Looking into September, depending on when you read this, you could be catching the last of the fluke for the year as the season closes after September 5th, so I hope this hits the newsstands before then! We’ve entered the transitional month from summer into autumn now as the savory scents and delighted screams of summer turn into the silence and solitude along the beaches, and with it, comes the wanton fisherman to get in on some serious saltwater action. A point to note is that as of now, we don’t know what the black sea bass regulations will be after August 31st as they have yet to be determined. Check the Division’s website at http://www.njfishandwildlife.com/pdf/2017/maregsum17.pdf for the latest update on not only sea bass, but all marine finfish regulations.
During the final days of fluke season, look for the last chances for keeper class fluke to be hunkering down in deeper waters in the bay, such as at the Chapel Hill Channel or Ambrose Channel where depths can reach 50 to 70 feet. Most flukesters at this time of year will drift long strip baits like fluke bellies or bluefish strips on fishfinder slide rigs down in the depths. Back inside the bay, look to the piers for some porgy activity as the Keansburg and Port Monmouth planks should have pork chops milling around the pilings. The joltheads can be taken on bits of clam on simple 1/0 baitholder hi-lo rigs. Off the Rip at Sandy Hook, look for speedsters to start showing up as false albacore, bonito, and Spanish mackerel could all be hound dogging bait schools that can swished around in the turbulent waters off the Rip. A good plan of attack is to troll around with small Clark Spoons or to sight cast for them, watching and waiting for them to blow up bait schools and motoring ahead of their path to toss metal lures such as 1-ounce Crippled Herrings or Ava 007 jigs and to rip them back quickly for a blistering strike.
I’ll start off by saying that ling fishing really took off during the summer months and both charter and private boaters were loading coolers up on the red hake at all sorts of spots in the 100 to 150 foot depths of 17 Fathoms, the Farms, the Mud Hole and Shark River Reef. We will see if that fishing continues this month. A nice surprise has been the number of winter flounder that have been caught on inshore wreck trips as well. Anywhere from 3 to 15 miles off, chunky flounder of 2 to 5 pounds were paved along the seafloor and it was fairly easy when out linging or sea bassing to add your two fish limit of flounder into the cooler as a virtual bycatch. Summer flounder fishing has been a hit or miss proposition along the northern coast as it seemed fluke were hanging out in scattered packs and if you found a pack, you were into plenty of fish, otherwise it was a scant pick of throwbacks and a keeper here and there. Sea bassing however, has been consistent, enough to the point where limits can be easily claimed on any day out fishing the 50 to 90 foot structure depths like the Long Branch Rocks, Sea Girt Reef and Shark River Reef. Once again, as it stands, we do not know what the sea bass regs will be for September onward so stay tuned. Now’s the time to pay attention to the area known as Jetty Country around Asbury Park, Deal and Long Branch as the expanse generally attracts the first schools of false albacore. It’s a run and gun affair in the false dawn hours up until around 9 AM where you can get visuals on tunny breaking the surface off the jetty tips as they feed on sand eels, spearing and bunker schools. The key to hooking up is to motor up ahead of the direction they are moving in, then shut down the engine and let the moving schools come to you, casting metal lures or small poppers to get a strike. Be sure your drag system is set a little loose as tunny are notorious for ripping off drag in lightning quick runs. A drag turned too tight usually means a busted line from the impact of the initial run.
Some interesting characters showed up off the central coast this summer, highlighted by wolfpacks of cobia that patrolled the Sea Girt Reef and one cobia of 20 pounds that was caught inside the Barnegat Inlet by a fluke angler. Water temperatures at the start of the month should be at their hottest in the mid to high 70s, but will quickly begin to dip down with cool nights putting the deep freeze on the waters. That said, look to still find exotics like king mackerel, Spanish macks, jacks, rudderfish, and even mahi to be close inshore, willing to hit trolled feathers, spoons and little jetheads. Work areas like the Manasquan Ridge, Garden State North reef, Barnegat Ridge and other small wrecks like the Mohawk and Tolten Lump areas to find tropical visitors. As inevitable Nor’east winds churn up the surfline, the first wave of striped bass usually come in to prowl about the rough surf and fresh clam baits cast out on hi-lo rigs equipped with size 4/0 Baitholder hooks can score you linesiders up to 36 inches and greater. September is also the month where the long-awaited mullet run storms the coastline and with them will be roving packs of big bluefish and striped bass. Blues can be fat and chunky, up into that 12 to 18-pound range, while some stripers may also be over the 40-inch mark, the main body of fish will probably be in the 24 to 32-inch range. Look for mullet to be rippling close in the surf sloughs and holes from Bay Head through Island Beach State Park, and a snagged mullet can work to claim both bass and blues, but so will swimming plugs like Bomber A-Salts and Daiwa SP Minnows, which mimic a mullet’s profile to a T. Frozen or fresh mullet can also be cast out on a fireball rig, floated out in the surf.
As of early August, the white marlin bite has yet to really materialize, with only a handful of billfish being released in the local tournaments, but hopefully, that will have changed by the time you read this with results in from the Mid-Atlantic $500,000 and Ocean City White Marlin Open tournaments. White marlin should be in the southern canyons of the Poormans, Lindenkohl and Baltimore, with trolled ballyhoo being prime baits to elicit a strike. Tuna fishing however, continues on a tear. What has been a phenomenal year on Bluefin tuna seems to show no signs of slowing down as the 20 fathom line off Cape May held plenty of 100 to 200-pound class BFT, with a smattering of yellowfin tuna, wahoo, and mahi also in the mix. These tuna are only 25 to 40 miles off the coastline and are mainly being caught on butterfish or sardine chunks, but some are being tricked up on jigs as well. The northern offshore grounds at the Bacardi, Texas Tower and wrecks northward were still dishing out humongous BFT up to 250 pounds that were eager to crush topwaters like Yo-Zuri Bull Poppers and Williamson Popper Pro lures. Look for the Hudson and Toms Canyons to start churning out solid yellowfin tuna reports as historically, September kicks off the overnight chunk bite for the ‘fins. Yellowfin had been trolled in the Hudson through July and August, so it reasons that those fish should be there right now. A notable report in the shark arena was what would have been a new NJ State record Mako shark of 926 pounds caught by the Jenny Lee out of Brielle, but unfortunately it was disqualified as 6 different anglers passed the rod on the fish, and only one angler may be allowed to fight the fish for a legitimate state record. Regardless, that is one monster mako!