Summertime fun doesn’t get any better than in July. Whether bending a rod on a boat or flipping a burger on the grill, July is the finest time to be outside. So what’s on tap? First on the hit list will be the summertime staple fishery for fluke, while bluefishing will take a close second. Bottom bouncers will be looking to tackle a few blackfish and sea bass and canyon runners will be knee deep into yellowfin tuna and marlin. Don’t forget that back bay docks offer up a ton of fun for the whole family with snapper blues and blue claw crabbing. Regarding regulations, 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.
Unbelievably, bluefishing was still ridiculously productive through the month of June as the Bayshore beaches at Union, Pebble, Belford, Keansburg and Port Monmouth all had gators up to 15 pounds hanging around though by early June, smaller 3 to 5 pounders took up residence. Those smaller blues should give anglers plenty of action especially near Plum Island, the Keansburg Pier and near the Ammo Pier. The real focus for R-Bay anglers however will be fluke. Summer flounder should be stacked up off the Coast Guard Station, off the Ammo Pier, around the mouth of the Shrewsbury River, and probably filtering out of the bay mouth around the tip of Sandy Hook. Look to drift with squid skirt flashy type rigs tipped with sand eels and spearing, or any strip of bait like squid or bluefish. If you still have a hankering to tangle with stripers, the bite will be a nocturnal one, with bass hunkering down in the channels off the Hook. Swash Channel, Raritan Reach and Flynn’s Knoll can all be drifted with live eels during the dark hours, and don’t think the bite can’t last well into past midnight and later. Drop down a three way swivel rig, with a long 36-inch leader to which a size 5/0 Octopus hook is used to hook on a live eel.
Though a few big striped bass were trolled with bunker spoons or livelined with bunker, June had a relatively lackluster show of stripers along the northern coast. It was kind of a 1 to 3 fish day for most anglers, though the fish that were caught generally pushed from 35 to 50 pounds. Hopefully this is not a precursor to a downfall of the striper fishery. Bluefishing remains fantastic off this stretch as schools of blues are popping up and down and everywhere around from Manasquan to Spring Lake to Shark River, Asbury Park, Elberon and the Highlands. Most boats are jigging up the fish with Ava jigs or Kroc spoons. Look for those fish to start pushing outward into the Mud Hole area where night time junkets on the party boats will have anglers into plenty of bluefish catches. Bottom fishing was actually pretty darn spectacular in June and should filter into July. Ling fishing at the Farms and 17 Fathoms was stellar as they came back in to claim their grounds. Many anglers would hang 15 to 25 really fat “baseball bat” caliber ling while bottom bouncing with clams and unusually, there were some whiting being reported on those rocky grounds. Whiting have not been seen in our waters in about 25 years so this is most definitely a welcomed report. When black sea bass fishing was open for a few weeks in June, the fishing was absolutely off the charts as many private, charter and party boats were scoring full limits on every single trip, loading the decks with sea bass. There is no shortage of sea bass to go around. Remember that porgy fishing once again opens up on July 1st with a 9-inch minimum size and 50 fish limit as of press time. Those pork chops should also be staging around the same areas you find sea bass and ling. Now down to the business of fluke. Summer flounder will be the main target in July, with concentrations of flatfish hanging around the humps and bumps in the 30 to 50 foot depths, such as the Long Branch lumps, the Manasquan Ridge, Shrewsbury Rocks and Elberon Rocks, but don’t be afraid to go off even further to the 70 to 80 foot depths if summer water temperatures get boiling. Try to work long sweeping drifts over structure piles, bouncing your baits or bucktails in and out and between rocks and reef structures. You can never go wrong with using Berkeley Gulp! Baits, fluke ribbon strips, and Spro bucktails to land a load of flatfish for the cooler. Try to fish morning hours up until noonish before the steady and predictable south winds kick in after lunchtime, many times shutting any fluke bite down.
The Barnegat Bay bluefish bombardment was epic, legendary, historic – use any amount of superlatives you want to describe it, but it was flat out awesome. True gorilla caliber blues from 15 to 22 pounds absolutely destroyed bunker schools and any lures thrown at them all throughout upper Barnegat Bay from the Seaside backwaters, through Mantoloking and up into the Canal and Manasquan River. It was bananas how crazy the bite was as those gators were hitting anything thrown at them, taking anything they wanted to take and crushing and mangling SP Minnows, Poppers metals and bunker snags. Smaller blues of 4 to 10 pounds filled in the gaps during June and the staple 1 to 3 pounders should be rooted thick in the Barnegat Bay and Manasquan River during July. The Barnegat Bay will also be the epicenter for summer flounder fishing as perennial hot spots in Oyster Creek, Double Creek the 40 Marker, Myer’s Hole and the Barnegat Inlet should all be holding fish in the upper part of the bay while Marshelder Channel and Middle Grounds will harbor flatfish down the backside of the southern end of LBI. If you choose to hit the Oceanside for fluke, try working over the Barnegat Light Reef, Garden State North and South reefs, as well as the Barnegat Ridge, Mohawk Wreck, Axel Carlson Reef and the Tolten Lump, basically anywhere you can find structure or contour changes in the 50 to 80 foot depths. The first signs of pelagic speedsters should be moving through the area as well with bonito, false albacore, Spanish mackerel and skipjack tuna pushing into the 15 to 20 mile range ridges. The Barnegat Ridge North and South is a known hot spot to attract those speedsters during the latter part of July, and always check the yellow buoy on the North Ridge to find all sorts of jacks, mahi and even a cobia or two hanging around.
Tuna fishing got off to a torrid start in Jersey as an incredible bluefin tuna bite materialized in the Glory Hole, the Monster Ledge, the Slough and out to the Chicken Canyon. Huge 100 to 300-pound bluefin were busting all over on sand eels schools, though you really had to either trick them into a reaction strike with a topwater popper or scale down your offering and tackle to work small Ron-Z or Hogy lures with light leadheads. Those bluefin should keep anglers busy in July, though may go to a down deep jig bite, or hit trolled offerings like ballyhoo on Ilanders or even squid spreader bars or daisy chains. Yellowfin tuna should be setting up big time in the canyons, look to the southern canyons at the Wilmington, Lindenkohl and Baltimore first, but the Hudson should also start to fire off later in the month. Shark fishing held up pretty good in June as one mako over 500 pounds hit the scales in early June, with some 200 to 300 pounders also finding their way into chum slicks. A few threshers were also taken here and there as well as scores of blue sharks. The Cigar, Resor Wreck Fingers and 750 Square will all be hot spots to tangle with the primordial predators in July.
Enjoy the heart of the summertime and bring home some fresh fish fillets to share on the grill this month!