but lately, its been a slow pick at best of 1 to 6 fish per man. Hopefully this year it may bounce back. Meantime, Mud Hole area wrecks will be producing a smattering of cod, pollock, sea bass, conger eels and possibly a monkfish or two. However, without a doubt, the hottest thing happening along the northern coast area in December and January was the presence of 100 to 200-pound bluefin tuna. Tuna schools were present anywhere from 3 to 15 miles off the coast, chasing down sand eel and herring schools in wild wolfpacks. All you had to do was look for the busy flocks of birds keeping up with the bait schools as terns were on the sand eels and gannets betrayed the presence of herring. Bluefin were crashing and boiling on the baitfish in an incredible display, and lucky anglers were able to drop down Ron-Z long rubber eels on light 2 to 4-ounce jigheads or Hogy Harness jigs to get the tuna to bite. There were also reports of BFT hitting large topwater stickbaits for an explosive reaction.
New Year’s stripers were found in the central coast surf as spots in Mantoloking, Lavallette and Seaside Park gave up micro bass of 10 to 14 inches for surfsters slinging out ½-ounce lead head jigs tipped with Fin-S fish or Zoom rubber baits. Small Mambo Minnows and 2/0 bucktail teasers were also smacked by the diminutive stripers and there may be a chance of catching a February surf bass if the temperatures stay above the 40 degree mark. Tog activity was firing off at the Axel Carlson reef as well as at the Sea Girt Reef where limit catches were pretty much the norm. Interestingly, when togging, some anglers were dropping down Christmas tree tube rigs as depth sounders showed large triangles on the screen, and anglers were rewarded with loads of Atlantic herring and Boston mackerel. Those herring and macks were only 2 miles off the coast, which is closer than they usually are at this time of year. We can hope that is a precursor for some good mack fishing this February. Many of the party boats will be heading out to the Shark River Reef site to ply the glacial rocks, barges and shipwrecks for a variety of cod, pollock, and ling. A resurgence of nuclear sized 6 foot conger eels have been prevalent in January on those reef structures, so be prepared for a dogged battle when dropping down chunk baits. Last year, porgy fishing was red hot on that reef during this time of year and 50 fish limits were obtained with relative ease for pork chops that pushed the 3-pound mark. Drop down to size 2/0 baitholder hooks tipped with tiny bits of clam pieces to dial in the pork chops.
Assault on Fluke Regulations
As we enter the 2017 season, truth be told, it isn’t looking too bright for Jersey anglers in terms of regulations, especially on summer flounder, as the talk on the street is that the limit is going to 2 fish at 19-inch minimum length, the most strict fluke regulations in NJ’s history. Jersey fluke regulations were already pretty stringent only two years back, but they were far better than neighboring NY and Connecticut, but now, with the new coastwide regional regulation plan in place, Jersey gets lumped into NY and Connecticut management zones which crush any hope for sensible regulation. These regulations, whether considered right or wrong, are based upon “fatally flawed” incomplete scientific data collection, and thus may not reflect actual stock assessments, but for now it is the best available data that is out there, and it hurts the recreational fishing industry immensely. Without a doubt, data collection and resource management needs a complete revamping to accurately reflect fish stocks before regulations effectively destroy recreational fishing industry communities. No doubt, a two fish limit at 19 inches is going to put charter boats out of business. What we should control is the damage commercial fishing bycatch is doing to stocks of all species. As commercial draggers rake the ocean floor, netting up tens of thousands of species, they keep their allotted size limit of fluke, but thousands of sub-legal fish are discarded overboard as they cannot be legally kept, and they are already deceased, sent out to sea to float away uselessly. I would suggest that legislators seriously consider changing commercial regulations to count bycatch toward commercial quota, otherwise the discarded fish serve no purpose whatsoever. Get involved with the RFA (Recreational Fishing Alliance) or the JCAA (Jersey Coast Anglers Association) to keep updated on the fight for sensible regulations.