Man, what a pretty lame winter fishing season for most Jersey anglers, as the offshore wreck blackfishing, ling fishing, and cod fishing was overall pretty quiet. There was a little upswing in cod fishing at the end of January into early February which may mean there could be some activity in March. But enough of the rough reports, there’s much promise to be had in March! First off, backwater striped bass fishing reopens where bays and inlets can now be targeted to catch bass with a two fish limit, one between 28 and 43 inches and one over 43 inches. Winter flounder season also reopens with a 2 fish bag limit and 12-inch minimum size. Blackfish season however is closed until April 1st. Now that the spring is here, don’t forget to register for the mandatory NJ saltwater fishing registry at http://www.nj.gov/dep/saltwaterregistry/ It’s free and it literally takes about 30 seconds to complete.
As striper season reopens in the bays, Raritan Bay should be a hot spot to find the early season stripers migrating way back into the shallow flatwaters outside Morgan Creek and Keyport in order to warm up and feed on worms and clams. Most of the bass that push in during March and early April are short in stature, generally ranging from 20 to maybe 29 inches, but when they do move in, they usually come in numbers. Once setting up on a clam chum slick, bass will follow the scent on the moving tides right to your clam baits, set out on fishfinder slide rigs and size 5/0 Octopus circle hooks. A good day out clamming can get you into double digit amounts of shorty bass, and an added bonus when chumming with clams back on the flats is that there may be some winter flounder presence in the area. Set four rods out rigged for stripers, then put another three or four out rigged with size #6 Chestertown hooks or Mustad #3301A hooks and small bits of clams or bloodworms for any flounder which may come up into the slick. Keep that chumpot working, shaking it to dole out the clam pieces into the running tide and don’t be afraid to hang two or more pots off the bow. Late in March, its very possible that the first wave of blues might come through as it seems they have bene showing up earlier and earlier in each of the past 5 years. Be ready with some bunker chunks or topwater poppers in case the choppers move in.
Flounder pounders left Shark River in December with the flatbacks still chomping on worms and clam baits, and that bite may just be ready to go as soon as the season reopens on March 1st. Historically, Shark River was the spring hot spot to find flundies and last year’s resurgence of fish may just have historical hot spots like the Tennis Courts, L-Street Pier, the ICW Channel and mussel beds could all be holding early season fish. If you have access to a boat or kayak, definitely set up on a clam chum slick to pick away at the fish but you can equally target them by casting from the pier or bulkhead. Striper anglers looking for a scrap can try out the Navesink and Shrewsbury River systems to see if any have pushed in to warm up in the relatively shallow waters. If the surf waters breach 45 degrees, clammers will try their luck at Sandy Hook, Monmouth Beach, Cliffwood Beach, Union Beach and Spring Lake to see if linesiders are cruising up the coast. Wreck fishing in the Mud Hole has been pretty slow this winter, but March’s spring temps may get cod, pollock and ling all on the bite. Look to work the 150 foot depths with fresh clam baits or bergall strips to tempt the bottom dwellers into a bite. There had been a presence of Boston mackerel in the area of the Mud Hole in February and March is usually when the macks come running into the area in some numbers. Look to drop Christmas tree type tube rigs down for macks, usually fitted with green, orange and yellow tubing with an Ava 27 jig on the end to use as weight. Drop down the rig and reel it up at a slow pace, or lightly pull the rod up and down in a slow jig sweep to get macks to pounce on the lures. If you do get one mack on, leave it down there and wait until you feel two or three on the rig to maximize your catch.
You know the routine by now - stripers and flounder. All winter long, anglers in the know had been working the Oyster Creek area waters to toss plugs and soft baits to resident bass that have been weathering over in the warm waters of the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant outflow. When the bass season opens in March, you can find those fish hanging out at the delta mouth of the creek, and even more importantly, there’s a chance you can tangle with winter flounder as they should be pretty stacked up in the creek, warming up and feeding in the high 50-degree waters. The historic first “legitimate” back bay stripers re usually caught around Graveling Point in Great Bay where sandworm and bloodworm baits get hit by shorty fish moving up into the Mullica River through Great Bay. In Island Heights, winter flounder will also be moving into the Toms River where action can be had off the Gazebo area as well as the boat docks. White perch fishing is usually red hot in the Toms River in early spring where bloodworm bit baits on small pill float rigs can catch plenty of fat whiteys up to 2 pounds during the evening hours into the night. Last year, flounder fishing was super off the Mantoloking Bridge and up into Silver Bay at the outside of the Point Pleasant Canal. Morning trips with my friend BK put up double digit catches of flounder up to 3.5 pounds and it would be amazing to see that fishery occur again this year.
Cod fishing had an injection of quality action in late January, though the bite was well north off of Long Island. Jersey anglers picked away at cod at the Shark River Reef and off shipwrecks in the 15 to 40 mile range, with a lot of sub legal fish up to larger fish in the 5 to 15-pound bracket with an occasional steaker of 20 pounds plus. Pollock also spiced up some of the offshore wreck catches as did a blackfish here and there but overall the offshore wreck scene left something to be desired. The good news is that the warming waters of March and early April should have the offshore wrecks heating up with feeding cod, pollock and ling again.
As we wait waters to warm up a bit, come check out my new online fishing show – Saltwater Underground – which is found at https://www.tackledirect.com/saltwater-underground.html ! It’s a solid fishing show filmed mainly in the NJ/NY area, and no doubt, it will warm you up for the 2018 saltwater season!