Beaches are devoid of those colorful umbrellas, gaudy towels and scents of suntan lotion. They are now replaced with the low rumble of truck engines in the distance, some hearty laughter and the smell of ten thousand striped bass and bluefish in the surf. October marks the true transition month where anglers reign supreme as any boater or beachgoer now solely has rod and reel in hand and nothing else. The transition from summer to fall is complete and waters are loaded with baitfish including peanut bunker herring, sand eels, spearing and rainfish. Bluefish and striped bass are on the main menu, while wreck fishing is also alight with action on sea bass, cod and pollock. Tuna fishing in the canyons should also be finishing up strong. Ah, October, it’s glad to see you again!
Go figure, the fluke season closed September 5th and about the last week of August, the Raritan Bay really opened up for big time flatfishing. Trophy fluke of 8 to 14 pounds were plucked from the deeper waters of Ambrose Channel, the Raritan Reach and Chapel Hill Channel. Since that season is closed until next year, it’s a good bet to focus on porgy fishing amongst the rockpiles in the big bay. The Keansburg and Monmouth Piers will also be holding plenty of pork chops to the pilings, simply drop down bits of clam or bloodworms on size #1 baitholder hooks to hang a few. We should start to see bluefish really moving into the baywaters, filtering back in towards the Ammo Pier, Cliffwood Beach and Union Beach. Try tossing bunker chunks out off the Sedgebanks to score with slammer blues. Striped bass will no doubt start showing up in some pretty decent numbers to start, but focus your efforts around the mouth of the bay at Raritan Reach, Romer Shoal, and Swash Channel. Though bunker chunking or live lining fresh bunker will be the top game, you can also set up on a clam slick, or troll around with Stretch plugs or Mojo ball rigs.
So as it stands at press time in September, the black sea bass season is still set to open on October 22, with a 15 fish limit at a 12-inch minimum length. If that’s still the case when you read this then there are plenty of spots in the 80 to 120 foot depths which the sea bass will be hanging on. Look to the 5 to 20 mile wrecks in spots like the Shark River Reef, Mud Hole area wrecks like the Arundo and Oil Wreck, as well as trying out the inshore rockpiles first at the Sandy Hook Reef and Rattlesnake areas. Ling fishing has been strong all summer long and should still transition with the same fervor into the fall months. The affable targets will also be laying on the Mud Hole Wrecks as well as up by 17 Fathoms and the Farms and the Scotland Grounds. Small bits of fresh clam baits on size 2/0 Octopus hooks will do the deed to trick up some red hake and sea bass. Mackerel fishing was steady throughout September and may just be pretty good in October as the 3 to 15 mile range had chub mackerel and Boston macks hitting white bucktails and tube rigs when fluke anglers were reeling them up. Mack jackers actually targeting the fish were able to amass catches of 20 or more per man. The real highlight of this month should be the appearance of big bluefish back into the waters as choppers will be patrolling the coastline waters to attack mullet and bunker schools. You can find blues destroying bait schools in vicious blitzes and a well placed topwater popper or Ava jig will get you into a battle. Point to note – always use 50 to 80-pound leader material when going after blues and never use any lure you aren’t willing to part with as you will inevitably lose a bunch of lures to their knife-wielding mouths. Also, change out all your treble hooks to single Siwash hooks not only for an easier removal of the hook from the blue but also to prevent any hooks into your body or hands as they flail around in the boat. Though it’s still only a one fish limit at 15 inch minimum length, you can go get your one blackfish on any of the near shore wrecks and rockpiles as they will be staying close to shore until they finally push outward by mid November.
October 13, 2008 always enters my mind when this month hits, because that date was the biggest bluefish blitz in Jersey’s recent history as the coastline for 5 miles straight and a half mile wide was terrorized by seemingly all the bluefish in the ocean as a world class blitz of epic proportions lasted for three days and nights straight. That said, bluefish usually are large and in charge during this month, provided that the bait is here to keep them feeding. As mentioned, use only your rattiest lures or heavy metals to throw at them as the lures will be getting maimed beyond repair. Good news is that with bluefish comes the real first wave of stripers. Last year, Halloween day saw one of the wildest bass blitzes of the year as the all-day affair had linesiders up to 20 pounds blowing up spearing, rainfish and bunker schools all along the central coast. Many surfcasters were able to get in on the action with swimming plugs and poppers like Bomber A-Salts and Yo-Zuri Hydro Poppers, while boaters worked just outside the breakers to do the same. Look for bass to be anywhere from the surf to 2 miles out as they find those bait schools and push them into shallower water for a much easier time to pick them off. Drop jigs like Kroc spoons and Ava jigs if you read them down deep, if they are on the surface, switch up to poppers and plugs. Bottom fishing once again is limited to a one limit blackfish but spots like the Axel Carlson, Mantoloking Reef and Barnegat Light Reef, all within 4 miles, will be prime for the picking. Head to the further off reefs like the Garden State North and South reefs to go after sea bass as they will stage in the deeper waters of 80 to 100 feet by now.
It’s all about that tuna. Still riding high on a phenomenal summer for yellowfin and bluefin, we should be seeing a hot and heavy run in all the canyons from the Hudson down to the Wilmington. The pattern in early September was of a morning troll, then a daytime chunk or jig bite, while those overnighting out offshore went on the chunk through the night with butterfish and sardine baits, or if they could jig up some live squid, that was the ticket. Be sure to bring a healthy assortment of live spot if you can find them as the live baits most assuredly had better reactions from tuna than static chunk baits. Jigs can be any flutter type metal slabs like the Williamson Vortex or Stingos, dropped down and jigged with high swoops of the rod. Night time excursions also offer up the chance to tangle with a broadbill, as swords will be hunkering down deeper in the 200 to 300 foot range. Drop a live squid down there, and as a trick cut the mantle of the squid and insert a small Cyalume light stick within it. The bright light will attract attention from any cruising swordfish around. Golden tilefish will be on the menu as well this month, as the canyon flats of clay bottom off the Wilmington Canyon in the 400 to 700 foot depths will have tile eager to jump on chunk baits like chunks of mackerel, herring and squid.